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On Exploits: A Philosophical Musing

On Exploits: A Philosophical Musing

a chivalric engagement

There’s been much talk lately, on WoM and elsewhere, of in-game “exploits” and their proper punishment. Most recently, Exodus has been censured with a 72-hour suspension for taking using Yogg’s mechanics to their advantage. A while back, Karatechop of Vek’nilash received a permanent ban for using the god-mode Martin Fury shirt. Even further in distant memory, Ensidia publicly admitted to using a buff from Freya trash to complete a “mathematically impossible” hard-mode Hodir. In this post I am going to muse about what is right, what is fair, and what is permissible in the World of Warcraft. Let me make clear that I don’t condone cheating, but it does make me sad when players get punished for actions that they don’t realize are wrong, especially when there’s no clear rule or precedent.

On Play

In such ambiguous cases, I almost always sympathize with the so-called cheaters. To explain why, I’ll share a few thoughts on the philosophical bent of World of Warcraft. First of all, it presents itself as a game. In any ludic world (ludic being a fancy pants academic word to describe an environment in which play is permitted), the “rules” are relaxed. Don Quijote, for example, operates in a ludic world of his own creation. Thus, the self-styled knight is exempt from rules that apply to “normal” people. Don Quijote has created his own “rules” as he plays at being a knight–according to him, he no longer needs to eat or sleep, he doesn’t have to pay when he stays at an inn, his wounds will magically heal when he applies a mixture of rosemary, olive oil, and salt to them, and windmills and other giants of industry deserve a good beating.

The World of Warcraft is by definition ludic, and no one, least of all Blizzard, should be surprised when people do things that aren’t exactly normal. In fact, I’d say that gaming encourages players to test the limits. Is theorycrafting an exploit? I should say not. But when players of a game optimize, they tend to do so to the limit of their abilities. I would say Exodus’ kill of Yogg+0 was pretty darned clever, even though it’s been ruled illegal. I’m sure I wouldn’t do the same thing myself–because I’m both too dumb to figure it out and too fearful to follow through with it. Without a precedent to tell me them that the technique was wrong, how was Exodus supposed to know? What they did falls under the aegis of being creative on a boss kill. Sure, I’m much more likely to do things like Wowwiki says I should, but how do the pioneers draw the line between brilliance and exploit? After all, the word “exploit” is used just as often in a positive light, to mean a great deed, as it is to indicate taking unfair advantage.

On War

The idea of the “exploit” as a masterful feat brings me to my next point. We all play a game called World of WARcraft. Notice the war in Warcraft? While the old proverb claims that “all’s fair in love and war,” most educated readers probably realize that warfare does in fact have rules. It always has, from ancient times until now, and these rules are culturally determined. The rules of war work to preserve life, particularly among civilians and other innocents, but also among soldiers themselves. However, these rules of engagement are always changing. For example, the insurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan is helping to establish new parameters for warfare–for better or for worse.

For me personally, I am a pacifist. No one is ever going to convince me that there is glory to be found in killing and maiming other human beings. However, I’m fascinated by battlefields. They bring out feelings of sadness, loss, and anger at the stupidity of humanity–and yes, I’m just the kind of person to wallow in such melancholy imaginings. I recently stopped at Gettysburg on my drive from NY to NC–there are few things that bring me to tears, but reflecting on human suffering on a mass scale does it every time. As a southerner and a passionate advocate of equal rights for all, any Civil War battlefield evokes in me a mixture of guilt and nostalgia that I can’t quite get anywhere else. Since my Gettysburg visit, I’ve been reading up on the different generals whose names I saw on the monuments. I can tell you based on even a little reading that in times of war, I’d rather serve under a general who pushes the boundaries than one who does not. If I have to be an ordinary Confederate soldier, I’m probably going to be killed or mutilated anyway, my amputated limbs stacked up like cordwood outside the makeshift camp hospital, but give me Longstreet over Lee any day as my commander. In the case of the Civil War, an ignominious, guerilla-style defense kept people alive where a gallant frontal attack would get them killed.

The point is that the rules of war are not fixed. What worked for Napoleon won’t work for Lee, and what seems most “honorable” is often most stupid. In our World of Warcraft, the designers should expect people to be constantly testing the limits. That’s why I don’t support banning people for exploits–essentially, you’re banning players for an excessively winning strategy. It’s hard to argue that Karatechop’s magic shirt technique was a failure, though it certainly was a cheat. However, killing a virtual robot without hardly trying does not seem like a “war” crime to me–no innocent bystanders, after all, were injured in the course of said illegal kill. In cases where malice is not present, what I would do is suspend rather than ban the player. Why would Blizzard want to ban people for using the best strategem available in their personal “war” against internet dragons?

On Honor

Along with play and warfare, I’d say the third principle that the World of Warcraft depends on is honor. We’re encouraged to seek out “honor” and “honor points” through PvP–which means the brutal killing of “enemy” players. Many quest texts also appeal to our sense of personal honor. “Honor” however, is not one singular concept but rather something that is both culturally and individually determined. Before commenters chime in that I have no idea what honor is, I’d like to say that in my day job as an academic, I study chivalry. This means, among other things, that King Arthur and his very honorable knights might as well be my best buddies. I think I have a good idea what honor is in the chivalric sense. It means a sort of personal integrity, an adherence to a code. However, for the Knights of the Round Table, this code is rather idiosyncratic. Certain parts are common to all. For example, an honorable knight aids the helpless, shows mercy when his opponent yields, keeps his bargains, and behaves himself when he is a guest in someone else’s home. However, for some knights, honor comes to include not only these secular virtues but also religious ones like purity and chastity (Percival or Galahad), while for others, “honor” is pretty close to the aphorism that might makes right (Yvain or Tristan). “Honor” also sometimes means defending oneself against real or perceived insults, often with bloody results. Honor is always idiosyncratic, and it has always caused social trouble–just ask Desdemona how she feels about the concept!

Now, since “honor” in World of Warcraft is tied to the PvP system, isn’t it closer to the “might makes right” model? How then, are we supposed to know how to be “honorable” when it comes to in-game bugs? I’d say there are some serious philosophical conflicts in WoW. The case that most stands out to me is the Martin Fury shirt, probably because the two players involved, Karatechop and Leroyspeltz, play on my old server Vek’nilash and are both acquaintances of mine. Leroy and I were in the same casual guild for about a year and were co-officers for part of that time. I can testify to Leroy’s lack of malice–he’s the kind of happy-go-lucky casual player that Blizzard is usually happy to support. In fact, my first response when I saw the story was not “Leroy, you cheater!” but “Leroy, how could you be so stupid!” My feeling is that Leroy, and probably Karatechop too, are innocent victims of their own failure to understand how Blizzard works.

On Fear

In a game where one earns “honor points” for randomly killing people whom they have no reason to fight as they’re trying to finish their Hodir dailies, how do I, as a player, know what I should and should not do? I do, in fact, wish to be as “honorable” as Galahad …but it’s hard to figure out what that means in WoW. I’d have to say that my code of personal honor in WoW has to do with how I treat other players (kindly, of course) rather than how I approach game mechanics. As for my philosophy on PvE, I turn to Machiavelli, who tells us that if one wants to be an effective leader, it is far better to be feared than loved. I fear, rather than love, the Blizzard developers. I have spent quite a lot of time building Syd and developing an in-game social network. I couldn’t bear to lose her. In the whole Martin Fury debacle, the only thing that bothers me from the players’ side is Karatechop’s cavalier attitude toward getting his guild and raid members suspended. I would be furious if I were a victim of such shenanigans. I would be grieved and regretful if I had inadvertedly deprived anyone of their character for any length of time.

