Tobold's Blog
Friday, January 08, 2010
Forced intimacy

Elnia from the Pink Pigtail Inn has an interesting post comparing the Dungeon Finder tool to pornography: From "unshackling sex from intimacy is the core of the porn industry" he/she [sorry, men with female avatars make for ugly grammar] concludes that grouping with strangers in WoW is the equivalent of fucking strangers in porn. Now I'm not disputing that sex with intimacy is better than sex without intimacy, but does that really tell us anything about how grouping in a MMO should be?

Personally I do prefer groups with guild mates to groups with strangers, and I think most people do. I'm nowhere near getting the achievement and the dog from the Dungeon Finder, because my level 80 characters use it mostly to run guild groups, which doesn't count for that achievement. My characters not yet at the level cap on the other hand group with strangers all the time (not getting the achievement either, because only heroics count for that). So am I a social or an anti-social player?

The answer of course is that I am social if I can. What you need to consider is what the alternatives are. For my level 80 characters the alternatives are between grouping with friends or grouping with strangers, and I choose the more social option of grouping with friends. But for the lower level characters the problem in nearly any guild is that it is unlikely to find enough players of the same level online. Thus the choice is between grouping with strangers and not grouping at all. So grouping with strangers is still the more social option.

And then of course many people do not want to engage in too intimate social relationships over the internet. Sorry to burst your bubble, but the relationship to your guild mates is not equivalent to your relationship with your real life friends or your significant other. In most cases you know nothing about your online "friends", beyond that they share one common interest with you, which can be as narrow as the common interest in beating the next raid boss. If you took a successful raid of 25 people and got all those players together in the real world to have a beer, the meeting would be rather awkward, because they would find that the group consists of people of different age groups, education, and social classes, and there wouldn't be much besides WoW to talk about as common interest. So why would grouping with near-strangers with a common guild tag be so much better than grouping with complete strangers?

You simply cannot force intimacy. The big social revolution of the Dungeon Finder is to enable you to group with strangers, because it was found that the alternative was much worse: Only few players joined really social guilds, while many other people were either forced to solo, or to engage in fake intimacy to get into a guild and thus into a group. To use Elnia's sexual analogy, the alternative often was not real sexual intimacy, but the one-night stand, in which someone (or both) pretend love to get the sex they really want. Needing a guild to find a group was actually bad for social relationships, because it ended up with phenomena like guild hopping, or guilds inviting people based on their character class and gear instead of on a set of common values.

World of Warcraft with the Dungeon Finder is a *more* social game than without it. A quick dungeon run in which you said either nothing, or just "hi" at the start and "thanks, bye" at the end is still more social than spending that time soloing. And not all Dungeon Finder groups are like that, for example I found it breaks the ice to put a fish feast on the floor at the start and invite everyone to get the food buff. And once in a while you will be grouped with people from your own server, and end up putting each other on your friends list. And that is the best a tool like the Dungeon Finder can possibly do. Because if you were only allowed to group with people you already had a beer with, we'd all be playing solo all the time.

I'm happy that you have had such a positive experience with the Dungeon Finder system. As I have said before, I agree with you that it is certainly very successful in getting us into the dungeons.

However, I think the porn parallel is relevant (although a bit provocative, but surely that's not a coincidence). I've never played much Counter Strike or any other online shooter, but whenever I have I get the distinct feeling that most people couldn't care less who they are shooting at or who's firing on their side (with the exception, of course, of the clans but that only goes to prove the point). To me, the DF brings that to WoW.

Evolution, revolution, devolution... no matter how we regard it, I believe it does tell us something about the human condition. Clearly, the non-communication norm in the DF instances work well for most people. Communication and emotional involvement is fun, but like you put it: better to get part of what you want rather than none at all.

We're all Gevlons deep down inside, basically ;)

However, is this a good move for Blizzard? One of the things that keep people in the game and attached to the game, just like Facebook and whatnot, is the social aspect – the contact with other people. Take that away, and the emotional investment decreases somewhat. Basically, it becomes easier to detach and leave the game. Hmmm... rather convenient for a company to de-socialise one game just as you're preparing to introduce a new one, no?
exactly my answer to elnia's post on the matter...
I think you're taking "intimacy" a little to literally.

A random dungeon-finder group is more social than soloing, but potentially less social than the old PUG (non-)system. Picture:

Warrior: Anyone need Gun'Drak?
Mage: Sure, as long as we kill Eck for the achievement.
Hunter: I'm in, anyone know a healer?

