What is real?

I recently read a comment about “darker nights” being implemented in Legion, and it made me think about the whole idea of “reality” in MMOs, WoW in particular. When I read that Legion night times will be noticeably darker, I remembered a series of forum posts maybe a year ago where a great “dark” debate was raging.

Basically, the darkers were furious that the artificial WoW night times are not as dark and scary as, say their own suburban back yards or possibly their mom’s basement until she turns on the lights for them. (Can you tell which side of this I am on?) The daylighters were furious that it was always dark on their servers during the play time they had, and they would like to see a bright daytime environment once in a while, or at least not be subjected to intense darkness all the time.

In short, as is the case in forums, everyone was furious. Blizz eventually bowed a little to the darkers, making nights in some zones darker than they had been for a couple of expansions. As far as I could see, that ended that particular forum tempest. I was generally on the side of the daylighters, since most of my play time is in the evening/night on a server with the same time zone I live in, and it gets quite depressing to play a game when the environment is always dark. Not to mention, game darkness makes it harder to see quest items, road paths, and mobs. So I liked the semi-dark nights, more like evening light,  Blizz had implemented for most of the WoW world. But I can’t say my interest in the subject even came close to “furious”.

However, the point I am gradually circling around is that the main argument advanced by the darkers was that very dark nights were more “realistic.”

Think about that for a minute. This is a computer game where you can fly on mythical beasts, where you can ride giant chickens, where your character never needs to sleep or go to the dentist or pee and can run forever without stopping, where you launch impossible lethal magical spells at impossible monsters, where death is always just a temporary inconvenience, where you can teleport to various destinations, where — well you get the idea. In a game like this, people are complaining that part of it is not “realistic”??

This is an amazing mindset, but we all have it.

Virtual worlds all have their own set of rules, initially established by the game creators. Those rules define what is possible and what is not possible within the closed system. In other words, they establish baseline “reality” for the game world. We as players either accept these rules and play the game, or we don’t accept them and move on to some other pastime.

However, in complex games like WoW there are two factors that affect this artificial reality. First, the game is far too complicated to have rules governing every aspect of internal reality, and second, games evolve and change, which necessarily modifies — or in some cases completely reverses — parts of game reality.

It is in the space created by these two factors that players define for themselves what they demand as game reality. In my example of dark nights, this was something never well defined by the original baseline WoW reality, beyond the concept that there would be a graphical distinction between day and night and that the times for this would be diurnal server times. Additionally, it was something Blizz addressed as a change at one point, clarifying the concept of “darkness” and opting for player convenience (being able to see game features during times of server darkness).

Since the concept of darkness had not originally been clearly addressed in the game, players defined their own darkness reality. When it was later clarified and slightly altered, darkers became irate because that change clashed with what they had established in their own minds as game reality, whereas daylighters were fine because they had accepted the modified rule/reality as part of the closed system. It is absolutely certain that a Legion change to return to much darker nights will cause darkers to rejoice because they view it as a return to reality, whereas daylighters will complain because they view it as an unjustified abrogation of established operating rules.

Many of the great debates in this game, I think, boil down to what each player has built up in their own mind as game reality. Sometimes they have filled in gaps not well addressed by the game, and sometimes they have accepted as immutable certain “realities” of the game. If suddenly Blizz decides to address some of these vaguely-defined realities and if they conflict with what players have built up in their minds, then there will be complaints. Similarly, if Blizz decides to alter what players have perceived as unalterable game reality,  there will be complaints.

There are two sets of realities in WoW — what the game designers have laid out, and what each player has built up in their own mind. So when people complain about a certain feature not being “realistic”, I see where they are coming from. I do wish, though, that they would understand that the concept of realism in this game is entirely subjective, not some unalterable fact.

I know that I have a pretty fixed set of game realities in my own mind, and many if not most of my rants are the result of Blizz doing something to destroy them. If I step outside of the system I can see what is going on and usually can be more objective about it. I rarely do this, though, probably because for me the essence of the game is that it is an internalized fantasy, and any destruction of my own “fantasy reality” requires a major mental adjustment.

If I am honest, that is the root of my unease with Legion changes to the entire hunter class. Over the years, since Blizz never really addressed the game reality of hunters other than in a mechanical way (talents and shots and such), I built up my own hunter reality to fill the gap. For me, the reality was that hunters are defined as very mobile ranged physical damage dealers with a highly-tuned affinity for a wide range of natural pets. But now Blizz has decided to clearly define the hunter fantasy, and it conflicts mightily with the one I built up in my own mind. Thus, to me the hunter changes are not “realistic” in terms of what a hunter is.

