Raiding Literacies

The big news of one small corner of the internet today was a series of charts that MMO-Champion put out showing the number of characters who had completed the current raiding tier in World of Warcraft. Now, the numbers were based off of only a sample of avatars so one cannot use them to speak for the whole playerbase. In the manner of forum users, however, that is exactly what was done.

Let’s pretend for a moment that there really is only ~5% of the playerbase in World of Warcraft that has completed the current tier. Why is that? There are a lot of theories, but the one Blizzard is acting on is that the tier is too difficult. Raiding is too hard.

Some players argue that raiding isn’t hard – players are just bad. More sensible players respond that actually, players just don’t know what to do because they were never taught. They don’t know how to understand a fight, they don’t know how to recognize mechanics, and they have no way of knowing how to learn that. They can’t solve problems that they can’t see.

There are many kinds of literacies, even many kinds of gaming literacies, but raiding literacy is one somewhat close to my heart. As a long-time raider, I have been in low-skill groups and very high-skill groups. I remember the first raid I did and how difficult it was then. Since I love raiding so much and I see raiding culture somewhat in decline right now (another post another time), I have an interest in teaching people how to raid in the hopes that they will then be able to enjoy it as much as I have.

But first of all, what do they need to know? And then, how do you teach that to them?

Normie, level 10 warlock, said it well in the “1.35% thread“:

Players often come to World of Warcraft new to the genre, perhaps even new to video games. They don’t understand how to parse the UI, let alone busy boss mechanics. The hope is that they “learn their class” through the leveling process and as they complete 5-man dungeons. However, much of the content has been simplified to account for the age of the game and the relative age of its playerbase. Even new players without veteran perks experience easy versions of 5-mans due to their companions who are, for the most part, overly geared and skilled alts.

They experience this, if they don’t get bored, for 85 levels. There is then a level-cap crisis (what do I do now?). If they manage to pass this crisis and continue playing, many of them realize that raiding is the goal. However, they haven’t been prepared to raid at all. They haven’t learned what a rotation is, not even what the term means potentially. They have never encountered a fight so dangerous that a mere misstep can kill them and everyone else. They’ve never seen fire on the ground perhaps even before. They may not conceptually relate a red/blue/purple/sometimes-green area on the floor with danger. They don’t have the conceptual map to understand that “fire will kill me” because they don’t see fire and they don’t realize the red/blue/purple has anything to do with them. (I am focusing on standing-in-fire because it is the most obvious part of raiding literacy when it is lacking and so ubiquitous that Blizzard has implemented more than one achievement referencing it.)

It’s easy for experienced players to say ‘you’re an idiot if you stand in fire’ because in real life, you would be somewhat of an idiot to stand in a patch of fire. That judgment however operates on a successful conceptual map of the avatar as a human body and the red/blue/purple circle spot on the screen as a patch of fire or other dangerous substance, a metaphor that new players do not understand. They do not see the game world in the same way that experienced players have learned to see it. They cannot read the images on the screen the way experienced players can.

They only see meaningless pixels. They may not even notice that a part of the floor is green because they don’t know the floor is an important part. Why isn’t the wall? Or the ceiling? Why does the room matter at all – aren’t we fighting a monster?

Perhaps raiding literacy begins with understanding the visual space of the game and relating it to the avatar as one relates real space to one’s body. We learn to watch where we step as children, and are often reminded of it as adults when we trip and make fools of ourselves. Raiders-to-be need to learn where to step as well, but if they haven’t tripped in 85 levels, they don’t even know that tripping is a thing. They need to be taught. And I don’t mean they should be tripped randomly. Perhaps we could find a better way, a more positive way to teach raiders this one lesson of the very many that need to be learned.

RIFT’s new Chronicles are small instances (1-2 players) for level 50 characters. I noticed that the boss fights in these dungeons are somewhat simplified. For example, the final boss of the first chronicle has a few abilities – he has a cleave, a beam-of-death that follows you, and a meteor-type ability. All of these are marked on the screen in a consistent manner. Before he uses his cleave ability, there is a red patch on the ground in an arc in front of him. Before meteor, there is a glowing red circle that he is targetting. The beam-of-death is also highlighted in red as well as being a beam of fire.

These are helpful, and I wonder how useful they are to new players. Do new players see the red? Do they know to stay out of it? Red is somewhat universally a bad color throughout the game – enemies are highlighted in red, damage done to you is red text, and other instances of danger use the color red. They’ve been trained to see red as danger.

However, are we just training them to see red patches on the ground now? Will they be able to understand the virtual space around their avatar as a space full of potentially dangerous threats to their character’s person? I think they will. They either move out of the red cleave before it happens or they take damage from it and gradually learn that red means move. Once they have learned that red means move, they have progressed from pure visual (red signifies something bad) to kinetic (red signifies something I need to avoid). Once they have reached kinetic, they have conceptually moved from purely a visual map to a spatial map. Visual awareness can now be spatial awareness.

Is this the ideal way to do it? No. Very likely no. It doesn’t happen until 50 for one. But it’s a start.

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