Because I fear Blizzard, I take a pretty hard line on cheating and exploits for myself. I won’t buy gold or fight a boss in a doorway because it’s easier, even though neither of those actions seem “malicious” to me. Sure, on Prince Malchezzar my raid spent quite a lot of time figuring out the best “spot”–but I can also tell you that we never found the magic nook or cranny that made Prince beg for mercy and give us our helmets for free. If we had, I probably would have insisted that we take him back to the middle. I’m all for innovation, but I err on the side of caution–not because exploiting feels “wrong,” but because I fear the consequences. Heck, I even worry if I make a lot of money in the same day on the AH. Sometimes I get lucky to the tune of a couple thousand gold, and I find myself looking over my shoulder. I do the same thing whenever I see a police car on the highway, even though I never speed.

On Right and Wrong

Many things that I feel are “wrong,” like corpse camping a lowbie or shouting racial slurs in General chat, are never punished in game. Many actions that seem less dishonorable, like gold-buying or using an item one received in the mail, result in permanent bans. How am I to tell what is right and what is wrong? My internal standard for good and evil doesn’t seem to work when it comes to WoW. The Terms of Use itself is rather vague, and it cannot serve as my guide to virtue and prosperity. As a player, I try to do my best by others (you’ll never catch me ganking Horde) and err on the side of caution when it comes to the Terms of Use. After all, the TOU pretty much declares that whatever Blizzard decides is wrong, IS wrong. That sounds pretty Machiavellian to me.

Monday Midnight Musings (Patch 3.2 and Exploits)

It’s not often I do late night posts. They usually come out all funky and misunderstood or full of typos and other clerical errors. At the same time, the evening is when my mind is at it’s most active. This is going to be a fairly decent sized blog post about some big changes that have been announced.

Yogg Saron

Tonight we managed to kill Yogg-Saron on 25. It took us around 6 weeks (or about 12 hours total) to clock him out. Previous weeks involved the melee clicking and the ranged DPS still struggling or some melee players having portal difficulties and the ranged just killing tentacles one after the other. I’m proud to say that everything came together tonight. I believe that this was one of our most complete attempts and kills. I felt like a hockey GM in the week leading up to the trade deadline. Trying to add the pieces and classes that would help us cash in on a playoff run (Raid bosses are my playoff series). Syd did a beautiful job looking for diamonds in the rough. It took us two shots tonight. I’m extremely proud of the players in the raid tonight and grateful for the players who weren’t there but helped contribute to the learning process over the past few weeks.

Hard mode attempts begin this week. Leaning towards Flame Leviathan first. Just found out that it’s possible for a Demolisher to have a driver, a gunner, and a player loaded and ready to fire at the same time. This presents some intriguing possibilities.

One buys all

Universal armor tokens. I’m surprised this wasn’t reported earlier. My wow.com colleague Mike Sacco mentioned this during the day and it took me a few seconds to realize what it meant. You won’t have to fight specific bosses for specific tier tokens anymore. As in, there is no more head token, chest token, or shoulder token to cash in. You get one tier token of your armor set (Protector, Conqueror or Vanquisher) and then it can be used to buy whatever piece you like.

And I know someone’s going to come in here and say something about catering to the casuals. But hell, this caters to everybody. Loot council’s going to have a fun time assigning these tokens. Sacco presents some great arguments in his post that I will reiterate briefly here:

  • Upgrade sets at your own pace: Several players in Conquest have held out on tier pieces until they acquire a certain amount stating that they wouldn’t use them right away because their current items were better. This change allows players to specifically target which pieces benefit them the most.
  • No wasted tokens: Mix and match your 10 and 25 man tokens. You don’t have to feel empty for replacing your Valorous gloves with Conqueror gloves.
  • You’ll get your 4 piece… eventually: At the rate you’re organization is going, it really is going to be possible to get it.

Many of the Triumph and tier tokens are functioning as a partial gold sink. Not only do the tier 9 pieces require a Regalia token but you’re going to have to shell out some coinage to pick them up. They’re in the neighborhood of the 50 to 70 gold range. Doesn’t seem like the gloves have a monetary cost.

But, it’s the PTR and nothing’s ever finalized.

Priest tier 9 pieces

I wrote about that on wow.com. You can find my thoughts on it (and a history of the names) on there. Wyn seems disappointed at the 4 piece bonus.

Triumph vendor items

Here’s a few screenshots for you to check out. I think images are worth a thousand words.

shoulders-triumph trinket-triumph

Pair it with the Intellect trinket from Mimiron (Pandora’s Plea) and you’re good to go.

helm-triumph

Hit rating helm, I know. BoE though. If it wasn’t for the hit, it’d make a fairly juicy helm for Discipline Priests.

ret-libram

(Am I going to want that Libram on my Ret Pally if I have the one from Naxx that increases my Crusader strike damage or should I pursue other items with badges?)

rings

I managed to replace both of my rings tonight. Packing both Radiant Seal and Lady Maye’s Sapphire Ring now. I wonder who Lady Maye is.

Exodus exploit thoughts

Ingenious. The method used to down the boss was absolutely brilliant! The idea calls for something like a Warlock and a Paladin entering the brain room. You’re relying on healing aggro to cause the outside mobs to evade bug. So the Warlock soulstones the Paladin, the Paladin DI’s the Warlock upon transition from phase 2 to phase 3. Paladin pops up, warlock clicks off DI, starts casting Life tap like crazy while the Paladin bomb heals him for an insane amount causing the outside mobs (the ones that are piling up) to immediately aggro on to the Paladin (who is untouchable as he is inside Yogg) and trivializing the encounter.

There’s some comparison to the method that Ensidia used to exploit for their Hodir hard mode kill. It involved kiting and tanking plant trash from Freya to Hodir. Mages would spell steal that buff and proceed to use it in the encounter. While it wasn’t exactly causing mobs to bug out, it’s still an unintended side effect. Of the two exploits, I have to admit that the Hodir one is a little more impressive.

These upcoming weeks are only going to get busier. Actually, the next few months are going to be flowing with news and features. If the faction change is something they announce in a blue post, it makes me wonder what else could possibly be announced at Blizzcon.

Heading to bed. It’s 2 AM.

Staggered Raiding with Swagger

Cool, it looks like not every raid is going to be available immediately after the game release. I’m cool with that and I know others are, too. It took me less than half a week to level to from 80 to 85 and I predict it’s going to take me around the same time to go from 85 to 90. That should be enough time to hit cap and hit up scenarios along with dungeons for whatever points and gear needed. There’s still that minimum item level needed to queue for LFR.

My personal goal is to at least hit that mark before raids open.

How Blizzard used to slow content consumption down in the past

  • Really hard raid encounters that were near-mathematically or skillfully impossible without exploits (Vanilla)
  • Attunements (early Burning Crusade)
  • Gradually releasing bosses (Wrath, ICC)
  • Limited attempts (Wrath, ToC)

Now there’s no gimmicks or tricks. It’s just a straight-up “We’re not releasing this completed instance to you yet”.

There’s still a remarkable amount of players that are rather “upset” about the whole staggered and delayed raiding thing (if recent blog feedback’s an accurate indicator).

I’m going to use an analogy.

Let’s use swimming.

What if the race started before swimmers even reached the pool? Phelps and Lochte would have to race each other to change into their speedos, get their goggles attached, and put on their caps before sprinting and diving in the pool and racing their medley.

