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WoW and Public Self-Consciousness

October 12, 2011

Think back to your first day playing WoW.

I remember mine.  I rolled a druid and worked through the first few levels in the old Night Elf starting area.  I died for the first time (and then, subsequently, several more times) to the satyr in the bottom of the cave filled with the hopping demon grells.  I think he turned into a cat after a few seconds of combat, and I would die every time.  A few weeks later, I gave up on the druid at some point during questing in Darkshore – getting murdered over and over again by Murkdeep was too annoying for words.

Next I tried a Forsaken warlock.  My friends had told me I should be getting professions, because I could make some money from them.  So I picked up skinning and leatherworking because it seemed like everything I killed said that it was skinable.  This character made it to around level 35, and I chose gear for her that looked interesting or had stats that sounded like I wanted them.  Who wouldn’t want to be stronger, or more agile?  I tried a dungeon for the first time (Shadowfang Keep), and when a generous party member offered to enchant my chest, I took off my robe and tried to trade it to him.  A few explanations in party chat later, and my Forsaken covered up her shame with a newly enchanted robe.

I loved my warlock, but the few real life friends who played WoW were all Alliance, so I rolled a new warlock – this time a gnome.  My choices, then, were only humans or gnomes and I thought the humans were boring.  I wasn’t sure I liked the idea of a gnome, though this changed quite a bit in time.  My friends rolled new characters so that they could level alongside me, but then a strange thing began to happen.  I started to have a vague sense of what I was doing, and how to do it better.  I began to play more often than my friends, and quickly outleveled them.  Around the time my warlock entered her 30s, I realized I would need to find something to do that would both let me spend time in game and allow my friends to catch up to me.

I had experimented with PvP before, to the extent that some random Blood Elf paladin who offered to group with my warlock for quests in Ashenvale dragged me all the way to the entrance to Arathi Basin for my first attempt at a battleground.  It went, perhaps, better than could have been expected.  As soon as I zoned into AB, a map of the battleground popped up on my screen (as I recall, I think it was an add-on gone awry), and I couldn’t figure out how to minimize the map, which was taking up pretty much my whole screen.  I ran around, trying to see what was going on, getting completely lost, and complaining in BG chat that I couldn’t get the map off my screen and “No, hitting M isn’t working.”  It was over quickly, and my first impressions were mostly that it was a weird kind of a thing, and very chaotic.

By the time my gnome warlock got interested in PvP, I had (thankfully) resolved the add-on problem.  Arathi Basin was the only battleground I’d done before, and the only one whose strategy made any sense to me, so I would always just queue for it.  Usually, I defended stables.  I would hide out in the little bush by the waterfall, and stick my voidwalker inside of the buiding.  I thought this was a pretty clever trick.  Sometimes I killed my opponents, but usually I didn’t.  I could generally stay alive long enough that someone would come to help me defend.  I died a lot, and it didn’t bother me one bit.

That warlock made it all the way to 70, and got to do some pretty cool stuff along the way.  A few times, when I was able to find a group to do the Outland dungeons, I got a sense that maybe I wasn’t playing my character exactly how I should.  I seemed to take this thing called “agro” a lot, and I wasn’t really sure why.  I was using my voidwalker to kill a mob, like I always did while I was questing.  By this point, someone had turned me on to Recount, so I could look at the numbers on there and have a vague idea of what I was doing.  It wasn’t until WotLK was released and my friends and I ran Nexus for the first time that I realized something might be wrong with those numbers, too.  “Hey, you’re almost beating the tank,” one of my friends said in what was supposed to be an encouraging way.  You’re supposed to beat the tank? I thought.

You're doing it wrong.

This was the beginning of a weird revelation for me:  I’d been playing this game for several months now, enjoying myself and constantly learning new things.  But I hadn’t learned enough new things.  I was doing it wrong.  I was bad at WoW, and worse, now I knew that I was bad at WoW.

