BattleTags: Digging Deeper

Well, it’s been about ten days since I last wrote in this space, mostly due to work stuff, family stuff, oh, and yes, illness. (On Thursday, I started sneezing so much someone could haven mistaken me for a pregnant Bajoran.)

At that time, I had pondered whether the “Show my Real ID on Friends of Friends lists” option would extend to BattleTags, since we still have no controls specifically for BattleTags.

The answer, it would appear, is no.

list

Yup. That’s Majik’s “People You May Know” list and, 15 screens down, at the very bottom, where there are no mutual friends connecting him and those individuals that “he may know”, I’m right there. (In order to get this screenshot from him, I had to actually tell him my BattleTag or he wouldn’t have confirmed it for me. :P)

As to why this is a big deal, I can understand why some people don’t think it is… But to me, it’s just another way of showing me that Blizzard doesn’t care about our privacy. The lack of control, the lack of refinement of the tools, these are things that, were they fixed, would have me thrilled to use BattleTags. That’s ultimately where I’m coming from: I want to be able to use BattleTags within World of Warcraft without giving up my privacy.

Since I can’t do that, I don’t want to use BattleTags. More, I don’t want anyone to be able to associate me with a BattleTag.

Think about it. With someone’s BattleTag, you can search for them on the official Hearthstone, Diablo 3, Starcraft 2 AND Heroes of the Storm forums, all without being their “friend” on BattleNet. Just how long do you think WoW’s character-based postings are going to last when all of their other properties are using BattleTags?

Then, with someone’s BattleTag, you can spam them with requests, even if they still turn you down. Someone who knows someone else’s BattleTag can also post this sort of thing to various forums, which will cause an uptick in spam requests.

Then we have this story from Jemmy

My husband decided to disable his RealId to see what would happen. He doesn’t play WoW any more and I’m the only active RealId person on his list, everyone else is btag. So I disappeared off his list, and he cannot add me back on using my email. So far so good. So then he sends me a btag friend request, which I accept. My RealId name appears on his friends list. Not my btag, my RealId name. He shows up only as his btag, but I show up as a RealId name.

What’s up with that?

It’s true that these are not exactly the most harmful or most efficient ways to harass someone, but they’re there. More, this is just what people can do with your BattleTag ID right now. What happens when WoW’s forums adopt the BattleTag?

What happens if BattleTags become visible in WoW, even to the extent that they are currently visible in Hearthstone? Right now, after you play someone in Hearthstone, you get their BattleTag and you get the option to request to add them to your friends list. What if some genius idiot at Blizzard decides this is a good plan for LFR or the LFG groups in WoW? “Did you enjoy playing with FAKENAME#0000? Add them to your BattleTag list and play with them more often!”

Again, with proper, granular controls that existed on an IM program in the late 90s, BattleTags would be brilliant. But without any kind of control whatsoever, I have to opt out of their use. I was a less-effective guild recruiter without using BattleTags, because I didn’t want prospective recruits to know every detail of my Blizzard gaming habits. I’m sure I come off as an aloof snob when people want to exchange BattleTags with me. There are actually a lot of people with whom I would like to connect over BattleTags, but none to the point where I’d like them to have an unfettered view of my gaming. I don’t want anyone to know about my Undead baby rogue on that PVP server. I don’t want anyone to know what I’m doing in Hearthstone. It’s my decision whether or not I share these activities with others — or, at least, it should be. Once you give someone access to you via BattleTags, you don’t have that decision any longer. That privacy is gone. All because Blizzard doesn’t seem to care enough to even install the most basic of privacy controls.

It’s a worrying privacy creep and it just continues to show me that, perhaps, my love affair with World of Warcraft and Blizzard in general, is truly over.

(You’re welcome to comment, welcome to disagree, but bear in mind my Comment Policy.)

ETA: Related podcast: Episode 19 of the Kurncast: Privacy Creep

Blizzard, Why Do I Still Have to Talk About This?

Dear Blizzard,

I have been playing your games, in some fashion, since the original PC version of Diablo. I played Diablo II, as well as at least one expansion. I eventually found my way to World of Warcraft in October of 2005 and the rest is basically history. I played until November of 2012 and then took a break for approximately 17 months.

I came back to the game shortly after the Warlords of Draenor pre-purchase came out. I pre-purchased Warlords, then four hours later, I resubbed to the game.

As I write this, I have about 68 hours on my current game card and, to be honest, I’m not really inclined to fork over another $15.

It’s not because of the sexism and even homophobia and misogyny that I have seen in the game — although those exist.

It’s not because you nerfed my class to the ground — although my main raiding character was a paladin for the majority of my playing time.

It’s not even because it’s going to take over a year between content patches — although that’s a truly abysmal production schedule and if I had been raiding this whole time, I would have surely quit in disgust by now.

It’s because @YAWoWB on Twitter said this:


I wasn’t exactly sure what Rooster was talking about, until I opened up my own desktop app. Now, let’s be clear: I have precisely 0 BattleNet friends and my RealID is turned off. But I still clicked on “Add a Friend” and was rewarded with this piece of nonsense:

addafriendblog

 

Now, to be fair, because I have RealID turned off, those are all BattleTags. But that’s my brother’s BattleTag, my friend Majik’s BattleTag… and the guy above Majik? That’s one of his friends. Something like two years ago, I played Diablo III with Majik and his friend, for a period of approximately THIRTY MINUTES.

Then, Blizzard, I gasped out-loud at the possibility that my BattleTag is floating around out there like that. See, you have a flag in the BattleNet account options to not show up like that… except that it’s for RealID, not BattleTags (click for a bigger version):

friendsoffriends

Now, one might think that, possibly, since there are no preferences for one’s BattleTags, that perhaps they follow the rules laid out for RealID, but, honestly, I have no idea if this is the case.

As my brother is the father of a newborn and I don’t actually know Majik’s friend, my thought was immediately to get him on his computer and then have HIM click “Add A Friend” and see if I showed up. Unfortunately, he was asleep when I texted him (multiple times), since he has to be up at 5am and I think I might have woken up his wife with my constant texting…

So I’ll have to post again with the results of this test.

But, honestly, Blizzard. It’s 2014. Why do I have to be angry with you about your complete and utter lack of social controls?

It’s been nearly two years since you posted that “Appear Offline” was “coming soon”. TWO YEARS, Blizzard. That’s longer than Mists of Pandaria has been out! And your inelegant (to say the least) “privacy” controls are still absolutely laughable. I say this as someone who has been in the online community industry for over a decade. In this day and age of Facebook privacy screwups, of cloud hacking, of nations spying on their own citizens, you’re really going to continue to deny your users the ability to properly manage their online/offline statuses? You’re going to make it easy to find people who don’t want to be found?

Look, I get that community makes your product stickier. Believe me, I do. People come for the games and stay for the people. I know! And you want to compete with Steam, I’m guessing, right? Guess what? STEAM HAS AN OFFLINE MODE. And a variety of ways for users to manage their privacy. And Steam hit the 75 million active user mark last January.

Why, why, why do you continue to eat away at the privacy of your gamers? Why don’t you understand that, when I play your games, I don’t really want to announce to a dozen people that I’m on a rarely-used alt on a server I never visit? Why don’t you understand that I don’t want people to know all of my alts? That I don’t want prospective recruits to know all of my alts? That I don’t want people to necessarily know that I’m in one of your games?

These are fundamental questions for me. I am increasingly disturbed by each and every privacy issue that comes up when it comes to BattleNet and Blizzard’s games.

You know, Blizzard, there was a time when I loved BattleNet. Those times were back in the late 90s when I was playing Diablo. Ever since RealID came out, I have learned to loathe BattleNet. I resent it. I resent people expecting me to share my RealID/BattleTag with them. I hate that people I barely know are all “hey, whats ur btag???” because “lol its just ur btag”. I hate that I can’t even post on the Hearthstone forums without my BattleTag being exposed for all to see. I cannot believe that I cannot remove a BattleTag from my account and I am just as incredulous about the fact that there are no distinct BattleTag privacy options available to me.

Blizzard… it’s time. It’s time to fix this mess.

Yours sincerely,

Kurn

Changes Coming

For those of you who are unaware, I haven’t had a full-time, steady job in quite some time. I was in university for longer than I probably should have been, supplemented income with web clients and such, had a fortunate thing happen to me which allowed me to not worry about money for a while and, since graduating from university, I’ve been looking for work.

While looking for work, I’ve explored different avenues for making money. Among them, my guides. I’ve also done some web work and have complained (at length) on Twitter about some nightmarish clients.

Today, I was officially offered a position for full-time work in my field (!) (no details for you guys yet, sorry!) and, because I am not stupid, I accepted it.

