[Storify] Sexism and the Need to Call it Ignorance

I’ve started to notice in games journalism that as more and more conversations are had about sexism in the gaming community, the whittling away of what caused it keeps coming up. Game developers blurting out unvarnished opinions about women in video games and women characters are passed off as mere good-natured ignorance because it’s not seen as volatile misogyny. The problem with this is that is doing nothing but lessening the impact of calling it sexist. Intent and feelings do not matter whether a game developer is hurling slurs at women or merely making a statement that misses the mark. Sexism is sexism and we need to address that fact.

I wrote up a Storify regarding why I tackled this topic and it includes a link to the latest article that falls into that rhetorical trap.

This is something we really need to stop doing.

April Fool’s Jokes and Perfect Storms

Draenei priest drawing.

Taking a page from Vidyala and posting my own draenei art.

At the risk of stirring things up even further, I want to talk about why the fake Artcraft presented by Blizzard’s World of Warcraft team was the worst possible joke to make at the worst possible time.  I hope people don’t think I am going to debate the relative offensiveness of it; I am not because I do think it was offensive and I know there’s better people that have been talking about it rather than myself. No, rather, we’re going to talk about what made everything so much worse.

I know the title talks about “perfect storms” in that it was a confluence of several factors coming together, but let’s abandon that particular metaphoric imagery for a second. Imagine a giant field full of grass. In this scenario, World of Warcraft’s assembled community of fans are the grass.

It’s been a drought since Blizzcon. We’ve been fairly starved on concrete updates on the expansion’s progress. We’ve seen some model update Artcrafts, some dev watercoolers, but no beta, no big news and only minor progress on everything else. Bigger sites like Wow Insider or Wowhead news are scraping for content and opting to talk about Blizzard’s other releases like Diablo III: Reaper of Souls or Heroes of the Storm. We’ve grown pretty dry and bitter about the expansion the longer we don’t hear about it. It’s a pretty unusual method given how long we’ve been marinating in Pandaria’s last content patch. It would be easier to deal with if we had the new expansion to look forward to on the horizon but it’s been pretty dust and tumbleweeds thus far.

In this field, imagine a couple piles of goblin bombs laid haphazardly on the ground, hidden among the tall weeds. These are the issues a lot of us have had with the potential content of the expansion: lack of positive female character representation, expectations of more grimdark “gritty” realism, and the inevitable “boys trip” that we heard about at Blizzcon. There’s a lot of worries among some of us regarding how enjoyable we will find the questing and story experiences of this new expansion. While Ji Firepaw was a net positive, what lurks in the water for Warlords?

On top of that, the air is dry. Fans are looking for anything to digest or keep their attention. Our community is tied between forums, social media, blogs and anyone we play with in-game. We spend a lot of time nitpicking, dissecting and debating. Given the lack of information thus far, it’s mostly speculation. People are anxious.

Then you toss out the equivalent of a lit match on all of that and you have an explosive, incendiary wildfire on your hands. The models make people feel awful about themselves or angry at Blizzard. The blog text makes fun of all sorts of women and pokes at things like incest and twerking. It comes on the heels some other April Fools jokes that while bizarrely problematic, are also funny. It sticks out like a sore thumb. It riles up people who only want “real” content. It makes everyone who was worried about problematic content feel even more unsettled about their gut feelings. The community goes into an uproar: those who found it funny, those who didn’t, and people who think the “not funny” people are giant babies. The explosions that occur over any sexist content go about as well as expected now that everyone is in on the discussion.

Pulling myself back far enough from my feelings about women being mocked at a time like this (not intended maliciously, of course) means I look at why this happened. Is this a cultural problem within Blizzard? Did everyone think this would have a positive impact and anyone who didn’t not get to speak? Were they overruled? Who looked at this before it went live? We’re not talking about a developer being caught off-guard and speaking close to his chest, but something that was written, edited and arranged for publishing on the front page. Models were created specifically for this. It makes me wonder.

Sometimes thinking about the mechanics and anatomy of a controversy keeps me from getting too upset about the thorny emotional center, but even if you know how a disaster came to be, it doesn’t help you deal with the aftermath.

 

 

Patch 5.4 – Flexible Raiding Feature Announced

Possible implementation of FLEX raiding with Crabby.

Last night, Blizzard dropped a big unannounced Patch 5.4 feature preview onto their blog – “flex” raiding. This raiding would be a new, fourth difficulty somewhere between LFR and normal-mode that would have it’s own ilvl. It is primarily to help those raiders that wish to do a level of content with pick-up groups as well as friends and family in a more casual, social environment. It would work with both friend groups and cross-realm lists, making it very inclusive for those of us who like to pull in people for raids from every corner of the globe. The premise of this works off the idea of scaling – similar to how rares and elites have been working since Patch 5.1. The minimum a group can have is 10 but will add health (and presumably damage) depending on how many people you have, up to 25 players. What also makes this convenient is that loot works exactly the same as LFR – it is awarded individually, based on loot specialization. This means, as promised, that there is no reason to not bring anyone you so choose, so long as you have a balanced role makeup. The devs seem adamant that they want this feature to be for everyone – no minimum ilvl requirement, and that every player should be able to come, rather than a specific class.

