That one guy

Short post today, because to be honest there is almost zero going on in WoW until the main part of Blizzcon starts.

Today’s topic has to do with how to deal with “That One Guy” in your guild or raid team that drives you up a wall. You know the one. The guy (generic gender usage here) that insists on inserting himself into every conversation, that lets you know how insulted he is that he was not asked to join your instance group, that gets Terribly Hurt Feelings when told his damage numbers (below the tank’s in spite of very decent gear level) need to improve, that takes umbrage when asked to not make extraneous comments during combat in the raid voice channel, that feels slighted if lots of people do not LOL to his “witty” comments in gchat or any of the dozens of cat videos he spams the guild Discord channel with. He natters on for weeks before his birthday about how he doesn’t want anyone to make a fuss over it, he continually whines to everyone about his constant “migraines” or his mysterious sicknesses or perpetual tiredness and uses them as an excuse for snarky behavior. He is a professional victim of constant misunderstanding. He uses every gchat or voice channel comment as a springboard to “prove” his intellectual depth and knowledge. You know the guy. His picture is posted in the dictionary under “passive-aggressive”.

Usually if we think about it, the problem is not so much with That Guy as it is with our own response to him — lots of different kinds of people in this world, and we all have to learn how to deal with them in a civilized fashion, sooner or later. We need to adopt a mature, reasoned approach to the problem. We should be compassionate and allow for the possibility that maybe he has a real psychological problem. (Although we are not sure if there is a medical term for Compulsive Asshat Syndrome.)

But deep down what we are really thinking is, “I want to fling a mud pie in that guy’s face!”

Every time I have run into this situation — and it has not been often in my time in WoW — I feel like every solution is unsatisfactory. That Guy is so pervasive that it is virtually impossible to just not pay attention to him, he is the virtual equivalent of always in your face. Putting him on /ignore in gchat works to an extent, but there is the nagging feeling that you should not have to do that with a fellow guildie, that we should all be adults and just politely get along. Putting him on Local Mute in Mumble — or some equivalent — is possible, but you run the risk of wiping the raid because he might actually say something important to execution. Unlikely, but possible.

Responding to him — taking the bait — is not going to accomplish anything other than a drama situation for the guild, which is even worse than suffering this fool. Complaining about him to a guild officer or the GM just paints you as a whiny snowflake — they may actually feel the same way about him, but if he walks a careful line and does not technically break any guild rules, they would appear arbitrary if they kick him, and that perception is not good for a guild in the long run. (Although one wishes it were possible to establish an objective Jerk standard and anyone who met it could clearly be kicked …)

So there really are no good solutions. Unfortunately, the continued existence of That Guy can have subtle effects on a guild — we may decide to no longer log in on Wednesday and Friday nights, for example, because we know that is his prime game time. We start to think up excuses to call out on raid nights. We politely decline Mythic+ invitations if we know he will be one of the group. Et cetera. Over time, one person can in fact contribute to a guild’s decline, even in the absence of overt drama. The situation can be insidiously damaging.

Luckily, these situations often self-correct — That Guy decides he is not sufficiently appreciated and leaves the guild, or he initiates an obvious drama situation that causes him to be kicked. Still, it is uncomfortable until that happens.

Meanwhile, I think I may have a conflict with next week’s raid ….

A plea to Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas

WARNING: Entering rant zone. Please drive carefully.

Okay. Today’s rant topic is one I have covered before, but last night it just hit a tipping point for me. To put it as delicately and politely as I can:

BLIZZ, YOU HAVE ROYALLY FUCKED UP GEAR IN LEGION!

What pushed me over the edge last night was getting two pieces of nice 930 level gear that in one case was a 20-level upgrade and in the other was a 35-level upgrade to what I had equipped. Except they were not, in fact “upgrades”, since I am unable to equip them. Doing so would require me to break up my delicately-balanced tier19/tier20 combo, the result of which — according to the supercomputers we now have to use to evaluate gear values — would be a net decrease of approximately 40k dps.

