We knew when we sat down a few weeks ago to interview Noor the pacifist that the whole concept of a WoW character who didn't kill anything would start the flames rolling. The idea definitely lit some bonfires around the interwebz: incredulous readers Dugg it, StumbledUpon it ... it even showed up on Fark. But the real heat was in the reader comments, as readers at WoW Insider and across the 'net flamed, lambasted, reasoned, cajoled, ranted and otherwise worried the topic to bits like a pack of ravenous worgs.
Seeking some perspective in the aftermath, we turned to Gweryc the melee Hunter. We suspected he might offer a shoulder to cry on about being misunderstood in the pursuit of eccentric, concept-driven gaming. Instead, we got an inspired dissection of current thinking on who plays MMORPGs and why -- and what playing a purposely gimped character has to do with it. Join us after the break for a conversation with Gweryc on metagaming, gaming achievement ... and of course, being a Hunter who hits stuff.
Gweryc Halfhand is sooo not your average WoW Hunter. First of all, there's the fact that, well, he hits things instead of firing on them. But the distinction runs deeper. Gweryc is a guy who gets his kicks from examining the reasons how and why his gaming is so enjoyable. It's not simply a question of how far he can push a unique concept -- it's why even try?
15 Minutes of Fame: How on earth did you come up with the idea for a melee Hunter?
Gweryc: I came to realize that what I wanted from World of Warcraft isn't what the game was principally designed to deliver. WoW, at its core, is about upgrading your character, and then toppling foes – whether human or computer generated. I was more interested in making friends and messing around with the game's mechanics.
Gweryc was the product of my discontent, specifically conceived as something engagingly odd and as something that I could share as a project with anyone that might be interested in what I was doing. It was either that, or focus on my career as the world's sole author of Murloc romance novels.
Do you perceive Gweryc as a "project" character with certain achievements to be reached despite certain limitations? Or do you see him as a viable, entertaining character who just happens to do things non-traditionally? Or did you create him as a role-playing character and play him as is, despite any limitations (rather than because of them)?
Gweryc will always be a project character. He was born during a brainstorming session with my good friend and fellow WoW addict, Lochrann of The Scryers realm, on ways I might pervert the actual game to satisfy my own ends. Since then I've enjoyed discussing Gweryc with all manner of people, including friends and guildmates, visitors to my blog, forum regulars. Gweryc may be my project, but I never wanted to run "Project Gweryc" just by myself – it was always meant to be a fun thing that multiple people could be a part of, or at least enjoy watching.
Have you pursued this kind of interest in other MMORPGs?
No, WoW is the first and only MMO I've really gotten into. I don't really think of myself as a gamer. I bought WoW because I'm a full-time single parent with limited opportunities to leave the house. I was lonely, but I couldn't drag a preschooler with me to the coffee shop at 9 p.m. By the time I approached WoW, it already had millions of subscribers, so I had high hopes that I'd be able to meet people and make friends in a game so populous.
Something I have done, though, was to pursue my interest in WoW in the real world. Based on my successes as a reseller in the Auction House, I wrote a tool called "Project Tauren" (lol, bull market) to find opportunities to do swing trading on the stock market. Anybody who's used Auctioneer Classic should recognize the interface design. I can't say I've pulled in thousands of gold – errr, dollars – with it, but it's been fun to play with and has actually made a profit.
What makes Gweryc more fun to play than, say, min/maxing an end-game raider or going full-throttle for an Arena ranking?
There's an ongoing study of MMORPG players, Nick Yee's Daedalus Project, that's identified three main reasons people play: achievement goals (advancement, game mechanics and competition), social goals (making friends, building relationships, teamwork), and immersion (exploring the game world, roleplaying, character customization, escapism). These elements aren't mutually exclusive. For example, a player interested in making friends might also enjoy dominating enemies in PvP.
I took the Daedalus Motivations Assessment survey and discovered that I have exceptionally high scores for the immersion and social components, but scored extremely low on achievement – with the unusual exception of a high score in achievement's "mechanics" subcategory. In other words, I like playing with friends, I like customizing my characters and I want to understand the numbers behind what I'm doing – but my understanding of the game doesn't translate into a desire to demonstrate superior combat prowess in PvP or exceptional progression through end-game raiding content.
This is why I find Gweryc specifically satisfying: he addresses all the things that interest me. He's certainly "customized" enough. I've had to exercise a decent amount of theorycrafting to fully exploit his potential. As the focus of an open project, he's inherently social. And when role-playing, I've got a decent enough story behind him that explains away his "alternative lifestyle" as a melee Hunter.
Let's get down to the real heart of the whole Gweryc concept: WoW as an avenue for meta-games. What does this mean to you?
I'm sure that for a lot of people, meta-games like collecting reputation or leveling up naked are a rewarding hobby, a rich icing on their already delicious MMO cake. In my specific case, it means that the core game that WoW presents fails to keep me enthralled on its own terms.