But now all the swimmers start at the line at the exact same time. Their speed and performance can actually be gauged by their abilities in the pool as opposed to how fast they can get ready.

If you think about it though, there’s going to be two races going on: First to hit level cap and the first to raid kills/clears. One shouldn’t impact the other.

It Came From the PUG: Could you turn that macro off?

Recently, Mike Sacco wrote about how kindness in a PUG pays off. In truth it does, quite a bit. Taking a little time to explain fights, and explain CC and such to new players is always a good idea. After all, we were all noobs once right? Let me give you an example from my recent travels.

I’ve been leveling my hunter now that I’ve started raiding on the Shaman. Lodur is Justice Point capped, and there’s nothing more for him to buy or really do except the daily heroic for Valor Points. I queue for a random dungeon on the hunter with a guildie while I’m questing, and after about 30 minutes, we get Vortex Pinnacle. The tank, the healer and the other DPS are all from different servers. As we start the instance, the tank asks us if we’ve been here before, because he has not. Before we even make the first pull he asks what we can CC in the group, and what marks everyone wants as their own personal CC marker. The healer admits he’s never been here before and asks that we keep him apprised of any surprises before we encounter them.

I’m floored at this point. Weeks of PUGs have left me slightly jaded with tanks careening in ignoring or breaking CC, and just leaving me awful messes to clean up. The communication in this group was absolutely flawless. We walked the paladin healer through the encounters, and the tank’s main was actually a holy pally so he spent some time explaining spells and stats for the healer. It was honestly the most informative, and best communicating group I’d been in to date. Because there were clear lines of communication and education, the run was smooth, having zero wipes, and was truly just enjoyable. My other guildie commented to me at the end of the run that it was the “Best damn group” he had had since Cataclysm’s release.

Now, while being patient and communicating is always a good thing, there comes times you have to draw a line in the ground so to speak. Take for an example a daily heroic I did with Lodur just recently. I was set to heal, and was able to pull three DPS from the guild, but no tank. We queue up in the LDG tool and get Heroic SFK as our instance, and a tank that had very, very low health. To put this into perspective, fully buffed Lodur sports around 115-116k health. This tank, a warrior, had 119k health fully buffed. Now, I honestly gave this guy a chance. I already know he juked the system to be able to queue for heroics, but hey, maybe he’s actually good right?

We set our CC marker out, and shackles go out, stuns hit home, and the tank charges right in and breaks all CC. He promptly dies. We run out, reset, come back in. He hasn’t even released. I res him up, and we politely explain that he needs to not break CC or he will die. He says he understands, but low and behold on the very same pull he charges in and breaks CC. I try one last time to explain to him about CC and he just leaves group. We re-queue and get another tank, this time we get a DK tank with 160k HP. Already looking better, he’s got the requisite tank gear and looks like he should have a handle on what’s going on.

We go in, and make it to the first boss. First boss goes down, and we start making our way to the second boss through the courtyard. The pulls go very well until right before entering the kitchen. The tank decides he’s going to pull the adds on him into the kitchen, aggroing the pack of servant, the cooks and everything in between. Needless to say it’s a wipe. We explain to him he’s got to slow down a little and watch what he pulls giving CC time to go off and healing time to situate. His only reply is to go careening back into the packs. At this point either the person is just very dense, or being an ass on purpose. We kick him from the group and the last one makes it all the way through.

Another good example of how patience pays off also takes place in heroic SFK. Me and a guildie queue up for a random, get SFK and the tank is a warrior, who looks right about where they should be on health and gear. Before we start the pulls the warrior says “Hey I’m a little rusty at tanking so any help will be appreciated.” We start our pulls and everything goes really well. We explain the first and second boss and make our way to the third boss of the instance. Most people hate that boss, it is arguably one of the hardest to manage in all of the heroics right now. There’s just a lot going on. We explain the fight and the mechanics and mark the adds. We explain what to avoid and how to move around it etc. Full run down. First pull winds up in a wipe, tank gets smeared and we release and run back in. Tank asks what went wrong and how he can improve it. We go over what happened and find out he can’t see the desecration. We walk him through enabling projected textures, and pull again. This pull goes way way better, and we get the boss to about half before the adds start running wild. After we recover from the wipe, the tank asks again what he can do to fix the problem. We develop a strategy that has the tank running from door to door picking up adds. After the boss dies on the third attempt, I’m ecstatic, and the tank is ridiculously happy.

Right there, simple communication and patience beat the hardest boss in the zone. So there’s a moral to this story, next time someone is doing something wrong, or maybe doing it in a way that isn’t the ideal way, take a minute or two and try explaining to them calmly and clearly how to do it or offer suggestions to improve the outcomes. Be constructive in your criticism and pay attention to how you say it to them. A little patience and kindness can lead to a smoother run. Now if they wont listen or are just jerks well… there is a kick button for a reason.

As an added bonus, I’ve begun livestreaming my exploits in the LFG system late night, and early on Sundays and Mondays. Check my Twitter for when the streams start, or periodically swing by my Livestream Channel.

Highlight Posts of 2009

Highlight Posts of 2009

2010

You didn’t think I was going to finish out the year without the traditional “Best of 2009” post, did you? Here’s the top posts of 2009 based on your views, comments, and tweets.

On healing
On gaming and society
On guild management
On recruiting
On raiding
On blogging

To other WoW bloggers, I’d love to see you compile a list of your favourite posts that you have written over the past year and don’t be afraid to post a link in the comments to it below.

Have a safe and happy new year! I would share my New Years party stories, but chances are, this Dwarf would not remember. There was that one year where I woke up half naked with a Tauren beside me and a banana…

Sympathy for a Griefer?

Sympathy for a Griefer?

gawain

If you’ve ever wondered what happens when PhD meets MMO, here’s an interesting read for you. It’s a far cry from carebear Professor Syd, but I find this bit of research interesting just because it differs so much from my own outlook on the game world. A couple weeks ago, nola.com ran an article on Loyola professor David Myers detailing his experience in the MMO City of Heroes / City of Villains. This article links to a draft of Meyers’ own academic paper on the subject, “Play and Punishment: The Sad and Curious Case of Twixt,” which is the most thorough treatment of the matter. Normally, I support any and all research about online games, but for some reason, this one pushes my buttons. I’m not the first blogger to comment on the matter. In fact, I think that many of my thoughts are in agreement with Spinks’ excellent article.

The “Experiment”

Myers, who has since left CoH/V, had been an ordinary player of the MMO for some time when NCsoft, the developer, introduced PvP to the game. I’ve never played CoH/V myself, but from Myers’ description, gameplay seems to be almost exclusively PvE. A new world PvP zone, Recluse’s Victory, changed the game for Myers’ character Twixt. He decided to PvP in the most aggressive manner available, and in the process of winning at all costs, well, he attracted a bit of criticism. As I’ve never played CoH/V myself, I have to abstract from a description, but it seems that Recluse’s Victory had several captureable nodes for each side, similar perhaps to the Alterac Valley towers. There are also a mix of NPCs in the zone, including some unbeatable guard-like creatures called drones meant to protect the two “safe zones” where players spawn. To a WoW player, this probably sounds like good fun, right? The Heroes beat the crap out of the Villains, and vice versa, and everyone has a grand old time. However, according to Myers’ claims, all he (and his avatar Twixt) wanted to do was force people to PvP in the PvP zone. That sounds perfectly rational, as far as it goes.

