Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tobold and the "Fun" Fallacy

Let me start out by saying I love Tobold's blog. I've been reading it daily for years now. It's one of the things that inspired me to start blogging in the first place. I find his analysis to be intelligent and well-thought-out in general, even when I disagree with him.

But wow, do I disagree with what he posted today. And I don't think he's really thought his opinion out to it's ultimate conclusion.

In short (and I can't do it justice here, just go read it), he posits that reading raid strategies, watching raid videos, and learning about your class outside of game on sites like Elitist Jerks and reading guides on how to play: those things are not "fun". He cites Raph Koster's Theory of Fun to support his statement, noting that "the fun of playing a game comes from the learning experience you have while experimenting with the game." According to Tobold, people who do this outside research are "optimizing the fun out" of the game and "games aren't meant to be played this way" [emphasis mine]

I think Tobold is misapplying the concept from Koster's book, and more to the point has a bit of tunnel vision on this subject.

In essence: just because Tobold finds one style of play "fun" doesn't meant that other people aren't having "fun" by playing a different way, nor does it meant they are playing wrong (against the way things are "meant" to be played). Just because they come to a game with a wealth of outside knowledge does not mean that there is not more "fun learning" to be had from the game.

I'm guessing that Tobold has encountered some rude, arrogant people in his raiding experience lately, because he likens "expecting the rest of the raid to study up on how to play their character and watch raid videos" to "trying to avoid talking to other players". Every member of my guild comes prepared and yet one of our chief joys is all of the interaction we have with each other, talking to each other on vent and in-game chat. We just spend that time having fun and talking about advanced strategy and our personal lives (I'd argue these are much richer topics than basics on how to play your class or guesses on how to deal with basic bosses), rather than spending all of that time playing teacher to people who don't feel like looking things up for themselves. Tobold doesn't seem to realize that teaching other people the basics of how to play is work. And we don't log in so that we can do a job to benefit someone else who, again, isn't putting out the effort themselves. Believe it or not, we can interact with each other about things other than the basics that one can look up on EJ or stratfu. And for the record, myself and my guildies do often help each other improve our basic games, and we have members who have been tutored instead of being kicked.

In fact, those sites are simply tools. They can't make you good. You still have to execute the plans and the guides, and tailor them to your own situation. You still have to notice and avoid the void zones and lava waves, you still have to be able to control your aggro once you know how to do it, and you still have to adapt your rotation to different situations even after you've used the basic EJ class guide as a starting point. It's not like anyone expects anyone else to just mechanically copy a guide, and in fact rote repetition doesn't work. How can I read the same EJ guide as everyone else, and then do 1k more dps than them in similar gear? It must be because I'm mindlessly copying what I read, I guess?

The main thing I get out of EJ is that someone else better at math than me did all the math for me. When I sit at the talent select window, I submit it's more fun to make the decision "I want to take the talent that gives me the most return in my single-target dps over my aoe" or something like that, and less fun to sit there doing the math to figure out which talent is mathematically better than another all on my own. Then I use that as a starting point to freestyle and improvise my own decisions in new situations, and to enjoy optimizing in bread and butter situations: making my execution better.

Because for me, the main fun of this game is excelling. I don't mean just "beating bosses". I mean being the best at my job that I possibly can. At getting my rotation tighter or my threat higher every single attempt. Getting hit by fewer lava waves every attempt. Pushing myself to the limit of what I can do, and not just on my own in my insular world, but doing the best I can as part of a team. Optimizing how we work together, and getting our communication to its most efficient and effective point. This is fun and social at the same time, even though we look up boss videos and EJ guides! Tobold doesn't seem to think that's possible, because his way to have fun, his type of learning (the basics) is the only type of fun learning their is in the game. The type of learning we do either doesn't exist in Tobold's head, or I guess isn't "fun" for some reason.

Raid videos are a slightly different story. We plan to go into Ulduar cold, but that doesn't mean we think going in there having already researched the strategies is morally reprehensible. We just all agreed that that is what we would all find more fun. If the people Tobold plays with don't find the same things fun as he does, THEN WHY IS HE PLAYING WITH THEM? In my opinion, he should find some other people who like going in without strategies, and raid with those people instead of complaining about how unfair it is that everyone else doesn't want to play the game exactly the way he wants to.