My main is a perfectly normal druid healer. Why shouldn't it be? Yee's motivations assessment shows that healers are apt to score, as I did, high on teamwork. But teamwork is merely a subcomponent of an overarching social motivation category, a gaming facet which, along with immersion, Blizzard thus far refuses to cater to on equal terms with achievement. The latest census data on WarcraftRealms.com shows that the least popular classes are, without exception, the ones capable of healing. If we extrapolate and say that, beyond teamwork, healers simply want to socialize – could it be that the game design itself, lacking rich avenues of fulfillment for social-centric players, simply fails to retain the kind of person that wants to play a healer?
I think there's evidence of this in the uniform cry that fills the LookingForGroup channel: "LF2M, need tank and healer." Like healers, tanks depend on a team to function, which means that, also like healers, players apt to be tanks will be less attracted to a game where socializing is neglected, and teamwork is often seen as a disagreeable necessity instead of a primary objective for play.
For example, there are taverns that players can socialize in, but there's no recurring Ladies' Night or Happy Hour to encourage players to come together regularly. There's no guild housing despite a persistent demand for it. Shattrath City segregates the player population by design, first by splitting players between Aldor and Scryer factions, and then again by its lack of class trainers and an Auction House, which ensures that players will be forced into a diaspora, scattered between random old-world capital cities.
Immersionists are left out in the cold, too. Functionality from combat mods like floating combat text and threat meters are finding official support, but roleplayers still can't give their characters a simple description or even a last name without third-party add-ons. My Draenei, exalted with Darnassus, has somehow managed to avoid learning Darnassian and so can't speak it for roleplay purposes. There are fun costumes, like the wedding dress and tuxedo, but there are no clothing stores where you can browse RP outfits. The neglect here is easy to see. Apart from a handful of additional rules regarding player behavior, RP servers are literally nothing more than regular servers with a couple of letters appended. And those rules aren't even proactively enforced; it takes an incident report to spur a response.
As it stands, WoW is designed to faithfully serve the recreational ambitions of only one subgroup of gamers: the achievers. The aocializers and immersionists are accepted but certainly not catered to. I'm sure that this alienates existing or potential players who are significantly motivated by things other than achievement goals. My own response was to redefine the game, so to speak, in terms of what I wanted to accomplish, and Gweryc has served me very well in that regard.
I'm not claiming that WoW is a bad game. In a way, it's a real credit to Blizzard and the flexibility of their flagship product that I can still find ways to thoroughly enjoy the game even when I've opted out of the activities that form its heart. But the fact remains, I have to find those things for myself.
What's your reaction when players tell you that you are "wrong" for choosing to play Gweryc in the way you do? Why do you think those players are so vehement?
I think the really violent reactions come from highly competitive players who can't reconcile themselves to the idea that I am, in essence, playing a different game than they are. They mistake my own meta-game of optimizing Hunter melee for fun as a serious effort at excelling as a melee Hunter on their own ambitious turf. In their view, I am playing wrong, and their very nature compels them to respond provocatively.
Thanks, but I know I'm not working with top-tier material! I've intentionally crippled my character, literally and figuratively. More to the point, I'm not trying to compete. I wanted to see how far I could take Gweryc on his own terms, according to the goals I set for him. Since those goals preclude raiding and strenuous PvP, it's immaterial whether or not Gweryc could succeed against elite competition. I'd never put him there anyway!
15 Minutes of Fame got lots of attention for our feature on Noor the pacifist, who is working toward level 70 without purposely killing anything. Some of the comments were quite critical of Noor: the label he chose for his character, the ruleset he chose to apply to himself, his participation in PvP. Why do you think there was such a firestorm of interest over his choices?
Noor's article garnered exactly the same type of responses as my "hay u gusy, I'm 70 nao lol" post on the WoW Hunter forums did: a near-perfect split between bewildered derision from achievement-centric players, and encouragement from immersion-centric players. Noor was even subjected to the same agonizingly pedantic arguments over definitions that I was. Where Noor was challenged on being a pacifist, I claimed to be "viable," in that I had achieved the goals I set for Gweryc. And that poor word was serially tortured as it was wrested from one argument's context and shoehorned into another, all for the sake of somehow proving that I – or at least Gweryc – was incompetent.
Noor suffered backlash for the same reason people like Gawde go out of their way to criticize me. Noor's project and mine both exploit game mechanics for the sake of their fundamental premise, which is actually rooted in role-playing and customization. But because we dabble in a subcomponent of the achievement crowd's territory, it draws their attention, and consequently, the ire of the griefer subculture that lives among them.
So what are Gweryc's rules of engagement? Does he never used ranged attacks, or how does that work?