Compared to the current, where everyone clicks a button, gets a group some number of minutes later, and the mage doesn't find out that the group will refuse kill Eck because he's not required for the daily Frost Emblems until halfway into the run.

The step where you care who the other players in your group are and what they want is gone. Is it any wonder that players have responded by reducing each other to gearscores and dungeons to emblem over time tables?
Oscar, all he's saying is that it's okay to group with non-guild members routinely and not feel like a cold degenerate. Personally, I'm not a guilder, but I do recognize familiar characters in my rank scale, and I'm always glad to work/team with them.

on the other hand, I can remember being in an Eve guild, in 0.0 space, guys on ventro were chatting about their weekends and beer brands and the football games, and I wanted to irritatingly snap, "yo, dudes. Pay attention, let's focus, it's dangerous out here."
So, this is not to pick apart your post in any way, as I tend to agree with your general conclusion, but just a couple of things...

The concept that one wouldn't know lots of personal stuff about their guildmates is pretty foreign to me. However, that's because I, and many people I know, are not in raiding guilds. We're in guilds with our family and our real life friends. We're in guilds who gathered together for purely social and conversational reasons, not in order to take down the next boss. I think a lot more people are involved in guilds such as these then we notice.

Secondly, I don't think it's more social to group up with people you already know, and with whom you are already comfortable, than to PuG. Or perhaps it is simply more outgoing to PuG, depending on your perspective on pugging. I pug to meet new people. The LFG tool has kinda thrown me off, because I meet all these great new people, and they are on a different server, which means I can't invite them to run ICC with us next week :(

Basically, it comes down to this: Social is as social does (looks like something Gevlon would say!) - you get out of it what you put into it. I know a lot of very personal information about the people I raid with (and I raid with people who are not in my guild as well), because I worked very hard to build up extremely close and solid relationships like that.
I'd like to see a very simple change to the dungeon finder system that I think could help make it more sociable. Have a tick-box that says "prefer people from my own server". If that's the case, the slots in your group are filled from (say) the 1st DPS from your server in the queue, rather than the 1st DPS of any kind. Only if nobody from your server to fill that slot is available will someone from another be chosen.

That way, the social bonds of particular servers are enhanced, and the "sex with strangers" aspect is minimised. People may also start to behave better too, when they know there are consequences for their reputation if they ninja-loot or AFK.
There is nothing intimate about about grouping with random people using the dungeon finder.

You go in and blow up the place and everyone says thanks at the end. There's never any conversation or interaction, just blowing through the dungeon, especially at the heroic level.

How is that intimate?
I have had both good and bad experiences with the LFG system. When I'm on my tank I am expected to know the layout of the instance. Before LFG I rarely ran instances though. I'm not afraid to announce that I'm new to the instance and ask directions and notes on the upcoming boss.

My DK (DPS spec) found an excellent guild. It seems that the DPS role may be a bit easier, namely follow the tank and don't stand in the green stuff. With Vent my guild mates generally tell the party what to expect for each boss. This is knowledge that I can use when my tank runs these instances.
Outside of playing with RL friends, I'm all with the bubble bursting idea. Tobold is right, the relationships in-game are not equivalent with RL friends/family; and I would go further and say that they are much farther apart than some would delude themselves into thinking.

When I joined my current guild there were two guys that seems unseparable, people who seemed to have become actual friends. Then one day one of them decided to leave for a real raiding guild...they haven't spoken since. Why? Most of our annonymous relationships are simply shadows of the real thing, and it doesn't take much of anything to bust that bubble.

The LFD finder has only brought to light more of how and who we all are, not created a new way of thinking or behaving.
J, I was clearly not... clear :)

I absolutely agree that it is ok to group with non-guildies. The point I was trying to make (in so many more words) revolves around what Green Armadillo says. There's nothing wrong with the new Dungeon Finder. Conversely, it's fantastic at doing what it sets out to do. But at the same time I feel that it is putting me off the game because of the way it tends to reveal human (or children's, to the extent that it is different as opposed to simply more pure) nature at it's least interesting. And no offense to Gevlon, but I simply used his name to illustrate the one extreme of the old altruism-egotism scale that I personally am less interested in.

I'm trying not to project my own feelings onto those of the WoW-playing population in general, but even so I am convinced that all personal – emotional, even – involvement in the game will inevitably decrease as a result of this.
I hate analogies. To me atleast they feel like a crutch to people who can't properly express their ideas. In my experience they often raise more questins then they answer.

