A Solo Heart

A death knight stands over rocky precipice in Stonecore.

You’d never be able to tell now but in high school I was a cross-country runner and skier. Most of the long-distance game was actually mental, not physical. Training gave me the endurance and muscles, speed but nothing ever prepared me for spending long chunks of time inside of  my head keeping myself motivated. I had to do whatever it took mentally to keep one foot in front of the other, especially when all my body was doing was telling me, “Stop. Just rest a second. Just slow down.”

When the rain was running into my eyes or when my lungs were burning, the little voice got louder and I had to focus on some meaningless phrase on repeat or the rhythm of my footsteps. There were no shortcuts here, just myself and the road and I wasn’t going to let the road beat me.

While I don’t think that playing World of Warcraft is even in the realm of marathons, I’ve always thought of myself as a decent solo player. I do things alone a lot as a way of focusing on a task or giving myself space and time to clear my head out. I’ve always had the tether of a guild or other people if I wanted to go do something else, so it’s been really interesting to have very little of either. For the past week or so I’ve been soloing dungeons on a death knight, on a server I have no guildmates on, just to see if I could.

The project started out very pragmatically last Christmas, where I rolled up a death knight one night because my friend told me that a guild had just transferred to Mal’ganis and were letting anyone in for free to get to exalted with the guild and buy the guild raid meta achievement mount. I created a death knight, not because I knew how to play one but because the mount required being level 85 and I figured that the shorter distance for leveling would be fine. I got exalted pretty quickly with the guild and bailed, and the death knight got left to rot with a nice mount sitting in her bags.

It’s hard to force myself to play something I don’t innately understand and I had better things to do, especially when most of early Outlands consisted of level 90s from Kel’thuzad smearing my already twice-dead corpse from the Dark Portal and back.

Now that we are a whole year later and I’ve run out of stuff to do with this expansion, my vigor for leveling alts has returned once again, especially with the recent change to Bind on Account items. The mount sitting in my death knight’s bags started calling to me, as leveling to 85 would be superbly easy now that I could load that toon up with awesome gear.

I started looking up leveling guides, clearing off my bars (a must-do whenever I come back to a particularly old set of action bars) and started asking questions. The goal was to get from Point A and Point B (level 62 to level 85) in the shortest, easy way possible – a spec built for murder (Blood), the best gear available (heirlooms) and all the content I knew like the back of my hand.

After spending two levels getting the gist of the spec from quests, I found myself getting bored. Remembering how blood death knights are the reigning queens of solo content, I wondered aloud if perhaps I could solo a dungeon. I was slightly above level but I picked something easy like Hellfire Ramparts.

Huh, that was easy.

It really surprised me that I managed to clear an entire dungeon, solo, at level 64 with no deaths. It was just Hellfire Ramparts, surely this would fall apart once I did a real dungeon.

So I did Blood Furnace.

Then Slave Pens.

Then Underbog.

Here, someone who was still relatively new to a class was not only soloing at-level dungeons but not even dying that much. I got some tweaks from my friends to my rotation and cooldowns and I was streaming all of my progress. I tackled all of Auchindoun, and even dying a bit, it still felt like I had accomplished something.

Here’s the funny thing about success, especially when you find yourself having an audience – the voices that were only you wrestling with yourself suddenly become you wrestling with how you feel everyone else thinks about you. The time I started hitting Wrath dungeons, more or less roughly at level as well, a new ticker-tape of self-criticism came in. I was only soloing because I had heirlooms. It isn’t because I was good, or capable. I had help. I had the best gear I could get my hands on. Every mistake I made, like when I wiped on trash or didn’t use my cooldowns properly, I felt like I was proving everyone along the way that had made some shitty comment about how women were terrible at video games.

The onslaught of internalized feelings that I was somehow letting ALL WOMEN GAMERS down because I failed on a trash pack in Ankahet was somewhat surprising. I’ve been pretty good at un-training my brain to stop with that kind of garbage, but the addition of an audience with Twitch streaming brought up some of those old, painful feelings. I don’t think anyone really chastises people who do solo content for their inability to get past one boss a couple times, but the idea that they could if that person was a woman seems plausible. It also doesn’t help that I keep undercutting my own ambition by how much help I have from things that are pretty good tools: guides, heirloom gear, advice from other people. Using these things versus not seems like common sense and I wonder if other solo-er type people have this internal debate with themselves. Using every trick and advantage seems like something we see players at the top of the game utilizing, why not me?