However, Twixt did not routinely engage others in “true” PvP. His preferred technique was to enlist NPCs in his cause, and as such, win battles without struggle. Twixt chose to learn an ability called teleporting, which I see as analogous to the Death Knight’s Death Grip. He used this skill to move enemies a short distance–right into the drones, which would instantly kill the opposing player. Because a death to a drone counted as a PvE death, players would incur what is called XP “debt.” Now, I am not quite sure what this is, but it seems to cost people a good bit of time (like re-leveling) before they can advance. Indeed, Twixt PvP’d in a PvP zone. However, the manner in which he did so would certainly be termed, in WoW anyway, an exploit. As a result, many players grew angry at Twixt and vented their frustrations in chat and on the CoH/V forums.

What is Real PvP Anyway?

As generations of games and their players have defined it, PvP is, at its core, a one on one engagement between two players of equal potential though perhaps not equal mastery of the game mechanics. At its purest, PvP is a duel of honor, evoking very consciously, and with a great deal of nostalgia, the chivalric tourney or ritual hand-to-hand combat. I will say that PvP combat, while it may be supposed to resemble, say, the showdown between Hector and Achilles, reminds me much more often of Peter Jackson’s chaotic Battle of Pelennor Fields (except that usually I’m one of the pitiful orcs on the losing side). In any case, PvP often does not seem very honorable to me. It reminds me, rather, of the very real butchery that occurred on the battlefield and off in the historical Middle Ages. Our nostalgia for chivalry is based mostly on idealized forms of art rather than actual history–and so one might say that “chivalry” achieves one of its fullest expressions in video games.

As for me personally, I’d rather not be involved in PvP, honorable or no. I play on a PvP server, but I don’t actually PvP anymore. I used to like Alterac Valley back in Classic, but I didn’t raid then, and it was the most exciting endgame option I had. I don’t love it when I get ganked while doing my daily quests. However, I shrug it off, knowing that the technique is perfectly fair in WoW. At the current time, I play Syd as a pacifist. I find it better for my blood pressure not to retaliate against gankers. I’m a healer–of course they can kill me if they like. I usually take the opportunity to get away from the keyboard for a while. When I come back, the ganker has always been gone.

The Developers’ Responsibility

I don’t think I could work up any particular hatred for the numerous horde players who have killed me as I’ve gone about my PvE business. Some of them have even used techniques similar to Twixt’s by waiting until I engage an enemy mob to start their attack, thus enlisting the game environment against me. I think that the reason I can’t muster any fire over this has to do with WoW itself and Blizzard as a company. We play an actively maintained game with integrated PvP. When there are PvP balance issues, Blizzard addresses them. Some of us may consider their response too slow, but the fact remains that the “gods” of WoW listen to the pleas of their suppliants. For an example that offers an instructive parallel to Twixt’s story, think back to the Zombie Invasion event that preceded the release of Wrath of the Lich King. For that time period, we were supposed to turn people into zombies, kill NPCs, and interrupt the ordinary business of buying, selling, and leveling with our zombie disease. Many players got a hateful response like Twixt did when they attempted to participate in the event as intended, taking over cities and killing with abandon. What did Blizzard do? They recognized that the community, as a whole, disliked the event and ended it after three days. Some complained, but I see it as a wise move, even though I, in very atypical fashion, had a bit of fun being a zombie. The point is that Blizzard recognizes the importance of players’ customs–and also players’ safety–and adapts their game. I have heard scattered stories of people being g-kicked for overzealousness with the zombie event, but by ending the event when they did, Blizzard protected both the pro-zombie and anti-zombie factions.

I have no sense that NCsoft maintains CoH/V in such an active way. Thus, the community of CoH/V is left to fend for itself and make its own rules. Even CoH/V’s forums are maintained by players and not NCSoft employees! What a difference from the WoW forums. In the world of CoH/V, the gods are absent or hostile, Hector and Achilles are six feet under, and players are left to deal with the “deviant” Twixt on their own. At least from the players’ perspective, Twixt is a griefer. In their opinion, he kills people using unfair tactics, in a manner that leaves them handicapped and with no opportunity to fight back or take revenge. In short, Twixt is cruel. It doesn’t surprise me that many responded with vitriol. Most of these comments were your typical “f-you” sort of things, but Meyers received at least one death threat.

What are the Rules?

Myers insists that he “played by the rules” when others refused to. He cites examples of duels of honor within RV, collaboration between Heroes and Villians (who, incredibly, could talk to each other while inside the PvP zone), and farming within the PvP zone as instances of players violating the rules. Now, I am an avid gatherer of herbs in Wintergrasp, and I don’t think I’m violating anything–after all, why would there be Lichbloom if I’m not supposed to pick it? It seems to me that, at once, Myers has both a broad and a narrow definition of game rules. It’s certainly idiosyncratic. As I see it, Twixt abides by two principles:

1. Anything that is possible to do within the game mechanics is fair game.
2. Any custom that the players establish is not a rule.

To address the first, I’ll return to an old topic of mine, that of exploits. It’s always hard to tell what the developers intend or do not intend. In my previous article, I reflected on several cases in WoW in which players were banned for “exploits” that were possible within game mechanics and not covered by the EULA. If Twixt were a WoW player, he would risk a permanent ban. The Blizzard developers actively track and eliminate exploits. Twixt’s drone technique would certainly be deemed an exploit if it existed in WoW, for the simple reason that it gives the victim no chance to react before he is annihilated. In WoW, small changes are made all the time to the battleground and arena environments in order to make for “fairer” play. Moreover, Blizzard has made it abundantly clear through their banning practices that players are meant to keep to the spirit, not just the letter, of game mechanics. Pushing the boundaries often results in a ban. I am usually sympathetic to players who receive bans for deviant behavior. Why can I not muster the same level of compassion for Meyers?

On Empathy

There are very complicated forces at work here. On the one hand, we have Twixt, a self-styled video game rebel. I usually celebrate rebels. For a contemporary example, I really loved the movie Bruno. I’m still not sure whether certain parts reinforce homophobia, but I will say that I laughed and clapped through the whole thing. I like Sacha Baron Cohen’s ideological project, though I will be the first to admit that his personae of Bruno and Borat can be downright predatory. Do I laugh because I agree with Cohen’s politics? Does a part of me think that Cohen’s targets are fair game? I have to say, though, that at times I sympathize more with Cohen’s victims. Many of the people depicted in Bruno–Ron Paul comes to mind–conduct themselves with relative dignity. Sometimes the joke returns on Bruno to the detriment of Cohen’s political message. Sometimes you eat the bear, sometimes the bear eats you. I think that it is the sense of give-and-take in the Sacha Baron Cohen films, along with their not-so-hidden agenda of advocating for social change, that makes me like them. It’s easy to like an utter fool like Bruno, even though I would call many of his stunts cruel. It’s very hard to like Twixt.