Well said Tobold.
The last game that I formed any meaningful bonds with anyone in was Warcraft 3. From before DOTA took off, we were playing (especially Ringwars, a truly awesome map for wc3 and lotr fans) together all the time, and eventually competing in clan wars together for years.

I discovered that although initially the bond was forced (Ringwars' popularity ebbed and grew and ebbed again over time, so during some periods we would need each other to even play it), it was the only thing that kept me coming back to WC3.

I would grow bored of DOTA and Ringwars all the time, and stop playing. But eventually I would miss the comraderie of our group of friends on bnet. Our group was the last remnants of the peak times of Ringwars (and the few remaining decent players I might add, hehe) and through about 10 different clans we stuck together for years, keeping Ringwars alive.

When you have had some really amazing online game experiences with a specific group of people, it really makes you appreciate the social nature of gaming. From our roots as people looking to play the same map, we became a stalwart group of guys (and one girl) who would host the entire Ringwars community in our channel for entire nights of constant games.

And in a game with a vibrant chat lobby, you really get to know people even more. Similarly to WoW's downtime with guildies, the lobby "forced" social interaction while you waited for a game. This forced interaction ultimately was the source of years of fun and friends.

I think that anything that pushes or prods players into grouping and social interaction, no matter how insignificant, is a boon to online gaming. It is often through the circumstances we would normally avoid that great things can come. You might hate being forced to group, but then meet someone who becomes a longstanding friend and fellow gamer.

If it wasnt for the friends I made on WC3, I never would have tried WoW in the first place. The power of online communities now is that they transcend individual games. It is with utter enthusiasm that clans/guilds move from game to game, or branch out into multiple ones.

Social interaction is the foundation of online gaming, whether anyone cares to admit/see that or not.
Traditional PUG or autoPUG, the relationship is the same. The players are using one another as a means to complete content. The connection is no deeper than that. The entire "porn" argument hinges on the fact that people on the same server have a chance to become friends, so there's a marginal incentive to get to know people in a traditional PUG. But this doesn't matter, because either way you're using the person as a means. Even if you become friends with them later, you're using them as a means now. And your friendship will most likely be a superficial friendship that revolves around using the other person to succeed in-game.

What's the difference between exploiting someone from another server for 3 hours or exploiting someone from your guild 3 days a week?

Either way you're using the other person to get through content. Either way you're having sex without intimacy--you're using the other player as a means to get through content, not treating them as an end by doing the content as an act of friendship.

It's probably better to not use the same person repeatedly and expose yourself to more players instead of being exclusionary, anyway.

I can see how the porn analogy works on a superficial level, but it entirely misses the point of means vs. ends by ignoring the basic role of a relationship formed in-game to begin with.
There is nothing stopping people to form 'vanilla' PUGs and do that particular achievement. Not to mention that you can still do something that's out of the way if you ask nicely and the others are decent fellows, in my experience at least.

What I take from the original link is that some people expect guaranteed intimacy in PUG dungeons. Which I think is a hilarious position to take - PUGs are by definition a meeting of strangers. It's like going to a hotel on a business trip and expecting the same 'intimacy' as home.

Social interaction was never really high even with a 'vanilla' PUG, rarely did you one to bond with others - most people running dungeons are generally interested in a smooth run and tangible rewards primarily. It is true that the fact you are likely to never see today's PUG members ever again diminish the odds of said social interaction, but that's a price many are willing to pay for access to a larger pool of available PUGs.
The pornography compaison is apposite, if inflammatory.

The traditional PUG was akin to the dating process. There was an introductory phase, somewhat like flirting, where you tried to find out something about the other people as the group filled and you travelled to the dungeon and set up.

Then you went on a date, which was the dungeon itself, during which you got to know the other players a bit, shared an experience, talked about it and formed an opinion on which, if any, of the party you might want to see again.

Over time you'd do further pick-up groups with some of those people and eventually you'd either end up going steady with a few (putting them on your friends list) or fall out with a few and never see them again (put them on ignore). Most of them you'd date a few times then gradually lose touch with.

The Dungeon Finder tool dispenses with almost all of that. It reduces the whole proces to the date, and it's always a blind date.
LFG has been both a blessing and a curse to the future of the game.

On the one hand it's been a blessing that has opened up old content to many players who previously could not experience it (level appropriate at any rate).

On the other hand the very drive-through nature of LFG has given rise to the quick in/out preference mentality that does not do justice to the instance.

This is all especially true with old world instances. Those have long been gathering dust or power-run for years and now players have a chance to experience them again or for the first time.

