Rather not be fishing

12th September 2008 – 7.58 am

With every new character in World of Warcraft that I plan to play significantly I always promise that this is the one where I'll keep my fishing skill in line with my level. There is some lure to fishing in World of Warcraft, with many types of fish being ingredients that help to increase your skill in cooking, and changes have brought in floating debris that can occasionally offer a character a surprise catch. There are also a couple of low-level fishing quests in Auberdine, encouraging early adoption of the profession, or 'suckering you in' if you prefer an alternative expression. Even so, there are fundamental problems with my fishing experiences.

Fishing is supposed to be relaxing, but the interface denies this relaxation entirely. I cannot cast my line and let my imagination, or my browser window, wander in a random direction, or pop off to get a cup of coffee, or engage in meaningful dialogues on IRC about 'what's up?', because I need to pay attention to when I get a bite. When I get a bite, I need to reel it in, which is also not as straightforward as it should be. I can't just press a button or select a hotkey, I need to cmd-click on the float I have cast with the line, which is in a relatively random location in front of my character that changes with each cast and, although it is comically large compared to real floats, is not a particularly big target. Essentially, I need to concentrate on my fishing, which seems to fly in the face of the activity's raison d'être.

Having to concentrate on a gaming activity is hardly a criticism in itself, though. After all, I actively concentrate on many aspects of gaming and expect to have to do so for the most part, unlike stupidly long gryphon flights or crafting a dozen identical widgets that I immediately throw in to the rubbish bin of a vendor. But fishing requires remarkably less skill than other activities in World of Warcraft, and for an MMORPG that is making quite a statement. Press a button to cast a line, cmd-click on the float, loot and repeat. And this doesn't change either with character or skill level. So there I am, sitting in front of my screen concentrating on seeing when a float splashes in the water to indicate something is caught on my line, not daring to look away in case I miss the splash and waste that cast. An essentially mindless task is demanding my almost-constant attention!

Imagine if you had to sit in front of your screen every time you took a gryphon flight and occasionally click on a slightly changing beacon in front of you, because otherwise the gryphon would get distracted by a sparrow and start flying in circles with it. If you didn't click on the beacon every ten seconds you'd never make any progress, never get to your destination. That would be pretty tedious, I would think, but that's what fishing is like. You aren't doing anything, but you can't do anything else either because of its demand on your attention. Ironically, this has been made worse by the change to reduce the time period of each cast, as there is less time between catches and casts to perform something meaningful. And yet I seem to forget this and promise that this next character will be the one where I finally become a skilled angler.

Even if I could get through the tedium I could only become a skilled angler by increasing my skill level. When I travel to a region where it is so difficult to fish in that I need to attach a lure to my line, and has some floating debris to entice me to whip out my rod, I consider it reasonable to expect my skill level to rise with each catch. After all, in other professions a successful completion of a difficult task always rewards a skill point. What I don't expect is for my skill to improve with every fourth catch, particularly when I am dropping four out of five fishes to start with. Having only about one in twenty casts reward a skill increase is punishing my time investment and almost ensuring I won't continue.

I have no idea if I will persevere this time. The idea of fishing always sounds so relaxing, once I've forgotten my previous attempt, right until I realise I am having to stare intently at a float for several minutes straight for little reward. If I get the urge to start a new character and think, once again, that fishing wouldn't be such a bad idea after all, I need someone to slap some sense in to me. Or at least point me to an add-on that makes fishing much less of a chore. I'm sure there must be such an add-on, but the standard interface should offer a better experience than it does. On the other hand, I may have found just the right activity to perform whilst listening to certain DVD commentaries.

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