What this means for me:

  • Working Monday to Friday from 9am-6pm
  • Going to bed no later than midnight Sunday-Thursday
  • ZOMG A STEADY PAYCHEQUE
  • A distinct lack of this thing called “free time”

What this means for you:

Definite interruption in content production. Specifically:

  • Changes to the podcast schedule. I’ve been releasing most episodes on Sunday night/Monday morning. This may change to something like Sunday afternoon or Monday evening.
  • A delay in my guides. I wanted to release my Raid Leader’s Guide in August/early September. That is almost certainly not going to happen now. As of right now, before even starting work, I’m thinking we’re looking at late October/early November. On the plus side, it will almost certainly beat Warlords of Draenor to release. ;)
  • A delay in my Sneak Peeks. I generally write for my guides and then look over the content and select 2000-3000 words for sneak peeks and release those every week. Well, most weeks. With the interview process and such this week, I had no time to write, much less release a sneak peek. The best way to be kept up to date on my guides and sneak peeks is by signing up for my announcement list. With an upcoming bizarre schedule, I’ll do my best to aim for a new sneak peek every two weeks, but I can’t promise anything yet.
  • Possibly more blogging (?!) just so I have an outlet to talk about WoW stuff — assuming I have time to still play WoW.

Crap. I just realized that I may not be able to pull an all-nighter when Warlords comes out. That’d be a first for me. (Well, not really. I wasn’t here for the launch of Mists, but that’s because I was in Italy.) Oh, well, a steady paycheque makes a lot of things worth it. ;)

Anyhow, that’s what’s going on with me. I’m very careful about keeping my “real life” away from my “WoW life” and I didn’t give out any of my WoW-related stuff to my new employer, but I want to remain very vague about things anyhow (hence all the [REDACTED] tweets on Twitter!).

So that’s what’s going on with me. I’m really excited about this and will spend some time planning stuff out. With any luck, there won’t be too large a disruption to stuff you’ve come to expect from me.

That said, there should be a new Kurncast this Sunday night/Monday morning, by the way, and look for content (YouTube?) about the new Naxx “adventure” in Hearthstone after it comes out on Tuesday! (I’m seriously so excited about PVE coming to Hearthstone. I realize this makes me a little sad. I’m okay with that.)

Hope you’re all doing well. :)

Legendary Thoughts

Kurn gets the Legendary Cloak
Kurntastic!

I finally finished my quest for the legendary cloak. Unsurprisingly, I have some thoughts on the matter. ;) I’m going to break down the different chapters of the quest and comment on them separately before discussing my overall impressions at the end. Go get a beverage. Trust me.

Chapter 1: Sigils Can Suck It

Being that I’m not a rogue who got Fangs of the Father, I had to grind rep for Wrathion.

First, let me be clear: I’m not opposed to a good, old-fashioned rep grind. Really, I’m not. That said, just killing mobs to do so is (and always has been) annoying. I’ve done it several times in the past (Hydraxian Waterlords rep to Honored, for instance) but there’s no other real way to gain rep with Wrathion. Just lots and lots… and lots… of killing.

Part of me enjoyed the mindless killing of the Mogu in the Vale (which was where I decided to rep grind), but it wasn’t fun by any stretch of the imagination.

That said, it was ten times more fun than collecting 10 Sigils of Power and 10 Sigils of Wisdom.

Perhaps if I had been a regular raider this expansion, instead of not playing for 17 months, I wouldn’t have been frustrated at the low drop rates. Maybe I would have taken it in stride that sigils only dropped occasionally from the bosses of Tier 14. (Yes, I know that they continued to drop through Throne of Thunder and the first half of Siege, but the hypothetical is if I’d been playing and raiding consistently, so that’s a few months of just Tier 14.)

On the one hand, loot is random. It always has been and it always will be. It’s part of what keeps people going back. How many times did I kill General Drakkisath for my Beaststalker Tunic? 60. Six-zero. SIXTY. Over the course of a couple of years. I killed Gandling in Scholo for my Beaststalker’s Cap 4 times before I even SAW that helm, but killed him an additional 24 times before I won it. I’m fine with random loot in general. It’s like it’s the natural order of things.

That said, 20 random-drop, required “legendary” pieces is a lot of killing bosses. Like I said, maybe if I’d been a regular raider, I wouldn’t have minded, but as someone who was catching up through LFR and not raiding regularly with any group… this was less fun. LFR in general is not terribly fun, so to do LFR run after LFR run and not get the requisite number of sigils is disappointing.

Kurn, why didn’t you raid regularly?

Okay, so that’s a fair question and I may as well answer it now. After over a year of not needing to make time to raid, not having to set aside 3-4 hours three times a week, I really didn’t want to start doing that again. I play at weird times and it’s not really consistent. You can find me online at 7am or 7pm, 2am or 2pm and it changes frequently. I didn’t want to be tied to my computer for raids. As much as I enjoyed raiding in the past, I didn’t particularly feel like raiding regularly again. Certainly, to do so when I came back (March) would have meant doing so with another guild, because my own guild of Apotheosis was knee-deep in heroic Siege of Orgrimmar at that point. Doing so with another guild would have meant character transfers and, honestly, I didn’t feel like giving Blizz any more of my money (I’d just pre-ordered WoD and resubbed for a month), so I decided against it. Also, I typically raid on my holy paladin, but I wanted the cloak on my hunter, with whom I had not seriously raided since Vanilla — and I was seriously behind on gear compared to organized raiders.

Yes, I could have used services like OpenRaid and all that in order to have smoother runs, but I’m notoriously private about my BattleTag and have turned off RealID and until these systems receive the basic in privacy-related tools, I will do my best to not use them. It’s a Thing for me. And while I recognize that I’m one of very few people who feels this strongly about privacy in the game, that’s my choice.

So did I make things harder on myself than I absolutely needed to? Sure, I’ll admit that. But that doesn’t change the fact that chasing down 20 sigils was unpleasant for me. I would wager it was unpleasant for everyone.

Okay, back to Chapter 1…

The reward for this, the Crystallized Dread? I didn’t even get to use this! It’s still sitting in my bags. Why? Because I’d picked up a bow from Tortos in the Throne of Thunder. So my actual reward for finishing Chapter 1 was to be able to move on to Chapter 2.

Chapter 2: Vexing Valor & Problematic PVP

Chapter 2 brings us to Krasarang Wilds. Despite the fact I dislike PVP-like things (oh boy, more on THAT later), I kind of enjoyed the short period of time I spent in Krasarang, killing Horde mobs to get to Revered. (Yes, I could have gone to Isle of Thunder for all of this rep grinding, but I wanted to experience all of the content Blizz had put in.)

I think this was the one portion of the questline where I was genuinely bummed that no one else was out there doing dailies. It felt very lonely and empty, sort of like how Azeroth felt when they introduced Outlands in Burning Crusade.

The Valor Point section wasn’t too bad, but I fully admit that I had it easy, only needing 3000 Valor Points versus 6000. So I’m not going to complain. I’ll say this, though: six weeks of Valor Point capping is tough and it feels like an artificial barrier for a month and a half to prevent one from advancing “too quickly” on the quest line.

It also wasn’t clear to me (or many others!) that you didn’t need to save your VP, that you could spend them. Perhaps that’s because the VP needed when I did the quest was the same as the VP cap. Plus, the tracking was odd (although I’ve read theories that could explain why — preventing the dropping of the quest/loss of progress, faction transfer issues, etc), but in the end, I got my 3000 VP pretty easily.

Next up was killing Warlord Bloodhilt in Krasarang. Hunters are OP because I soloed him as Survival with my turtle pet and a couple of different talents than I usually take. It wasn’t really hard, but it wasn’t a cakewalk. I liked this. :)

The Lion Roars includes some of the worst experiences I’ve ever had playing WoW and I probably would have stopped there if it hadn’t been for my brother, who had temporarily resubbed. It took me close to a week of trying for about an hour every single day to get both wins.

Why in the fuck does a PVE-related questline, which just required you to raid, which just required you to earn Valor Points, require you to participate in BATTLEGROUNDS?

I used to PVP a lot on my hunter. I got to Knight-Captain (and just missed Knight-Champion a few times!) in Vanilla. I got so tired of the zerg rushes, of the constant death, of everything to do with PVP, that I just stopped doing it, for the most part.

Over the years, I’ve played around in arenas now and again. I got to Rival in Arena Season 2. I kind of like arenas. In 144 2v2 games with me (as a holy paladin) and my brother (arms warrior), I won 73 and lost 71. It’s occasionally fun and I got a bunch of this season’s gear, but ultimately, PVP doesn’t really interest me. As soon as my brother stopped playing again, I stopped caring about arenas.

So to be forced to do PVP stuff in order to advance what is clearly a PVE questline makes no sense to me whatsoever and was probably one of the more miserable experiences I’ve had in the game. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve done School of Hard Knocks. I’ve done With a Little Helper from My Friends. It’s not that I’m just completely terrible! But winning these two BGs was exhausting.

Eff that. I especially hated that it was the new ones. I know how to play Warsong Gulch, Arathi Basin and Alterac Valley. Why not give me the choice of winning two BGs? Just any two. Why THOSE two? Maybe they wanted to push people into trying the new ones? Guess what? I am NEVER going back to Temple of Kotmogu or Silvershard Mines EVER AGAIN. I have developed such an intense loathing for them. It goes beyond my hatred of most BGs. It’s frightening, to be honest. And the sad thing is that when I heard about them before the expansion came out, they sounded fun. The Temple of Kotmogu especially — I loved thinking about the various tactics for scoring when they announced it. I had even thought that maybe I would play around a bit in it with my brother, like, willingly. Silvershard Mines was interesting to me because I play some Team Fortress 2 and it sounded just like a Payload map.

And yet, terrible experiences. They might be the best BGs to ever hit WoW, but I have the worst associations with them now. I’m never, ever touching them again.