What about you, have you built up some game realities in your own head that Blizz might shatter?

Admin comment: A combination of two broken fingers (don’t ask) and the demands of an impending major holiday means I will take a pseudo-break from writing and cut back to 2-3  posts a week instead of my usual 4-5. I’ll resume my usual schedule probably the second week of January 2016.

About Fiannor
I have a day job but escape by playing WoW. I love playing a hunter, and my Lake Wobegonian goal is to become "above average" at it.

6 Responses to What is real?

  1. I am of the opinion that a game needs to choose: either use an accelerated day/night like GTA or go with real time BUT accurately portray the time. There is no need to even have night if it never gets dark! Just make it day all the time like some games already do. I don’t mean pitch black but I, as a night person, have tuned my body to my schedule and I actually DONT want to see light in my game if it is night outside IF the game claims to run in real time. Real night outside=real night in game. I actually like real time and pick my playtimes to suit my mood. Saturday morning in my game IS Saturday morning in life. Prowling late at night on Tuesday should feel like late night!! It actually enhances the immersion for me a great deal. All just my personal opinion/taste and one size doesn’t fit all. Maybe some option for light (to a certain extent) should be there client side? Let us nighters stumble around in the dark if we like!

    • Fiannor says:

      Yes, I agree there is something slightly jarring when you have a game where it is bright and sunny and outside your window it is dark, and there is something attractive about, as you say, Saturday morning in game = Saturday morning in life. On the other hand, I have a lot of empathy for players who only get a chance to play at night — it just gets very depressing for many people if they are always playing in the dark and gloom. Not to mention it is slightly more difficult to play when the environment is very dark. (One option in that case might be to switch servers, but that is usually not a realistic choice if you have a lot of alts and friends on your server.)

      I think there are several things Blizz could do to satisfy both groups. You have pointed out a couple — use an accelerated day/night cycle is one, and some sort of “darker nights” system toggle in the game is another. I am happy with things as they are now, and honestly I think a toggle in Legion would be the best choice, which would allow people like me to keep the current day/night graphics. Also, such a toggle would enhance accessibility for those with sight disabilities.

  2. gnomecore says:

    I happen to play for half an hour in the morning before work (mostly doing Garrison stuff), but my intense and proper gaming normally starts at 10 p.m. or so. I don’t see much of the daylight in-game, and it’s pretty sad. Maybe it even affects the players, like saying: hey, it’s nightime in game, everyone should get their sleep, and maybe you too?

    Moreover, it’s always dark in several zones, starting with Shadowmoon. Day/night change makes sense at bright and colorful zones, like Gorgrond or Nagrand or Talador, it really makes some difference. But in Shadowmoon it’s not even noticed and in Frostfire Ridge it’s outright depressing.

    I would like an option to tune the brightness/darkness.
    Tuning your own time of the day maybe complex for programming, but it will add so much for roleplay and psychological comfort. Imagine you login at 9 p.m. but your character is just “awaken in the morning”, so you set you “sun” for 8 a.m. How cool is that?

    • Fiannor says:

      I agree with the tuning option suggestion. It would be very cool to set your own time of day, but that is probably too complex to expect. I would settle for the current setup, with the new Legion “darker dark” setup being an option you could toggle in your interface or system settings.

  3. Kristy says:

    In Legion, what do ya think about Beast Mastery? Looking forward to FINALLY having alot of pets out at once? Thank you!

    • Fiannor says:

      Well, I really REALLY hope BM is fun and balanced in Legion, since if it is not, I doubt if I will be playing a hunter as my main. There have been a couple of very early analyses of the spec, I think mostly based thus far on theory analysis of the talents and spell book. What I have gleaned from them is that right now it looks like it could end up frequently focus-starved, and that it seems extremely dependent on RNG for much of its damage numbers. However, it is very early in the development process, so basically we don’t know yet.

      I have never really played BM seriously. I leveled as MM, then in Cata switched to SV and loved it. I always kept a BM off spec, though, mainly for the exotic and spirit beast pets, although I collected them to provide raid utility, I am not really an avid pet collector (except for Wolves). I tried to keep decent proficiency on it, but for me the spec felt like it lacked the depth and complexity that SV and MM had. But in Legion I feel like it will be the only remaining spec that has any chance to keep what I think of as the hunter “feel”.

      So, like you, I am really looking forward to the reports of the beta testers on it.

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