One of the things I’ve been trying to work hard on in general is the idea that making mistakes is valuable and I don’t think WoW is immune from that. I think myself, or even other women gamers, constantly pressure ourselves to come out of the gate perfect lest we invite the criticism of our skill reflect badly versus letting ourselves making necessary mistakes. When it comes to soloing, I feel like the idea that you have to constantly be able to perform flawlessly with no learning or training prior to feels antithetical to what soloing actually is. Soloing feels like an incredibly small portion of the player base, only really known for one or two faces and is comprised on the surface of highlight reels and gossip about “so-and-so totally did this” versus the countless hours, wipes, and trial and error it really requires. It’s an activity that is purely it’s own reward, to some degree. There’s no achievements for it. It also requires an entirely different set of skills, talents and utility that I think things like Brawler’s Guild and Proving Grounds have only begun to scratch at. Those things are suited for and designed entirely for one person to “win”. That’s what they are scaled for. The prescribed course of action is both a pure test of skill but I feel has a lower barrier to problem-solving than soloing content that was not made for one person. I say this, not as someone who has beaten Proving Grounds or Brawler’s Guild (though I’ve done both) but just coming from the perspective that there’s definitely places where you can tell that one was designed for a group and one wasn’t. There’s outright bosses I’ve encountered so far that are fairly impossible to solo due to mechanics (Svala in Utgarde Pinnacle) or that are fairly hard  just due to not having another person to kite (Obsidius in Blackrock Depths).

All of this stuff is what I’ve been thinking about over the last couple of days in my attempts to quell the little voice in my head that tells me to stop, to slow down. I think past the unique community that soloing represents (which feels very absent of other women), the need to overcome my desire to be perfect and my own fears as a woman gamer, soloing presents less the pragmatic goal that it once was and more of a way of proving so many things to myself. It is also really fun. Soloing, in my mind, feels like trying to answer a question that no one really asked of me.

As I creep closer to level 85, and consider about going straight 90 with only soloing dungeons, I realize that this yet another long distance to travel with its own mental game. And I just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other. There’s no going from Point A to Point B without doing so.

 

 

How to (Role)Play With Others

My blood elf looks out in Booty Bay.

I’ve found that the best way to spruce up my World of Warcraft experience sometimes is to do something radically different, just as an experiment. Lately, I’ve been feeling the itch to roleplay again, despite the fact that I ran screaming from that particular community some years ago. Things Alliance-side on my RP server tend to be extremely insular and filled with the same people that I didn’t want to deal with. On the recommendation of my friend Mainfloortank, I decided to roll a fresh new toon on Wyrmrest Accord. Not only that, but Horde! There’s nothing like rolling on a faction you’re largely still new to and as a role you’re fairly unfamiliar with (tank) to get the old creative juices pumping. It’s been a pretty weird experience so far – Wyrmrest Accord is stuffed to the gills with roleplayers. I’m serious, they are everywhere. I’ve been so used to the RP only happening in a major city and only holding specific events, but you can go most places in the world on Wyrmrest Accord and find people tucked away chatting with eachother.

This has been mostly daunting to me, as one can expect. It’s one thing to wander around Silvermoon City with an RP flag, it’s another thing to actually roleplay. Coming new to a server, new to a faction, new to this race’s lore means you have to hit the ground running when it comes to developing a story for yourself. I made sure to note that I was returning to RP so people might go easy on me. I picked a fairly open character concept that allowed for some confusion regarding lore or world events. My warrior is a discharged Shattered Sun Offensive soldier that’s been wiling away the years in Quel’danas and only recently got shuffled back to the mainland. She’s missed a lot about what happened to the Horde, or even her fellow blood elves. She’s got a military lean to her sensibilities and her language, but for the most part, I’m still working out how she moves and acts. The weirdest part of it is just getting used to other people again.