You also have to feel sorry for the poor PVPers who had to suffer through countless PVE scrubs. At least I brought with me my brother, who was a decently geared and skilled arms warrior…

Okay. Enough. I could rant about this for another 1000 words, but I’ll leave it at this: Keep your goddamn PVP nonsense out of my goddamn PVE experiences.

Chapter 3: Silly Secrets & Rage-Inducing Runestones

Full disclosure, I did half of my rep and secrets before any of Blizzard’s temporary buffs and the remaining half during the time in which the temporary buffs were active.

The first half wasn’t so bad. I got to about 11k through Revered with Wrathion by screwing around on the Isle of Thunder and doing some concentrated mob killing. This is another point where I lamented not doing things with everyone because the Isle of Thunder was just so empty and sad. I didn’t experience probably 75% of what Isle of Thunder had to offer and I’m kind of sad about that.

I also got 11/20 Secrets of the Empire before I tired of LFR and took a lengthy break. I returned to LFR during the two weeks of the Gaze of the Black Prince. So when I walked into the appropriate LFRs to pick up my 9 remaining secrets, it was perhaps a bad thing that I got all nine and still had bosses left to kill. I had presumed (perhaps foolishly) that I could easily knock out both my remaining secrets and all 12 Titan Runestones and finish the quest during the last week of the Gaze buff.

It had taken me literally 20 minutes (with the guild perk Mr. Popularity, plus my Battle Standard of Coordination) to finish off my rep and hit Exalted with Wrathion, so I was ready to move on to the next stage. I turned in my 20 Secrets of the Empire (and my 40 Trillium bars) and was anxious to go kill the remaining bosses who would start me off with my Titan Runestones.

After four bosses, I had 3 Titan Runestones. You’d think someone with a sociology and statistical background wouldn’t take that as FACT, but apparently I internalized the 75% drop rate.

Boy, was I unhappy to only get 7 Runestones out of the 14 possible bosses. It was so discouraging. Here I thought I could knock it all out during the last week of the Gaze buff and finally get my stupid cloak and be done!

I was apparently mistaken.

Anyhow, the other parts of the chapter included a pretty uneventful time over at The Thunder Forge. Maybe it’s that my gear was around 537 in average ilvl, but this was easy and boring as crap. Kind of neat to see an Algalon-like dude, though. That’s a nifty model.

The Nalak bit was pretty hilarious. Again, because NO ONE is EVER on the Isle of Thunder (and because I am stubborn as hell and want to do things by myself whenever possible), I did this by myself thanks in particular to this comment at Wowhead.

I ended up getting my last two Runestones this week, plus the Heart of the Thunder King. And so, we move on to…

Chapter 4: Is that a CHALLENGE?

Okay, so this was both neat and ridiculous.

I talked to all of the Celestials and ended at the Temple of the White Tiger in Kun-Lai because, well, I’m a DPS who isn’t a caster. I had a Celestial Offering to help me out, too, and at the Temple of the White Tiger, it gives 10% extra Strength and Agility.

So I click on the gong and get told it’s the melee DPS challenge.

My actual reaction: “what in the fuck, do I have to go do the CASTER challenge?!”

So off I went to the Temple of the Jade Serpent. Hey, look! 10% increased Intellect thanks to my offering. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense for a hunter. (I still miss my mana bar.)

Anyhow, Wrathion pwned me twice and then I was like “okaaaaay, time to regroup.”

I swapped a couple of glyphs and a couple of talents and even FORGET to glyph Black Ice. I learned it (I hadn’t known it), but forgot to actually select it as a glyph to use. Whoops. I ended up not needing it, though. Swapping to Binding Shot was really helpful and the third try was successful, although just barely.

Given that hunters pick the Tigerfang Wrap, I think it’s especially odd that the challenge took place at the Jade Temple.

That said, I really enjoyed the actual fight. It wasn’t all that hard, though. Kiting Artorius through Winterspring for my Rhok’delar was more difficult and took me far longer than the ~30 minutes I spent in total from the first pull to finishing this challenge. Which is a shame, really. I would like more stuff like THIS. THIS was fun.

Chapter 5: Challenging the Celestials

Get 5000 coins on Timeless Isle? No problem.

Defeat all four Celestials: actually, so much easier than I would have thought.

The “other raids” button is carefully hidden away, but was awesome in finding a group for all of the Celestials. 30 minutes later, they were all defeated.

And done. Got my cloak.

Then, for fun, I killed Garrosh and saw Wrathion get pissed off at Varian. Look, I’m no fan of Varian’s, but Wrathion, you suck. I long for the day when I can skin you. That said, I laughed out loud when he said he should have taken control himself, just like “Auntie Onyxia”. Props to Blizzard for that, and the bit with Anduin remembering her as Lady Katrana Prestor.

Concluding Remarks

So I have a legendary. But it sure as hell doesn’t feel like a legendary, despite all the hoops I jumped through for it. Let’s see, 20 Sigils, 20 Secrets, 12 Runestones, 2 BG wins, one-on-one combat, killing all the Celestials, OH, and grinding to Exalted with that little bastard… Yeah, legendary hoops, but the cloak feels ridiculous. This cloak feels like the Kingslayer title did after three months. The first month, it’s all shiny and new and YOU KILLED THE LICH KING YEAH!!!! The second month, you start to be bored by the invites to join someone’s run. The third month, everyone and their brother has the title.

That’s the same thing with the cloak. I cannot imagine how actual, organized raiders feel about their hard work when people like me (ahahaha, I’m a “dirty casual”!) can get the exact same cloak with nowhere near the same time invested. I queued up for LFR. They did actual raids. Their boss kills were more difficult than mine (probably, anyway). Isn’t it a sad thing that I have the same cloak as Tikari, who is currently 13/14 heroics in Siege of Orgrimmar?

I think it’s sad. Also, ridiculous.

A legendary is legendary not because the item’s colour is orange or because it has better-than-average stats and a neat proc. A legendary is legendary because it’s rare. Or it’s supposed to be.

Tell me, what’s the barrier in getting a legendary cloak today? There’s one tricky part, which is the one-on-one combat with Wrathion, and that’s it. Everything else is pretty easy and just takes a lot of time. But it’s not even a lot of time all at once! It’s time spent at your leisure! You can do an hour of LFR here, two hours there and 30 minutes some other time.

So with just a tiny bit of skill and time spent at your own leisure, you too can get a legendary cloak.

And that’s a problem. Legendary cloaks are now basically required for any raiding guild.

While this is fair for those raiding guilds (the cloaks ARE really good), it’s less good for people who just want to break into raiding. Having the cloaks existing at all is an artificial barrier to entry to organized raiding. Don’t get me wrong, I LIKE barriers to entry for raiding — a lot — but the time commitment to getting a cloak is a lot longer than an attunement quest (or six).

It’s also bad for guilds who want to have that kind of standard because it reduces the pool of available talent substantially. But it’s a difficult decision to make: do you take the undergeared person of that class or do you hold out and pray you get another good disc priest or elemental shaman or whatever it is you’re searching?

I don’t envy guild leaders or raid leaders today. They have difficult choices in terms of recruitment and, frankly, I’m relieved that I’m not involved in their decisions.

As to the legendaries… I don’t think there’s a good way to do them. Giving them to everyone is awful. Giving them to one individual feels bad, too.

If everyone has a legendary, it’s the same result as if no one has one. So I vote to get rid of them.

What do you think?

(PS: Catch more of my writing over at SentryTotem.com, Tuesdays and Fridays!)

[WoD] Durability and Repair Cost Weirdness!

Yesterday, June 4th, accounts started being flagged for the “Friends and Family Alpha” of Warlords of Draenor. Lots of people on my Twitter feed got in, but I didn’t. (Which, honestly, is okay. I hope I get in eventually, though, like once they hit actual Beta.) Anyhow, I was working on my forthcoming Raid Leader’s guide and I got to a bit about perks for raiders in your guild. One of the perks I suggested was giving raiders guild repairs and then I frowned, because I wasn’t sure how (with the item squish, etc) things were going to look in Warlords of Draenor. So I asked on Twitter if people could give me an idea of what repair costs looked like.

Thanks to THEEEEEE Matticus and Crow, it appears that things are significantly different in the Alpha than they are on live.

Repair cost is currently based on a simple formula. For green pieces of armor, it’s durability points to be repaired * (ilevel – 32.5) * 0.02 silver, assuming you’re neutral with the vendor. For rares, it’s the same, but multiplied by 0.025 silver and epics are the same but multiplied by 0.05 silver. (Then rep discounts kick in for 5% at friendly, 10% at honored, 15% at revered and 20% for exalted.)

So Matt threw himself off of a cliff a number of times:

And he let me know that with all of his gear at RED durability (meaning 0 durability), the repair cost was 3g while Friendly with the Frostwolf Orcs. His gear was all green cloth (since he plays a priest) and his average ilvl was somewhere around 510.

So, hold the phone. We have 8 pieces of armor that are repairable (I didn’t even start taking weapons into account) and if they were ALL at 0 durability, the cost was around THREE GOLD to fully repair? This did not seem like how it is on live, even if they WERE greens and they WERE cloth.

