MMO Theorycrafting – The Masquerade.

I used to theorycraft.

Some may know of this, some may not, but here’s my take on it – as Rogue101, I enjoyed discussing the quirks of the rogue class – an underplayed class in World of Warcraft to be sure. Many of my comments – and ideas – were fiercely contested by a site that parades as Elitist Jerks (couldn’t really be more accurate), who eventually launched an all-out attack to defend their way as “The Right Way”.

Now, let’s break this own because I’ve been playing DC Universe for a few weeks and have spotted the exact same problem – a small group of top-end players dictating down to the masses about how to play. I mean, who the hell do these people think they are, The Conservative Party? 😛

And it’s common everywhere – from Final Fantasy XIV (a game that was supposed to give you choice), to Rift (again, a game grounded in choice) to Age of Conan (Same), Champions Online (Once again), DDO (Yup)…

Question is this – when you pose to the community a wide selection of choice of how to build their character – why would the userbase suddenly limit themselves?

This is something that has concerned me, because I generally always out-performed DPS simulators in WoW – and that is that for all the offering of choice, these theorycrafters are telling us what to choose – therefore the choice is gone. There is no explorative intelligent conversation. No debate. No real mindset to be open to the possibilities that somehow, maybe someone has found a better way around things.

Never more evident in my WoW career than arguing over Revealing Strike. I not only found opening with Revealing Strike to be more natural in a rotation than closing at 4 points every four or five rotations, but it increases overall DPS. Likewise, I found dropping Rupture completely in Combat to be a DPS boost, because it’s a useless ability for that spec, providing no discernible benefit for the combo point investment.

This wound many people up, many fans of Elitist Jerks and some of their own users. How dare I question their rotation advice! How dare I find something more natural and sensible than their way!

Thing is though – I’d been playing for six years, and had been playing a Rogue for the majority of that time. I wouldn’t have challenged them had I not believed that I was right (and a lot of people on the official forums were quite supportive – they totally agreed and said they had noticed a DPS boost from it).

By the time you hit level 30, 50, 75 or 150 – dependent on your game – you should have covered the basics of your class. If you need to check sites for anything, it should be stat caps on essentials like hit, crit, haste, wisdom, energy etc. From there, a player should – logically – be able to formulate their own rotation. Their own spec. Their own ways of doing things. You’ve had the chance to get to grips with it, now work the intermediate level.

By having people hold your hand through this, you’re only learning in much the same way you learn at GCSE level. You are taught a narrow spectrum of information designed to make sure you pass in a set way. You are not allowed, the curriculum does not allow, for children to career off into the complexities of poetry, or the depth of Shakespeare. You are drilled with certain trigger phrases and as long as you fill that quotient, then congratulations. You have passed.

MMOs have become places where the illusion of choice is so paper thin you can see the evil tentacles of doom beneath its translucent surface. Where a tiny portion of players – even in some cases one player – can influence the course of a game (I will admit, my initial tank build in Champions Online was so successful that it was copied endlessly, much to my bemusement and annoyance). Not only do they influence players, but they constantly push the developers to be sneaky, to tone certain things down when they’re used to breaking point – or remove totally fine mechanics altogether because some people don’t see their use.

And it’s just kind of depressing, you know? Leaving World of Warcraft behind was a tough decision, but it had become a game where you towed a line, a very defined line, and everyone had to follow it to the letter – even if you were able to outperform the calculations, players would consider that cheating or hacking or doing something against the game.

What I discovered, far too late in my case, is that removing player learning and choice is against the very nature of an MMO – and it is only when you deviate from the path and explore the possibilities available to everyone that you truly see the beauty and nature of what the developers intended.

And it shouldn’t be this way really, I am as much guilty as anyone else of this of course, so this is kind of silly to complain. I just don’t see why we parade theorycrafting around as fact – the operative word in theorycrafting is THEORY. And a sensible, intelligent player with a good grasp of the game mechanics will always, always find a better, faster and stronger methodology than ANY theorycrafter – we lock ourselves into our own methodology so much so often that we cannot escape, even when proven that something else works better. Even if the player doesn’t – they may find our rotations and annotations too complex, or too difficult, and so they may lost 5% damage dropping something – but it will still be an improvement for them.

We lose sight far too often that not everyone wants to do heroic modes, or the drive to push themselves. Some people may want to have some fun, have a laugh and a joke and do some quests, maybe some dungeons/instances and maybe a raid or two for giggles. Some may be casual PVP fans. The playerbase is so diverse, and diversifying even moreso now, so quickly that theorycrafting gets ignored, and people just enjoy themselves – some need to be carried, others will flourish.

What I am getting at is that rather than seeing developers and theorycrafters continue this sad little game of cat and mouse by setting one “right” way, why not give more options and let the players decide?

It is in this that I hope the likes of Star Wars: The Old Republic and Guild Wars 2 can hopefully break this morbid leeching of choice from players – games with more diversity in its choice and freedom to explore and express yourself.

That said, I fear – like every other MMO – a small group will burn through the content and their own unique ways will be filtered down to the masses as the only way to play.

I’m fairly sure that’s ironic, I can see Alanis Morissette warming up, so I’ll get off my soapbox now and let her belt out a tune or two. Just think about it – theorycrafters lock themselves so often into boxes and even when presented with reasonable evidence to the contrary, are so often committed to their line that they will defend it – aggressively if need be – just so they can be right.

That’s a very sad way to live. And even sadder that we follow these people – but c’est la vie. The genie does seem to be out of the bottle, and if anything has been proven, is that players are either (a) easily duped into believing they have a choice or (b) actually really don’t want choice.

What’s most depressing is that I fear the answer to that may be (b)…

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