Monday 25 January 2010

A fishing pole is a stick with a hook at one end and a fool on the other.

Take a large sample of generic Skinner Box mentality and place it into a one hundred centilitre beaker filled with a solution consisting of two parts OCD to one part stubbornness and one part high boredom threshold. Boil over a Bunsen flame until evaporation takes place. Distil the resultant condensate through a filter of monotony crystals and then gently reduce the liquid for what seems like an eternity until you slowly feel yourself losing the will to live. What you are left with is the pure undiluted essence of painfully tedious yet strangely compulsive game-play. Or fishing, as we call it in World of Warcraft.

Why I am I levelling fishing? It’s a question I am often found to ponder when I have the time, which is usually, somewhat ironically, while sitting on the Stormwind docks and fishing. Like no other activity in World of Warcraft, fishing is the absolute epitome of tedious, solitary grind for no tangible benefit other than seeing a small number ever so gradually increase to a slightly larger number. Oh it becomes a useful buff and money provider at the end-game, I grant you, but I can only tip my hat to those players who can maintain focus on that leagues-distant finishing line; all I can see is a bobber sitting in the water, not doing very much, as a cast bar counts down in seconds from twenty to some random number which seems to fall below ten seconds far more often than above. Actually the average amount of time it takes to count down from twenty seconds seems to fall somewhere in the six to seven minute range, but that might just be a side effect of time appearing to be dilated. If you’ve seen the film The Black Hole you’ll know the scene where they pass through the titular hole of blackness, and time and space goes, in technical terms, a bit bloody weird. If you haven’t seen that film, then think of the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey after Dr. David Bowman approaches the Jupiter monolith. And if you haven’t seen either of those two films, shame on you, but hopefully you’ll be able to think of the scene in Barbarella where Jane Fonda gets naked and does rude things to herself; it won’t help with this example of time dilation at all, but it’s Jane Fonda, naked, and doing rude things to herself. Mmmmmm.

Where was I? Oh yes, masturbation. No, wait! Fishing. The eyes dilate and you drop out of time and space as the bobber sits there not doing much, and the cast bar sits there counting down and, every so often, counting back up a little bit, or so it seems. And you sit there not doing much, and you think to yourself “my God, I’ve been here for an age of man, if I look outside the window what wonders will I see? I imagine flying cars will be passing up and down the street. No! It’s been longer than that; they’ll have advanced so far that they will have flying cars that move along the ground. And people will wear strange outfits, and they’ll look like curiosities to my eyes.” And you dare to sneak a look out of the window, and sure enough you see that it’s all true, the amazing flying ground cars, and the young people wearing stupid impractical clothes.

And then the bobber dips and makes a splash, and you miss it and don’t get the catch.

Somewhere in a distant neighbourhood a young person in stupid clothes pauses in terror in the middle of the street upon hearing what they imagine can only be the screams of a murder victim suffering death by cheese grater.

That’s the worst bit, isn’t it? It’s a battle of wills: you watch and watch and watch the bobber, and it sits there all puffed-up and stubborn in its self importance “Nope. No. Not going to dip. I won’t. I refuse. Sorry old boy, you might as well go and do something else, I’m quite adamant that I shalln’t be dipping under the water today. Come back again tomorrow won’t you?” And as you continue to watch it your eyes begin to dry out slightly, but you daren’t blink. You think “I will not be beaten by you, Bobber. I will not fall for your petty tricks of the mind. I am the player here, not thee. The line flows from me to you, not the other way around. Or does it? A line can go both ways. And none. Did I cast you into the water, or did you cast me out onto the land? Am I the bait that you use to catch others?” and as you rock slowly back and forth, your partner walks past the computer and asks if you’re ok, because you’re muttering to yourself again, and you turn and smile and answer in a slightly absent, lobotomised sort of voice that everything is fine, at which point the bobber dips and you miss it. And then you spend the rest of the evening trying to avoid lengthy and painful divorce proceedings by convincing your partner that your guttural screams weren’t directed at them. Well, not entirely at least.

