In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy.

I’m in a relatively small guild in World of Warcraft, it’s one of those guilds that was around at the birth of the server but has dwindled in numbers as people left for other guilds, or servers, or MMOs. I’ve stuck with the same server and the same faction since day one, and it’s fun to be a part of a guild that has always been there too.

However, the downside of being a part of such a guild is that most of the members are hardcore WoWnuts, with multiple alts, and who are always online no matter when I happen to get a spare moment to myself to log in. As such I find myself watching as a large portion of the regular guild members are tackling the content that is half way to the level cap whilst I languish behind, having barely scraped the surface of the starter areas. I watch as the freshly minted Death Knights of the guild blast past me faster than you can say “Unholy Undead Overpoweredness, Batman!”, and then find myself being lapped by the regular guild members as they take their alts into content I’ve yet to experience.

‘Find myself being lapped’. I often say that to myself, “Ooop, there goes so and so on their alt, lapping me again”, as if it’s some sort of race.

And I have to ask, what the hell is wrong with us? Where did this obsession begin, that every MMO release should be an excuse for a Tasmanian-Devil-like whirlwind devouring of content, in the most destructive and indiscriminate manner, in a mad desperate rush to get to the level cap and… and what? In the main: complain about the lack of content.

You may apply your palm to your face now, or wait until later. I shall apply mine now.

And so I find that I’m having to constantly tell myself to not get despondent when I appear to be behind the curve with respect to levels, not to be envious that other players have great gear and have experienced new zones ages before I ever will, just because I happen to be taking time to explore places and read the quest text and stop to admire the view; I have to tell myself that I’m not losing, being lapped or under performing, and that I don’t need to speed up my questing, hurry on to the next zone, grab the next bag of XP, get to the next level.

You see what I realised is that, essentially, for a few short days after the release of any MMO expansion, the raiders are among us. There really should be something printed on the expansion box “Warning: Upon entering the world, normal players may experience brief waves of turbulent raiders. This may cause bouts of inferiority complex, envy, disorientation and nausea, but will soon pass”. So yes, for a few brief days, one gets to live and learn what it is to exist in a raid cloud, where everything is about performance, being the best, and more importantly, being better than the next player. It’s all about loot linking, calling out each level ‘ding’, each half level ‘ding’, each single XP gain. It’s about mocking other players for a) Not knowing where Scourged Flamespitters are, and b) Still needing to do a quest that all the cool kids did five seconds after the WotLK authentication server was up.

Thankfully the speed at which the raid cloud levels is such that, given a few more days, they will all be bashing their heads against the latest perfunctory phat lewt dispenser disguised as game-play, and those of us left in their wake can spend time leveling slowly and quietly in peace, uprighting fences, helping NPCs up from the ground where they were trampled, and picking up the discarded burger wrappers, drinks cartons and other detritus from the carefully crafted landscape that was two years in the making and two days in the consuming.

8 thoughts on “In a consumer society there are inevitably two kinds of slaves: the prisoners of addiction and the prisoners of envy.

  1. Changling Bob

    Due to Real Life™, I’m barely a couple of bars through level 70 on my mage, and only just 56 on my death knight, not having touched my druid at all yet. I think (hope) I’ve missed thee raiders, and am probably having more fun with the few minutes I do snatch.

  2. Ysharros

    Marvellous post, Melmoth. I am totally not an envious person in real life, and if anything I love it when stuff works out for people… and yet in games, despite my better self, I find myself thinking some of the things you mention.

    I don’t WANT to, and I don’t MEAN to, and ultimately I don’t really care that folks are higher level or have this that or the other gear, but a teeny tiny part of me niggles. I wonder why, since it’s not in my nature — is it maybe because it’s in the nature of games (MMOs, anyway) to measure yourself almost exclusively by what you have? In an MMO, who you are is 99.9% what you have (levels, gear, whatever); reputation matters somewhat, but it’s far less tangible all round. Actions, good or bad, aren’t remembered for more than about 5 seconds whereas who got to Level UmptyUmp first and who got the MegaSword of KillEverything will be sung for, oh, weeks at least.