In the end, WoW is not a terribly deep game. If the "fun" for you is figuring out the basic class and boss strategies by trial-and-error, it might take you a long time to attempt everything, but you actually gain very little in the end, because there frankly isn't that much substance there to begin with. If that's what the game is for you, you might as well quit as soon as you know your class well enough to beat every boss once, even if it's just barely. However, the game has unprecedented breadth, and that means there is room for everyone to play the way they want to. The fun for me is challenging myself to beat the boss faster and better, and there is room for both of us, just probably not in the same raid group. :)

There's also the matter of information disparity and the conflict inherent in that. Your guild is asking for trouble if every new member must use trial-and-error to figure out everything for themselves. That means that no matter how good you get, you'd always have to drag people who don't even have a basic clue. And you'd have to pay your repair bills for the wipes incurred while they try to figure out the boss.

In fact, how is such a system sustainable? Once your first group of raiders learns a boss, are they allowed to give the strategy to others in the guild? Or does every new member have to figure it out themselves? If you give them the strat, then guess what? All you are doing is shifting the burden of explaining the fight to the raid leader. When the player could just as easily go learn it themselves rather than burdening someone else, or making 24 others wait for him or her. It doesn't make sense to me.

Being willing to read EJ and watch videos on your own also has the benefit of proving to the raid group that you are willing to put in effort yourself instead of being dragged as a leech. You are taking responsibility for yourself instead of insisting that the more experienced raiders carry the burden for you. And you are showing respect for the fact that 24 other people are taking some of their few leisure gaming hours to do this activity with you. Don't waste their time. Just leave the guild and find a guild that has the same standards you do.


Tobold also seems confused about what people mean when they say "WoW is too easy", since he sees that statement as a paradox to the claim that players "need to study hard to succeed," which he sees as implied whenever a raid leader demands EJ research or encounter videos. I don't think it is necessarily implied. I also would replace "succeed" with "excel", which are two very different things. By "succeed", Tobold seems to mean "down the boss at all, no matter how sloppy" (making that assumption is the only way I can see the paradox he sees)

When I say WoW is "easy", I mean the bosses are easy to beat, and it is too easy to get the absolute best gear (i.e. when you see someone in Best-in-Slot gear, it's equally likely that they are a terribad leaching scrub as it is that they are an elite expert player). But optimizing my own play and my teamwork with my guild is not "easy" - it's the primary fun challenge in the game for me. Making the bosses harder would simply add another layer of challenge on there for me beyond what I have already, and I would like to have that.


Tobold is such a reasoned and thoughtful individual that I would ascribe an oversight like this to something getting in the way of his intellect. In my experience, when a smart person says something that ignores certain aspects of the issue, it's because they have an emotional investment in reaching a certain conclusion, and are trying to shoehorn a rational argument into supporting the thesis they have already decided on. God knows I've been there.

It sounds like Tobold resents (probably rightfully) when people tell him and his friends they aren't performing well enough, and he personally doesn't enjoy reading strats ahead of time or having to learn about his class outside the game. He doesn't like that these things have become the social norm in his social ingroup. Other people are forcing the bar to be raised to a place he doesn't want to go; it's a lot like trying to compete for the home-run record without using steroids: everyone else is using them, so now you have to use them to keep up even if you don't want to. This example isn't perfect, because steroids break the agreed-upon rules of the game, and WoW strategy videos don't. But you get what I'm going for: being forced by those around you to escalate to places you don't want to go.

It reminds me of Sirlin's ideas about how in competitive gaming, winners play the actual game by its actual rules, and scrubs are limited by their own made-up rules about what is "fair" and what is "cheap". They try to reshape the game into what is most fun for them, and you simply can't do that in a multiplayer game, as much as you might insist that other people play the way you think is fun. Tobold isn't a scrub, because this isn't a competitive game. He just has a completely valid alternative preference for what is "fun" to him. But the part of the analogy that holds is that people who limit themselves to their own made-up rules don't get to experience the higher-level fun of the "true" game. Expert chess players or Street Fighters or Starcraft players are playing the game on a different level than the guy who picked up the box at Wal-Mart an hour ago. But that guy is going to reach that higher-level, "actual" game much more quickly by reading a strategy guide and then practicing with the added knowledge than he is by playing thousands of games to try to work out what units to make. Again, this analogy isn't perfect, but I'm not an analogyologist, so give me a break.

