Lies, damned lies, and statistics

14th May 2009 – 5.12 pm

Tucked behind the achivements pane in World of Warcraft is the potentially interesting statistics pane, showing plenty of detail about your character's exploits during her time in Azeroth. There is information about the total amount of damage dealt and received, the biggest single hits dealt and recieved, along with similar information about healing if you are that way inclined. You can find out how many creatures you have brutally slaughtered, whether they offered XP or honour at the time, and which type of creature you have killed the most of.

The figures on kills could show how much time has been spent grinding reputation by completing low-level quests, for example. But as murlocs come under the 'humanoid' type, rather than being a type of their own, the statistics sadly cannot record the glory of your regular visits to various low-level beaches where you take revenge on those bastard by one-shotting entire camps of murlocs at a time. Or maybe it is just me who does that.

There are details about how much gold you've accumulated and spent, from quests, the auction house, and the thieving armour repairers and flight masters; how many pets and mounts you own; how many times you have defeated Van Cleef and other dungeon bosses that refuse to stay dead; your own continent of doom where you've died the most; even how many hugs you've given. Thankfully, the statistics pane is split in to sections, otherwise it would be almost impossible to filter through the wealth of mostly irrelevant but still quite interesting information.

Whilst the trivia contained within the statistics is fun to flick through occasionally a more interesting use is unfortunately broken, and not through any fault of the interface itself. Having spent a fair bit of time in Wintergrasp with Gnomesblight my death knight I have been picking up some decent PvP gear, as well as mining and crafting some titansteel equipment, and my weapon and spells have been hitting for more and more damage. Noticing one glorious critical hit dealing over seven thousand damage to a Horde victim I wonder if that is my biggest hit to date. In a quiet moment I pull up the statistics pane to try to confirm my hunch, as well as to mark the hit for future progression, I find that I have hit for more in the past. That I have hit for an order of magnitude more is rather suspicious, though.

I am fairly certain that I haven't had any kind of maximum damage hit during normal combat like the one listed in the statistics pane, as I am sure I would have noticed five digits floating in big yellow text above a mob followed by various fluids oozing from my body. But I have been in some extraordinary fights. Whether flying on the back of a dragon, hurtling boulders bigger than a house, or dropping bombs on pirates, there have been times when my damage has been significantly augmented beyond my abilities. I can understand the need to have special encounters involve inflated numbers, as it prevents players from attempting to complete or disrupt the encounters outside of the scripted situations, but it has the drawback of making an otherwise epic hit of forty five thousand damage as underwhelming as a score of ten billion in pinball.

It seems that the game doesn't differentiate in its gathered statistics between damage I deal directly and damage caused by special circumstances. Although lumping all the big hits together, whether from your own spells' hits or the dragon you're flying through the Oculus, removes some of the potential for ugly bragging matches to occur, it also unfortunately prevents gaining some useful information. Essentially, some of the more interesting statistics available concering your character are rendered meaningless, statistics that World of Warcraft itself arguably made most important through the implicit realisation that 'character' means 'equipment'. Currently, your biggest hit will only really show that you have completed a certain daily quest or visited a particular instance, which is barely worth keeping track of, whereas what fits with the idea of character in the game is to be able to see what you are capable of as an individual.

It may be too late to separate the figures currently gathered by the system in to those augmented by vehicles, whether engineering or creature, and those dealt personally by your character, but it should certainly be a consideration for the future. If we are to believe and invest in the promotion that we are our characters and equipment our finest moments should not then be measured by external events, particularly when those events are artificially inflated themselves.

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