    Strange world we allow our pixelated selves to live in. ;)

  3. Jason

    I hate tooting my own horn, but I implore you to listen to the Blog-O-Steria segment of our podcasts most recent episode (Episode 66).

    You are not alone and it’s the mindset of the players today that are making these games feel more like a grindfest to the endgame.

    They are losing out on the unique experiences and journeys that used to be the real fun of the genre.

    Somehow, players and developers alike have lost that focus and it’s a shame.

  4. Melmoth

    @Changling Bob: Yes, you’ve probably missed the raiders for the time being. Just keep an eye on the rear view mirror for the wave of raider alts; either pull over and let them past, or better yet hide in an instance until they’ve gone.

    @Ysharros: I try not to be envious, although I’m not entirely sure I succeed. What I’d like to see implemented is a function that, when you examine another player, shows you not only their stats and how amazingly purple their gear is, but also a readout of how long they’ve played the character, how large a proportion of that time was spent head-butting up against raid content, and the last time they washed (spraying deodorant into one’s underpants does not count as washing). At least then I could convert the envy into sympathy or general apathetic derision.

    It’s a fine point you make about good actions not being remembered five seconds down the line, although I would say that bad actions seem to be carved in stone, witnessed by the Gods and remembered until the heat death of the universe. Even if you pressed the attack button by accident and it’s the only mistake you’ve made in a hundred instance runs. That’s what will be remembered. Oh yes.

    They are strange worlds indeed, as you so rightly say; I think I need to look into getting my pixelated self to colonise another world, one that’s slightly less polluted.

    @Jason: I do indeed have your podcast on my subscription list, mainly because of the Blog-O-Steria section, but I haven’t gotten around to listening to that episode yet, because, although I say I’m subscribed, I’m subscribed to a lot of decent podcasts, but I really need to try to actually listen to them rather than just read the subscription list and then go and play an MMO or such. Tsk. I’ll go and have a listen now!

    There certainly seems to be a mindset problem with MMO players these days. The questions I have are: where did it stem from (can’t be all WoW’s fault, surely)? And what can be done about it, if anything?

  5. Elf

    Oh, I’d say that good actions are remembered. I think a better point would be that the actions remembered are a reflection of the player. Whether you hold a grudge against a fluffed action or report positively on a random player who encouraged teamwork, both results speak volumes about who is behind the keyboard.

    And of course spraying deoderant in to your pants doesn’t count as washing. It’s sex.

  6. Melmoth

    I think a better point would be that the actions remembered are a reflection of the player.

    Fair point, it may well be that it’s more a certain type of person who remembers the mistakes of others. Although I would suggest, then, that they are the more prevalent type of person in MMOs.

    And of course spraying deoderant in to your pants doesn’t count as washing. It’s sex.

    Post proof of conformance to xkcd’s Rule 34, or I’m calling the police. Although at least I know what to buy you for Christmas now.

  7. *vlad*

    One can be a raider and still stop to sniff the flowers.
    My main is Lv 71, as is my alt, nearly a week after Wrath came out, but I have every intention of raiding once I get to 80 as well.

  8. Melmoth

    One can be a raider and still stop to sniff the flowers.

    Absolutely, consider ‘raider’ in this instance as a shorthand for those groups that try to get server firsts, who spend twenty three hours in every day grinding raid content, or materials or enchantments, with the other hour spent standing outside the Ironforge or Shattrath bank so that they can show off their gear.

    I use raider as the shorthand because, whether rightly or wrongly, it conjures in most people’s minds the image of the worst excesses of certain groups in WoW.

    I could use hardcore raider, but then we get into the whole mire of defining hardcore, and so I decided to keep it simple.

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