What I'm trying to get across here is that Tobold and I are choosing to play a different game. We each have our own set of made-up structures based around what we find fun. I think we both have equally valid opinions. I don't think either of us should be acting like we have moral superiority for which one we choose. I don't think my game is "higher-level" (despite my strained analogy above), nor that Tobold is a "scrub". He just enjoys different things than I do, and that's fine.

Basically, he seems to be mistaking his own feeling-based opinion for a Categorical Imperative. He doesn't find the pre-research fun, he prefers the social aspects of raids, and for him the game is figuring out the boss and figuring out the class on your own, through experimenting and group discussion. I don't see anything wrong with this, it's just not the way I enjoy playing. But more power to him to enjoy this himself. I just find it . . . inconsistent when he condemns others ("this is really a poor attitude") for finding fun in a different way than him, as though they are perpetrating some ethical failing. This is not an issue of ethics, or Right and Wrong. In the case of "what do you find fun", there is no "poor attitude" and "good attitude". Just because Tobold thinks this is the right way to have fun doesn't make other ways to have fun morally inferior, and I think in his intellect, he realizes this.

I'd like to close by pointing out something good from Tobold: I think he makes an excellent point in the comments section when he says,

"I think a good raid leader and the officers of a guild should discuss with players that don't perform well, and give them individual pointers on how to improve performance, based on Recount stats, not just "go and read up somewhere and come back when you do 3K dps". I think a raid should spend some time discussing strategy before a new boss fight, should spend some time discussing what exactly went wrong after a wipe, and should discuss how to do better, not just send people to some boss strategy site or to YouTube."

I still think you are awesome even though I disagree with you Tobold, keep up the great work on your blog!


Kiulia said...

Nice post. Although I enjoy read T's blog too -its kind of out there and intelligently put together - even if at times the conclusions are wrong, as in this case. That's one of the reasons I enjoy it! Seeing just how an intelligent person can construct a very logical argument and yet be rather hit and miss on the conclusions. Quoting authorities etc as if that makes any difference in the end!

But yeah, he often mistakes his own personal feelings of the moment for some kind of grand understand of life, the universe and everything in wow. Maybe I'm just totally twisted, but I really enjoy that!

Tobold said...

You misrepresent what I'm saying. I'm saying that improving yourself and the performance of your guild is great, but ultimately is the responsability of the guild, the raid leaders, the class leaders. What I'm complaining about is communication breakdown inside a guild, where strategy becomes the responsability of the individual, and isn't even discussed any more on a guild level.

The "bad experience" I had was not rude people, but silent people. We had wipe after wipe on Malygos 25, and there was no communication whatsoever on why we failed, what we could have done better etc., we just went and tried again and again. When I tried to make suggestions, nobody listened, because I wasn't the raid leader, and some people afterwards complained about me being "negative".

If you "spend time and talk about advanced strategies" with your guild, you're lucky, and of course you can't see anything wrong. But the existence of all those websites with ready-made strategies has turned many raid leaders lazy, and they just tell everyone where to go and read up.

Telling somebody else how to improve might be "work", but it is necessary work. What do you do if somebody has misunderstood what he read and always does it wrong? /gkick him? Sooner or later you'll have to tell him that THIS wasn't where he was supposed to stand, or what he was supposed to do.

Brent Michael Krupp said...

That doesn't make any sense Tobold. If your guildmates were incapable of beating the fight and were utterly silent it was NOT because they all read EJ and view videos and don't feel like talking. If they did those things they would be able to beat the fight!

You improve yourself BY reading EJ and viewing videos AND talking about it inside the guild. You seem to think resources like EJ are somehow opposed to the guild taking responsibility when they are actual a tool to facilitate doing so.

Stabs said...

Tobold: "You misrepresent what I'm saying. I'm saying that improving yourself and the performance of your guild is great, but ultimately is the responsability of the guild, the raid leaders, the class leaders."


Tobold, you're clearly in a guild where the leaders don't want to do this. It's a game, they can play how they wish.

They are probably intelligent enough to know that they have a choice between being relaxed and fighting constant battles to get their players to improve.

It seems to me they've made their choice.

Hatch said...

Tobold, I think you do have a good point when you say that just sending people off to read strategies and never discussing them (and even kicking people who don't execute the strategy you told them to read without any coaching!) is BS. And guilds tend to be better off if they work together and discuss strategies rather than silently expecting execution of a guide.

I definitely get that now from your comments, but I didn't get it from your original post. To me it sounded like...well, what I described in my post.