Blizzard making a move towards an inclusive social feature such as this is a big deal, especially to someone like me who only ever does raiding these days in a casual environment. My guild’s raid team is a very bare-bones 10-player raid that very frequently pulls in cross-realm players and cancels raids when we can’t scrape together 10 people for behind-the-curve content. The idea of being able to raid with anyone on current content and bringing a variable number of folks gives us way more freedom in terms of both difficulty of content (like raid meta achievements, which the blog said will be doable on Flex difficulty) and flexibility of raid filling. Giving the WoW audience even more reasons to pick and choose their raid experience as they see fit is always a move in the right direction.

Are there some drawbacks here? Absolutely. There’s the ilvl bloat we’re experiencing right now – we’re two content tiers in and we have many orders of ilvl gear that a potential casual player is looking at. Adding yet another swath of gear in between LFR and normal is only going to muddy this further. Will it give players more choices or is it going to just make attempting to figure out upgrade paths even more of a nightmare? There’s also the concern of this pulling even more skilled or socially-connected players away from the potential LFR pool. While random grouping methods have proliferated, I still feel that the subset of players that this is catering to might make them flee from the LFR queues. Lastly, the fact that all three have separate lockouts means there’s going to be some complaining of feeling like you “need” to do all three in order to obtain the best gear as fast as you can, especially if your guild is stuck behind a gear check.

Overall, though, I can’t help but seeing this as a future positive. My guild is even talking about this replacing LFR nights for us – we go in a big group of guildies and friends from other realms on a set night to help us get LFR gear for normal-mode raiding. If we get our own gear and perhaps tackle slightly harder content with only people we choose, this seems like an obvious choice. It cuts out the drawbacks from LFR and gives us more control over our raid experience, socially. We can invite cross-realm friends, do alt raids easier, and not have to cancel raid nights as much. I don’t think flex raiding is going to replace normal raid content for us, even though we only raid four hours a week. Are there guilds that could use this as a replacement for both LFR and normal modes? Absolutely. The idea that you can make that kind of choice now as a smaller, more casual or social guild is great!

I would even speculate that this tool might give rise to the pick-up raid group again on realms that might have lost out due to smaller, less experienced populations (so any place that wasn’t Mal’ganis, basically) – groups could form via Trade Chat again, and there’d be no loot disputes and would still only need a modicum of skill to participate, as well as the variable size making things a lot easier.  People that have long complained about how LFR/LFG destroyed server communities might see a breath of life to local raiding again. Basically, I’m tentatively optimistic about this as I feel that this is one of the few features that’ve announced in Mists of Pandaria that caters directly to the kinds of things I like to do in-game for precisely the people I want to do it with.

The question that remains in my mind is this – was this the big feature that Ghostcrawler had been teasing at for so long? Is it one of many things that Patch 5.4 promises? I’m excited if this is just the start of a laundry list of things that might improve our quality of (raiding) life in WoW in the future.

As for you guys, are you hyped about this possible addition? Does it affect you at all? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

The Trickle-Down Effect of Gear

Ghostcrawler as Reagan.

Ghostcrawler as Reagan.

It wasn’t until I was having a Twitter conversation with Snack Road (isn’t that how a lot of my blog posts begin these days?) that I realized there’s shenanigans going on with gear progression. It was merely a joke about Republicans at the time, but the trickle-down theory seems to be in full effect in World of Warcraft, and has been going on for a while.

For those of you who weren’t very cognizant of the Reagan era in the United States, “trickle down” was two slightly different ideas about economics and marketing that could be summed up as “The wealth at the top will eventually benefit the bottom.” Economically speaking, making sure the wealthiest in our country were taken care of with tax breaks and benefits would eventually benefit the poorest of our country. As far as the marketing theory is concerned, it describes that many products will start out only available or affordable to the richest but eventually lower in price so that all can afford it. The backlash of this is that once the “lower classes” have consumed or popularized a product, it is no longer wanted by those in the elite.

I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this.