Unfortunately the LFG system doesn't seem to engender the will to explore since the random reward (something beneficial to everyone) is preferable to clearing all bosses. Since old world instances are long and have many optional bosses, I see groups doing just enough to get the random loot and forgetting the rest.

That drive detracts from anyone really getting to explore and instance and something which, for new players, lessens the content. But I guess it's better they get to see some of an instance than none of it.
I don't know if I really feel the 'forced intimacy'.

The main difference that I feel with the LFD Tool is that I'm not really playing with players but I'm playing with NPC's. The majority of players I get grouped with are grinding the instances and know exactly what to do, so there is little interaction. Everyone just does their thing and then the instance is done with a few 'OOM' and a 'thanks for the group' at the end.

It makes me think that Blizzard could just program npc's to group with people that want to solo instances.
Spot on, Zigabob. Isn't this what Diablo III is supposed to be like, by the way?
What gets me is when I see guild mates ask repeatedly for someone to join their 5man run - for a much longer time than it would take to have a random pug and finish the instance.

Sure - playing with people you know and like is nicer.

But how do you see pushing your guildmates to do something they were not interested in doing themselves? You are in my guild, I wanna do that, so you gotta go with me. Huh? It's generaly a question to the guild chat channel rather than an individual, but the essence remains.
I did like the original comparison, because while it was crass it hit things spot on. We use the LFG tool regularly within our Guild, and we have fun instances,, the ones where we groan (Ack! Not the Halls of Crap again...) and they are part of our nightly adventures. These experiences are markedly different from random LFG's, where even if they don't go horribly, they are still cold and impersonal. I can recall two randoms among all my characters so far where other people spoke up or even attempted "social" behaviour. It made it fun, but it still wasn't our Guild.
I know that none of us normally comment in absolutes, but your assessment of Guilds is off for many people. I totally agree with Miss Medicina in this. Our Guild exists across games and has had a solid core of people for years now. We know each other well, have taken RL trips together, and are intimately involved with each others' lives. They may not be in the same city as me, but they are friends and family. NOT grouping with them is weird, and diminishes the gaming experience for me. I also feel a little guilty when I'm cheating on them with a hooker PuG. :)
Eeew. what Elnia is saying sounds like "This games great, because if you want to actually play it, you have to get initmate with me!"

Yeah, I think sex with strangers is actually healthier than that.

And the first post here - oh, if people don't care who they are shooting that's bad? As opposed to forcing them to care, that'd be a good thing? Again, I think sex with strangers, so to speak, is healthier.

You probably all regard arranged marriages as so middle ages, yet your all for forced intimacy.
I disagree. A better analogy is to a phone dating company(like those late night commercials for questline), sex meet up sites, and other similar companies.

Both behaviors were already taking place in the game. The LFG tool just facilitates what is being referred to as [impersonal], emotionless.

The tool is not going to turn the former into the latter anymore than the porn industry can turn a person into a slavering sex fiend, or from a person who wants intimacy into someone who just wants to bop one person after another without any feelings.
All examples can fall short when looking at anything in more depth. So what's really your point? They used an example in a certain way, you adding more depth to it and saying 'oh the example doesn't work because of X!!1' won't remove his/her point from the article.
Otherwise your point about using people, can used in exactly the same way in real life. And in itself is useless since teaming up is the whole point of the genre, of course, in the end ALL motives are to play, progress, use each other and to have fun within a group. Again, what is the depth you are trying to say here? You are just stating the obvious.
The difference between 3hour person and 3hour bot, well you work it out. EVERYTHING. Sure there are only a tiny percent of those who you are likely to team with, but think about it. If you team up again, you'll know they are effective or bad. If you become friends (or w/e) you can use them further, can you do that with that 3hour bot?
And I say 3hour bot, because SERIOUSLY, what is the point of players in instances now? They do a job, if the bot fails you reset it and get another one in... Would the game be ANY different with bots? No. It wouldn't. Actually it'd be preferable, less mistakes from randoms you will never met again.
Anyway, Tobold's illustration was a LOT worse then the porn one. His one is seriously shocking and really shows how lost he truly is.
The LFG tool is only doing what it is supposed to do: put people together for heroic instances.

People already pugged instances. Whether it was a guild run with a few puggers filling in, or 100% pug groups, you don't always have 5 people on in guild/friends list that can run, or want to run, a heroic. If you do have the people on, you bring them and don't pug anyone. Nothing has changed in that matter.

Blizzard, in my opinion, was brilliant in their re-design of the new LFG tool and their rewarding of extra emblems for doing the random dungeon. Now, healers and tanks that usually only healed and tanked for guildies, have a reason to go and do random instances with anyone they can find: emblems en masse.