This is kind of an interesting thing in psychology, the point at which we become aware of ourselves as we are perceived by other people.  Private self-consciousness is a tendency to examine our inner self and feelings, but public self-consciousness is the sense that other people are reviewing and (perhaps) judging our actions as well.  It’s as if you’ve spent the last hour laughing at a joke, and suddenly realize that the joke was about you.  The old saying, “Ignorance is bliss?”  It’s completely true; I was having a wonderful time being very bad at playing WoW until I realized that there were other players out there who were much better than I was at playing the game.  It wasn’t a sense of jealousy that made this difficult to stomach, it was an overwhelming feeling of embarrassment.  How long had this been going on?  How many people had realized just how bad I was as I was happily bouncing along, skinning mobs and disrobing for enchants?

I’ve had this on my mind the last few days thanks, mostly, to some amazing emails I’ve been exchanging with Zaralynda about (among many other things) the ways we learn and progress in WoW.  I have to assume that the majority of us had a moment like this, when we realized that this game was bigger than we anticipated and that we only knew the tiniest bit of what we should.  This is an entirely different realization than discovering that you’re bad at a single-player game because it’s a matter of public shame.  I am doing something wrong and everyone else knows.

I thought about this again last night, when I asked for help getting started on a PvP priest.  (Thanks again to all of you who took the time to comment both here and on Twitter.  Your encouragement sent me into battle in WSG for the first time this morning, and I had a blast.)  I realized, as I was replying to Cynwise’s comment, that the main reason I had been so hesitant to go into a battleground on my priest was that I was afraid – afraid of failing.

Where the hell did this come from?  I wondered.  Wasn’t I the same person who recklessly threw myself into PvP on a toon I’d played for only a month or two?  Didn’t she die over and over again, and weren’t those deaths largely my own fault?  When was the turning point at which I became too self-conscious about other players’ perceptions of my skill level?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do your best.  There is no shame at all in trying to improve yourself and evening the playing field as much as you can by doing the research that will prepare you.  But reconciling this drive to improve with a reasonable level of confidence in yourself is essential to enjoying your experience in WoW.  Being unwilling to try new things (whether those things are raiding, heroic dungeons, or battlegrounds) because you’re afraid your performance won’t be perfect on the first try is not a Good Thing.

Do you remember a moment when you became conscious of the way other players perceived you in WoW?  What reaction did you have to this perception?  Did you change the way you played because of this?  If you are now a more experienced player, how much do you worry about failure now, and what effect does that have on how you play the game?

17 Comments leave one →
  1. October 12, 2011 2:39 pm

    Your earlier post was interesting, especially in context of this one. You were very concerned about “doing it right.” I remember feeling like that, a lot, when I first started out, so it’s interesting to hear that you’ve done plenty of PvP on other toons.

    I very nearly wrote last night, “Don’t worry about doing it right. Just do it.” I’ve noticed this with other PvE players, especially raiders – worrying about preparation only goes so far, at some point you just have to get in and get killed. Don’t worry about /bg chat, don’t worry about other people’s impressions, go in and give it a go.

    I used to get really nervous zoning in. Winning meant EVERYTHING, and I knew I was bad. It bugged me, but I got better. Slowly. Sometimes it felt like it was very slow.

    The transience of BGs are both a good and bad thing. It’s bad because it’s hard to build up a sense of community and accountability. It’s good because they’re relatively anonymous, risk-free places to visit. If you suck, you suck for 5 minutes, 15 minutes – and then you don’t see those people again. BGs are a great place to try out something and fail. Sometimes fail badly.

    I think you’ve already got a handle on this. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your Priest!

    • October 12, 2011 3:40 pm

      I think the differences for me between this current project on the priest and the PvP I usually do on my resto druid amount to a few things. My druid is extremely second nature to me anymore; I know her toolbox and her key/mouse binds like the back of my hand. I know what I can live through and what I probably can’t. I’m by no means perfect on her, but I’ve put in the practice hours. It helps, also, that the vast majority of the time I spend PvPing her isn’t time spent alone. If I go into random BGs, I usually go with a few guild members. I haven’t done arena on her during the current season, but I did quite a bit last season and in the final season of Wrath. I’m fortunate enough to live with my arena partner (who’s much more comfortable in PvP than I am), and so that allows for an entirely different level of communication and coordination when we run 2s, since we will literally be in the same room as one another.

