Near as I can tell, some folks are getting their knickers in a twist over this post on WoWInsider because of it being framed in a “Smart Kids” metaphor. I think these people are missing the point. Further, I see this as being symptomatic of the messed up way society views intelligence.
I’m not walking away from this with the feeling that Anne Stickney is talking about “the only smart and worthy kids” vs “a bunch of morons we’re better off without”. And, on Twitter, she has denied that this is hardcore elitist stuff. I’m going to accept her word on that. I’ve played on one of the same servers as her before, and I think that server would have been a waste of her time if she was a hardcore elitist. (Which is different than a hardcore player. Not all hardcores are elitists, and some elitists are all attitude that couldn’t hold their own with a group of dedicated hardcore PvPers/raiders/whichever thing we’re being “hardcore” about at the time.)
I think people are probably upset about the phrase “smart kids”. Personally, I think this is something society could do without. We’ve got this either/or approach to things that does more harm than good. Either you’re smart or you’re dumb. Either you’re talented or you can’t do X thing. I see people brag about their IQ or put someone else down for their IQ and think to myself, “You can’t be too brilliant, or you’d understand why that number doesn’t mean as much as you seem to think it does.” There are all kinds of assumptions that a person has mastery of this, this, and that subject if they are in a certain intelligence bracket. These things are misconceptions, and the personal histories of some of our greatest scientists and inventors reveal that, yet we hold onto them. They provide a crutch for us when we don’t put forth enough effort. Never put the time and effort into learning to paint portraits? “Oh, I’m not talented with drawing and painting. I’d make a mess all over the place!” But I don’t know anybody who is really okay with being seen as “not smart”, so that’s one folks tend to get upset about.
Here’s the kicker… to a large degree, intelligence is just another talent.
Some people naturally have a knack for drawing, playing piano, sports, etc. They still have to practice and improve, though, or people who do NOT have a natural knack for it can put in enough hard work to pass them up. Being “talented” just gives you a starting bonus. It may mean you stay way ahead of some people, no matter how hard they work, but there will be others who do not have that “talent” who will catch up to you, and even some who will end up teaching you a thing or two. Talent is not the magic ingredient in life. It’s just a starting bonus.
Some people get a starting bonus in “smart”. And, as Anne Stickney’s article points out, public schools are not designed for those kids. Your team only moves as fast as the slowest dog can pull. That doesn’t mean the slowest dog is weak or doesn’t deserve to be on the team… it just means he doesn’t pull quite as fast as the other dogs. He must be on the team for a reason. He’s not a bad dog. He’s just not the fastest dog.
In the context of the article, I’m reading “smart kids” as the ones who got that starting bonus and are bored because they got the basics and moved on already. I was one of those kids in several subjects, but especially reading. My reading and comprehension was on the college level before I made it out of the third grade. That didn’t make me better than other kids as a person, and there were other things other kids performed better in that I did. But it did mean the school library did not have even one book that was not way the hell below my reading level. That doesn’t mean all the other kids were a problem, or that they needed to GTFO my school library. I’m not being elitist about this. Other kids could find books on and above their reading levels in our school library. I could not find even one book that looked like it might approach the surrounding neighborhood of “my reading level” anytime within the forseeable future.
I think that’s more where Anne Stickney was headed with her article. That’s the message I’m getting, anyway. That there are players who are way above what WoW is giving them in skill level, and many of them are bored because of this.
I’ve touched on this before when I talk about tying shoelaces. I think a lot of people will not find what they want because they are just so good at games at this point. That they’ve been tying their shoes just fine for so long they forget how difficult it can be for a lot of small children who have just been told for the first time, “Now you hold the one loop and then you make the other side into a loop, keep them seperated but bring them together, over, under, around down, stand on your head, rub your tummy, wait until the moon turns purple, pull it tight and there you go! Easy, huh? :D”
The kid having trouble learning to tie their shoes isn’t dumb. One day, they will probably be someone who doesn’t give it a second thought… just ties the shoes… and may not remember that it was ever difficult for them, or understand how it could have ever been so. But today? Yeah… tying shoes is HARD today! The fact that it’s easy for a lot of people doesn’t invalidate how hard it can be for the beginner.
So I don’t think Anne Stickney is being elitist or trying to put anyone down for not being one of “THE SMART KIDS”. I think she was using a metaphor that some people reacted badly to because of their own insecurities.
Yes, if you’re upset over this and think she’s being elitist, I think it’s a sign of personal insecurity. Because why else would you get so damn worked up over someone on the Internet’s opinion, or your perception of their opinion? And I’m not above that myself. It’s not an issue for me in this case, but the Great Bear Spirit knows it has been about plenty of other things. And I have to stop myself and ask, “Why am I so upset? BECAUSE THEY THINK I’M STUPID! Why do I care what they think? Because sometimes I think I’m stupid, too, and that scares me.” AKA… upset because of my own insecurities.
I would like to offer an opposing view to the idea that it’s the folks on the lower end of the skill ladder Blizzard is designing for, though.
There’s a lot of complaining about “Blizz nerfing it for the casuals”, but I’m not sure they are. What if they’re streamlining it for the hardcores? (Yes, yes, I’m playing Devil’s Advocate here… but it’s still an idea worth tossing around. I think so, anyway, but I’m obviously biased.) I’ll admit this is based on my own reactions to the game, and I am aware not everyone has the same game priorites. But game priorites are another thing that isn’t either/or. I was once chastised for talking about raiders as if they don’t care about the story, but it was really that I was talking about a sub-set of raiders who only care about raiding and seem to see the rest of the game as a necessary evil to slog through. That’s not all raiders. Some people like one aspect of the game, same people like five. Not all of the people who like five necessarily like the same five aspects of the game. I’m speaking from my point of view… primarily story-oriented with a love of exploration and discovery.