So I did a quick test on the helm formula. Green cloth helms have a maximum of 70 durability points. So let’s plug that into the formula:

Durability Points to be repaired: 70
Mutiplied by (ilevel – 32.5, let’s say that’s 510 – 32.5) = 477.5
Multiplied by 0.02 silver
Multiplied by 0.95 to get our 5% friendly discount

That’s 70 x 477.5 x 0.02 x 0.95 = 635.075 silver.

Or, about 6 gold, 35 silver and 8 copper. Just for the helm. That’s double what Matt was reporting for his entire character!

To make sure I had the right formula, I got on live and bought a 429 ilvl green cloth helm, stripped my 90 warlock down to nothing except this new helm and went out and killed myself about 13 times to get to 0 durability on that helm (which had 70 durability points, losing 8% per death). My math gave me an estimated repair cost of 5 gold, 55 silver and 10 copper with a neutral vendor and a 4 gold, 44 silver and 8 copper repair cost with an exalted vendor. And, wouldn’t you know it, those estimates were spot-on when I went to repair at the a repair vendor in the Shrine (neutral) and the Shado-Pan repair vendor (exalted).

I verified with Matt that his helm was 70 durability and his chest was 115 durability (same as the current max durability points, although I had some confusion in there due to some outdated info) but it still seems as though costs for repairs have (at least in this Alpha build) dropped DRASTICALLY.

So — if you’re in the Alpha, let me know if you’ve noticed the cheaper repairs. Once character copies are working properly (as I understand they’re not? And Alliance isn’t even playable at the moment?), let me know if this carries over to the epics!

Obviously, this is only a very early Alpha build and I’m sure things will change, but I wonder if this sort of thing will stick…

On Media, Society and Socialization

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You know, I really didn’t want to have to write this. I really, really didn’t want to have to sit down and explain that games are media and that media socializes us and hey, that’s shaping our society.

Apparently, though, I do. The above is the TL;DR version. Below, well… I’m long-winded and the proof is in this blog post.

Introduction

Hi, my name is Kurn. I’m a woman in my 30s who has a Bachelor of Arts, Specialization Sociology. I have been a gamer since I got my first gaming console, an Atari 2600, at the age of five. Today, I want to talk to you about something called socialization.

Socializing someone, according to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is when you “teach (someone) to behave in a way that is acceptable in society“. We are all socialized. We all learn various rules and customs and norms applicable to our respective societies. These run the gamut from “primary socialization” (where kids learn, for example, not to pick their noses in public) through to gender and racial socialization. (More on those here at Wikipedia.)

There are countless ways in which we are taught what is acceptable and preferred in our lives and these ways can be divided into “social institutions” (more here on Wikipedia). The family is the first social institution we encounter and this is where a lot of our ideals and beliefs are first acquired. Religion, schools, our friends and peers, all of these further help to socialize us.

Then there are some more “formal” norms we adopt through legal systems. In North America, we drive on the right-hand side of the road. This is a learned, socialized behaviour that is the norm here. In the United Kingdom, though, one drives on the left-hand side. Both are backed up by various legal systems, meaning that if you drive on the wrong side of the road, you’re going to be subject to fines or other punishments from the legal system in that particular country.

Mass Media and Socialization

Another way of being taught what society accepts is through mass media. Things like newspapers, radio, comics, books, television, the Internet… and yes, video games are part of it.

In my mind, the thing that is problematic about media is that, far too often, media just reflects society’s status quo back at us. That’s not to say that there aren’t amazing books and shows and movies and games out there that dare to think outside the box, because there are, but the majority of them seem to take the status quo and reflect it back at us. Why? Presumably because it’s what’s already accepted by society. Presumably because it’s “safe” and will have “mass appeal”. Remember, so much of today’s mass media is produced in order to make a profit. Network television shows want lots of viewers to charge advertisers more money. Movies want lots of viewers to pay for their trip to the movies (even more than once) to make more money, so that they can earn their studios more money than just breaking even.

To me, this is problematic because, well, it’s unoriginal, but more importantly, because there are a lot of things about current (North American) society that I don’t think really should be reflected. These things include, but are not limited to, sexism, racism and homophobia. And yet, these concepts are reflected to us in a vast majority of media to which we’re exposed.

You want examples? Awesome. I’ve got examples.

Let’s look at Star Wars. I’m talking about the original one, Episode IV – A New Hope. I would imagine that many, many, many people have seen this. So let me ask you this: how many women (with a line of dialogue!) are in that movie?

Well, obviously, there’s Princess Leia. And… hm. Aunt Beru? Yeah, she had a few lines.

Any others? Not that I can think of. Now, I could be wrong, but there’s no way that there’s another woman in the movie who has even close to the amount of dialogue Leia has.

So for prominent male characters, you’ve got: Luke, Uncle Owen, Han Solo, Obi-Wan, Vader, C-3PO, Chewie and various generals and rebel pilots.

For women, you have: Leia and Aunt Beru.

… see a problem there? It’s certainly imbalanced in favour of men having more important (or, at least, more prominent) roles than women. (I won’t even get into the whole “I’m Luke Skywalker and I’m here to rescue you” bit, which puts Leia in danger and needing to be rescued by men.)

This is not to say that Star Wars is a terrible movie. I loved it as a kid and still enjoy the occasional viewing. However, it helps to reinforces the societal belief that men are supposed to be more important than women. (This societal belief is shown by a variety of things in real life, including, but not limited to, the fact that in the United States in 2013, women earned, on average, only about 82.1% of what men did.)

There are dozens of other examples of sexism, but I figured that was a pretty basic one that we could all agree on. Again, it’s not to say the movie is bad, just that it’s lacking in at least one area. It was also released in 1977, so maybe you would think that, perhaps, movies have made a lot of progress in showing women as being equals in the intervening 37 years.

Apparently not. There’s this test for media out there called “The Bechdel Test“. In short, the media must have:

1) Two or more women in it
2) Who talk to each other…
3) … about something other than a man.

It’s absolutely shocking to see how few pieces of contemporary media actually pass the Bechdel Test.

Let’s look at Star Trek: Into Darkness, just because it (like Star Wars) is also a science-fiction movie, with a huge franchise following. Guess what? It doesn’t pass the test. You have Uhura and Dr. Marcus who are the only really prominent women in it and they don’t interact.

Again, it doesn’t mean that the movies are bad, just that they are lacking in certain areas.

Racism in media is something similar. While I was growing up, the overwhelming majority of characters on basic American cable TV shows were white. The exception was The Cosby Show and its spinoff, A Different World, both of which had largely African-American casts. (Later, Family Matters and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air would also showcase a primarily African-American cast.) This reinforces the idea that Caucasians are the most “important” ethnic group in the US. While it’s true they’re the most numerous, does that mean that it’s okay to completely exclude visible minorities from media? Of course not. But when one introduces visible minorities to a TV show or movie or what-have-you, one needs to be careful not to fall into the trap of reinforcing damaging racial and ethnic stereotypes. Not having racially diverse casts is bad enough, but reinforcing stereotypes would be even worse.

The Top 10 ranked TV shows in the US for the week of May 12th, 2014, not including the unscripted shows (which have changing casts), we have:

– NCIS: 1 African-American actor listed in the main cast page at IMDB.
– The Big Bang Theory: 1 Indian actor listed in the main cast page at IMDB.
– NCIS: Los Angeles: 1 African-American actor listed in the main cast page at IMDB.
– Criminal Minds: 1 African-American actor listed in the main cast page at IMDB.
– Person of Interest: 1 African-American actor listed in the main cast page at IMDB.
– Castle: 3 African-American actors, 1 Hispanic actor listed in the main cast page at IMDB.
– The Blacklist: 2 African-American actors, 1 Indian actor, 1 Middle Eastern actor, 1 Asian actor listed in the main cast page at IMDB.

(Bear in mind I only watch a couple of those shows, which is why I settled on listed cast on IMDB to help me figure out how diverse the main cast was. Also bear in mind that this was just a quick overview and I apologize if my summaries are 100% accurate. (I know, for example, that Castle only has two active African-American actors in their main cast, but they list three on the page.))

With the exception of Castle and The Blacklist, those aren’t very diverse casts. (I was sincerely impressed by The Blacklist‘s diversity.) While the other shows have some diversity by virtue of having at least one visible minority character, most of these top TV shows can be viewed as still implying that Caucasians are more important than visible minorities. While I’m pretty sure it’s not their intent, how do visible minorities feel about a single visible minority being shown on, say, The Big Bang Theory?

As to homophobia, it’s apparent in ways that are similar to both sexism and racism. Many times, LGBTQ characters are missing entirely. Other times, there are token LGBTQ characters who perpetuate harmful stereotypes or, additionally, through mocking and teasing about “being gay” for having interests and opinions that aren’t stereotypically male. (See: early Chandler on Friends, Raj on The Big Bang Theory. Also, see the Jack Tripper character from Three’s Company, and be agog at what actually aired on television in the late 70s and early 80s.)

Lack of Visibility and Reinforcing Stereotypes

In all three types of discrimination, the number one problem is a lack of visibility. The number two problem is reinforcing stereotypes.