What Twixt Doesn’t Understand

I was so interested by Myers’ research that I corresponded with him in his blog comments. Sadly, he’s now closed them down. It always seems that intellectual conversations have to end once I’m finally learning something from them! In our give-and-take, what impressed me the most was Myers’ inability to understand what happened to him. There’s a sort of forced naiveté to his tone that surprises me. In the blog comments, I expressed my sympathy for the death threats Myers received, but I also tried to explain to him why players were so angry. To most people who play MMOs, the rules of custom and social interaction matter. They are not there to “experiment” with the virtual world. They are there to live in it. To them, their community is very real. I understand this, because I do not play for research–I play for fun. There is some doubt in my mind as to what kind of gamer Myers was. In his paper, he represents his time in CoH/V as an experiment in deviant behavior. Oddly, in his comments to me on the blog, he says that it wasn’t an experiment at all–just the way he played. I’m puzzled by that, though I realize that for a professional publication, it might be advantageous to represent one’s actions purely as research. In his paper, Myers says that he tried to breach known social customs while working within the rules of the game–all to prove a point. It seems though, that he greatly regrets the hostile response he received. It seems that he neither wanted nor expected the unfriendly response of other players. On this point, at least, I feel sorry for him. He seems–to me anyway–like the little boy who kicks down another child’s sandcastle and then is very surprised when the second boy (or girl) punches him in the nose. Of course, the punch is the greater offense, but it does not mean that the first child did not also feel genuine hurt. At the core of it, Twixt is a bully. Now, he’s not a very harmful one in the grand scheme of things, but he is a bully nonetheless. I guess he expected his opponents to run away crying instead of socking him in the nose.

It’s all the Developers’ Fault, Redux

I’m pretty well-known for criticizing game developers. In fact, it seems like all I do is protest against Blizzard’s policies. In this case, I’m about to lionize Blizzard (I know, check to see if hell has frozen over) and lambaste NCsoft. I may hate the tone that Blizzard developers take when they address their community, but I have to give them credit for actively maintaining their game. The way I see it, it is the developers’ responsibility to provide a safe gaming environment for all. The developers ought to have both protected Myers and undermined Twixt’s influence on the game world. If I were the developers, I would have taken the following steps to solve the Twixt dilemma.
1. Shut down the ability to chat across factions. It seems incredible to me that a game would allow for such venting of rage. There is a good reason that no one has invented a loudspeaker that could project road-rage inspired comments into the next car.
2. Permanently ban the players that threatened Twixt or started malicious rumors about his real-life pursuits.
3. Get rid of the drones. Twixt’s technique strikes me as an unintended use of game mechanics. Meyers calls it “exploring system potentials,” and I call it exploit. Only NCsoft knows for sure, but what is certain is that the developers could have created peace in their game world by getting rid of these things or making them weak enough to allow a player to escape.

Does Twixt have a Place in the Virtual World?

Meyers eventually quit CoH/V, worn down by what he saw as harassment. It didn’t occur to him to change his behavior, and I still don’t think he understands the response he got. Case in point: Meyers was surprised when his Heroes guild kicked him. This “sudden and unexpected expulsion” came about when Myers, logged onto a Villain alt known to his Heroes guild members, turned his droning technique against a member of his own guild. Who would do this and not expect someone to be upset? Now, Myers might say that guilds are “against the rules” as they are not officially talked about in the EULA. What guilds usually do is make the world nicer. They give a person friends and allies. They try to inspire loyalty. The code may be unwritten, but it is nonetheless a code. I will also note that, as a former GM, a g-kick does not qualify as harassment–it’s not harassment to disapprove of someone’s behavior or to dissociate oneself or one’s organization from them. Once again, Myers comes off as incredibly naive. If he wanted to gank members of his own guild, why not do so on an anonymous alt? He just can’t understand why others are angry at him. So, not only will the bully kick down an unknown kid’s sandcastle, but he will do the same to his brother’s. I have a younger sibling myself who was a holy terror as a child. As an adult, at least he understands why it was not cool to play “shark” and bite me in the swimming pool. As adults, we’re great friends and can laugh about such things, though I have to say, if he walks near the edge of a pool I’m definitely pushing him in. Myers can’t understand why the game of “shark” is only fun for the shark. Twixt plays to win, and he plays for science, but he doesn’t play to understand human beings. As such, his place in the virtual world grew smaller. He laments in his paper that he was the victim of “ridicule and the threat (or actuality) of social ostracism.” Eventually, he was forced into being a lone wolf–the only shark in an empty swimming pool. While I might feel a bit sorry for him, I will assert that he should have expected this consequence from the outset of the “experiment.” I do think he had a right to play as he did, at least until such time as NCsoft decided to curb that playstyle, but at the same time, he should have recognized the simple principle that actions have consequences. Very few people have the determination to continue ganking, or biting others, or kicking down sandcastles so far past the point when others disapprove the behavior. It must have taken a good bit of single-mindedness to accomplish it. One of Myers’ detractors, cited in Myers’ paper, says quite eloquently: “It’s almost like he’s an NPC, and if you consider him in that light everything makes a lot more sense.” Maybe so.

Is Meyers’ Research Dangerous?

I am always sensitive to the representation of MMO gaming in the press. My worst fear is that some popular news outlet could get wind of this story, and without understanding a thing about MMOs or their communities, conclude that gamers are vicious, deviant, and homicidal. I would counter that humanity itself is rather vicious. From my knowledge of history, I conclude that we, as a species, work much more often toward the greater evil than the greater good. I see human history, fundamentally, as a tragedy. Despite attempts at peace, empathy, and progress, we so easily devolve into violence. Perhaps Myers experienced some of that violence, about which I am regretful. I would say, though, that in my experience MMOs are no more violent–and sometimes less so–than real life. Maybe I am colored by my own experience, but for every hostile idiot, there are about a hundred carebears in the game world. I don’t know which category to place Myers in. He’s certainly not an idiot, but he is a bit hostile–even to me in the blog comments, though of course, I could have simply misunderstood the tone. What bothers me about Myers is that he is fundamentally unable to appreciate that other players might define the purpose of the game differently from him, just as they are unable to understand his play style. Myers has a very sophisticated set of academic rhetorical strategies to justify his view. The other players involved only have the textual violence of “f-you” tells and posts. However, the failure of understanding is on both sides.

Will You Be Dual Spec-tacular?

Will You Be Dual Spec-tacular?

Duality by vladstudio

Duality by vladstudio

Less than two weeks out from the Wrath of the Lich King release, I find that one of the upcoming changes I am most excited about will hit not with the expansion itself, but with an upcoming content patch. At some future point, many of us–particularly hybrid classes–will have the flexibility we’ve always dreamed of. The promise is that each character will be able to maintain two stored specs and switch between them easily. You won’t be switching during combat (imagine the exploits) but in a complicated dungeon, for one fight you could be the healer, and the very next you could be the tank or even (gasp!) dps.


There is every chance that this change will revolutionize gameplay, particularly for healers. Most of us would jump at the chance to heal for a 25-person raid and then tear through our daily quests as a long-feathered, wide-hipped, booty-shaking, snuffle-hooting Owlbeast. I know I would. However, I’m even more interested in the long-term effects of dual spec capability on the raid environment.

Of course, even with Matticus’ fascinating insights into raiding Naxx on the Beta, we still don’t have quite enough information to make fully-fledged (get it, a feather joke) healing strategies. However, that doesn’t mean that my evil little tree-brain isn’t working. As the healing lead for my guild, the following is my diabolical plan to take the fullest possible advantage of dual specs.

1. All healers will maintain a raid-viable dps spec and a raid-viable healing spec.
2. All healers will take appropriate dps gear at the off-spec dkp price and appropriate healing gear at the on-spec price.
3. All healers will practice both play styles in a raid environment.

Why is this plan such a winner? Read on to find out how the dual spec system will save your raid–and the world!–from much weeping and gnashing of teeth.