Before our guild went completely social, we actually used to RP a lot. But a lot of us got out of it due to burn out with our particular server’s community of godmodding, creepy or just straight up annoying individuals. RP flags become less and less about finding good hooks and more just to lampoon people with bad writing or erroneous synonyms for eyes. (Because forbid you describe your eyeballs with the proper term. It’s not orbs, they are not hues!) So trying to completely get out of the Stadtler and Waldorf mindset when it comes to roleplayers and actually doing some roleplaying has been a bit of a challenge for me. Do I still screenshot really bad flags for my own private collection? Absolutely. Do I tell people who try to ERP with me or are otherwise gross in /say to tone it down? You betcha. (Because that shit is creepy, okay) Getting into character and not breaking constantly just because someone has bad punctuation or wants to tell me their life story immediately at the bar is tricky, but I’m really trying hard. Meeting a group of friends who absolutely take this a lot more seriously than I do has helped some with rolling with the punches and sticking to my blood elf’s story. It’s fairly essential to the experience that you at least take it a bit seriously, which in turn is why I think some role-players get so defensive of their craft, even when it’s not fair to other people. They spent a ton of time writing that terrible profile that makes them the children of Arthas and Illidan and by golly, they still walk around Silvermoon City with a smile on their face.

So you could say that playing a fictional character in a video game has given me some insights into how to properly interact with other real people better. Sometimes you’re not going to be surrounded by people who agree with you and you have to roll with it.

That being said, the particular intricacies of social interaction in WoW outside of my guild is still daunting to me. Being outside my little safe space of a guild has been a bit more of a shock than I was expecting. I met a pretty nice RP guild the first night I RPed and ICly/OOCly joined the guild immediately. Despite making some fast friends, I still had to contend with was, for all intents and purposes, a guild full of people who are not really as invested in minding what they say. Several casual misogynist jokes about hookers, prom queens floated by. I joined voice chat and had to contend with homophobic/ableist slurs. This is how the other half lives. It made me uncomfortable to the point where I talked to one of the officers and while they did enact a more stringent language policy at their latest guild meeting, I still had to leave. It felt so weird – are my values such a sticking point that I have to walk away from an RP guild that my vacation RP alt is sitting in? And with a lot of debate with myself, that answer is yes. It sucks but despite meeting people I genuinely liked and wanted to create stories with, I had to not be in a guild with the rest of the people there. But overall, it was more fair for me to leave than expect an entire guild to bend to my standards. I bucked up, talked with the officer who had recruited me and went looking for another guild. I’m in a new guild now and while they are not RP per se, they have language policies that a lot more in line with mine. It means that I can relax and not feel weird or awkward. It just makes me a tiny bit chagrined that I carry a concern so large like this that it informs all of my choices no matter where I go – it seems despite rolling an alt to “escape” and do something different means that I still miss how things are back “home” a lot.

This experience so far has been fun but seemingly like anything else I do and relate to this blog, it always seem to come with a lesson attached. I still have a long ways to go with learning how to be a bit more understanding of other’s time spent in-game, but definitely see why I don’t always mesh well with other WoW players. However, it is good to always take them as well as myself seriously. Both are worthy of respect, after all.

A Home Away From Home Of My Own

Saci rides her felsteed across the moors of Gilneas

I think one of the driving forces behind my out-of-control alt “issue” (I can quit any time I want, okay?) is that I use alts as solutions to problems I have. (“Problems” is kind of a mis-label, I think of them more as “ideas.” However, it is still true.) If there’s something I am thinking of doing or working on, it usually comes down to “roll another alt.” Do I have an obsession with a race/class combo? Roll an alt. Did I forget how to play a spec on an 85? Roll an alt. This little habit of mine probably started around the time I wanted to do Insane; needing alts for very specific tasks like being a scribe or being able to pick lockboxes was pretty crucial. However, all of these things are intensely practical as far as playing World of Warcraft goes.

What if the need for a new alt (in the face of a looming expansion a month away, no less) is less of a  functional one and more personal?

It is no secret that I feel very strongly about my guild. It has become, over the course of this expansion, not just a resting place for me post-progression raiding but a safe haven for folk of all stripes. We have come very close together and we’re getting new people every day. I’m a proud guild leader who sees the number of people online every night going up. I have guildmates pulling me aside to tell me how for the first time they feel “accepted” and “comfortable.” This is really important to me. I like being at the helm. However, sometimes, even a guild leader wants to slip off and be a peon for a while. There’s more friends out there than just within the borders of my guild. Having a place I can jet off to during the day when barely anyone is on to fill up guild chat, or when I’m feeling stressed out is pretty important. Plus, it is a way to extend my time to others without them needing to join my guild. Because mine isn’t the only one that is valuable or important.