I feel like more than ever, Mists of Pandaria was a step backwards when it came to an even level of gear acquisition. One the major problems of this expansion was requiring both reputation and Valor Points for obtaining the first pieces of gear that was available to you once hitting 90. In the past, VP gear was not coupled with any reputation. It was a means of gear acquisition that anyone putting the time could benefit from. It started in Burning Crusade with badge gear – it was arguably some of the best pieces you could get unless you were chasing progression endgame and a lot of times, it was the best slot-filler or catch-up mechanism you could have asked for. In Cataclysm, it was so finely tuned to the point that most people I knew except at the very top of the raid game made use of regularly. It wasn’t until LFR being put in that we started to see a decay of that system – given that LFR was put in at the very end of the expansion, the effect wasn’t as immediate. What LFR was doing was not making yet another stepping stone in terms of a gear path, it was creating a ceiling of sorts, contextually. VP gear was locked behind reputation and valor points, valor points were made harder to acquire and capped. Each LFR having successively higher i-level requirements meant that in order to do LFR, considered the final or penultimate level of raiding you’d achieve as a slightly more casual raider meant that you had to gear chase a lot harder than before. While things like the wider choice of reputations, world bosses  and crafting has made it slightly easier, it still feels like the people at the top are benefiting the most from doing what they want to do, while the rest of the curve gets progressively less choices in the matter. Raiders who have the benefit of doing content quickly while relevant have access to the best gear, therefore not needing LFR at all. VP gear from reputation isn’t as necessary once the initial gearing hump of the first tier’s worth of content is over. These raiders are supplied they gear they need by skill alone perhaps, or eventually the content they are chewing through and their success is framed in such a way that other people can’t degrade it by being slower or caught up in circumstances beyond their control (bad loot streaks, raid team falling apart). You see this in not just how loot is obtained but in things like the Cutting Edge achievements. I felt the achievements were a vanity addition that suited the purpose to make top-end raiders happy for their accomplishments, and that’s not a bad thing. However, Blizzard’s design when it comes to gear paths is pretty textbook trickle down theory in a lot of ways and I’m not sure why. 

LFR was supposed to be the great liberator of the masses, but I feel that it’s striated people wanting to make the jump from starting-out gearwise to anything above it. Is this to preserve the value of upper-level gear? In short, raiders that were normal or heroic progressed were seemingly disgruntled from having to share the same base gear pool outside of the content before LFR was introduced. The whole notion of people getting epics without having to set foot in a raid seemed terrible, except to the people who actually were going to make use of it. With the advent of LFR, the gear pool that was shared was largely obliterated, became more gated in Mists and now has forked fairly divergently – those wanting to obtain gear at the highest levels will have to participate completely in it. This isn’t even trickle-down, like before, where raiders were turning their nose up at badge/VP gear, but a fairly inventive shut-out for all but a few opportunities. In order to do LFR, you never need higher than LFR gear, if you want to do normals, you do not “need” higher than normal gear to do it, roughly speaking. This preserves the sanctity of those chasing higher levels of content, in both gear and accomplishment, while giving people that would ordinarily benefit from structures that “spilled over” for high-end raiders something else to acquire. And in a lot of ways, I can even feel myself going, “Well, if you want to do Z content, why do you need X gear?” It’s a very ingrained way of thinking about content striated by acquisition and elitism. So in this fashion, whenever Blizzard purposefully “outmodes” gear i-levels or content, it is satisfying the high-end by making it unwanted by them (giving them new, better!) and satisfies those down at the bottom by giving them what was once a popular commodity.

Of course, this analogy falls apart a little given some of the choices we have in the game now, a couple of content patches in. It is possible to get a 522 ilvl 2-set just via world bosses, or Shado-Pan Offensive rep gear from doing LFR. All that being said, there’s still fairly apparent places where the trickle down is becoming more and more apparent as time goes on. The most notable of these is crafted gear. It used to be the most sought-after for many classes, but the rise and fall of difficulty in terms of obtaining it has been most curious. The first thrust of good craftable gear was some of the tailoring gear – sets that lasted from Karazhan to Black Temple if you played your cards right. The patterns were learnable fairly quickly but making the gear was lengthy and grindy. There weren’t caps on how many pieces of cloth you could make a day but the materials were fairly hard to farm, so it took awhile to gain them. By the end of that expansion, it was to the system of crafting materials AND patterns dropping in the appropriate raids. This system lasted all the way to the beginning of Cataclysm, but what Wrath had introduced was eventually making the material needed for making the recipes purchasable with a currency. Cataclysm made the materials and patterns easily obtainable via the crafting professions but capped the materials significantly. Still, this meant that all you needed to get really solid crafted gear was time or currency. The efficacy of this gear started slipping behind though as people rapidly outpaced the ilvls over the course of the expansion. Mists is where the trickling was really brought to bear – not only did you have the basic level of epic patterns locked behind reps, but more to the point, the highest level of craftables were only able to be made with materials obtained from disenchanting epic gear (with a small chance of dropping from bosses)  of current content. So, basically, if you want gear that is on par with the highest level raids, you have to basically wait for either your raid team (if you have one) or someone else’s raid team to have a piece of gear they can shard. If you’re not a part of an established raid team, in essence you’re looking for another raid team’s cast-offs in order to make yourself better gear. The argument is that if you’re not part of an established raid team that’s doing the content, then why do you need the crafted gear at all? For some people, it could easily be BIS for a time, other people it is simply more of the gear chase but with a lot more restricted paths or options. The only time people outside of the “system” really benefit from crafted gear though is when they are in a situation where their environment is already raining down epics – meaning the highest tier of raiders on their servers are past the gearing curve and are sharding everything or enough people have entered the current content to create somewhat of a competitive market. If that’s not the very pinnacle of this theory, then I don’t know what is.