And yet there is some truth in the madness that the bobber casts the player: sit in any populated area and start fishing and sure enough, every time, a player will run past you, stop, turn around, and then sidle up next to you and themselves start fishing – caught line and sinker by you, your bobber’s bait. They grin at you knowingly in a ‘look at us two, here, enjoying this ancient art; isn’t life grand?’ sort of way, and they radiate peace and happiness and well being. They never last, of course. They are not dedicated to defeating Bobber, the greatest boss mob that World of Warcraft has ever known. You see them all jolly and happy “well that fishing looks like a lark, I’ll try that too”, and they whip out their rod and cast away, but you see the change almost instantly: they stand still, holding their line, but the smile on their face is now drawn tight and the corner of their mouth starts to twitch slightly. By the second or third catch sweat has formed on their brow. By the fourth or fifth catch you can see them visibly wilting, the rod is held limply in their hands as if it lifted a terrible weight, as if it were trying to draw up the whole world on its hook. Then their eyes start to glance to the side to see how you’re doing; that’s when they see your crouched and haggard form, shoulders hunched forward and arms drawn in rigidly at your side, elbows locked in tight, a look of grim determination on your face, a maniacal smile showing through the gritted teeth of a locked jaw. Your bloodshot eyes flick towards them and in that instant they see through the portals of your soul into the very depths of Hell itself. Which is usually the point at which they look at their watch and slowly back away, with “Oh my look at the time”s and “I really must be somewhere… else”s. You look after them as they run away into the distance and you are bolstered by the fact that yet another passer-by has fallen lightly to Bobber, and you take delight in watching them dash hurriedly away, bumping into a passing merchant and crashing head over foot, like a ragdoll in a tumble dryer, around the next corner and out of sight. At which point your bobber quickly dips and you miss it.

Raid-based fishing. That’s all I’m saying. Someone tanks the bobber, a bunch of others to try to distract it with a various assortment of confused and increasingly frantic crowd control and DPS strategies, and approximately seven hundred healers stand by in order to heal the resulting fatigue and wounds. After several nights of wipes, the tank’s fishing skill finally ticks over from 123 to 124 and Vent. explodes with cheers of rapture and joy.

And yet players will level fishing. I level fishing. I do it knowing full well that I probably won’t use it in anger at the end game, what with not being a raider and thus not really needing any of the benefits of buff that it provides. Sure you can earn some money from it, but I can earn money in other ways, ways that aren’t, you know — fishing. It’s an activity that is both tediously uninvolving and yet requires your absolute attention: try to start a conversation with a friend in guild chat and the moment you’re half way through a sentence the bobber will dip. Or you wait for the bobber to dip before responding, and your friend logs off assuming that you’ve gone line dead or that you’ve put them on ignore. You can listen to a podcast while you fish, but later when you try to remember anything that was said in the show, all you can think is that they talked an awful lot about fish, and how they wished that bobbers would bastard-well dip more often. Which is a bit strange for a podcast about beard husbandry. Which has to be pretty blarmed strange, considering it was a podcast about beard husbandry in the first instance.

Ok, that isn’t a real podcast. But admit it, you’re intrigued. Maybe I should start one. Beardcast: Making the most of your whiskers and fuzz. Why does that sound as though it would be rated as adult content on iTunes?


I think fishing is possibly the epitome of Bad Crafting in MMOs: it has token interaction, and yet that interaction requires you to be focussed primarily on the task at hand; other crafting options may be dull and pointless grinds, creating items that you sell to the nearest vendor for less than the cost of the materials harvested to make them, but at least you can set a batch of them running and go and do something else in the meantime. Other crafting skills are cooking by microwave – set your time, hit ‘start’, put your feet up in front of the telly and wait for the result, whereas fishing is cooking on the stove (“fishing is cooking on the stove”? You’ve hit a new low, Melmoth) – constant attention is needed, albeit in only short bursts, to stir something or add in a teaspoon of something else. Except that the results are inverted, because when cooking on the stove you are rewarded with a superior meal to the microwaved one for your efforts (unless you can’t cook, but let’s not shag this analogy up any more than it already is, eh?), whereas in fishing you are rewarded with a significantly inferior skill gain compared to the person who just fired-off their crafting run and forgot about it. Yes there is the gathering to consider for the other professions but, while levelling at least, this goes hand-in-hand with adventuring and doesn’t encroach prohibitively on the player’s time.

Yet if fishing is a pointless lesson in the frustrations of character building, why do my characters feel empty and incomplete unless they have this skill maxed-out?

While writing this post Melmoth missed the bobber an unprecedented twenty seven times.

Bobber went on to take a leading role in a very boring West End adaptation of a Henrik Ibsen play.

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