What is a welfare epic? It's a piece of gear which is much more powerful than would be expected based on the difficulty of the content. They started as arena gear with no rating requirements and not especially high costs, leading to the trend of losing to get gear. Then there was more and more badge gear, though price inflation and poor stat allocation made it less powerful than it would have been and too expensive to seem trivial. Now we have fairly cheap badge gear, either nearly unlimited T9 badges or time-limited T10 (frost) badges, both available from trivially easy heroics.
Why are they called welfare? A dev made an offhand comment about losing for PvP gear, and that stuck. Quite stupid if you ask me, since welfare is something for free. What would be a better real life comparison?
Mere decades ago, this oldish computer I use would have been awe-inspiring. It has multiple colors of text! And graphics! COLOR! Not to mention a bigger CPU cache than some computer would have on the entire hard drive, more RAM than they could count back then.
Let's downgrade a bit to calculators, since I think it will work better for this topic. These days, or even the previous days, calculators were cheap enough that every stupid could have one. They're a bit like epics for Naxx. You don't need them; any reasonably intelligent and educated child should be capable of simple mental addition and subtraction, some multiplication and division, and much more if given a pencil and paper. The calculator isn't needed.
I'm reminded of the recurring debates about calculators, about how they'll never learn to do math if a machine does it all for them. The counter-arguments tended to include things like "once you know how to add and can demonstrate consistent ability, doing it by hand is just wasting time." In other words, the mental development has happened, so more addition isn't going to help any.
Gear needs the calculator treatment. We need to discuss why we have it, when to get it, and without throwing around concepts like earning or deserving or the inevitable claims that this or that group of people are moronic noobs who will never learn. As with calculators and math, we should learn to play before we start floating by on gear.
This doesn't mean that there is no place for easy gear. It is technology, and technology, in most cases, is good. But technology brings change and change is not always good. Technology changes society, and society doesn't always keep up. The Amish know this. That's why they appear anti-technology: they aren't, but they are wary of technology and take measures to ensure the stability of their society.
I wouldn't want to live in an Amish community, but I do think we can learn from them. We can learn that technology cannot be simply unleashed upon humanity, unregulated, unrestricted, and unprepared. Similarly, we should keep a closer on on easy gear. It is having a negative effect. It is giving children calculators before they've even learned what numbers are, so they spend all their time punching in 58008, flipping the calculator, and laughing. That's no way to learn.
Blizzard should address this problem. It doesn't appear to have yet. There must be a middle ground, someplace between the trickle of guilds into AQ40 in Vanilla and the torrent of over-geared and under-prepared PUGs in WotLK raids. We shouldn't be doing calculus in our heads or 1+1 on a calculator.
A gender-neutral thought
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