Still, all of this raises a lot more questions than answers, and I know that I’m glossing over a lot of situations in order to make a point about the theory. Is Blizzard merely acting in accordance to what the audience wants, or is it a more strident hand in directing the gear path for all “levels” of players? Since they are the ones responsible for the structures we have to move through to obtain gear, I can presume that this was done purposefully. The “No Elevators To Everest” seems to belie a developer belief (especially since many of the older ones are returning the fold) that everyone has to really struggle to get what they want, and some people are going to hit a ceiling of skill or success just due to their position and no further. While the parlance has dropped out  some, the idea of “welfare” epics couldn’t be more true now with the advent of LFR, but gamifying this so that no one ever really needs it anymore is an interesting mesh of Reagan-era social policies and Skinner Box perfection. There’s always going to be a subset of people that need enough gear to see the lower-bar content, but not more than that. If someone wants gear beyond that point badly enough, they have to go through great lengths to get it in order to not upset the overflow from the top. The idea that the developers are really giving us so many choices to be powerful but keeping the real power fairly divided and unobtainable seems to be what’s really at play here. Do I mind it terribly, from a personal standpoint? In some ways, yes. I might be casual but the practises of a game company to enforce power progression along lines that have typically caused strife elsewhere doesn’t seem to be the smartest move in the long run. Treating your broadest base and separating it further and further from the middle does little to make anyone feel good, but I suppose Blizzard has worked in enough distractions that no great portion falls through the cracks. Still, this is all something to think about going ahead. Are there iterations down the road that will even further divide the haves from the have-nots? Will desired/vogue gear be overturned even faster? Who knows, but I have seen the problems thus far and I’m not sure I like the direction Blizzard is taking us.

The Azerothian dream is not that every person must be level with every other person. The Azerothian dream is that every person must be free to become whatever God Blizzard intends they should become.

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For Snack Road’s thoughts on a similar topic of gearing, check his post!

A Bone to Pick

My guildies dressed up as dinosaurs.

My guildies dressed up as dinosaurs.

Despite the fact that there’s literally so many things to discuss about Patch 5.2, I feel like it’s a minute topic on a brain wandering idea that I want to focus on. I’ll get into my truly exciting discussion about waves and sea spray later, trust me.

My guildmates, particularly some of the people I play the game with the most, are mount and pet collectors. If there’s a pet out there, we have to have it, as soon as humanly possible. So when Patch 5.2 announced that there would be a giant island just for grinding out pets and mounts, needless to say we had to be there. See, the thing about the Isle of Giants is that it really is better go in a group. The dinosaurs (as well as the troll NPCs) all drop Giant Dinosaur bones, which is the currency used to purchase the Spectral Porcupette and the Bone-White Primal Raptor. The biggest dinosaurs on the island drop the most bones and are almost impossible to solo. So it seemed pretty common sense that we should group up with a proper tank and healer and grind out as many dinosaurs and Dinomancers as we could for a few hours to get possible pets and bones for everyone.

The way the bones work is that they are not shared; each cachet of bones from a mob is looted to one person from the tap group, round robin style. This means that to assure that everyone gets roughly the same amount of bones, you have to kill roughly the same amount of highest health mobs, and so on down the line. This is pretty easy to do if you have an organized group, so no problem there, right? Well while we were waiting for one of our party to get back from AFK, we noticed a curious conversation crop up in General chat. One of the server’s most recognizable farmers (who wasn’t a bot/cheating) was very strongly arguing about how the bones should be a shared loot to all parties involved in a kill. I found this really intriguing because it reminded me of something I had just said earlier when we were discussing the drop function: that Blizzard specifically designed these mobs to be most efficiently killed in a group that is concerned about the eventual fairness of everyone involved. This kind of mechanism hasn’t been seen since really Vanilla, where many tasks were unable to be attained without a huge raid group, much less solo. However, it is possible to solo some of the dinosaurs, but your bones per hour rate isn’t as efficient as a group of five who can tackle the biggest dinos. So it is possible to do this at your own pace. However, this farmer was really mad that all bones weren’t shared equally in a group. We pointed out that maybe his real motivation was less about a “fair share” so much as he wanted to be able to benefit from soloing and one-time grouping mechanics to take down a dinosaur but be fairly unconcerned with a group after that. It was seemingly mercenary to me.

This is how a lot of WoW mechanics work now, and I think that’s fine. I’m not saying that this is decaying WoW’s social space or people’s ability to be nice to eachother. For a lot of things, the potential to grief and content to be unseen was there with the old ways of doing things. The way that rare mobs have shared taps, world bosses have faction taps means a lot more people have a shot at getting something for their time. The fact that the dinosaur bones have two possible ways of proceeding – one is soloing and one is working with a group to ensure that everyone receives the same rewards is fascinating to me. It shows a mixture of both the old and the new. Maybe it was intentional, maybe it wasn’t. The fact that it’s got two settings due to the health and bone drops scaling on mob size is cool to me. I think in a lot of cases, a lot of people do not have a group to do this with (which I noted) and so working towards a group’s equal progress for each individual is either new or something they can’t do. But isn’t this maybe a good time to take initiative and work on one? It doesn’t take more than a forum post or a call in Trade/General to form a rough alliance to assure that everyone gets some bones and pets. But I can see where people’s trust in other random individuals have decayed over time, potentially.

I have hope though.