In this case, "ranged" is a genuinely tricky word. The original idea behind Gweryc was to level a hunter to 70 without using any ranged attacks at all, including simple thrown weapons. After I took up Engineering to supplement my abilities, I had to make a choice about the luscious, stamina-laden Goblin Rocket Launcher. In the end, I compromised and accepted that one ranged tool into my arsenal, with the rationale that Paladins, the definitive you-can't-use-ranged-weapons class, could also use the Rocket Launcher if they took up Engineering. I'm still operating within the bounds of the project's spirit, which is to deny myself access to the staple ranged attacks that define the Hunter class specifically. Even in PvP, I refrain from using my Hunter's ranged attacks. I could technically get away with using a gun, since I wouldn't get skill points for it, but that would be cheating.
Can you walk us through your spec and how it works for you in practice?
I've worked with a couple different specs. My approach to PvE centers on the idea that a Hunter is just not designed to stay in melee, so I should invest heavily in stats and talents that increase my durability and longevity, even at the expense of DPS – that is, I should build myself like a tank. Even the points spent in Beast Mastery treat my pet wolf Cafall like a four-legged buff to my hunter more than a source of DPS. My friend Lochrann claims Gweryc fights like his paladin – slow to kill, slow to die. The jokes about my "Petribution spec" haven't gotten old yet.
PvP is a completely different story. I use a different pet – a high-DPS ravager named Prognathous – and a different spec, which my masterful 2v2 arena partner and fellow Hunter Beren helped me settle on. Improved Wing Clip and Entrapment keep players in melee range, where I want them, while numerous differences in the Beast Mastery tree work to support the PvP environment – I'd consider Bestial Swiftness and Bestial Wrath essential.
In your most recent blog post back in November, you noted that you were just getting into Arena PvP. How did all that turn out – are you still actively PvPing?
Several weeks ago, my computer suffered some significant hardware failures. I've only just gotten back online in the last few days, so no – I haven't been actively doing anything online in a good long while, Arena PvP included.
Before my laptop pulled a Chernobyl, Beren and I had done enough matches to net me a Vengeful Gladiator's Waraxe. We went 9-2 our first week, earning a 1600+ rating. A few close losses later on dipped us back down to just above 1500. We were certainly successful by my measure. We won some, we lost some – and that is one hell of an axe I've got now.
More importantly, I had a really good time getting to know Beren and in learning how combat in the Arena system is distinct from other types of PvP. I really have to respect the amount of improvisational strategy it takes; if you want to succeed in the Arena, you have to adapt quickly to overcome the unpredictable setup the opposing team presents. A melee Hunter, for example, is certainly an unpredictable foe. I make excellent bait. Melee classes seem to be generally surprised when I stand toe-to-toe with them, swapping blows, and I don't keel over or run away after taking a couple hits. The really smart ones figure it out and start kiting me. The rest die on Beren's arrows while they're trying to work it out.
Just to mention it, some of the wires inside my laptop are really, really tiny. Like, get-the-tweezers-out tiny. I don't ever want to open this thing again.
Dual-wielding remains a thorny consideration; I personally subscribe to the idea that I should carry the heaviest two-handed weapon I can get my hands on, to maximize my Raptor Strikes. Fellow melee Hunter Kakita Twinblade disagrees, as her name clearly suggests. In the end, it's really situational – what kinds of weapons are accessible to you, and how might they complement your individual fighting style? But most importantly, what's fun for you?
Apart from simple gear choice, my whole philosophy of tank life is arguably inefficient. Currently, I depend on having aggro to maximize my DPS. I need to dodge and parry, so I can execute Mongoose Bites and Counterattacks. But with a heavy BM build, I might do respectable damage against targets where I don't have aggro. The trade-off there is that I wouldn't feel like a melee Hunter anymore; I'd be a glorified pet handler.
Another way to approach things would be an agility-heavy dodge-tank build, which would have the advantage of concurrently providing damage mitigation and increased DPS. What's best? It's hard to say. Maybe one day I'll collect some agility gear from the Auction House and try out the dodge-tank model. But for now, I'm content enough with my performance.
Do you keep in touch with other players who pursue alternative character play styles, such as Noor the pacifist or Gutrot the naked warrior?
Noor and I have posted to each other's blogs, and I was particularly honored when Gutrot apparently dropped by my blog after having gotten wind of my post chronicling his much-celebrated ascendancy to level 70. None of us maintain any sort of regular contact, though.
What's ahead for Gweryc in the immediate months to come? Do you see him leveling up and moving through Wrath of the Lich King?
I have every intention of taking Gweryc through the next expansion. I'm keenly interested in the new Inscription. Just as Engineering gave Gweryc a lot more capability, I predict that Inscription will radically impact the way he works. Reducing the cooldown on Raptor Strike alone would have an amazing impact on my DPS.
And of course, confronting Arthas and the Scourge directly will be a major attraction for anybody interested in Warcraft's lore.
Any MMORPGs on the horizon that intrigue you?
At this point, I'm heavily invested in WoW specifically, and I only have enough time for one MMO. I'm interested in seeing what Warhammer does, given its special relationship to the Warcraft universe, but it would take something either inarguably superior or radically innovative to spur me into leaving WoW.
Know an interesting player you'd like to see profiled? E-mail us at 15minutesoffame AT wowinsider DOT com.