The lack of visibility leads to reinforcing the idea that men who are white and straight are the ideal to which we should all aspire. They’re the ones who get the majority of the screentime, the majority of the stories, the majority of, well, everything. People can argue that the original Star Wars trilogy is Luke Skywalker’s story. Why isn’t it Leia’s? They’re twins and the Force is strong in her, too, no? Alternatively, why isn’t Luke African-American? How would the story substantially change if Luke were African-American? Would the story substantially change? What if Leia took on the role that Luke had and Luke was Prince Luke Organa who needed to be rescued from Vader? Does that change the story? How? Food for thought, no?

Back to the reinforcement of stereotypes — it’s damaging because it prevents people from really understanding people who are different from them. Yet, to look at television, you’d think that African-Americans are thugs and criminals, Hispanics are lazy, women are objects to be desired and won. In the meantime, you’d think that gay men are universally interested in shopping and have lisps while lesbians all present as “butch” or, importantly, are all waiting to have a threesome with another woman and a guy because, of course, all lesbians are really just bisexuals who are only too happy to include a guy in their beds, right? Well, most television representations would have you believe that.

One of the reasons that society is so slow to change things, in terms of these various types of discrimination, is that we’re seeing the same stories on TV and in movies and other forms of media. While socialization of acceptance is happening (slowly) in other areas, one of the best ways to speed this up is through various forms of media.

For example, while same-sex marriage is becoming legal across more and more of the United States, most shows don’t have a LGBTQ character in them. Looking at that same list of shows, how many of them have a character that is LGBTQ?

There are no out LGBTQ main characters on The Big Bang Theory or Castle. I couldn’t find NCIS, NCIS: LA, Criminal Minds, Person of Interest or The Blacklist on this list at Wikipedia, either. (That said, I would hope I’m wrong and that there are at least some out characters on those shows.)

The Importance of Visibility

Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian in the late 1990s. Michael Sam, an African-American football player, just recently came out. Both are trailblazers, in their own way. Ellen is one because not only did she come out, but her character came out. On network television. And then the show was promptly cancelled. But now she’s very successful with a hit talk show, complete with Emmy awards. She just hosted the Oscars. Ellen is a great example of a successful gay woman, inspiring young gay women just by being visible on television every weekday. She doesn’t use her show as a platform for gay rights very often, she just talks about her life and her wife (Portia de Rossi) and this constant exposure helps to show people, who may not know any other gay people, that LGBTQ people are people, just like anyone else.

Similarly, Michael Sam came out and became the first openly-gay football player to be drafted by an NFL team. I don’t know enough about football to say whether or not he’ll play in the NFL, but the St. Louis Rams drafted him and now, some scared kid out there, who’s being bullied or who isn’t sure if he can be gay and be an athlete, can look to Sam and go “wow, people like me are able to play in pro sports!”

In another example, there was a short-lived television show during the 2005-2006 US TV season called Commander in Chief where Geena Davis played the first female President of the United States. There were only 18 episodes. But it introduced the idea of a female president. Did it pave the way for Hillary Clinton to run for the Democratic nomination? Probably not, but it introduced the idea. It gave the idea of a female president visibility. While it wasn’t solely (or even mostly) responsible for Clinton’s good run for her party’s nomination, it’s likely that it at least softened up the American public even a bit to be open to the possibility of a female candidate. (Bear in mind I’m Canadian and my American political history is lacking, at best, but the point is that every bit of positive visibility helps to change real attitudes.)

Blizzard Entertainment, World of Warcraft & Hearthstone

And now, nearly 2500 words into this post, I am ready to talk about video games. Specifically, I want to talk about Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft game and will touch upon their Hearthstone title as well.

Race isn’t so much of a factor in fantasy video games like World of Warcraft because, well, there are actual other species to play aside from human. There are dwarves, night elves, gnomes, worgen, blood elves, tauren, orcs, trolls, goblins and pandaren. That said, the human skin tones range from a dark brown to very pale. So if you want your character to be African-American, you can do so. That’s great. You can approximate Indian/South-Eastern Asian skin tones, too. You can’t actually change the physical attributes of the characters, though — everything about the model is based on Caucasian features. Nor can you change the height or weight of a character. Avatar customization in World of Warcraft is really lacking in comparison to some other, newer games.

Gender representation, on the other hand, wouldn’t seem to be a problem at first glance. Every race has models for males and females. (For now, I’ll leave out the fact that binary gender options in a fantasy game is kind of silly.) So that means that World of Warcraft at least has equal female representation going for it, right?

Wrong.

All you have to do is look at how various armor pieces fit differently based on the model’s gender, which I talk about a little bit in this previous blog post. You can see that some armor pieces are designed to be revealing for the female models, while if worn on a male model, they fully cover the appropriate area of the body.

But even ignoring the armor pieces, the models themselves (and their animations) are very different. The female night elf model, for example, bounces up and down (breasts heaving, too!) as her “idle” animation. That’s to say that if you’re not moving your character or using its abilities, it will, by default, do its idle animation. Do the male night elves bounce? Nope. They shrug and rotate their shoulders.

Okay, so some models and animations are problematic in that they emphasize the sexuality of the female models. That’s not SO bad, right? Certainly, there are other games that are worse?

Well, yes, some other games are worse, without question, but the fact is that Blizzard is continually reinforcing these kinds of sexist stereotypes: that women are eye-candy for men, that they exist to support men, that they are not as strong as men. Take, for example, the in-game dungeon and raid bosses. Most are male. A major exception is, of course, Onyxia, a female dragon (whose human identity was Lady Katrana Prestor). In the original World of Warcraft game, all of the bosses in Molten Core were male. Same with Blackwing Lair. The Temple of Ahn’Qiraj had female representation in three of nine boss encounters, which was a step up. The original Naxxramas had Grand Widow Faerlina, Lady Blaumeux and you can possibly count Maexxna (although this is a freaking huge spider, it’s unclear whether or not this is a female spider). I could go on, but we’ll leave it at this: males make up the majority of the bosses in World of Warcraft and when there are females, well, they can end up looking like this.

Then, there are the actual stories being told in World of Warcraft. Let me just say that I’m not someone who is terribly into the “lore” (or the story and narrative) behind World of Warcraft. I’ve always cared more about killing internet dragons (and figuring out how to do so) than who the dragon is and where they came from.

But when Chris Metzen, who is basically the story guy at Blizzard, says that the upcoming expansion, Warlords of Draenor, “[…] is more of a boy’s trip,” I get a bit concerned. When Jaina Proudmoore (who is arguably the strongest woman for the Alliance faction in the game) gets her home of Theramore destroyed and her hair turns white, I get a bit concerned. Her hair colour change is supposedly because she’s radiating with magical energy, but many people who saw this interpreted it as aging and there are even some reactions that have people joking that Jaina is going through menopause! And we’re not just talking about the trolls leaving comments in various places. Included in this silliness is a well-respected podcast like Convert to Raid. In Episode 50 of CTR, at about the 24 minute mark, they start discussing Jaina’s hair and blaming it on menopause.

While the comments about why Jaina’s hair has suddenly changed do reflect those making the comments more than those who have made the change to the hair in the first place (and, by the way, let’s be clear — I think Pat Krane and Koltrane and the rest of the CTR gang are good people who probably didn’t mean any harm by these comments), one has to say to themselves “they didn’t make “getting old” jokes about Arthas when his hair went white.”

To me, the major difference in the two examples of characters whose hair turns white is in the framing of the characters. The designers and developers and writers decide on something and that’s coming from their background and their experiences. Then it’s interpreted by their players, who are going to interpret these things in a way that’s unique to them, based on their background and their experiences.

Arthas Menethil is framed as the feared Lich King. He was the end-boss of the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, for crying out loud. We saw him become a darker character by going back in time and seeing the culling of the city of Stratholme, deciding to kill everyone in the city due to plagued grain having made its way there. This was the major step towards darkness for Arthas. I was glad to get to experience it, but throughout the entire expansion, Arthas is viewed as strong, as powerful, albeit capable of making “evil” choices.

Jaina’s a bad-ass mage, no one’s going to argue with that, but she’s not framed that way. We’re always put in situations where we must protect Jaina. Outside of Theramore, my first real encounter with Jaina was in the Mount Hyjal instance and her constantly saying “I’m in jeopardy! Help me if you can!” and “They’ve broken through!” (Sounds available over at Wowhead.) After the first two bosses (where Jaina’s been helping you out), you go get Thrall to help you out. None of his sounds are of the helpless variety. “Attacked 01” and “Attacked 02” are the filenames for the Jaina quotes I used. What are those for Thrall?

“I will lie down for no one!”

“Bring the fight to me and pay for your lives!”

So Thrall is being defiant and threatening his attackers that if they dare to take him on, they’ll die. Meanwhile, Jaina is asking us to help her.

That continued in Wrath of the Lich King, when we faced off against the Lich King in Halls of Reflection. We were the people protecting Jaina from various undead creatures while she “concentrated” and tried to burst us through ice barriers.

Even in the Fall of Theramore scenario, she literally says, “I must attune to the Focusing Iris before transport. Protect me!” And so we protect her from various enemies. Yet again.

It’s not to say that Jaina isn’t capable of being bad-ass, because she is, and you see it on a handful of occasions, but more often than not, we end up having to protect her, which heavily implies that she is incapable of handling herself and needs someone strong and powerful to help defend her.