1. I can adjust the number of healers for each fight.

Based on what I’ve read on Matticus and elsewhere, it seems that Wrath of the Lich King raid encounters require, on the whole, less healers than Black Temple or Sunwell. My guild–and probably many others–recruited its healing corps with the latter two instances in mind. At the moment, we have at least 12 healers who raid on a semi-regular basis. Our healer retention has been excellent, and many of these players have switched part or full-time to alts for raiding in order to keep their spots. However, even with this partial solution, we sometimes have 10 great healers sign up to raid. My solution for Wrath? I’m not about to force people to respec dps or to reroll warlocks and enhancement shammies. Instead, we’ll share the dps and healing roles, and everyone will get to play what they want at least some of the time. In addition, I don’t fully trust the developers not to put in some fights that require 5 healers and others that require 8 in the same instance. With dual specs in place, it will just be too tempting.

2. My healers will become better players.

Yes, this belongs to the category of what I like to refer to as “L2P Raiding Solutions.” It’s going to be hard to switch from doing what Ghostcrawler referred to as “playing the UI, not the game,” to actually targeting a boss or, even more incredibly, assisting off a designated player. I look forward to this process. I need to go through the learning as much or more than anybody. An expansion, as I see it, is a great opportunity to get better at the game, and I know there’s going to be a learning curve. By, let’s say, next February, I want to be that player that people trust to do whichever task, dps or healing, is most necessary. Those players already exist, but I’ve had too much tunnel-vision to be one myself.

3. No one will feel stuck.

Sometimes all of us need a little change, a little breath of fresh air. I think that dual specs are going to help ward off healer burnout, and to demonstrate that, I’m going to resort to a very mundane metaphor. Let’s compare two real life humans–Level 30 Scholars, let’s say, and for the sake of argument, we’ll call them Sydera and Briolante. Now, Syd owns about 10 pairs of shoes she can wear to work, and she never wears the same pair twice in a row. Brio wears the same pair of admittedly very nice dress shoes every day. At the end of six months, whose footwear is in better shape? Variety is the spice of many things, my friends. If I know that I can cast gigantic Starfires on one of the bosses on a given evening, all the while hooting to myself in owlish glee, I’m likely to heal for the rest of them with good grace. Many healers feel victimized and put upon–our job is rather stressful, and blame sticks to us like cat hair on cashmere. What a nice relief it will be to sometimes focus on the boss instead of the little boxes on my Grid!

Dual Specs are Wonderful! But Why Do We Have Them?

I’d like to spend a few moments speculating about the underlying reasoning behind the dual spec change. It goes against many of the trends laid in place during Classic WoW and BC. First, WoW has always made players pay for flexibility. As we all know, the Vanilla WoW design for hybrids could be summed up by the hackneyed refrain “jack of all trades and master of none.” Moreover, gold costs for respecs–used more by hybrids than other classes–used to climb to obscene levels in Classic.

In BC, the fate of hybrids improved somewhat. Aside from a few broken specs (notably Moonkin and Retribution Paladin), hybrids became raid viable, but also just as limited to one role as any “pure” class. Respecs were of course possible, and in BC they top out at 50 gold, which still cannot be considered a reasonable price for mid-raid respecs.

Maybe it’s my own selfish featherbrain, but I think that the changes we’re seeing to how respeccing works–which is basically the removal of the penalty for changing your mind–have a lot to do with the perceived fun of playing hybrids–bringing us closer to the jack of all trades model again. I think this change might even have more to do with healers than other classes. We know that, my own freakishly healer-heavy guild aside, healers are often in short supply. For Wrath, Ghostcrawler has laid out the possibility that raid healing might be overhauled entirely, just as was done with tanking. The idea, in general terms, is to make raiding “more fun.”

What is more fun, in the developers’ minds? Based on the druid class changes for 3.0, I can take a guess. Despite what some healers find entertaining, Blizzard doesn’t want us to be tied too closely to timers or set-in-stone rotations. Pre-3.0, I used to cast something–usually an instant, and many times Lifebloom–every time the GCD was up. This means that I can spare about half an eyeball for the raid environment, and I haven’t even seen many raid bosses. I spend too much time looking at Grid with one eye and the ground–for nasty AoE effects–with the other. To a certain extent, this is necessary for proper focus–I’m not sure that Briolante spends much time gazing longingly on, say, Archimonde’s face either, even though he’s up there tanking. Here’s a quote: “Demon crotches get old after a while.” The developers want play to be variable, engaging, movement heavy, and reactive rather than proactive. As a druid healer at the moment, I feel that I’m supposed to entirely change my playstyle, and old habits–like maintaining Lifebloom rotations–die hard.

At least dual specs are actually fun! Many times, the developers seem to design away from fun by putting arbitrary limitations on things–the recently removed movement speed reduction for trees comes to mind, as does the prohibition on flying in Northrend until level 77. It is my hope that, whatever they do to healing, the dual spec possibility keeps me from entirely losing my mind, or, should I say, my feathers.

Mind Control in BG’s Forcing Opposing Players to "Lose" Out on Tokens

Want to have revenge on that one player who keeps dogging you in Arathi Basin? Fear not! There is a way! I believe it’s a bug but props to Aylii for bringing it to my attention. I thought this was fixed a while ago but apparently not.

You can force opposing players to only get 1 token instead of 3 when they win. I haven’t exactly verified this myself but this happened to my Guildmate last night. When it’s assured that you’re about to lose in your BG, what you can do is Mind Control a player of the opposing faction and hold onto them until the BG ends. I think the game treats them as a part of your faction when the BG ends. As a result, it awards the amount of tokens based on whether your side wins or loses.

However, it’s a known exploit. It’s been around for a while but I figured I’d reshare it again.

Plain and evil, no?

20 Questions With Big Bear Butt

20 Questions by Matticus

Every week, Matt gets a chance to sit down with a WoW Blogger chosen by his Worg Pup. Find out a little more about your favourite bloggers as he tries to get to know them a little more!

This week, Big Bear Butt of his self titled Big Bear Butt Blogger was cool enough to kick back and set aside some time in his beary busy schedule to answer a few questions.

This has got to be the most important question I’ll ever ask and I just wanted to get it out of the way. Why Big Bear Butt?

Well, I wanted to choose a name that told people that came what they were getting themselves in for.

I play a feral druid, I spend a lot of time tanking in bear form, and when you’re in a narrow instance or up against a wall, your view is pretty much all bear butt. At least, until you swivel your viewpoint around.

Add to it is the fact that I’m a pretty big guy. I was in the US Marines for 8 years, and I was one of the guys that would have to hump the 80 pound mortar plate on the march… okay, you probably have no idea what that means. Ummm…. I ain’t short or narrow, and my bench press is fairly hefty. But I’ve been out of the service now for, oh, wow. 13 years now. It’s been a while. :) So anyway, visits to the gym or not, sitting at a desk playing wow has taken it’s toll on the size of my butt. So I’m a big bear of a man in real life, with a big bearish butt.

And I like to think I have a wacky Monty Python lovin’, Wierd Al and Dr. Demento enjoying sense of humor. So I thought Big Bear Butt Blogger pretty much said it all.

A couple of weeks ago, the first Blog Azeroth community topic was “What did you like most about the class you played”. I’m going to go out on a limb and ask you what you hate most about the class that is your main (in this case, your Druid).

The one thing I hate the most about the Druid, and yes, I do hate it, is the utter lack of individuality amongst Druids in forms. Every Night Elf Druid in cat form looks exactly like every other. Doesn’t matter the level, or the gear.

Deepest and darkest secret about BBB?

I’ve been writing for WOW Insider’s Shifting Perspectives druid column, and they put my real name up there… but it’s not the name I was born with. When I got married, I actually took my wifes’ last name.