My group managed to get roughly the same amount of bones for everyone (other than the person who was AFK for an hour) and secured all four raptor pets for everyone in the group, including some extras for significant others. When we all have our shiny Spectral Porcupettes or Bone-White Primal Raptors, it will be nice to think back on all the laughing on Mumble and screams when we aggroed an extra Primal Devilsaur. I’m exceptionally lucky that I have that, and I wonder if that’s what Blizzard is trying to push for again: not only mechanics to give everyone to see the content, but to possibly see it together.

What do you guys think about this?

Some Improvements for Playing with Portals

Apple Cider asks a portal trainer about portals.

Come on, how the heck do I get to Shrine of Seven Stars?

When I was writing another installment of my mage leveling guide today, I noticed something I had come across the night prior on my new level 20 mage – mages now get all their relevant city teleports at level 17. At the time, I didn’t realize this though. The system for mages of all levels to learn relevant teleport and portal spells is still very unintuitive. I believe that there is a reason why it happened and I hope to suggest some things to fix this, however.

With Patch 5.0, Blizzard significantly revamped the leveling and talent system so that when anyone is leveling up, they no longer have to visit a trainer to acquire new spells. This is great; it means you’re not constantly running back to a city and tracking down a trainer for your next spell. You can just pull it out of your spellbook and stick it on your bars. Mages had it slightly easier as we could, after a while, just teleport to our trainers. Everyone else was fucked though.

At level 17, all mages learn the base Teleport spell as well as the Portal spell at level 42. These two spells were designed recently to be icons that are a fly-out menu of every Teleport/Portal spell you have learned, making it easier for mages to pick an appropriate spell and keep your UI uncluttered. When you gain Teleport/Portal, you are given one free “out in the wild” teleport or portal spell to your “home” city (based on race). While leveling my Pandaren, I noticed she was given Orgrimmar. I figured I’d get other teleport spells at a later time. When checking the spells list on Wowhead, I noticed that every single city is listed as being learned at level 17. In order to learn all the cities available to you prior to level 60, you have to visit a Portal trainer.

This becomes somewhat of a problem to newer players (or even veteran players like myself) because it is not indicated anywhere that you can learn all the appropriate cities at level 17, or that to do so, you have to visit a Portal trainer.  Also, what city you learn for free is based on your race, so if you’re a Draenei, for instance, your free teleport is Exodar. This is great if you are still questing in that area, but most players I know skedaddle to Eastern Kingdoms by that point. Most cities are slightly more well-connected now but giving a mage a teleport spell to a city that isn’t central to their activities with no indication of where to get the other cities from isn’t very helpful. Sure, I eventually figured it out with the help of Wowhead, but what about someone who is new? Portal trainers aren’t listed on a guard’s gossip option, nor are they even standardized in terms of location when a mage teleports in.

This isn’t even limited to low-level mages either – it’s not immediately evident where to get new portals as you change expansions. I hit level 90 on my mage and it took me a while to find Larimaine here in Stormwind to learn my portal to Shrine of the Seven Stars. There’s no portal trainer in the faction capitals in Pandaria (despite having a portal room), unlike in Shattrath or Dalaran.

I believe that several things that could be changed if we want make this system better for everyone involved:

  1. Indicate in both the level ding pop-up and a mage’s spell book (similar to Riding skills) that there are additional teleport/portal spells available from a Portal Trainer.
  2. Standardize portal trainers in ALL cities, in similar locations. Some are near the Blasted Lands portal, some aren’t. Some are near portals to Stormwind/Orgrimmar in later content, some aren’t.
  3. Standardize a faction teleport – this directs all players to the faction capital. Make that portal trainer prominently standing when a mage teleports there to learn the other spells.
  4. Use a pop-up quest or tip to “teach” players where to go or who to talk to. Similar to the Dalaran quest about how to use the teleport stone at level 72, this might be an alternative method to teach newbies as to where to go.
  5. Give guards a gossip option for where a portal trainer in cities is located.

Hopefully if Blizzard makes some of these changes, it could lead to some nice quality of life changes for my fellow mages who are learning the teleportation arts. For any other issues with portals, please consult our handbook.

Edit: http://us.battle.net/wow/en/forum/1012760/

I posted a version of this up in the Mage forums (for lack of a better place) so if you want to go discuss there or gives a thumbs up!

 

 

Tuesday Questions

I admit, I haven’t been playing Warcraft lately. Most of my “gaming time” has been spent playing Diablo and while I have some legit extended criticisms as I dig deeper into it, those require a little more time to be poked and fussed over. So I decided to have my Twitter followers ask me some questions.

@Goosecomics: What do you think about the movement in eSports? Need more games? What other types of games? Pro Pokemon battles?