As a new player, I wanted to take in EVERYTHING! Every quest was new, and there was a lot to learn by doing it all! I loved keys because their were a souvenier that said, “I went there. I did that thing. I succeeded and GOT MY KEY!” I didn’t see Karazhan until the game was at the end of the next expansion, but doing the quests to get the key was an awesome experience for me! I got a lot of story out of it, saw the dungeons and got gear from them, and had a key to prove it!
My first druid drowned a couple of times doing her swim form quest because, hey… swim form quest is hard when you don’t have swim form yet! But I learned how to push my limits underwater and still make it back alive, eventually. That was something I needed to learn because having my very first character be a Forsaken warlock had kind of spoiled me on the underwater thing.
New experiences taught me new things. Prepared me for what was up ahead. The dwarf starting experience pre-Cata… whew! When stuff was still hostile, that mug had a timer on it and the quickest route was right through troggs… DID YOU SEE THE TROGGS IN COLDRIDGE PASS?!?! Making it out of Coldridge Valley and running up the road to the distillery (which is the inn in Kharanos), you knew when you saw the distillery in the distance that you were going to be okay. If you made it to that far, you could make it through anything else Azeroth threw at you!
But it’s not so much fun the fifth or sixth time. It’s really not. The shine wears off. The lessons have been learned. Even if I’m playing a class I’ve never played before, a lot of things carry over. I was a better warlock after having played a hunter for a year, for example. Playing a hunter taught me a lot about controlling my pet that also works for controlling a demon.
Attunement chains got you geared up and exposed you to mechanics to prepare you for raid content, but c’mon… Blizzard isn’t pulling many new rabbits out of their hats. I’m guessing most raiders have seen these mechanics before in most cases and already know what to do. They already know what to do. And experienced raiders understand gear and how to get it.
Messages on the screen telling people what they died from and how to avoid it in the future? LFD and LFR may have improved getting into groups in a lot of ways, but I think this is the price for it. And I don’t think it’s because random groups get bad players who don’t know how to not suck/not die. I think it’s because random groups get random players who expect everyone to have run this content over and over and learned everything from it already, and have zero patience when mistakes are made. I’ve been in groups with them! Tanks, healers, dps… oh gawd, the dps! And the funny thing is, even though they’re complaining that it’s always somebody else who is “fail”… the healer who can’t heal, the tank who can’t keep aggro, whatever… as soon as they leave or get kicked and someone comes in to replace them, amazingly the group doesn’t have problems anymore. The healer is fine. The tank is awesome. The other dps can kill things within a reasonable amount of time. It’s almost as if the impaitent “Y U SUCK SO HARD” asshat is the one actually making the group suck.
There are tools for kicking, dropping group, ignoring people, etc. But in the end, Blizzard can’t make people play nice. They can’t make them slow down a bit, communicate with each other, and function as a team. So what can they do? Hand you the answer when you need it if your group isn’t going to help you find it.
Let’s go back to the shoelaces. Take a small child, just learning to tie their shoes, and give them slip on shoes or shoes with Velcro instead. Who does this improve the quality of life for? It’s not really the small child. They aren’t learning to tie their shoes now because you took away the ones with laces. It sure does make things easier on whoever is responsible for getting them dressed, though. Much easier to tell a kid to slip their shoes on, or show them how Velcro works and let them have at it, than to teach them how to tie the laces. It’s made things easier on the person who has already mastered shoe tying.
Maybe they aren’t really catering to the casuals, after all.
I think there are a lot of places Blizzard can improve. I think they’ve confused “challenge” with “test of your reflexes”. I’ve been looking at some other games lately and started to realize just how far behind Blizzard’s design approach really is. I see a lot of options they have available for truly making the game more accessible to a variety of players, but instead they opt for a design approach that makes encounters so easy they become hard again. (I can’t say how that works in raids, but in dungeons I see a case of things getting to the level of “too many cooks”. Try a dungeon at the level with just two or three people honestly working together, rather than five people half-heartedly smashing through it.) I’m not happy with feeling pushed into group content just to keep moving through the game, and I’m not happy with them choosing to take things like class mount quests and druid form quests out rather than redesign them. The paladin mount quests were ridiculously expensive, and I guess that made sense when it was something to do at end game. Now, they could have changed the quests and preserved all that beautiful lore that comes from doing them, but instead they just removed them. I’m so glad I got to at least see the Alliance side before it was gone. And the warlock demon and mount quests made it pretty clear exactly what kind of person a warlock is. None of this, “They aren’t really any different than mages, they just use a different energy source,” crap.
I don’t feel insulted by what Anne Stickney said. She hasn’t hurt my feelings at all, even though I’m not one of “the smart kids” in Azeroth. I think she raised points about game design and keeping your audience happy that really do need to be discussed when you aren’t looking at a niche naudience. (WoW has too many players of too many different types to be a niche thing anymore.) There are people perfectly happy with the game still. There are people who aren’t, though, and looking at why can be a step toward giving the kind of feedback that gets desired change from Blizzard, or toward make a decision about whether to stay or leave. Getting hung up on the phrase “smart kids” just gets in the way of giving the real issues the attention they deserve.