So, really, in World of Warcraft, some female models suffer from over-sexualization (female night elf and female draenei, specifically), some armor pieces look skimpier on a female character than a male (Leggings of Concentrated Darkness, Shadesteel Greaves, Glorious Armor, etc) and one of the “strongest” women in the Warcraft universe is constantly asking players to protect her.

Again, while race isn’t always a major issue due to the plethora of actual different species in the game, most major human, dwarven, gnomish and blood elvish characters are light-skinned, both in-game and in artwork representing the game, such as loading screens. One could argue that the Mists of Pandaria expansion has been very Asian-themed… but where are the Asian characters? They’re pandas. (I’m not even going to touch on the idea that has been raised in the past that the entire expansion is playing with stereotypes.)

You may have noticed that I haven’t even touched on LGBTQ content. That’s because there is none. I don’t think we need to have Anduin Wrynn discover he’s gay (although, frankly, why not?) or have Sylvanas marry a woman (although, again, why not?), but even some representation in small quests, like talking to a female NPC who talks about her wife, or a child NPC who has two dads, would go a long way towards diversifying the game. There’s no ability to start a romantic relationship between your character and an NPC, so that avenue is out (and, to be honest, I think that’s fine), but why not sprinkle some in as background flavour?

While representations of women in the game are suffering from harmful stereotypes and different visible minorities aren’t being fully represented, LGBTQ representation is missing entirely.

Even in Hearthstone, the game based on heroes in the World of Warcraft universe, only two of the nine heroes one can choose are female characters. Why not have 9 Alliance male representations, 9 Alliance female representations, 9 Horde males and 9 Horde females?

Oh, and let’s not forget that even in Hearthstone, both of the female characters (Jaina and Valeera) are scantily-clad. Jaina’s showing a ton of cleavage and, one can see in the complete version of artwork that her midriff is bare. And what’s that? So’s Valeera? Why yes, yes, she’s wearing thigh-high boots and what appears to be a corset.

So What?

4000 words into this blog post and you may be wondering what I have left to say.

It’s simply this: I believe that World of Warcraft is reflecting outdated ideas, ideals and values to its customers by holding fast to the ideas that women (even strong ones like Jaina) need protecting, that women are sexual objects that exist to be viewed by men, that only white characters really matter and are deserving of epic storytelling and that LGBTQ characters have no place in their fantasy world.

This, in turn, will have an effect on society. Kids, teens, even young adults who are currently playing World of Warcraft will be socialized by these ideas. World of Warcraft is a game that millions and millions of people have played, do play and will play. With such a large audience, it is my opinion that Blizzard has a social responsibility to demonstrate an openness to diversity, to show women actually being strong, to show dark-skinned humans doing something of note, to show any kind of positive LGBTQ presence at all.

To do so would be to help normalize the ideas that women are equal, not inferior, that visible minorities are just as capable as Caucasians, that LGBTQ people exist and do much the same in their daily lives as straight people do in theirs.

I’m not saying Blizzard is responsible for all the sexism, racism or homophobia in the world, nor am I saying that the inclusion of strong women, visible minorities and LGBTQ presences will automatically solve all the issues we see surrounding these kinds of people in the world.

But Blizzard has a huge platform and, right now, they’re not using it to help anyone. Worse, by not helping anyone, by sticking with what’s tried and true, they’re reinforcing the old, tired beliefs that women, visible minorities and LGBTQ folks aren’t equal.

Mass media has such power over us all, without our even realizing it. If every book, TV show, magazine, radio show, movie and video game added just a little something extra, a little something diverse to their product, it would make a huge difference, particularly on younger people who are consuming more media in a day than people my age used to consume in a week and people my parents’ age used to consume in a month.

Blizzard could do so much good, without compromising their epic gameplay, without even changing anything to do with game mechanics or game systems, just by cosmetically changing how armor fits or editing skin tones or allowing people to choose different faces based on the skin tone, or just adding an NPC with two moms.

What I’m saying is, it doesn’t take much to make a difference when your audience is millions of people. Why not do it and have a positive effect on the world?

(Before leaving a comment, please do make sure to read my Comment Policy. Thanks!)

Pondering Pardo's Unpardonables

(Please do bear in mind the comment policy here at Kurn’s Corner. Thanks!)

In case you haven’t seen it yet, Todd Harper wrote a piece over at Polygon on Thursday, May 22, about diversity (or the lack thereof) in various video games. In the piece, he spends time discussing Blizzard’s values, as well as Nintendo’s recent troubles to do with the lack of same-sex marriage support in Tomodachi Life. Since I’m not a Tomodachi Life player, I’m going to skip over that and just say that including LGBTQ content (at least the options!) in games (and other popular culture) is an important step towards equality. I think any kind of game where you adopt a character as your avatar and there’s romance should have some kind of LGBTQ representation and choice. (The Sims, for example, has supported same-sex relationships since its first incarnation.)

Anyhow, as troubling as Nintendo’s reaction has been, what was new to me in the Polygon piece were the stated values belonging to Blizzard, espoused by Dustin Browder (Game Director for Starcraft II) and Rob Pardo (Chief Creative Officer at Blizzard).

When pressed on the sexualization of women characters in MOBA games, Browder argued “We’re not sending a message. Nobody should look to our game for that.” The message just below the surface here is: why can’t we just have fun? Why do we have to be responsible for being respectful?

… seriously?

After his talk, I asked Pardo to talk about how Blizzard’s values — “epic entertainment experiences,” emphasizing the Blizzard brand, focus on gameplay and de-emphasizing narrative — and the company’s perception of their audience might impact how they portray socially progressive content.His answer was disappointing. “I wouldn’t say that’s really a value for us. It’s not something that we’re against either, but it’s just not something that’s … something we’re trying to actively do.”

Why the eff not?

“We’re not trying to bring in serious stuff, or socially relevant stuff, or actively trying to preach for diversity or do things like that,” he said. His example of a place where Blizzard struggles is portrayal of women.Pardo notes that “because most of our developers are guys who grew up reading comics books,” Blizzard games often present women characters as a sexualized comic book ideal that “is offensive to, I think, some women.”

Gee, ya think?

It’s a really good article that everyone should read, but, shockingly, I’m going to discuss my views here. ;)

I play games to escape. They’re fun, they take up space and time in my life, they give me a sense of satisfaction I don’t easily get outside of them. I’ve played video games since I was 5, playing on my Atari 2600. River Raid was my favourite game. I loved the King’s Quest, Space Quest and Police Quest series from Sierra. I kicked some ass at Double Dragon on my Atari 520ST computer and absolutely adored both Déjà Vu and Déjà Vu II: Lost in Las Vegas. Sneaking around as Garrett in Thief and Thief 2 was spectacular (less so in the sequels, but anyhow). Eventually, I came to World of Warcraft and found that I quite enjoyed playing a hunter and, later, a holy paladin. All of these games made me an involved player, made me think outside the box (seriously, using an athletic supporter as a slingshot in SQII?) and served to entertain me while rewarding me for my efforts by finishing chunks of the game.

That’s not to say that the Quest games from Sierra didn’t have horribly sexist moments. They did. The Latex Babes from SQIV? The fact that Sonny’s girlfriend in PQ was a hooker? A lot of it went over my head until I took the time to think about these things from the perspective of an adult and it wasn’t limited to the Sierra stuff. It’s disappointing to look back at the Déjà Vu games, for example, and realize “holy crap, I had to beat the crap out of a hooker lest she shoot me in the face”. (I can’t even think of another woman from those games, to be honest.)

So, I’m coming from the perspective of having grown up with sexism in video games. It’s pretty much normal to me, or at least it was until I started looking at games more critically. (And part of that was thanks to Anita Sarkeesian and her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series.)

I remember levelling my holy paladin, Madrana. She’s a human female. As a paladin, she wore mail until level 40, at which point she could wear plate. Here. Have a look at some actual screenshots of Madrana in plate armor. (click for bigger pic)

platearmor

The two on the left are of Madrana wearing the Shadesteel Greaves, which were part of the Shadow Resistance gear from Burning Crusade. Notice a difference when you compare them to the human male wearing them?

platemale1

The chest piece my toon is wearing is the heroic T13 chest, the Breastplate of Radiant Glory. Nice exposed stomach. That makes OH SO MUCH SENSE for a plate-wearing class, who can also be, you know, tanking things. Oh, look. They actually took into consideration that armor should cover one’s soft, squishy bits when they decided what the male model would look like with it.

platemale2

I included the Lightforge set on the far right because it’s my transmog (and has been since transmogrification was introduced). Yes, I love Lightforge, but one reason why I love it so is that it covers my character’s body in an appropriate fashion.

These discrepencies between armor on a male model vs. a female model have always pissed me off. (Just play with the 3D model viewer for the Glorious Breastplate and Glorious Legplates if you doubt that there are dozens of other examples.) However, I dealt with them because I knew that the designers were men and that the target audience also consisted of men.

In other words, I’ve known Blizzard has been sexist, at least in some ways, since I started playing. Half the reason my night elf hunter is a male is because I didn’t like how the female night elves bounce as their idle animation!

What’s really troubling about the Polygon article, for me, is that not only is this kind of junk still acceptable, but it’s coming from the top. Pardo is the Chief Creative Director. While I’m sure not everything we see in the games goes by him, he (and the others at that level) are responsible for the overall culture and sentiment in their company. That Pardo (and, presumably, the other executives at Blizzard) think that “fun” and “entertaining” are diametrically opposed to “socially responsible and progressive” is, well, not cool.