      Jumping right into things this morning helped me. I screwed up off the bat – went to grab the flag without knowing how hard my opponents would hit me, and without enough team members to defend me. I died in midfield, rezzed, and grabbed the flag again, only to die in the tunnel. At that point I wanted to drop group. I had made a dumb mistake, learned nothing from it, and made the same dumb move again. But I forced myself to stay in, and I’m glad I did. I stopped trying to carry the flag (I have no idea why I attempted to do that in the first place), and instead ran with the rogue who was generally carrying flags for us. I experimented with my spells and tried to figure out when I should heal and when I should apply offensive pressure – something I’m not totally unfamiliar with, but I didn’t know how low I could let people get before I tossed them a heal at this level. (Turns out I could basically allow my teammates to be at sub 10% before throwing a Penance at them and healing them to full.)

      I have a feeling there will be more priest posts in the future. I might even have to think up a witty hashtag for it!

  2. October 13, 2011 12:27 am

    I have a guilty secret. Despite having raided at a fairly hardcore level, despite having been deemed “good” enough for a legendary and a shed load of loot, despite having received far more compliments on my play than any negative comments, I avoid five mans like the plague because I’m afraid that I’m not good enough. I keep putting them off because in a dark recess of my mind, I’m afraid that when there isn’t anyone else to hide behind I will fail. I know it’s stupid, I can count the mistakes I’ve made in a raid environment pretty much on one hand and in PvP, more often that not, I’m the only healer but somehow, all that flies out the window when I’m confronted with a five man and I’m back to being that brand new scared stiff player.

    • October 13, 2011 8:45 am

      There is certainly something about the environment of 5 mans that makes it easy to get caught up in fear of failure. Being the only healer means that if anyone dies, it’s “your fault” regardless of whether the person who died did so because they were doing something foolish. Most of the healers I know blame themselves for not being able to keep someone alive regardless of the circumstances, and from some of the PuG horror stories I’ve heard, it sounds like a lot of non-healers have that perception as well. Tanks, or at least tanks who don’t have a trumped up notion of their importance, often feel this way as well. I know that when I first get a healer or tank to max level, I tend to make sure they’re overgeared for a 5 man before I attempt it, for the reasons you described above.

      Of course, as Cynwise pointed out in relation to BGs, we’ll probably never see these people again. The Dungeon Finder means we’re paired with perfect strangers who will remain strangers after the dungeon is over. In theory, that helps lessen the sting when something goes wrong, but it sure is hard not to feel bad about it at the time.

    • October 13, 2011 9:45 am

      This sort of feeds into my answer to your closing question. My first level-capped character ever was a paladin who hit cap just after cata. He was prot, simply because when the first cata patch hit my friendly ret became something absolutely horrible to play.

      Being prot, I figured that I might as well learn to tank. At the cap. In cata dungeons… at least my guild at the time was friendly enough to run with me anyway.

      The real point where I realised I was simply missing a whole skillset was on Setesh. I simply could not keep the adds off my healer. We wiped over and over again, trying so. damn. hard. to learn on the fly.

      Nowadays I can tank that encounter without fear, and obsessively perfecting add control made me our guild’s best add tank on Maloriak, but that was only after a long period where I just didn’t feel that I could dungeoneer on any character.

      As far as 5-mans go, while you’re only there for a short time, people seem to have a lot more invested in the success of a 5-man than of a raid or bg. Failure in a raid is okay, because raids are the pinnacle of PvE. Failure in a BG is okay, because you’re up against otehr people. But no-one really sees 5-mans as “hard content”, so no matter the reason, some folks get a lot more aggressive about failure.

