By February 8, 2006

Step Away From the Computer

Lady Jaye and I play a lot of World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online game wherein two factions – Horde and Alliance – battle head to head. We play on the same server as our friends Alexa and Father Figure, along with some other folks with whom I played Dark Age of Camelot. At any rate, my main character is to the point where he has to do less and less combat against the computer generated foes of the realm and more and more combat against the human-played characters from the other faction.

Person versus Person combat, or PvP, is mostly done in the Battlegrounds these days, special zones within the game that pit two teams of players against each other. The first zone, Warsong Gulch, is limited to 10 players a side. Arathi Basin pits 15 from each faction against each other. Lastly there is the massive Alterac Valley, wherein the Horde battles the Alliance in a 40 on 40 battle royale. There is also PvP out in the “wild” of the game world. Any player, from level 1 to level 60, can engage in combat as long as they are “flagged,” indictating their willingness to fight. This applies to the “PvE” and “RP” servers, as players on the “PvP” and “RP-PvP” servers are perma-flagged and can be attacked at any time.

“So fucking what?” you’re asking. What’s the point of this post?

Well, one of the rewards for PvP is honor. Honor allows you to increase your reputation with certain factions within the game, such as the undead Defilers, and gain access to special equipment. Honor also allows you to gain up to 11 titles in the game called “ranks.” Each rank gained grants a player access to more special equipment, arms, and armor. You gain honor by killing players, winning a Battleground, or by achieving objectives within a Battleground, such as taking over a mine, tower, graveyard, etc.

Now, just like in fifth grade, players earning honor are graded on a curve. The amount of honor your earn for the week (Tuesday ~1PM EST until the following Tuesday at ~6AM EST) is compared against all of the other players of your faction. My 80,000 honor points of last week put me in the top 150 Horde for the week, because I earned more honor points than the ~1850 other Horde players on my server. There is no hard and fast threshold for rankings. Players are not only compared against each other for the week, but also by a matrix of time spent in PvP, previous standing, etc. Because I am a relative newcomer to PvP, I am only ranked in the top 400 overall for my faction, the Horde.

The short story to all of this is that PvP is a multi-layered competition. Not only against the other faction as you try to kill enemy players, but also against your fellow faction mates. This is especially true for all of the hardcore PvP players who do nothing but assemble superstar groups and play in the Battlegrounds. These superstar groups run waiting lists of which other, lesser, players hope to gain the attention of. If you’re one of the lucky “midcore” players such as myself who only play 4 – 6 hours of PvP a day, you can get a spot in a superstar group. These guys communicate over VOIP technology such as Teamspeak or Ventrillo and have multiple strategies for every Battleground. They even have strategies based on the teams they are facing, and opposing player strengths and weaknesses.

At the pinnacle of the PvP ladder is the rank of High Warlord (for the Horde, that is — the Alliance has its own unique ranks). Only one person per server may be the High Warlord at any one time. For those with enough time, dedication, and skill to play to this level, attaining the rank of High Warlord often turns political. Formal organizations of players, called guilds, often want one person to become High Warlord and will metagame to keep other players from attaining the ultimate PvP rank. Common methods include dropping from that person’s group once combat starts, or refusing to group with them in the first place.

So welcome to the drama. This weekend I had the honor to join some of the upper echelon PvP players on my server for some action in Arathi Basin. I logged onto their Ventrilo server. Almost immediately, the group leader, who is on the path for High Warlord, began complaining how folks in his last group quit mid-game so that he couldn’t progress. Insulted and upset, the group leader launched into a tirade about obtaining — and keeping — the rank of High Warlord so that no one else from a competing guild could get it. What follows is a rough transcript of what he said.

“I’ve already quit my job so I can play for the next two weeks. How much does it cost to have someone play your character? Group two, hit the mine. I know leveling services run $12 an hour. I could pay someone to play my character 24 hours a day and just get a few points of honor per match. I don’t care. Three incoming to the blacksmith. Even if I get 1000 honor points per match and played 24/7 I would out grind them. I don’t give a fuck if I have to pay someone to play my character every day for a year, these fuckers aren’t getting to High Warlord. I am going to get that rank and hold it. I don’t care. Oh yeah, four at the stables, fight at the flag.”

This type of talk continued for over two hours. Every match. Every waiting period between matches. Even as I disbanded from the team, and presumably well afterwards.

The super scary thing to me, however, wasn’t the idea that he quit his job to play. It wasn’t his plan to stay up for three days straight to keep playing. It was that mid-stream this guy would calmly issue orders for the rest of the squad. We didn’t win every match, but even in our losing bouts we put up a great fight. It was if the strategic part of his brain detached from the rest of his mind and he was able to continue his tirade and still direct the other 14 players in combat. At no point did the team leader’s voice raise above a regular speaking tone. He was calm. He was monotonous. And it was scary.

Competition gone too far? The eventual effects of playing such an immensive genre? The underpinnings of an addictive personality, or the aftermath of rejection? As in all things, I’m sure it’s a combination of these that set our team leader over the edge. As my friend Father Figure said to me, “it sounds like he’s gonna crack.” The group leader was very friendly, and went out on a limb by including a relatively “n00b” PvP player like me to his team. So on behalf of your emotional well-being buddy, step away from the computer.

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1 Comment on "Step Away From the Computer"

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  1. anonymous says:

    Great post. I am remembering the conversation of which you are speaking. What I’m about to say does not certainly paint the picture of every male online gamer (but it’s fun to stereotype sometimes)–so imagine if you will: a pasty-white guy…maybe lower to mid 20s. Maybe he resembles Neal, Meg’s high school stalker from Family Guy. He probably doesn’t have a girlfriend, especially now that he quit his job. Having come to terms that his real life doesn’t measure up to what he could have in an MMOPRG, he is able to sweat and sacrifice time to manipulate the bell curve for the rest of us trying to grind our way up the ranks while still enjoying a life in the real world (RL, if you will).

    And now we get to the fractured obsessive gamer’s mind–the fact that he was able to keep his calm while issuing orders, at least to me, indicates 2 things: 1) he cracked back at Lieu. General rank 2) He’ll be a great High Warlord if he ever gets there. I say this not because he necessarily is a great leader. Truly, there are only 3 BGs to learn and maybe a max of 3 strategies for each. After running them as long as he has, over and over, he should be damn good at issuing orders numbly, calmly. Basically, he’ll make a great High Warlord because he’s the classic good guy corrupted by not just the power/notariety of that rank but the effort it took to get there–he’s a Hitler in training. Think Kim ll Sung. His ability to issue orders in the midst of an emotional meltdown is just the finesse of his dictatorship. Even Hitler took time to smooth his hair back after an emotional outburst. Every MMORPG breeds that drama just like every world war breeds a dictator.

    Having said all this crap, most gamers view MMOPRGs as just a fun outlet without the sole goal of becoming the ultimate overlord, warlord, dictator, whatever. For a few, that end objective becomes their life and sadly makes them an easy target when queueing for BGs. The part-time gamers will spend a few moments to keep him from reaching High Warlord, logout, then go see a movie or hump their GFs. The dirty tactics to keep him from his ultimate goal will drive him mad, with a paranoia buff to boot, and burn him out on the game.

    I guess my rambling leads to this: don’t be caught at the 7-11 when the HWIT (High-Warlord-in-training) decides to snap while he’s getting his 5th Big Gulp of the evening.