There were a lot of reasons for it. Mainly, though, is the fact that I am from another state than Minnesota, and the product of a home that’s not just broken, but pretty shattered. My wife, on the other hand, is Minnesota born and bred, and her entire family, with dozens of close relatives, brothers and sisters and all their extended families, are all right here. Now. Local. And for every special occasion, everyone gets together as one big squabbling but basically happy family.

So I thought nothing whatsoever of casting aside my old name, breaking the chains, and launching myself into a happy life with my new extended family.

And okay, you know me well enough to figure out, I LOVE to see the looks on people’s faces when I tell them what my name is… and my wifes’ name… and my mother-in-laws’ name. Hee hee hee.

When you started your blog, what was your goal? Do you think you have achieved it?

Well, my goal was mainly to have a forum to get up on my soapbox and sound off on whatever in the game I was all worked up about.

My secondary goals were to write posts with helpful tips and suggestions that I’d wish I’d known when I started playing my druid back in the day. And also, I wanted to develop my writing skills through lots and lots and lots of writing. I’ve heard it said by authors I admire that the way to develop your own writing style is to write your ass off. So I am. These days, my main goals are to write frequently, to entertain, and to inform. If I accomplish just one of those, I figure I’m good.
That would be why I post so often. :)

Where were you when 9/11 occurred?

Well, I was long out of the military by then. I was actually at work as an engineer in a PCB manufacturing plant at the time. Not the same one as now. Coincidentally enough, I’d been re-reading Red Cell by Richard Marcinko right around that time, a book by a former Seal Team 6 commander fictionalizing his teams’ exploits as they accomplished theri assigned mission; simulate terrorist atacks agaisnt military and civilian airports around the world to test their security.
From the results of 9/11, you don’t need to guess what his analysis was, years before the actual real event proved him right. I will say, don’t believe anyone that tells you that no one knew the vulnerabilities of our airport security systems that ‘came as a complete shock’.

You’d have to understand that, when it happened, TVs were wheeled into break rooms, and we all gathered around. There was hysteria on the TV, and people both in the plant and on TV were sobbing and saying they couldn’t believe it was possible.

And the only surprise I felt was that it hadn’t been a backpack nuke or bio/chemical attack.

I know that sounds callous as all heck, but it’s true. But I come by it honestly.

I entered the Marines in 1986, and I was raised on films such as the Missing in Action series with Chuck Norris, the original Rambo series, Full Metal Jacket, Platoon, Hamburger Hill, the list goes on and on. Most people think those movies glorify warfare as a living action film full of fun, but to me as a teen growing up watching them, the message I got was that war was a horrible, violent chaotic mess, filled with human frailty, but that it was a necessary thing for an armed force to exist with strong, willing, capable volunteers, to help those who cannot help themselves and to actively work to preserve peace and liberate the oppressed. And that the previous generations of men and women in my country had done their part to step forward, to serve, and to suffer for their principals and stand firm. I felt it was my duty to do the same. With no illusions as to how ‘glamorous’ or ‘exciting’ it would be. Glamorous. HAH!

In the years since, with all the traveling I’ve done in cultures around the world, I think I’ve developed an awareness of how precious and precarious stability can be. And how blessed we have been to have the stability of Canada and Mexico to our North and South, and the massive barriers of the ocean to our East and West to make bringing war directly to our shores a difficult process requiring massive investment of resources.

But when others hate you, for whatever reason, and weapons exist in the world that require little in the way of resources to deploy, well….

When 9/11 happened, my state of mind was; “Praise God that, so far, nuclear, biological and checmical weapons weren’t involved. Thank god.” Followed closely by, “I wonder if those attacks will soon follow. Are they done? And if they do, where?”

I hope that I answered the spirit of your question.

Your blog states that you served in the US Marines. You willing to share any good/humorous stories during your time there?

I assume that the statute of limitations still covers… yeah, okay, so those are out. Hold on, let me think. What can I say that wouldn’t incur legal fines or liability?

Right, okay.

I’ll be nice and limit myself to a Marine story, and not include the subcategories of drinking, practical jokes, drinking, crazy physical stunts… oh, wait, that reminds me. Okay, I’ve got one. And I don’t think I can be arrested for anything in it.

So, I’m in the barracks with some friends, in the desert of Twenty-Nine Palms, California. And there are a bunch of us, and we’re bored, and it’s Saturday morning.

One of the guys has a car, which when you’re all PFCs or Lance Corporals, is a BIG thing. So someone suggests we get a shitload of alcohol, bundle some camping crap into the car, and head for Yucca Valley National Monument for some serious drinking and barbequeing, maybe stay over for the night.

Now, at the time I was the ringleader of our little clan, the resident Game Master of our gaming group. (Hell yes, Marines play role playing games. Best groups I’ve ever had in my entire life were with Jarheads. Intelligent men and women, tactically proficient and possessed of wondrous imaginations and low and evil cunning. God, I miss gaming in the service. Oh heck, where the hell was I? Oh, right.)

Right, I was the ringleader. And I usually organized games on the weekend, followed by everyone drinking, listening to Dr. Demento, and then having a steak and lobster tail barbeque in the beer garden outside. Beer garden? Don’t ask.

So I get us all organized, sort out who is going to bring what, then we hit the package store (where you buy your alcohol on base) and off we go out into the High Desert.

And we drive for miles, and miles, and miles. When we finally approach a likely looking campsite near some particularly fine rock formations, we are waaaaay out there.

As the car rolls up to where we’re gonna park, the engine makes some knocking noises… and then with a loud bang! we watch the hood of the car lift up with the force of a massive blow. The car stops. And I mean, right then and there.

So, we look at each other in the back seat, and then we look at the owner of the car. With a deadpan emotionless tone of voice, I say, “Engine threw a rod, Mark.”

He says, equally emotionlessly, “Yep. Looks that way.”

I say, “It’s a hell of a long walk back to the main road, man.”

He says, “Yep.”

I tell him, “Better carry a case with you when you go. And carry a bag. No littering in Yucca.”

He says, “Yep. Damn it.”

So off he went, with a case of wine coolers, to go flag down a ranger. Which he did, eventually.

In the meantime, heck, we had food, alcohol, and lots of free time. This was years before cell phones, so nobody had any way of getting the word out but by walking. Fortunately, it was Saturday, so we had two days to figure out how to get back to base before we’d be missing a movement, namely Monday morning formation. No worries.

Well, at the time I fancied myself a fair free rock climber. I went out fairly often, and enjoyed taking a camera with me to take shots from “How the hell did you get there” angles. I didn’t have any gear with me, but some of the rocks out there were pretty easy grades for a novice. I left the other guys to their drinking, and headed into the rocks.

So I went on in a little valley twixt the steep walls of rock, picked an approach, and started climbing. And the rock out there is nice, there are frequent and easy to reach handholds, indentations, fissures, you name it. I was just climbing to have fun, stretch out a bit. I was wearing jeans, combat boots, and no shirt, because I thought I was quite studdly, and I wanted to get some Sun for a tan.

I am sliding around a steep grade, feet inching sideways on a narrow crack as I work my way over to where I can see the way up is going to be easier. I’m a long way up, but it’s cool. I am pressed flat against the rock, arms spread wide and hands out, kissing the rock good and close, just kinda inching my way sideways.

As I go across this flat steep face, the rock is pretty gritty, and it’s suddenly smooth. It’s like sandstone, with a very fine grade of loose grit on the surface. And I start to slide down.
I force my body closer against the rock, I’m desperate for the rock to love me long time. I mean, I am seriously bear hugging this rock in a way that should require a marriage license and a hotel room.