    • October 13, 2011 10:21 am

      Oh, this is certainly an important distinction, you’re right. I think part of the “high stakes” notion of 5 man dungeons is that, unless you defeat the final boss, people in your group do NOT get the VP reward – which is probably the only reason they even queued. In battlegrounds, you may not get as many honor points if you don’t win, but you’ll still get something. In heroics, your consolation prize is JPs for whichever bosses your group did manage to kill, but most main toons aren’t looking for JPs at this point. It sets up an all-or-nothing kind of situation.

  3. October 13, 2011 2:47 pm

    Very interesting stuff. I’m actually in a kind of limbo state between “ignorant” and “self-concious” in LoTRO right now – whilst I know that I probably suck, badly, I’m enjoying the ignorance, the difficulty, and the figuring things out.

    Having said that, LoTRO benefits from a much friendlier community than WoW. I suspect the problems you’re describing here run on a continuum, with a single-player game at one end (no need to be self-concious if no-one else is watching), and hardcore WoW raiding at the other end (“You didn’t update your EP to reflect the spreadsheet that was published 2 days ago? /gkick”)

    I’ve featured this post on the Pot – thanks, I enjoyed reading it!

    • October 13, 2011 9:06 pm

      WoW’s community does seem to come across as particularly unforgiving in this matter, and that’s unfortunate. I think there are very few players, if any, who want to continue doing less than their best once they realize that something’s wrong – but realizing that you’re doing something wrong and knowing where to go to fix the problem are two different beasts. Players who have already been through this sort of realization could easily help point them in the right direction, but don’t always have the patience to do so.

  4. October 13, 2011 11:20 pm

    The first time I had that “I’m doing something wrong” feeling was also on my warlock. It was back when WoW was shiny and new, and like many others, it was my first MMO. My warlock was my first character to lvl 60. I didn’t even know yet about ‘end game’ and ‘alts’ and mains’.

    Diamond was lvl 60, in a party in Blackrock Depths. It was my first high level instance, and I thought I was doing pretty well. When I’d joined the party someone had said “I got a warlock!” so I felt pretty special. I was confused, but somehow I knew this was good. I had my succubus out and was using her to CC when asked. I was pewpewing the bad guys, things were dying. (And I wasn’t one of the things dying.)

    We were about half way through the instance (so about 2 hours in, omg BRD) when the party leader said in party chat “Okay, I’ve found us a good warlock. Diamond can you leave please?” And they kicked me from the group, and invited in another ‘lock.

    I hearthed.

    My face was burning, I had absolutely no idea what I’d done.

    I still don’t really know, as I could have been doing any NUMBER of silly things. Maybe they were asking me to banish, maybe I was dotting up someone else’s CC, maybe I’d feared a mob into another group, maybe I was doing negligible dps. It’s too long ago for me to remember, but I DO remember the SHAME.

    It changed the way I looked at the game though. Suddenly I had this new concept. there were *good* warlocks and *bad* warlocks. Okay, so what does that mean for me? Well I knew which sort of warlock I wanted to be, so I went about finding out how. Whereas before I’d just bumbled along in my own world really. It was a nice simple world, but once someone opened the door to the idea that it wasn’t really that simple, it was a major epiphany for me.

    I also found it changed the way I looked at other players. Before I hadn’t really judged anyone. Now I found myself entering groups asking myself “is this a good tank?” “Is this a good hunter?…” It seems so fundamental a question now. I guess I’m saying it changed the way I perceived myself as a player, but it also changed how I perceived others. I started *judging* people whereas I hadn’t before.

    Thanks as always for your insightful posts. And you’ve really got me thinking on this one 🙂

    • October 14, 2011 8:28 am

      Yikes, what a harsh way to realize this! 😦

      You bring up a really interesting point – that as soon as we see other people judging our WoW skills, we begin judging other players as well. I suppose we don’t really have the context or the vocabulary before it happens to us.

