Are you aspiring to be a better player? Should you?

A few weeks back I got into a bit of hot water by suggesting that Warcraft players could be better than they are by coming more prepared to Group content. In fact, my assertion that using a food buff plus a flask (+200 to primary stat) met, from some, with calls for me to check my own mental state. Because CLEARLY, preparation for anything is not within the remit of anyone else to suggest to players, let alone place IN A GUIDE. In the end, the arguments stretched from passionate agreement with my stance all the way through alternatives and suggestions. Maybe it wasn’t about the stats per se, but the willingness of players to show that they understand that grouping has a different rule set than playing alone.

What followed in the next few days was not dissimilar to the run of personal abuse I experienced when I suggested that players might not need flying for Warcraft content. Perhaps there was more fun to be had by learning to overcome difficulty as opposed to simply trivialising the content by flying over it. It is abundantly apparent that some don’t only dislike being told what to do, but will have serious issue when it is suggested they could play better than they are. This is not unusual across the MMO spectrum either: often, players will tell you how friendly their title of choice is in terms of helpful people. We all know those individuals who can’t take criticism, and we understand how hard it can be sometimes to tell others that they’re wrong.

What is needed at this point is for those people to understand that actually, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is anything but. If you want an example, go see how Wil Wheaton (who’s about to host Blizzard’s massive gamefest, aka Blizzcon, next month) approached learning about the company by playing their recently-launched MOBA, Heroes of the Storm. Picking up the title as a novice, he made this clear to players who he met via matchmaking who then, in his own words, were ‘friendly and patient and encouraging’ in their support of progress. We all know that that’s often not the case in MMO’s (and I can attest that Azeroth has an awful lot of entitled voices.) Wheaton however went into the experience as someone who admitted up front that he needed help, and it worked to help foster a better sense of community.

Probably the biggest issue I encounter on any given day are those who believe they have no room to improve. As someone who’s mantra has been ‘every day is a school day’ since I left college, I know how bad I can be at following my own advice. I realise there is a lot of room for improvement, and that it would be really rather foolish to assert I’m the best I can be right now and therefore nothing needs to change. There are a lot of normal, brilliant players out there, and they are a world away from the noisy, entitled masses that often end up hogging the spotlight. Bravetank is a perfect example of such a decent and honest player, and she’s like thousands of others that normally don’t get considered when discussing how to change attitudes. The issue that covers both sides of this argument about ‘better’ play is that being able to accept help is often half the battle to begin with, and that’s not just an issue with those who feel they don’t need it. On the flip side there are also the players who don’t know how to get better, or simply aren’t comfortable doing so for all manner of perfectly legitimate and acceptable reasons. Does an MMO need to cater to both sides of the coin, or is the default mentality simply to set the bar at a certain height and see who can clear it?

There are those who will tell you it’s not a game’s job to make you a better player, that’s up to you, and to a certain extent that is correct. However, I believe a basic level of technical competence is achievable by everyone, without both sides dissolving into hissy fits about things either being too easy or too hard. The bigger issue is seldom you, but more often than not the other people that play. My 10 year old has learnt this lesson herself the hard way in the last few weeks, country dancing with her peers who don’t get the steps and keep bumping into her. ‘It would be so much easier without the other people,’ she admitted to me, and it reinforces a point. Single player situations are often the best way for everyone to have a gaming experience that suits their ability. Except in MMO’s, you can’t do that. Social interaction dictates a specific rule set, that means you have to L2P nub, whether you like it or not. If you don’t? That way anger, frustration and ultimately a cancelled subscription lie.

Of course there will be those who will blame society as a whole for the problems they have in gaming.  I’d suggest reading this article on masculinity with a cuppa and an open mind before grasping that the perception of yourself is probably the bigger issue. This needs to be dealt with on a case by case basis if you want to solve some of the long-term endemic issues with popular gaming culture. That’s not happening any time soon, so in the end you need to decide what matters most to your own individual sanity. I say it over and over to people: this is only pixels, don’t let it ruin your life. It’s true, and it needs repeating until people grasp that in the end, when it stops being fun, that’s when you should walk away.

If you want to be better, you have the tools to do so, all you need to do is ask for help. That’s the biggest step of all, but once it’s taken? You might be surprised at how easy the journey then becomes.

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