I think the movement to monetize and make gaming into a sport has some interesting implications. As much as I really dislike celebrity/sport culture paying way too much money to people because it is entertainment, I really like the idea of people people using what is arguably another set of talents to achieve some sort of greatness. Gaming is still tied really heavily into the privilege of being able to afford a console or PC and develop those types of skill, but you’re seeing people being able to make it without being dazzlingly handsome/beautiful or have physical prowess in the same way an athlete does. Gaming competitively is still a relatively “new” thing when it comes to the professional circuit even though it has been around for about a decade or two. My only concern is that where “competition” is involved with a mostly-male dominated audience and participation pool, it usually follows that there’s a ton of barriers to entry for anyone who isn’t a dude, basically. There’s an inherent misogyny to the competitive gaming culture in a lot of ways and that needs to stop before we can really take eSports seriously.

Pro-Pokemon leagues have been around, as I know at least one person who used to do it semi-pro.

I’d like to see more games in general though, yes. Sometimes I wish I was good enough to be a competitive professional gamer but then I realize that the game I’m best at is Monopoly.

@Goosecomics: Do you think Blizzard can make WoW into a spectator game and exciting to watch like Starcraft and LoL? Also in before arenas. It never really caught on as big as SC2 etc. Live raids? Like Vodka vs Method?

I thought about this long and hard because while I’ve watched a lot of MLG tournaments and arena matches live/telecast, I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t as popular as say League of Legends or Starcraft II (Barcraft and the like). I think it has to do with the fact that WoW is not a game designed for spectators (arenas basically require special camera rigs in order to show the “action”) as well as the fact that the PVP aspect is just but one small part of the overall game. MOBA genre games are all about quick, efficient PVP method gaming and are built as such. They are easier to “watch” and follow even if you do not know or play the games personally. In that respect, that’s probably why they are more popular. I can see live-raids failing at being a spectator sport even moreso than arenas. Only other WoW raiders care about watching 25 people take down a dragon, in my opinion.

@AlternativeChat:  Has your attitude to Warcraft changed as a result of the Ji Firepaw incident?

That’s a good question, actually. Part of me really dislikes what kind of worms crawled out of the woodwork with regards to what I felt was a legitimate criticism of an early-beta character design. Part of me really enjoyed how Blizzard reacted. Overall, that netted me about the same feeling I’ve always had about World of Warcraft – that some of the community is pure utter crap, some of it is really supportive and awesome, and Blizzard at least tries to make right when they are called out on their failures. It isn’t always that you see such a direct action from a company though to react to a critique and I’m very glad that I spoke up and said something.

@snack_road: How about your raiding: what brought you to it, whats your favorite parts, what do you miss now that you “retired” from it?

Oh boy, the ol’ raiding chestnut. I got into raiding a long, long time ago back in Vanilla. It wasn’t one of the things you just “did” at the endgame because at that point, you could do literally anything, despite there being almost nothing TO do. Battlegrounds had JUST been implemented when I hit 60, arenas were a dream still. AQ40 had been opened a little while back and everyone was gearing up for impending Naxxramas, I believe. I wanted so badly to be part of the “big kids” so I started hitting Blackrock Depths and getting craftables for Molten Core/Onyxia, as those were the “starter” raids. You needed a minimum of 150 FR to be considered and once I had that, I got brought along on the giant 40-person Molten Core farm raid. I got bitten by the bug then, tackling PVE content and wanted to do it whenever I could. I didn’t start seriously progression raiding until Burning Crusade, however. But I mostly got into it because it was something to do with my time and all of my guild friends were doing it.

My favorite parts of raiding were the typical – the joy of victory, sharing good memories with the relatively same group of people (a lot of people in the raid team I was in by Firelands had people I raided with in Molten Core even) and seeing things that not many other people got to see. Raiding was a lot more exclusive over most of my career, so I felt really special and cool, heh. I had mounts other people didn’t, titles others didn’t, and all that jazz. Moreover, it made me a better mage. Becoming a better player in both skill and theory made me feel really confident. Achievements and mounts were a nice side effect from that.

I actually don’t miss much, to be fair. I think the only thing I really miss is just working as a team of competent people to achieve something. I raid very casually once a week with my guild (as that is literally all I can stand now) but sometimes I do miss really rock-hard progression nights with some of my old raiding friends. It’s hard to describe why and the two experiences don’t make either one the “best” or the “worst” just …different. I miss the adrenaline rush of pulling off a really difficult first kill when everyone executes flawlessly or perhaps less so but still manages some weird 1% kill Hail-Mary sort of miracle.

@SkolnickWho: Looking back with a historical eye, do you think the golden age of MMOs will be measured from WoW ’04 through SWTOR release? Not because SWTOR replaced WoW, but showed over-saturation of similar clones & showing that a next gen is eventually needed.

It’s hard to really peg a “golden age” yet, you know? I think the MMORPG genre is still evolving, and while WoW is the undisputed juggernaut right now, much like EQ was before, there’s always something over the horizon. EQ was the biggest, then WoW was, then it went mainstream. Maybe something else will crush it or refine it. Who knows? I’m terrible at speculation like this. Golden age implies a certain hazy rose-colored glasses approach to game design. Not sure if we are there quite yet.

Ji Firepaw: Now More Than Ever

Hello, I’m Apple Cider. You might know me from such great Internet Blog Posts as Ji Firepaw: Creepy Dude and Ji Firepaw: Cardboard Gentleman. I’m here to talk to you today about a serious matter.