That being said, it’s been hard. I’ve rolled alts on other servers before but they’ve never really “stuck.” I even have level 85s in other places now but I don’t play them that often. It’s hard to tear myself away from my “kids” enough to enjoy myself somewhere else. There’s also the larger concern: will other guilds uphold the same values I do? I’ve spoken about this before, that the driving force behind my guild is to treat people with respect. This means in word and deed. Treat people for the equals they are. Do right by them. A lot of guilds don’t quite live up to this in my eyes, in either large or subtle ways. So how am I supposed to pal around and hang out in some other person’s house that doesn’t treat me the way I wish to be treated? It’s harder when you’re not the one running things to speak up, to effect change. It’s someone else’s living room, don’t shit on the rug.

It had been something that had been percolating away in the back of my brain for a while when I asked Snack from <Waypoint> if I could join his guild on an alt to “hang out and talk.” Him and I share a lot of similar interests and opinions on things and I consider him a mentor when it comes to running a guild. He’s been wildly supportive of my efforts to be a good GM so far and always lets me bend his ear with whatever concerns I have. You might say we’re friends. I also have quite a few Twitter buddies that hang out in Waypoint that I enjoy being around, so it naturally seemed like a good place to stick yet another alt. I’d have my little place to noodle around when my own guild was dead or when I felt like getting away. I definitely was not expecting to find a guild that reminded me so much of my own, so full of warmth and laughter and respect.

I wasn’t also not expecting to roll a warlock.

Let me tell you, it feels like I’m in some sort of bizarre universe skin. I’m tall and gorgeous and I love spending money on outfits and and and and…

I’m a warlock.

Let those words sink in for a minute. I have a level 75 warlock but she’s never really been mine. She’s been rerolled 3 times and is a glorified scribe machine. This time around? I’m only 48 and I’ve sunk money into beautiful transmog outfits, made mage jokes and thrown myself off high places to resurrect myself from a soul stone. In short, I’m actually enjoying myself. The irony of this is that the class is going to change wildly in a few short weeks, but I don’t care. I’m around a fairly expansive “coven” of warlocks in Waypoint and feel pretty good about myself. Sure, most of this involves picking on Cynwise mercilessly when he’s playing his mage, but I ain’t complaining. It is fun learning another caster and despite the intrinsic loathing I feel for being all “YAY GREEN FIRE,” warlocks are actually quite cool.

The point of all this is that sometimes change can be good, even if just to inject a slightly different perspective of fun to the fun you were already having.

It’s so unbelievable to me to not only find another guild that could be a “sister” to the guild I belong to in both personality and spirit, but that I’m getting to know the warlock class intimately and not feeling bored. Stuff like this is not only valuable in and of itself but it makes me value what I have on my home server so much more. I feel like this is merely a new extension of myself in which to express not only my story vampires but my personality to a whole other group of people I care about. And it is really easy to care about people in Waypoint much like Northrend Commonwealth. They are a laid-back but friendly group of players that like to make terrible puns, have fun while raiding and while maybe slightly less enthusiastic about poop or radical feminism, they share the same core of love and respect I’m used to. I like staying up late sometimes and hashing out more serious feelings about leadership, celebrity or pride with some of my Waypoint friends (like Dee, Zable or Lizzy), or pootling around in the afternoon with Catulla and talking about lady business. All of these things adds to the already pleasurable social experience I have with my guild. I want to say things like RealID and Twitter made this happen but the undercurrent of that is that social media has to be populated with people you want to socialize with in order to be productive. So finding more of my “own kind” to talk to, raid with and generally explore Azeroth with has opened my eyes to the real possibilities.

My only concern (if you could even call it that) is that people might read this and feel that I’m handing out an advertisement for particular people or guilds. I’m not pulling back the curtain, so to speak, to shine a spotlight on Waypoint in particular. I think that while the folk in-guild are wonderful and amazing people, I think the real “magic” of this experience comes from this intrinsic and valuable idea that guilds, and by that point, social interactions in this game, should function based on treating people right. I’ve always believed this and this is why when I find another guild that believes in it as strongly as I do, it feels like “coming home again.” There’s no formula or steps you can follow to really replicate caring, concern and valuing people inside your guild other than believing it and acting on it. If you do this, the people that value this as well will find you. I know this is definitely how I found Waypoint as a space to stick a vacation alt.

All in all, there is yet another place that I feel comfortable being myself in (even if that “self” is a warlock right now) and that is a good feeling indeed.