Let’s look at Hearthstone, which was just released a couple of months ago. You’ve got nine heroes, one for each class that existed in World of Warcraft in the original release. They are:

Malfurion – Male Night Elf Druid
Rexxar – Male Orc Hunter
Jaina – Female Human Mage
Uther – Male Human Paladin
Anduin – Male Human Priest
Valeera – Female Blood Elf Rogue
Thrall – Male Orc Shaman
Gul’dan – Male Orc Warlock
Garrosh – Male Orc Warrior

… really? Just two females represented among all of those classes? Is it really that there aren’t other epic female druids, female hunters, female paladins, female shaman, female warlocks or female warriors? Let’s take a look.

Apparently there are no notable female druids. But HEY, how about, oh, I don’t know, ANY OF THE WINDRUNNERS for a female hunter? Lady Liadrin or Aponi Brightmane as female paladins? Tyrande as a female priest? Okay, I kind of get Thrall as the Shaman, but did Magatha Grimtotem get any consideration? And, shocker, there don’t seem to be any notable female warlocks. Nor any notable female warriors. (Note: I’m not big on lore. I may be missing some, but still.)

So two of the heroes are women in Hearthstone, which is about 22% representation. Which sucks. They could have had a different hunter, paladin and priest. It could have been ~56% representation. But it’s not. And at some point, you just have to ask… why isn’t it?

Look, I’m not asking for any portion of any game to change in terms of gameplay, not at all. But how does it negatively impact the game when 4 or 5 of your nine heroes are female? How does it negatively impact the game if, for example, my Tier 13 Heroic Breastplate of Radiant Glory actually covers my character’s abdomen? Neither of those things have anything to do with the game mechanics.

Blizzard, you can have your epic gamplay. You can have your fun and entertaining games. But you can also make better decisions about the representation of women in your games. (I’m not even going to touch Heroes or SC or Diablo with a ten-foot pole since I have 0 interest in Heroes, I’ve only played a little SC in my life and haven’t touched D3 since last year.)

If anyone thinks I’m overreacting, rest assured that I’m not. I’m not even angry. I’m disappointed, troubled and resigned, but I’m still playing World of Warcraft and playing around with Hearthstone for the time being. Just because I’ve learned that there is a sexist culture at Blizzard that comes from the top isn’t going to cause me to go running into the night, mostly because I’d always suspected that. (And if I hadn’t, Metzen’s “it’s a boy’s trip” comment at the last BlizzCon would have tipped me off. (See Fan #16’s Q/A section.))

You know what, though? Of all the reasons to quit, this is a really good one. I’ve already seen two people on my Twitter feed decide that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

Cynwise has been a fantastic community resource. Osephala’s been a great player that I’ve personally played with off and on for years. I commend them for taking the steps they feel they need to after Pardo’s comments, but the community will be worse off without them both.

As a former guild master, it’s ingrained in me that if someone leaves, someone will be around to replace them eventually. There’s churn. But losing Cynwise? Big blow for the community. Losing Osephala? That’s one more talented player the community will need to do without. In this day of boosted 90s with clueless yahoos behind them, the community can ill-afford to lose the good ones.

Since I’ve come back to WoW, I’ve been buying one month of game time as I go, because it’s a tentative re-entry to the game. In the two and a half months since I’ve been back, I haven’t ever been so pleased I’m not on a recurring subscription and, to be honest, my future in this game is in doubt. (For this and other reasons, but anyhow.)

So… confirmation of what I’ve always thought — Blizzard is a boy’s club. Representation of women doesn’t matter to them. Social responsibility doesn’t matter to them. Hiring more women doesn’t matter to them. It’s nice to know this stuff for sure, but it’s pretty disappointing that this is where they stand. They could be so much more and that’s what’s so disheartening about all of this. The wasted potential just makes me sad.

*** ETA: Here’s a link to a video of the response the article was based on. It doesn’t really change my mind, but definitely have a look. ***

(Please do bear in mind the comment policy here at Kurn’s Corner. Thanks!)

Old Habits Die Hard

With the news that Patch 5.4.8 would bring with it the ability to add two more upgrades (4 ilvls each) to 5.4 gear, I laughed to myself. Why? Well, because there are several instances of Blizzard saying they won’t nerf Siege of Orgrimmar (at least not in the blanket-nerf sense of the word). The most recent one was just a month ago, back in April.

And yet, they’re adding up to 8 more ilvls to every piece of SoO gear, every piece of Timeless Isle gear, every piece of SoO crafted gear… Granted, as Watcher states, it’s “nothing” compared to a zone-wide 30% aura:

But Valor upgrades are still a nerf. I went through that in this old post of mine from last September (wow, was I ever off on the timing of the expansion…) and I still maintain my opinion that it’s a nerf. That said, I am also still a fan of the fact that the onus is on the player to make their raids easier.

Anyhow, I laughed to myself at all of this and was, once again, pleased that I’m not raiding in any serious capacity at all.

That said, I had the intention to cap Valor so I could walk into 5.4.8 with 1000 or 2000 VP and upgrade the crap out of what I’m wearing. I figured we still had a week or two.

And then we were told on Monday that, OH HEY, PATCH DAY TOMORROW.

Wanna know how much Valor I had earned in the last, oh, two weeks?

Five.

That’s right. Five Valor. I did one quest for 5 Valor or something. That’s it.

So, forgetting for a while that I am no longer a progression raider, I got online and did my 200 VP Epoch Stone quest on Timeless Isle. In so doing, I also earned 50 VP from killing 20 elites on Timeless Isle.

Total VP: 255.

This was substantially less than 1000.

So I did the unthinkable. I queued up for the first couple of wings of Siege of Orgrimmar LFR. Late on a Monday night.

Wing 2 popped for me.

By some miracle, we didn’t wipe on Galakras, despite there being ZERO tower group organization.

Both tanks left shortly after that mess. And then we got some extremely talented players who were, and let’s be fair to them, total douchecanoes. One of them was the tank, the other was a DPS warrior. Both were very well-geared and knew their stuff, but oh my God. The language. The foul, foul, FOUL language, full of slurs and pejoratives!

I was going to leave, but I didn’t. I’d already put in 30 minutes of waiting for the queue, plus 20 minutes on Galakras, plus another 10 of waiting for two new tanks to show up.

Someone ninja-pulled on Iron Juggernaut and we wiped. Then we actually had a good pull and killed that. Killed Dark Shaman. Then wiped on Nazgrim because people still apparently don’t know how to kill adds… Finally got Nazgrim down, adding 90 VP to my pathetic collection, bringing me to 345 total. (Also, no Secrets through those bosses.)

My other queue popped for the first wing and I was going to take it, except I was still annoyed and I was tired and…

… and I’m not a raider.

It’s as though a lightbulb went off. Who the eff cares if I don’t max out my VP? I certainly didn’t care until faced with the fact that I could do more stuff with my VP today. Guess what? I haven’t even fully upgraded most of the gear that I’m wearing. (Part of this is because I want to get better gear before upgrading.) So, really, what the heck is the point in trying desperately to cap to get to 1000 VP before servers go down? There’s no one relying on me to “do my part”, there’s nothing driving me to do it, except my own expectations.

I declined the queue and thought about this.

Even though I haven’t raided seriously (as in, not LFR) since the end of Dragon Soul, I am still wired to try to maximize my potential. It took a lot of effort in the first place to stop VP capping even when I didn’t want to any longer. For so long, it’s just been part of my WoW life to do unpleasant tasks “because I have to!”

But I don’t “have to” any longer. (And true, strictly speaking, I never “had to”, but I felt I had a responsibility to my raid teams to do whatever I could.)

It’s going to take some time to adjust to this whole “I can do whatever I want” thing. Breaking such a long-standing old habit is definitely not as easy as one might think. Even now, I’m filled with residual “dammit, why didn’t I cap VP for three weeks prior to today?!” thoughts and I even have a bit of guilt resulting from it.

You’d think that not having played for ~17 months would have cured that right quick, but no. It’s as though my “decompression” from being a raider was just on pause until I got back into the game and NOW I’m dealing with what it’s like to not be a raider.

It’s still so very, very strange.

Thought I’d share. :)

Introducing the GUILD PACKAGE!

Ladies and gentlemen, I’m pleased to announce that, starting today, a new version of my Kick-Ass Raider guide is available. It’s the GUILD PACKAGE! That’s right, if you’re a guild master or a raid leader (or perhaps just a generous person), you can purchase unlimited copies of my Raider guide for your own raid team.

For a limited time, $37 (regular price is $47) gets you virtually unlimited copies of my guide for your raid team members. It’s the EPIC version of the guide, too, not just the basic, rare guide. That means that if you want to get four copies for people, that’s already cheaper than buying four of the $9.99 Epic guides. That also means that if you have 30 people on your roster, for example, and you get this package, you’re paying just $1.23 per guide for all of your teammates. If you’ve got 12 people on your team, that’s just about $3.08 per guide. That’s cheaper than a cup of coffee at Starbucks! ;)

Okay, so it’s not truly unlimited in that it’s really meant for a single raid team, but if you’re the GM of a huge guild with a dozen teams or something, email me at kurn (at) kurn (dot) info and we’ll work something out!

