WoW is not Chess

| Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Or basketball.

Chess and basketball are both very clearly defined games*. The area of play, number of players, legal moves, and winning conditions are all clearly defined. There are definite beginning and end states, endings which cover win, lose, and draw.
* Don't argue about minor house variations, they are not official and are extremely minor compared to the openness of WoW.

WoW has none of these beside a starting point. We start somewhere, but what is the end of the game? What is the victory condition? There is no explicitly defined definition of winning. There are also a wider variety of legal moves.

With no defined win condition, there is also no defined way to win. This means that winning in WoW can only be decided individually. It could be a certain arena score, defeating the last boss, maxing out every rep, getting every pet, or being very (un)popular in trade chat. None of these are defined by the devs, the ones who make the rules, as wins. Nor as losses.

Think about that again: WoW has no defined win or lose in the overall game. A wipe or a lost BG/arena are losses, but neither are losses to the game as a whole. They would better be described as setbacks, the equivalent of the other team scoring, failures which are not actually defeat.

This does not mean that there are no wrong ways to play. There are some rules regarding cheating, abuse, and that sort of thing. But if your goal is to kill a kobold every ten seconds for an hour each day and you do that, you have won, by your own arbitrary definition of winning. Someone else may have a different definition and obviously they will take different actions.

Personal definitions will define action as well. Kobold Guy should not waste time in heroics, due to the lack of kobolds. That is, unless he has goals related to heroics (for simplicity, let us assume he does not). So in this way there are wrong actions or steps, but they are only those actions which do not advance a goal.

Personal definitions are not a free pass for anti-social behavior or an endorsement of nihilism. Kobold Guy should not be in your heroic searching for kobolds to kill, not only because he is wasting his time, but yours as well. Instead he should play either alone or with other kobold killers. Similarly, you should not bother him and his kobolds unless you have kobold-related goals.

Keep in mind that this doesn't mean there are no ways to compare players. If two guilds want to kill the Big Bad first, whoever kills it first is better (in some overall way, perhaps including luck or scheduling, but that's nitpicking). This means that if your goal is ego inflation, Kobold Guy is a valid comparison, if you wish to go kill kobolds faster and therefore think you're better. Go for it, I bet you can beat Kobold Guy's kobold kill record. That doesn't mean his goal is wrong, though it may mean that he's bad at killing kobolds.

A person cannot be bad at WoW, but they can be bad at what they attempt in WoW. Take note of the difference the next time you're looking to tell someone they're doing it wrong.

P.S. This isn't a justification for playing badly or for screwing with other players. When goals and actions do not align, figure out a solution, even if that means going to another place. Elitist whining about how they're doing it wrong fixes nothing.


Fidjit said...

Good post. I remember one day just deciding "You know what, I'm going to complete fishing. Every achievement, fishing pole, rare item, gear, pet, etc." and I did it. It was my goal in WoW, encouraged by Blizzard's design, and I "won" that mini-game for myself. It meant a lot more to me than raiding or gold ever did.

The only caveat to your argument I would make is that while there are no clearly defined winning conditions or ultimate goals, there are activities that the game encourages you to pursue via rewards. For example, while there's nothing wrong with collecting funny vendor trash the game doesn't encourage you to pursue it in the same way it encourages heroics through meta-rewards.

Nils said...

I will shamelessly link to a a post of mine: Are MMORPGs actually games?

Shintar said...

The funny thing is, you can play WoW competitively, and achievement points provide a halfway decent method of measuring your progression towards the goals that the game supports. Yet this is exactly the bit that Gevlon rejects, as he'd rather measure his success based on some guild ranking list on a third-party website like WoW Progress - all the while complaining that people aren't following the "true" rules of the game and are making up their own! The irony is too delicious.

scrusi said...

I love the point about not being bad at WoW but being bad at what are you trying to do in WoW. Awesome.

A casual player is not (generally) a bad player. A casual player who snuck into my 25 men heroic raid (probably) is.

Ratshag said...

I won the game the day I picked up me first axe and started killin' level 1 piggies in Durotar. Everythin' since then just be flavorings.

Klepsacovic said...

@Fidjit: If the goal is to complete heroics, then the achievement for doing them is little more than a to-do list. Or if the goal is to get achievements, then the achievement is the goal and while it is a reward, it is a reward in itself, much like completing a heroic would be a reward.

@Nils: SHAME! Yes and no. MMOs are game collections or game factories. Raiding is a game with certain goals. Heroics as well. Fishing. Etc.

@Shintar: He has a perfectly valid counter-agument: "I'm not arbitrary, you're arbitrary!"

@scrusi: And maybe your raid leader as well if he's letting bad raiders wander in.

@Rashtag: I won't argue with that.

And in unrelated news, I'm not sure if he's going for records on self-contradiction*, but here's this from an earlier post and a comment in his chess post.

"It is obvious that the guy farming for rare minipet #187 has priorities on minipet collection. However I did not call his action (the farming) moronic. If the most effective (or only available) way to get minipet #187 is to farm them, then farming it is completely rational.

I call him a moron because of his priorities. Because he finds that fun."

"the M&S issue emerges when the "fooling around" guy is in a group, leeching on it. If you collect minipets in your own time, it's OK."

Stabs said...

WoW isn't Chess but parts of it are.

Let's consider Naxx. Most of the bosses, like Chess, permit different approaches. You can offtank adds or have the main tank gather them etc.

However there is a semi-fixed standard. If you can't beat a competent player you can't be in your county chess team. If you can't move correctly on Heigan you can't beat the fight. (In both cases you can be carried, so your side could win a chess tournament even though you personally lose all your matches).

The friction comes when people try to organise for content that requires a minimum standard or that can be optimised by high standards.

If none of you can Safety Dance you can't beat Heigan. If I can safety dance and I'm making a pug to do Heigan Link Achievement is actually a really good way of sorting people. Sure some will have an achievement faker and I'll leave out some naturals who would be wonderful if given the chance but 80% of the people with the achievement can do the dance and 80% of people without it will fail the first few times they try.

So there are two bones of contention: should players select other players for quality and if so, how should they select them?

Because most of WoW has very clear Win definitions reinforced by epic loot rewards.

Klepsacovic said...

@Stabs: WoW certainly has chess-like parts to it. My point was that WoW as a whole is not chess. There are right and wrong, better and worse ways to complete certain goals.

Stubborn said...

It appears you and I have come up with a lot of the same thoughts on this issue, though you of course beat me to it and had I think clearer metaphors. Good post!

Klepsacovic said...

Thanks, Stubborn.

Turiel said...

I completely agree that "winning" (much like life) is defined wholly by the person who is playing the game. To some people in life- Winning is comprised of making as much money as possible. To others it is about their friends and family and the time they are able to spend with them. Either is not right or wrong inherently, but when I decide that my winning in WoW is killing raid bosses, and someone wants to join our group- I assume that they understand this clearly stated goal, and their "personal fun" is not greater than their optimization of their class/gear.

Turiel said...

Also, in life- only Charlie Sheen is "winning." (And really, I can't argue that he isn't.)

Bubba said...

The win condition is clear and defined: quitting WoW... once you have done this, you have won.

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