Monday, February 7, 2011

The Mental Checklist

I've been trading a couple PMs with a friend discussing raiding and DPS and what have you. One of the questions she put to me was "any recommendations for keeping track of my dots and casting filler while not standing in the fire and watching my debuffs?"

Well then! That is sort of the rub, isn't it? This is the central challenge of raiding, or PvPing, or any of a number of other gaming settings: effectively monitoring and reacting to all the information that the game presents to you. Information which updates constantly, multiple times a second, and often requires an instant response of some sort or another. The response you provide, in turn, will often alter the information that the game presents to you, prompting another response, ad eternum or perhaps ad nausea, one or the other.

Gee, describing it like that doesn't make it seem very fun, does it? Just the endless processing of information. But then, that description works for DDR too, except for DDR isn't even interactive in the way that WoW is (hitting the arrows correctly or incorrectly does not change the arrows scrolling up from the bottom). I challenge anyone to say DDR isn't fun and keep a straight face. I don't think it can be done.

But then I was thinking about it a little more and I realized something intriguing: DDR isn't the only game that's pretty well described by this model. Another excellent example of this is yet another horse in the Blizzard stable: Starcraft II. And the thing about SC2 is that it has inherited the very rich competitive scene that arose out of SC1. One of the English-language luminaries of that scene is Day9.

I wasn't actively playing WoW when SC2 came out, so we traded in some seldom-played GBA and DS games and picked it up for a grand total of thirty cents. There was a time when I was playing it pretty intensely, going so far as to watch a lot of high-level match commentary and analysis. By far the most entertaining of this was (and is!) done by Day9. And actually, one of his early, classic videos is in my opinion of great use to us WoW players. Here it is:

I really encourage you to watch that whole thing. That may seem a little crazy, but I think it will actually probably be worth it for most WoW players. Besides, Day9 is actually entertaining (and cute!).

Now clearly, as WoW players, we can't check to make sure we're always making drones because we don't make any drones at all. We do, however, have a number of things that we have to calmly monitor, and I think the checklist can help with that. A sample for myself would be:
  1. Am I positioned correctly in the encounter space?
  2. Am I taking damage from something I can stop?
  3. Any debuffs on me? Can I remove them or otherwise do something about them?
  4. Do I have enough focus to use my damaging abilities?
  5. Do I have a proc to respond to?
  6. Back to number 1.
People with different classes, specs, and roles will all build different checklists of course, but I think that having one in the first place could be very helpful to very many people. We all have a few basic things that we need to keep track of, and having a checklist helps us keep calm while we do that, as well as avoid tunnel-vision on our action bars, healthbars, or whatever. It helps us keep our eyes constantly roving the screen and keeps the front of our brains uncluttered because once we've taken in a piece of information, we can calmly address it and move on to the next thing instead of trying to juggle thirty eight facts simultaneously.

So try it out! What does your checklist look like?

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