Joking aside, I’ve been away from my blog for a bit, after dousing the Internet in man-hating gasoline and setting it on fire according to certain inflammatory MMO-Champion trolls.

However, sharp-eyed blog reader Failadin caught this bit of dialogue in the beta:

I cannot tell you how much this tickles me. Not only did Ji change his dialogue in the first place, but he has enough self-awareness to realize that dropping a compliment on Aysa apropos of nothing might be a little off. Blizzard’s sense of humor about this whole thing is really amazing, and it makes me feel a lot better having raised the point originally. Not only do we get a “reckless” character that may learn a touch of reflection from another, but it shows a real tongue-in-cheek jibe at themselves as writers. I love it. I love when flawed characters grow and learn and possess the ability to learn. I hope Ji and Aysa, despite their personality differences, bring eachother much needed balance to their personalities, as well as the Horde/Alliance in general.

See that people? Ji Firepaw is now more self-conscious than your average Reddit poster. Zing!

What do you feel about this change?

Discussion Post: Beta Thoughts So Far?

Panda looks at giant carrot.

Screenshot courtesy of @alexziebart

It’s PANDAMONIUM, folks!

The first wave of beta invites went out (sadly, none to me) and so far we’ve seen a pandalanche of news and quirky things coming from testers. Gloriia of Corgi Island has some primo beta videos and stills from her time spent as a female pandaren monk, so you might want to check that out. I peeked over my boyfriend’s shoulder and watched him run around Stormwind with his flippy belt and flippy hair and very expressive panda lady face (lucky sod.) I’m so far impressed by what Blizzard has offered us in the way of the expansion.

As far as non-pandaren related beta stuff, there’s been some intriguing mage glyphs floating around. Who is going to find random critters to turn into turtles, leaving your indelible magey mark on the world?

What are you excited for in beta so far? What would you do if you got an invite? Have you just been reading every scrap of news you can get your hands on? Let me know in the comments!

PS: If you want to hear the most hilarious Mists of Pandaria discussion, tune into Bifactional this week. *tiptoes away*

Mists of Pandaria Monday: Three Hours of Sleep Edition

Welcome to Mists of Pandaria Monday! I’m your intrepid Apple Cider and I got literally three hours of restless sleep today due to the fact that I was up chatting about Lilian Voss on Mumble with people intently researching all of the new MoP information for you, dear readers. Pardon me while my research intensity leads to things like belligerent opinions, dead links, spelling errors or possibly not finishing sentences. A lot of really thorough coverage went up at almost 12 AM PST and I urge you all to go read it; WoW Insider and Wowhead did an amazing job collating and organizing all the relevant bits for your perusal. As it stands, I will be bullet-pointing and discussing the things I found most exciting personally before I fall face first into my keyboard.

Female Pandaren: More Bounce By the Ounce

I discussed my feelings on the potential aesthetic of the female pandaren last week and when the screenshots of the in-game model finally were debuted, I found myself quite happy with the results. As reported, the females will have fur color options, with the red panda fur look including a tail. This doesn’t make sense to me personally, because while I can swallow that this a magical fantasy world where red pandaren and black/white pandaren are the same species, why would only female red pandaren have tails? It seems like one of those weird evolutionary quirks that seems more “pandering” than plausible. As far as my concerns towards the body and figure of the women? Settled for the most part. I would have liked to see an even more rotund, hefty lady (or eventually a slider) but this will do for now. She’s got curves that suggest a physical but comfortable life and also slightly more bottom-heavy and animalistic than more humanoid counterparts. I can see her hefting a barrel of home-brewed stout or cooking up Pandarian Death Peppers just as much as fighting with a bow staff. A lot of criticism has come down heavily on the face that is presented in a lot of the official art but I think they are cute as heck. I have a feeling there will be some leeway on facial features and expressions for those who want to look more fierce. I also have some faith that Blizzard’s continued improvements with in-game models will give them a range of emotion in their face as well. The screenshots we’ve seen so far give them concrete personalities too that range from meditative to dreamy.

Now, interestingly on WoW Insider’s live Mists of Pandaria podcast this morning a fan-done “revision” of the model was linked (warning: Picture is SFW, but DA account has some NSFW if you browse further) that simply added a touch more weight to the face and body. Personally I like how it looks, but someone in the chat inevitably remarked about “furries” and how it’s just a “fetish” picture. Sorry, but liking a woman with weight on her is pretty typical, especially since women’s bodies fall all along the shape spectrum. There are fetishes for certain kinds of body figures or figures caused by various things, but finding appeal or aesthetic value in all sorts of body shapes, including larger ones, is not fetish material or even sexual. So let’s keep the weird rhetoric to a minimum.