And as I slowly slide down, I can feel a tugging on my pants as my belt is scraping along the rock. And then, suddenly, hella pain. Somehow, I make myself stop dead, possibly through heretofore unknown psychic powers, I don’t know.

What happened is, the belt buckle post grabbed on the rock, and my belt worked itself free, and the buckle, looped through the belt, came out of the sheath, but was still caught in the belt, all tangled up.

Oh, did I forget to mention that I was an amateur real-life leatherworker, and I’d hand-stitched my woven belt? And I’d used a belt-buckle palm dagger (what is known as a push knife) as the buckle with a sewn in sheath? Sorry, that must have slipped my mind.

Yeah, so the belt buckle came undone, grabbed on the rock, twisted on the leather looped through it, and pointed itself up… into my stomach. Braced agasint the rock.

And I was slowly sliding DOWN the rock face.

Yep, paints a pretty picture, doesn’t it?

So, let’s recap, shall we? I’m way up a rock face, I’ve got a dagger sticking into my stomach, I’m wearing no shirt, and I’m starting to slide down. And as I slide, the dagger is digging deeper.

Now, I calmly access the situation. I am not panicking, but I am 100% aware that I am the stupidest person on the face of the planet, and I’m about to die, die by being stuck with the dagger I myself spent hours crafting into a belt, and the worst part is I have 6 Fosters Oil Cans at the camp that I’ll never get to drink.

Such are the thoughts of a single Marine. Just so you know.

Obviously, I didn’t die. Sorry to break the suspense, but I thought I should mention that, just in case you were getting worried.

Instead, I kept on hugging the rock face fiercely. I slowed my rate of descent, kind of hoisted myself by the skin of my forearms straight UP and then inched the rest of the way onwards to my destination, since I had traveled a hard way up, and then eased my way back down to the bottom of the gulley.

When my feet touched down on soft desert sand at the foot of the rock, I gently pulled the dagger from my stomach, I unthreaded my belt from my pants, and then I threw the entire damn thing with all of my might as deep into the rocks as I could possibly get it.

I assessed my injuries. I had a nicely bleeding, seeping really, hole in my stomach, and the skin on my inner arms, from my wrists to my elbows, was gone. Sinmply gone. my inner forearms were raw exposed meat from being abraded against the rock to stop my slide.

So.

I walked calmly back to camp, and I’ll be perfectly honest here… I derived a certain sense of satisfaction, knowing that my reputation as a bad ass was going to be ramped up a few notches by walking out of the desert covered in blood. Kind of a consolation prize for being a galactically stupid moron.

I proceeded to borrow a buddies’ shirt to wrap up my arms and stomach, after pouring beer all over my arms to try and wash away sand. I’m intentionally trying not to think about how bad that hurt.
I kicked back, had a steak grilled over an open fire, and drank Fosters for the next 8 hours or so, until Mark came back in a park ranger truck, and we carried our happy butts back out of the desert, and I made my way to the base sick bay.

And as I walked into sick bay on that Saturday night, contemplating how to possibly spin what happened so I wouldn’t look like such an incredible dumbass on the inevitable after action report… some corpsmen rushed a guy past me into sick bay on a gurney. And the guy’s mouth was covered in dried blood.

It looked like the guy took a punch in the mouth, but the corpsmen seemed VERY anxious to work on him, so naturally I asked at the counter what was up with him.

Turns out he’d been drinking with his buddies in the desert (surprise), saw a rattlesnake, and decided to show what a badass he was by biting the head of the snake off.

Except the snake chomped his tongue GOOD. And even though he succeeded in biting the snakes’ head off, the fangs wouldn’t release.

I stopped worrying about the reception my story was going to get. Apparently, on a base full of Marines in the desert on a Saturday night, my story wasn’t even gonna make the top three.

What is the one addition or change you would like Blizzard to see done to Druids in general?

I touched on this earlier. I’d love to see Blizzard introduce the ability to expand the appearance of our forms. There are so many different ways it could be done, like simply having different basic skins available from your trainer to choose from when you can train the basic shapeshift skill, and make you have to respec to change your appearance. Or allow us to choose to display some kind of morphed armor, an admittedly difficult thing to do that I would hold out no hope for. In a perfect world, we would be able to choose our tribal Druid tattoo in forms, and customize our appearance in terms of mane/hair style, bulkiness of body frame, and then choose from colors, patterns and eyes.

Whose teddy bear is that in your blogger profile?

Why, that would be mine, thank you. That is mine. My wife asked me for a list of things I wanted for Christmas a long time ago, and one of the things I found was that bear on a cafepress store, and I told her I wanted it. I don’t know if you can see, but the shirt says “I’m in Bear form”. It sits on my headboard. When I made my Blogger profile, I needed a photo, and I immediately grabbed my bear. Cassie took the picture.

What’s in store for readers of BBB in the upcoming year?

I purchased a domain, www.thebigbearbutt.com, and I’m planning at some point to go to a self-hosted site using WordPress as the framework. I’m moving ahead slowly on getting some t-shirt designs worked on, and I’m going to continue to write in the exact same way as I always have. At this stage in my life, I regret that I may be unable to change. If my readers are hoping for maturity and growth in the next year… I’m sorry. Ain’t happening.

Considering the weird crap you throw up on your blog, why do you think people still bother to come back? (Thanks to BBB for suggesting this question when I was stuck on number 20)

Well, I think it’s because I post regularly, I say what I think, I try and have a sense of humor, I do try and post informative info scattered amongst the jokes and ramblings, and I’m honest about what’s going on with me and Cassie and the game.

Also, I actually do see the people who come to my site as friends, and I think that comes through. I’m not running a business, although I certainly wouldn’t mind making enough money to support the blog, as long as I can do it on my terms. No gold sellers! Grrr! I do this for fun. That being the case, I assume people who are coming to read what I’m writing are, themselves, in some sick way, having fun.

Or, and this might be just as true… I am insane, and you are all natural-born enablers. Shame on you.

Either way, I’m damn happy with the people that read, and especially the people that comment. I have some of the smartest, coolest commenters on the planet. My Addon article alone, I had TONS of helpful suggestions of addons that improved my game experience immensely. So much for me teaching anyone else something.

Speed Questions

Imperial or US Pint?
If it’s a Guinness, any pint will do.

Biggest criticism you always hear as a player:
You tank so well I’m getting bored.

Bears should be able to sport visual armor: Agree or disagree?
Agree, damn straight.

As a Druid, the next animal form you want is to be able to shift into:
A Mount for other players to ride. Seriously! Unicorn FTW!

Most annoying nickname:
Wow, I got some great ones. BBB, Tri-B, B^3. Love em all.

In your opinion, AWOL stands for:
A Waste of Life. “Doomilias is AWOL again”. “No, Doomilias is AWOL, still.”

Guns don’t kill people, but ______________ do:

“Guns don’t kill people, but I do”.

But Matt, that is just filling in your blanks, that’s not letting me tell you the real version.

“US Marines. You can run, but you’ll just die tired.” There. That’s better.

One thing you wish you knew about blogging before you started blogging:

How many people were going to expect me to come up with pretty pictures for every damn post. And screw the damn word count, that’s the truth.

David Letterman, Jay Leno, or John Stewart?
Jay is an awesome car guy, but Stewart is evil.

Rejected tag line for Big Bear Butt Blogger:

“This is not the gay porn site you were looking for.”

Shout outs to:

My readers, who leave comments that are frequently better than my posts. Thank you! You guys rock.

Again, go check out the Big Bear Butt’s feral druid blog for tanking goodness and all things feral!