Raiding as social lemmings

21st February 2010 – 3.26 pm

Raiding remains an impenetrably peculiar waste of time to some people. I raided for 18 months and enjoyed most of my time, even when progress was slow and difficult. I can appreciate seeing the funny side of raiding and the seemingly odd struggles that players continually put themselves through. But it is a little disappointing when people disparage raiding, and raiders, when they have no experience and are opposed to the general idea of raiding. The most insightful comedy does not come from a position of ignorance but one of understanding. Of course, it can be difficult to understand why some players have an apparent compulsion to spend several hours a night, several nights a week, throwing themselves to almost-certain doom like lemmings.

There are essentially two elements to succeeeding at raid encounters, the puzzle and the implementation. Owing to the peculiar nature of MMORPGs, in contrast to more tradition table-top RPGs, death is ephemeral, both PC and NPC, allowing for encounters that not only don't need to be overcome successfully on the first attempt but rely on failure to provide a greater and more enduring challenge. With character death being no impediment to overall progress, boss encounters can become increasingly complex, which leads to the two elements listed above. In order to succeed at the encounter, both the puzzle of how to overcome the encounter and co-ordinating the specific implementation of the solution need to be achieved. There is something quite familiar about this. Players aren't just acting like lemmings, they are lemmings, raiding in MMORPGs being the contemporary equivalent of Lemmings.

In the classic computer game Lemmings there are also two elements to success. At its heart, it is a puzzle game, requiring players to solve the problem of how to move the lemmings between two points. Completing a level in Lemmings isn't quite as simple as solving the puzzle, though, because then you need to implement the solution. With the implementations often requiring pixel-perfect precision and split-second timing, it is by no means assured that a player with the correct solution will succeed, probably needing to repeat the level several times to get it just right. Occasionally, there will be a level that will have the player swearing in frustration at missing for the hundredth time the last pixel-perfect click out of a twenty, and needing to start all over again. It all sounds very much like the precursor to raiding.

I quickly grew to hate Lemmings. I enjoyed it as a decent puzzle game, but tired of having to repeat 'solved' levels because of failing at the implementation. For me, the puzzle was the game and I didn't want to jump through hoops just to get to the next puzzle. I really couldn't see the appeal. And yet I raided for 18 months, having to repeat failed encounters dozens of times, with latency-accommodating equivalents of pixel-perfect placement and split-second timing required until the implementation was good enough to continue to the next encounter. Raiding also requires successful encounters to be repeated at a later date, not just 'solved' encounters with failed implementations, no doubt adding to the outsider's bewilderment at raiders' behaviour. Repeating encounters is necessary because of the separate mechanic of loot drops, which are sparse compared to the number of characters present, and needed because inadequate equipment can become a limiting factor to progress. But there is a reason why I kept throwing myself off that apocryphal cliff.

Raiding is as much about the people as it is the encounters, a raiding group simply being a static group with a larger pool of players. I enjoyed raiding because the group I was in was friendly and were motivated in mostly the same way as me. Some players left, others joined, but many names stayed the same, and new players became as much a part of the group as the old. And I imagine this applies to most raid groups. It may seem odd to consider hard-core progression raiders as the same as a friendly weekly static group, but I imagine they all share the same motivations and goals and appreciate being in similar company. It is still a static group, just from a different perspective.

If you find raiding to be impenetrable, or consider it to be motivated by selfish desires to get the best loot, think about any static groups you play in and ask why you keep returning to them. It's quite possible that repeating the same content several times a week still won't appeal, and that's okay, but maybe an appreciation can be gained as to what really binds raid groups together. Maybe if all your friends really did enjoy throwing themselves off a bridge at the same time, with no harmful or lasting consequences, you would too.

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