All the details can be found here:

http://kurn.info/raiderguild.html

PLUS, the first 10 people to use this discount code get 15% off. The code is LEEROYJENKINS. (This promotional code is only good for this guild package.)

Looking for something free? No problem. Sign up for my free announcement list (very low volume, no spam!) and get a free copy of the rare version of Module 1 of my Kick-Ass GM Guide! Additionally, I expect to start work on my next project, the Kick-Ass Raid Leader Guide, in May, with sneak peeks showing up sometime in June, so sign up for the mailing list anyway to be notified when this stuff comes out!

Finally, remember that I’m writing the Guild Leadership column over at SentryTotem.com! I’ve got a new column up roughly twice a week at the moment, so be sure to check that out, not just for my stuff, but for all the other quality content on the site. :)

Happy Monday, people!

(PS: This post comes to you from The Storm Peaks where I sit, waiting, ever-patiently. Or, you know, not patiently at all.)

Quick Alpha Thoughts

Honestly, I have neither the time nor the inclination to talk in-depth about the Alpha patch notes for Warlords of Draenor that we’ve gotten. This may actually be a short entry! (hahahaha, if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell you.)

The first thing anyone needs to do in order to have an informed opinion on these changes is to read the entirety of the patch notes. No, I’m not kidding. Pretty much everything they posted is necessary to further understand the changes. What is absolutely wonderful about these notes is that they do attempt to give you context. That is amazing and you have to thank the devs for trying to do so. From what I can tell, they attempted to explain the whys pre-emptively. The whole bit about ability pruning is particularly interesting.

So what am I going to discuss here? I’m just going to say that I’m a little disappointed to see some abilities go, from a hunter perspective. In particular, the loss of Aspect of the Hawk, Distracting Shot, Hunter’s Mark, Rapid Fire, Scatter Shot, Silencing Shot and Serpent Sting altogether are, to me, fairly disappointing. The changes to Kill Shot (no longer available to Survival Hunters) and Lock and Load (being removed by itself, but still able to be procced from Black Arrow) also sting a bit. That Stampede is now a talent is interesting, so I’m not all that fussed, although I don’t know how Murder of Crows or Blink Strikes can compete.

Note that I’m not going to lobby to get these things changed — I know things will naturally change and evolve due to feedback and play data in Alpha and Beta. That said, I did want to talk a little bit about why I feel these changes are disappointing, from a PVE standpoint.

Aspect of the Hawk

Okay, seriously, I know. I know! I get it. We always use Aspect of the Hawk. To not use it is to use Aspect of the Cheetah or Aspect of the Pack. This is absolutely ability bloat at its finest. The trouble is, it’s only ability bloat NOW because we used to have other options. We had Aspect of the Wild (nature resistance!), we later had Aspect of the Viper (mana regen!) in addition to Cheetah and Pack. That Aspect of the Hawk finally goes the way of the Wild and the Viper is not terribly surprising to me, but it feels like an iconic part of being a hunter is going. Yes, they’re baking the buff itself into the abilities and such, but I’m someone who actually enjoyed the different aspects back in the day.

What they really need to do is a way to prevent morons from running around with Pack on constantly, particularly in things like LFG and LFR. >.>

Distracting Shot

I will freely admit that I rarely use this ability. However, when I have used it, it’s generally been in key situations where I ended up kiting some damn thing halfway across the room/area/etc. We’re talking General Drakkisath in Upper Blackrock Spire, back in the day. What about on a pull gone horribly awry? Forcing a mob to pay attention to you and chase you down is a core part of what hunters have been. And while I was thrilled to not have to always kite Drak (thank you, Toga!), I enjoyed knowing that I could and that I had successfully done so previously and could do so again. This kind of gameplay doesn’t really happen these days, though, and I think the game is poorer for it.

For what it’s worth, I occasionally use this out on Timeless Isle when fighting the Gulp Frogs if I pull more than one so that my poor bear doesn’t get 10 stacks of their poison. I could use another shot, like Arcane Shot, if I wanted, but I use Distracting Shot because I want that other mob to look at me and I want it to look at me now. The only way we’ll be able to kite things in the future is if we’re the last one standing, essentially. While that means that kiting in the middle of a raid encounter, for example, will no longer be our domain (and perhaps it hasn’t been for a long while), it’s worth taking a moment to think about where we started and to respect what we were able to do.

Hunter’s Mark

More bloat, I’ll grant you, but another iconic ability going the way of the dodo makes me sad. True, it’s automatically applied on virtually any shot. True, with the raid icon markers, we no longer need to use Hunter’s Mark to actually differentiate between different mobs. But it pre-dated the icons and, for a long while, was the only way TO distinguish mobs from each other.

Rapid Fire

They’re getting rid of a lot of cooldowns. I’m okay with that. I’m even basically okay with Rapid Fire being removed. I’m not a fan of blowing all cooldowns on the pull and on CD thereafter, which perhaps makes me not the best hunter in the world (which is one reason I haven’t raided seriously on Kurn since Vanilla). It’s just that it’s so weird to see all of these abilities that have been around forever finally being cut. We lost all of our melee abilities (even our ability to wield both a ranged and a melee weapon) in Cataclysm and this feels like they’re coming back around to finish the job. Even if it’s just a silly cooldown that I probably never used as much as I should have, I’ll still miss it.

Scatter Shot

Once upon a time, back when I spent a lot of time in Warsong Gulch while levelling my hunter, I was defending the flag in the Alliance base. An orc hunter named Dar (not to be confused with the awesome mage Darista, whom we all called Dar) came up the tunnel with a feral druid named Elu and, while I called it out (dude, I had humanoid tracking on and was shadow melded and was watching Dar’s dot come up the tunnel), I was unable to prevent them from taking the flag. Why? Because when I gave chase, I was suddenly disoriented. I lost control of my character. “WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT?” I yelled at my computer. As I waited to be resurrected (Dar managed to DESTROY me), I scrolled up in my combat log. “Scatter Shot?” I said, “What in the hell is Scatter Shot?”

As a hunter, I knew I must have had the same abilities as Dar, who was about the same level as me, so I found it in my spellbook and put it on my bars AND YOU BET YOUR ASS I Scatter Shotted him every single time I saw him thereafter.

It’s another shot I rarely use, mostly just to prevent spellcasting if Counter Shot or whatever is on cooldown, but I’ll miss it, too.

Silencing Shot

I remember getting Silencing Shot. I believe I spent some time in the Western Plaguelands playing with casters as I learned how to use it. Counter Shot is fine, I guess, and I understand this is part of the larger picture of no longer having silences ATTACHED to interrupts, but it’ll be missed.

Serpent Sting

Oh, Serpent Sting. I think I’ll miss you, most of all! Hunters used to have a fair number of “stings”. Serpent Sting has always been around and it used to be terrible and not worth the debuff slot on mobs in Molten Core, for example. Scorpid Sting helped reduce the target’s chance to hit (and before that, reduced their Strength and Agility by a certain amount). Viper Sting was a mana drain. Wyvern Sting, a Survival-only (for so long) form of CC. I always thought that stings could be a REALLY interesting mechanic for hunters, that Survival hunters, in particular, could be a great DoT class, right up there with warlocks. Instead, they’ve already removed Scorpid and Viper, Wyvern is a talent and now out goes Serpent Sting. It was one of the very first abilities I gained as a hunter and I remember being awestruck and fascinated at the green vapours that appeared on the recipient of my sting.

I think this is the one choice that I don’t really understand. Serpent Sting isn’t automatic. It’s a deliberate choice one makes when they’re attacking the target. Not using Serpent Sting at all, or as much as you can (aiming for 100% uptime), is, well, silly, but it’s also the sign of a not-great hunter (at least on single-target fights). While we all SHOULD use Serpent Sting and aim for that 100% uptime, I’m sure many people don’t. Since it’s not automatic like Hunter’s Mark (unless you’re Survival and using Multi-Shot — which, by the way, will still exist!), I don’t see why Serpent Sting is going away. Is it bloat? Perhaps, I guess, but it’s not bloat like Aspect of the Hawk or Hunter’s Mark, both of which are either used 100% of the time due to lack of other options or are applied automatically. Even world-class players can’t always keep Serpent Sting up 100% of the time. It’s a bit of a mystery to me why this ability, which takes a bit of skill/practice to use properly, is being culled. Alas, poor Serpent Sting, I knew you well. /salute

What about Holy Paladins?

Honestly, good riddance to the Guardian of Ancient Kings as a holy cooldown. Adios, wings. Seeya, Divine Plea. I’m fine with all of these. (My jaw dropped into the apartment below me when I saw Druids are losing Innervate, so I was more prepared for our loss of Divine Plea.) I’m sure I’ll have more to say about healing, but for now, I’m pretty much okay with things. (Although Flash of Light and Holy Light healing for roughly the same amount feels wrong to me, but that’s another rant for another day.)

What do you think about the Alpha notes? Anything you’ll really miss?

But Wait, There’s More

Before I forget, my bio and first column are live over at SentryTotem.com! Every Tuesday and Friday, there should be a brand-new column from me about Guild Leadership. In fact, there’s a second column scheduled to go live today, so be sure to check it out sometime after noon Eastern, 9am Pacific. :)