A Farm of One’s Own, Lorewalking and Other Casual Pleasantries

As part of the intense shift towards more “casual” non-PVE/PVP centric content for Mists, one of the reputations you can encounter in-game is the Tillers. This is part of a quest to help a farmer and his rundown farm back onto its feet, eventually netting you your own in-game farm that will include dailies that help you grow plants (whether this is herbalism nodes or cooking mats), obtain livestock and decorate your farmhouse. As someone who has always loved the idea of things like Harvest Moon, Farmville but didn’t like the intense timesink elements of the latter, this little farm outlet in Pandaria is intriguing to me. I want to have my gnome grow all her own alchemy mats, till the earth with a yaungol and prosper. A lot of the information coming out about MoP‘s questing content and reputations suggests that a lot of people who enjoy doing story content but dislike some of the rote, impersonal challenges of dailies will enjoy this stuff to no end. Molten Front was the carrot-on-the-stick for those of us who are like this when Firelands came out but was such a logistical nightmare and failure of entertainment. This feels like a breath of fresh air. Another set of dailies will also allow us to obtain a beautiful cloud serpent, much like the Ravasaur or Wintersaber mount, putting meaningful and personally exciting rewards for those who chose to do the quests.

In this vein of adding additional things for those of us who like poking and prodding is the Lorewalkers reputation. I’m unsure whether this is what archeology is getting rolled into or if this is seperate, but players will be able to find Pandaren artifacts around the world and turn them into these culture keepers in return for an elaborate show depicting parts of Pandarian history and lore. It is a highly interactive way of learning about the world’s story that will grab our attention, in case we pass through questing too fast to absorb the story.

The most hotly talked-about feature though is pet battles. I missed the Pokemon train, unfortunately, so the sheer intensity of support for this mini-game that is being implemented is a little bit beyond my ken, but as an avid pet collector, the fringe benefits of being able to add value to my pet collection and cross the globe searching for new rare pets in the wild to add tickles me. It also introduces a style of combat game that has none of the drawbacks of PVP: no loss tallies, no contact or interaction with the other party, and the flexibility of pet dueling or pet battle queueing from anywhere. This might be a style of player-versus-player that I spend at least a little time dabbling in, even if it just putting together teams consisting of Alliance Balloon, Rustberg Seagull and Perky Pugs.

Overall, I feel that they are really putting in a ton of content for those of us who like to do a variety of things on a variety of characters.

PVE Explosion: Heroic Scholomance, Challenge Dungeons, and Minor Glyphs

For those players who like taking a big bite out of some PVE content though, I will say that WoW has gone far beyond a lot of the criticisms that plagued Cataclysm and bursting at the seams with raid, dungeon and extra perks for those who want to face some bosses and get some nice purples for their trouble.

Most exciting out of this news is the revamps of Heroic Scholomance and Scarlet Monastery. Not only is there quite a few hints that the story has been updated significantly to shape the old bosses, but there are new (???) villains lurking around every corner. Even the corners have been updated, promising a more linear and overall detailed dungeon. This is most present in Scholomance, which got a completely new facelift and floor layout in order to remove some of the weird boss backtracking and ridiculousness with trash that players encountered in vanilla.  Also included is the intense and mysterious Lilian Voss, powerful former Scarlet protege, now-turned-undead, fighting against skeletons in one of the rooms in the school of dark arts. What is she doing there? This question is playing on any lore junkie’s mind (including my own) as well as who is left in the Scarlet Monastery. Why hasn’t Whitemane gotten the same overhaul as the other models? Hopefully these will be answered in time.

A thrill that I am looking forward to as an ex-raider who still likes the adrenaline rush of executing content is challenge mode dungeons. These dungeons will require specific teams of people completing objectives within the instance for achievements, rankings and extra rewards such as vanity loot. It is reminiscent of bear runs or timed Culling of Stratholme, where perfect play nets you an extra special shiny but now with an additional challenge of being on a leaderboard. It is assumed to not only foster togetherness within guilds but inspire some level of server-based competition that is a little less time intensive than raiding. I want to put together a crack squad of people to tackle heroics and get some wicked looking gear, not going to lie. Given how much I have in dungeons right now with my guild, I am definitely sinking my teeth into this wholeheartedly.

Finally, the fact that Warcraft is going to debut with 14 bosses for the first raid tier is exceptionally intriguing, but mostly I’m just excited about minor glyphs letting me ride around on my guildies who are druid-stags. Vanity, flavor and usefulness seem to be the things most present here with the glyph revamp and I couldn’t be happier. Flat stat changes are not an exciting area of development and I’d rather see customization, personalization and choices be part of my glyphing process.

Story and Art Development

I’m going to swoon here for a moment – it looks like so far, Blizzard has put a fuckton (pardon my French) of work into creating this brand new world inside of their very old world of Azeroth. The rising conflict with between all of the native (or not-so-native) races of Pandaria, combined with obvious and deep Asian influences in the art design makes for an incredibly detailed, exciting world that I want to explore. I want to see all 10,000 waterfalls. I want to see all the new species of animals. Cynicism about rampant Orientalism aside, I really feel incredibly bowled over by how this world is going to look, feel and act, especially when my gnome steps foot on the shores.

I haven’t felt this excited for World of Warcraft since Burning Crusade came out, and I for one, am optimistic that Blizzard really is doing something very right.

Let me know what your thoughts are on the Mists of Pandaria announcements so far in the comments or on Twitter!