Friday, January 6, 2012

The Real Achievement

I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in having that second of hesitation when I'm asked to talk about my hobbies or what I do for fun. I mean, I do a lot of things other than work, eat, and sleep. Playing an MMO is hardly my only hobby, but it is one of them. And I don't even care about the "those games are for nerds, real people play Madden and Halo" sorts of people. I have to say I'm completely indifferent to their opinions.

I'm much more sensitive to an objection that I've never actually heard, one that goes something along the lines of "how can you play an MMO? Don't you know it's just a virtual Skinner box with a variable interval payment schedule?"

And well, yes, there is that element to them. That is a true statement; it is not, however, the only true statement.

There are also folks who are totally fine with an MMO hobby, but they want to know "why World of Warcraft?" It's old and ugly and anyway, don't I know that Cataclysm was the worst expansion ever? They've lost like a million subscribers! And next expansion they'll be jumping the panda!

I get that Cataclysm was unpopular with a lot of people. Some think it catered to the casuals and the game got too easy or watered down. Some think it catered to the hardcore, becoming too inaccessible. A lot of people seem to have been bullied as a child by one of the Pandaren. I'm not really sure.

Let's talk about my guild.

I came to my guild by resubscribing to the game after taking a break from December 2009 to October 2010. That's a pretty long break! I had played Wrath from about the time when Ulduar came out to about the time Icecrown Citadel came out, when a new job made raiding pretty impossible.

I think it was probably my boyfriend that told me that a friend we'd made (or rather, that he'd made and I'd gotten to know through him) outside of WoW had become GM of her small guild, back on the little tiny role-playing server that we'd originally started playing on and had since transferred off of.

They had no need of a hunter, so when I transferred over I moved my priest first and started healing for them. Their raid schedule was about half as intense as what I'd been used to. They could only field a 10-person raid, and further that was all they wanted to field. In fact we pretty frequently had to find an extra person from outside the guild to fill in.

But then over time, some of those people became regular raiders. Eventually some of them joined the guild and a team started to congeal.

Cataclysm was actually the first time I went into an expansion on patch day. I wasn't playing the game when Burning Crusade was released and I was taking a break when Wrath came out. I went into it with a group of people I liked with a plan for how we'd resume raiding after we'd leveled to the new cap. We used the release of the expansion pack as a reason to change up the raid roster, allowing me to go back to playing my hunter as my main character.

We've built a guild culture - almost from the ground up - that we can all be proud of.

Both of our main tanks, a role most commonly held by men, are women.

None of the women on our raid team have to worry about being harassed or denigrated because of their gender.

My boyfriend and I don't have to worry about referring to each other as a couple.

No one yells or screams during raid time.

If someone needs a week or two off, no problem.

People have been able to change main characters and change roles because they wanted to.

There have been disagreements. There've been some hurt feelings. It happens, but we've dealt with it all as a group, and we've done a pretty good job with it.

I don't log on to push the loot-pellet dispenser lever.

I don't log on because it's Warcraft or because it's the Cataclysm.

I log on because I like playing with my guild.

We started raiding in Cataclysm probably about a month after most other casual guilds did, and a good couple months after the really serious raiding guilds did. We never quite cleared out the initial tier of raid bosses on normal difficulty, and we never did any of the heroic modes. We got close, with only the most difficult two (Nefarian and Al'akir) remaining, but then the Firelands patch was released and it was time to move on.

We started out on Firelands with Beth'tilac, a giant spider boss that most guilds killed second or third, and it was tough. The DPS, healing, and coordination requirements forced us to play better - so we did. The coordination and individual skill requirements of Alysrazor stymied us for a while too, almost a whole month, and we had to go back to basics and work on fundamentals again. In the end, we didn't quite get Ragnaros-normal down before the whole tier was nerfed pretty hard, but we did get him the week after that. We would have been able to kill him before he was nerfed.

As it was, we used the post-nerf Firelands content period as a time to sort of rest and regroup. It got boring doing the same bosses over and over, but we were able to mostly farm up all the gear people could have wanted, putting us in the unfamiliar position of really being prepared going into patch 4.3 and the Dragon Soul raid.

That raid was, of course, released right around the holidays, and out of the four-week period of its initial release, we only raided two. Bosses were dying, though. We cleared out the first four bosses on our first night in there, and those bosses - even on 10-person normal difficulty - have presented some significant challenges for a lot of groups.

I think that Zon'ozz and maybe even Hagara would have been huge speedbumps for the guild that first stepped into the Blackwing Descent and Bastion of Twilight raids of Cataclysm's initial release. I personally didn't even start using Aspect of the Fox until halfway through Firelands. No one was pre-potting or knew what it was (if you're unfamiliar, "pre-potting" is the practice of drinking a potion just before combat begins, allowing you to drink a second potion a couple minutes into the encounter. Potions provide a significant benefit for a short period of time).

Everyone in this guild has gotten better over the course of this expansion. We've grown as a group and improved as players without having to give up any of the things that make raiding fun for us.

Every single week that we've actually raided we've killed a new boss in Dragon Soul, and we haven't had any trouble replicating kills once we learn them the first time.

Last night we completed the Madness of Deathwing encounter on 10-person normal difficulty. That's the big villain of the expansion, Deathwing himself. That's what we've been moving towards this whole expansion. We've reached this point without having to give up anything. We didn't have to add a new raid night, or kick people we liked, or scream, or raid when we'd rather be spending time with loved ones, or anything.
We've just been having fun, indulging in a social hobby with people whose company we enjoy, and we've killed some dragons on the internet in the meantime. And now, for the first time, we're going to do some heroic modes.

Cataclysm has been the best of the WoW expansions for me, and it's been that because I love my guild.

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