      Thanks for reading, and I’m glad you enjoyed the post!

  5. October 14, 2011 2:49 am

    What a great read Tzufit, your blog is always fascinating to read!

    I do remember my first time playing WoW and I knew nothing of the game, I was just playing and levelling and thinking everything was fun. I was on a 10 day trial, playing a Nelf hunter (as I think everyone does!) and alternating playing with my hubby and it wasn’t until somebody invited me to an instance when I realised I wasn’t doing something right.

    I had never grouped with anyone before (as all I had been doing was questing and killing things), and I had no idea about need or greed or anything like that, and so everytime I saw something drop that I could use I hit need because other people did too. Of course I copped a lot of abuse, and nobody in the party would speak to me – in fact in hindsight now I am surprised they didn’t kick me – but I really didn’t know what I had done wrong or how to play in a party. I was embarrassed and I didn’t want to play with anyone anymore.

    But then the trial acount ran out so I bought accounts for my husband and I to play, and I asked my friend who recruited me into WoW to play with us, and hubby got his friend to buy an account too. So all 4 of us played and levelled together in a group doing everything until we hit level 40 or so, and got a better of idea of how to play in a group. I played a Tauren druid, hubby played a Tauren Warrior, my friend played a Tauren Hunter, and hubby’s friend a Tauren Shaman. It was fun to group now, and we all played exclusively together and never with anyone else so we got used to certain playstyles. But I was petrified of playing with anyone else outside our circle because I felt like an idiot after my hunter thing.

    After that we just PVP’d and I learnt my character more and my anxiety about playing others became less and less. Obviously now it’s gone, being in a guild and all, but I still remember those old days, and cringe at how noobie I was.

    • October 14, 2011 9:01 am

      Playing with a group of friends (as I learned as well) is a great way to shield yourself from some of the nastiness you might otherwise experience in WoW. Of course, if your friends know as little as you do (which was basically the case for me), it’s just a case of the blind leading the blind with no one learning much of anything along the way. Having friends who are both knowledgeable enough about the game to teach you and also delicate enough to do it in a friendly way? Well that’s the best case scenario.

      I, too, was confused about loot rolls but I was lucky enough to get that straightened out while questing with a friend. The language confused me – I thought rolling “Greed” sounded like a bad thing to do, so I rolled “Need” instead. My friend explained the difference to me, and (thankfully!) that was long before I set foot in a dungeon.

      Thank you so much for reading, and for the great comment! 🙂

  6. October 14, 2011 6:31 pm

    Hehe, I read your post nodding along.
    My first experience of this, learning that other people were “watching me”, was in Karazhan. To ration my mana I would sometimes wand during boss encounters. I didn’t understand what min-maxing was and assumed the challenge in WoW had enough wiggle room for players like me and that people optimizing were on the slightly more obsessive side, essentially unneccessary – oh I learned the harsh realities later!
    Today I think the surveillance mentality has gone completely out of hand. Now it seems everybody is everybody’s business and calling someone out for bad gemming or a lack of enchants, is sometimes done by just linking EJ, simple as that. Playing WoW for me became closer and closer to doing homework that actually enjoying my leisure time, so well… I quit raiding. I almost wish there was a privacy feature in WoW, like on Facebook!

    • October 14, 2011 8:30 pm

      Well I’m sorry to hear that you’ve stopped raiding over this problem, but I certainly understand your choice if you feel that will make you happier. I agree that perhaps we’re getting to a point at which we are TOO concerned with other players’ performances now. I guess the rationalization is that, because WoW has been around for so long now and is so popular, there are plenty of resources out there to help make sure you’ve a decent idea of how to play your class.

      But to we need to offer our sage advice to everyone we run into? I’ve had guildmates tell me stories of DPS who have been kicked from troll heroic runs for “not doing enough damage based upon the gear they had.” … What? If the person is pulling enough damage that the bosses are dying in a timely manner, who cares if a spreadsheet would say they should be pulling more DPS in their gear?


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