Because tanks and healers are rewarded more for doing randoms, the pool of healers and tanks for heroics has grown. In the past, if I wanted to do a specific dungeon (either a fast dungeon, or a dungeon that drops a lot of emblems) I'd have to spam the LFG and Trade channel, as well as looking through each individiual dungeon in LFG to see if I could find a tank and healer. Now, I just queue for the random since it awards extra emblems upon do the healers and tank. No longer do you have to look for a healer and tank who want to do the same instance as you...which is brilliant.

I see the argument about forced intimacy an argument that is based on meaningless platitudes. Seriously, porn and the LFG tool are not similar in the least bit. That the LFG tool is unshackling socialness from running a video game dungeon doesn't bother me, because it isn't true for a vast majority of players anyway. It's a video game dungeon where I'm spamming DPS buttons to kill some mob that might drop purple video game clothes...

Seriously, I can't add someone to my friends list who is from another I going to be mentally imbalanced because of it years later? Will some former WoW player set up a medical help center to help me with my feelings about not talking more to people in a random heroic run?

The argument can be based on some deep and meaningful ideas, but ultimately, the analogy is totally bad which drags the whole argument along with it.

Nothing is stopping someone from making a character on another server and becoming friends with one of the strangers they met. Only the inconvenience and the apathy of just about every WoW player stops that. We going to blame the LFG tool on that too, or realize just how bad the analogy and reasoning is instead?

I it's not so much they are concerned that it'll turn people into sex fiends, so to speak, but entirely the other way around. They want a system that forces intimacy, even when it's not really consented to, and they are losing that system (thankfully, in my mind).
Also, great post n1ck! If you have a blog of your own you should post that on it! It deserves it's own individual blog entry.
I read the article provided and I thought it offered a very unique perspective on the new LFG tool.

The most consistent issue I see discussed however is the inconsistency, that being, individual experiences. It seems everyone has had contrary, different, or surprising results they didn't expect using the new LFG tool, some good, and some bad.

My own personal experience has been mixed. I am quite a humble person and fear letting down others. But my lack of confidence in the first new Icecrown instance was met rather harshly. My "first time here guys, can I get a summary on bosses?" was met with "we're wasting time..."

Thankfully that group went well, but for the first time...I felt I could be vote-kicked. Not based on skill or gear, but experience.

Most instances have been near-silent runs. I speak more than anyone (possibly because I'm the tank) and then its little more than "good job" and "what happens again?" or "kill skull, then X."

If you are displeased with the lack of communication, try to bring it up yourself. Whether it be game related or not, sometimes real world issues get those fingers a-typin'.
Firstly Tobold, you assume (an assumption that is bad) that the new Dungeon Finder is the only solution. Blizzard only did this to their own game. There are core issues at play here that they could have found a solution for, but instead they just mixed up the server mechanics instead and did a bandaid fix. e.g. moving each expansion away from the core game (hence theme-park) and hence so isoloating new content from any other content. Of course at this stage in the game that cannot be fixed, even with Cata moving back to the original areas it just means that the WOTLK and TBC will be the ones cut off and useless. But no doubt there could have been another solution to these issues of old instances not getting accessed.
PUGs in WoW had already gotten to the point of meaningless, this is just a final nail to me.
You continue to fail to understand MMORPGs as you talk Tobold, are you really that silly? 'many don't want relationships in game' WELL SORRY TO BURST YOUR BUBBLE TOBOLD... But MMOrpgs are BASED on social interaction. If anything if people DON'T want to be social then they should stop playing a SOCIAL game rather then 'bursting the bubble' of those who want the genre to be social since the genre is obviously MEANT to be social rather then this MW2-styled server mess where you join up with randoms to fight easy mobs (lets face it, the actual WoW world is now a FPS-type chat room which is used to organise and setup games [instances]... of course I use 'organise' lightly since most games are setup automatically).
You give a completely failed analogy about MMORPG friends not being able to met at a bar. Firstly, MMORPG is solely about social interaction within a gaming arena, so that example is completely invalid. It also generalisers players completely, a) they don't have to meet at a bar (I hate bars); b) nothing wrong with talking about the game; c) why 25 raid members? Large social situations purposely suit your own point of view (since hardly anyone actually likes small talk) so you can twist it into a negative; d) players that meet inside the game meet outside of the game all the time and they have wonderful relations (that's if they want to meet outside, MMORPGs are about socialising within the game setting... since any outside interaction... well ceases to be an aspect of the MMORPG).
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