Ready Check: Casual meets hardcore

Ready Check is a weekly column focusing on successful raiding for the serious raider. Hardcore or casual, Archavon or Algalon, everyone can get in on the action and down some bosses. This week, I attempt to find common ground with a casual player who's never raided and doesn't want to.

This weekend, I spent several hours talking shop with a woman who, as well as being a casual player, also has the unfortunate privilege of having given birth to me some time previously. As well as being my mum, Lynn is a gamer, and a few years ago I managed to lure her away from Guild Wars -- where she never got past level 10 -- to WoW. She now plays a level 80 enhancement shaman, as well as uncountably many alts (far more than me, and I'm an altoholic).

However, she's very cautious about group play. She socialises with her guild and has run the odd 5-man dungeon, but doesn't really understand the scene beyond that. Despite playing more than enough hours to join a raiding guild, she hasn't, and with raiding now very much accessible to all, I was curious why.

My mother isn't really a hardcore casual, despite her long playtimes (I've logged on at 5am to see her still questing). At risk of cutting myself from any future Christmas presents, I'll go as far as to say she's almost the opposite. With little desire to understand the game and, instead, a much larger desire to just whack and zap stuff -- and tosh to the consequences -- she got to level 80 with more or less permanent res sickness, and plenty of help 'sorting out her buttons' whenever our paths crossed.

Her playstyle is a strange mix of 'do whatever you want' carelessness and in-depth knowledge on certain areas. She was an expert on the Isle of Quel'Danas dailies and is a champion herbalist, for example. But her gaming lacks a quality I would want to see in my raiders -- an ability to see the big picture, to understand what's going on around her and how she fits into that. Having shied away from group play, she's simply never worked out how her character can team up with others for mutual benefit.

This is a large reason of why she doesn't raid. Her allergy to 5-mans stems from multiple factors: fear of being incompetent and letting the group down; avoidance of the unknown, as she cannot refer to a questhelper addon while in the party; not wanting to be a nuisance and bother the people around her because she doesn't know what to do; and having no desire to experience the content and rewards contained within instances.

"I'm not good enough"

There are two ways that ignorance and incompetence stop people like my mum ever getting into 5-man and raid content. First is ignorance about what to actually do in a multiplayer situation. At the fundamental level it's things like do I tank, heal or DPS? (And, before that, learning what those words and roles really mean). It's also about trusting other players. I remember when I was a lot newer to the game, playing a feral druid as I still do, occasionally shifting to heal - until the healers I ran with took time to explain that actually, they had the situation well in hand.

I still see players doing this, and there are obviously situations where you *can* and should help, but the level to which a novice hybrid does it -- to which I did it -- was excessive. Similarly, I've seen players step in to 'tank' when I had everything under control, causing wasted taunt cooldowns and the like. (I'm also guilty of this.) This only goes to show it's hard to know what your role even is at times, and if you're used to soloing as a hybrid, it can be hard to stick to one role.

So, I explained to my mother what she would be doing in a typical 5-man as an enhancement shaman. Hitting stuff. Putting totems down. Casting Heroism during boss fights.

"Boss fights?"

"The really hard enemies that take quite a while to die. There's often just one of them at a time, and they have special moves..."

"How do you know what they all do?"

"Ah... you fight them and see, or someone explains it to you."

Oh dear. Already we're in a little bit of trouble. As someone accustomed to 5-mans or raids, the idea of a boss fight is something I really struggled to explain. Perhaps that's how it should be, though; something figured out by experimentation. How dull a game it would become if we expected a list of precise instructions before every fight! By playing with those who don't mind if we do something a bit stupid (as long as we don't make a habit of it), it's far easier to just go with the flow.

Instructions Not Included

And that's where the QuestHelper mentality that has driven my mother to 80 fails. She does have an intuitive grasp of many concepts, but when it comes to game strategy, she blindly follows arrows, hits stuff, follows arrows back, and turns in. This isn't really great preparation for group play, and neither's avoiding end-of-quest-line showdowns with elites (she generally tries to solo them a few times, fails, then gives up).

How to bridge this with the on-the-fly reactions of raiding? Firstly, guides. Pointing her to the existence of columns, guides, videos and other step-by-step explanations of the first few fights in Naxx, the reaction was "that all looks horribly complicated, I'll never remember it all".

So our next tactic was some rules. "Always go behind the baddie to hit it." "If you see something that looks like fire.. you should probably move." "If the boss is moving then you probably need to run to keep hitting it." (Never mind "how do I press arrow keys and numbers at the same time?") Again, I really struggled here. I didn't dare get into details of DPS rotations, totem placement, which spell to use on Maelstrom procs and when to use on-use trinkets. All that can come later.

Combining these with some simplified fight explanations tailored to her spec seemed to work, and this is pretty much what her guildies will tell her when she joins the first raid. "He's going to fly away and some skeletons will come, you need to hit those until he comes back, then go back to hitting him." Easy enough to grasp, and if you take it one fight at a time, it becomes manageable. It's the sheer thought of everything at once that makes one panic.

Why should I bother?

The biggest barrier to raiding for someone like my mother, though, is motivation. She claims time, but I know full well she can make Sunday evening raids with her guild. (Although her priorities, such as perhaps wanting an early night, or having to put the washing on, might cause difficulties when the entire raid is waiting for her to come back.)

Loot, achievements and other 'tangible' rewards are very strong motivators for most of us who raid. Although the experience, and the social aspect, are great too, I wonder how many people would stop raiding if loot stopped dropping. After all, part of the joy of a new kill is access to new shinies that nobody else has.

This may be my capitalist and materialist side showing through; I know people who simply raid for the experience, of course. But to be honest, many hardcore raiders have people in their guilds they don't really like, and why keep playing with these people if there wasn't some other reward involved?

(Explaining this concept to my mother over tea, I ended up drawing out a long and complicated workplace analogy based on Sharon from accounts. I recommend this approach, although "why anyone would want a second job when they've got one already I don't know".)

It's odd, but when you look at it objectively, she simply does not want new loot. In fact, it almost scares her a little; she likes getting upgrades to some extent, but agonises over whether item X is better than item Y, as well as confusing vital stats and equipping entirely the wrong items. The idea of getting full tier 8 or even more than a couple of epics is alien, especially when I start explaining loot systems. Fair enough. We don't all play for the purpz.

Common ground

I guess the moral of the long, drawn-out, painful conversations I have had with this non-hardcore casual have taught me one thing. The generation gap, whether it be between hardcore raider and solo quester, baby boomer and Gen X, or age and treachery versus youth and skill, means we'll never quite understand each other.

For someone happy in their own questing and socialising world, the idea of giving up countless hours a week to spend valuable gold and time with people you don't necessarily like is as alien as the reverse is to people aiming for world firsts. One thing's for certain, though; transferring away from her server was the best thing I ever did.