It gets worse. I actually have a beautiful 6-piece set of tier20 gear, which in theory would allow me to run a sought-after 2pc/4pc combo. Nope, can’t do it, since once again that would result in a significant damage loss over keeping my 895-level 2 pieces of tier19.

It gets even worse. I have some very nice, highly-valued BM legendaries all of which I have upgraded to 970. But for the most part I cannot use them because doing so would mean insufficient slots for my required 6 pieces of tier19/tier20 gear. The only one of value that I can use is the BM belt, only because — thank the Old Gods — there are no tier pieces for that slot. This means I am pretty much stuck with using legendary wrists, Kil’jaeden’s Burning Wish, or Sephuz as my second piece. It turns out that Sephuz is the hands-down winner in terms of theoretical damage levels, KBW is a close second, and the wrists are quite a bit lower (plus I have never been lucky enough to snag the trinket that makes them really work, thus they are kind of “meh” for me). I tried Sephuz last night but found that the practical disruption to rotation necessary in order to maximize its procs was causing me to lose more dps than I could theoretically gain, so I switched to KBW and my damage immediately went up noticeably.

It gets still worse. Because of the huge role secondary stats play especially when they are intertwined with various talent builds and artifact relics, any new piece of gear must be evaluated not only for itself but for the pluses or minuses it brings to your current talent/relic setup. This means that you must consider changing your talents and relics in order to take advantage of a potential upgrade in gear.

For example, I run what Bendak calls a “Stomp” build for my BM hunter. This is a build that takes advantage of relatively high levels of crit — not normally a top stat for BM hunters, but it becomes significant if you are running the Stomp build. (I only happened to get a lot of crit because of the random nature of secondary stats, I did not set out to stack it on purpose.) But it is likely this build will be less powerful if I get a couple of pieces of gear with less crit, thus I need to evaluate them not only for the talents I am running, but for a possibly completely different talent build. In which case, other legendaries and/or tier combos might be significantly better.

It has gotten to the point where even the sophisticated simulations are of marginal value. I used to use a simple gear-evaluator (Pawn) addon based on optimal stat weights for your character. That is now useless, since it (by design) only compares gear for a single slot, not in combination with for example tier that gives bonuses. Thus, nearly every piece of gear in my bag is considered an upgrade, because of course a 930 cape is better by far than a 900 one. Except it is not, because the 900 one is part of a tier set.

Not only sim-based addons, but the simulation software itself is insufficient for most people in evaluating gear. This is because most people — even if they understand how to set up SimulationCraft on their own computers or plug in a set of gear and talents to one of the web sites — simply do not have enough time or expertise to methodically compare all the complex factors. Thus, the newest simulation helper is something called SimPermut, an addon that allows you to generate multiple combos of your gear and compare them. It also allows you to run talent and relic comparisons. What it does is generate a script that you can then use to run in Advanced mode on the website Raidbots.com. (If you want to get started, check out this IcyVeins tutorial — it is aimed at hunters but the technique can be used for any class.)

(Remember the days when you could just plant yourself in front of a target dummy and test out a couple variations of talents or gear? HAHAHAHA! We were so innocent then!)

See, here’s the thing:

WHY DO WE NEED A BANK OF HIGH POWERED COMPUTERS AND SOPHISTICATED VARIABLE SCRIPTS TO DECIDE IF A PIECE OF GEAR IS AN UPGRADE FOR US?

Come on, Blizz, pull your collective head out of your collective ass and look around! Really look at what you have done with gear in Legion and admit that this Rube Goldberg setup is just not sustainable. Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas is fond of lecturing us about what is and is not fun™ when it comes to gear, and one of his themes has been that when you get a new piece of gear you should be able to equip it immediately, not have to do that nasty reforging “math” or always have to have a gem or enchant for it. Well, guess what?

Getting a 30-level upgrade that makes your dps lower if you equip it is not fun™. Having to rearrange every piece of gear you are wearing just to accommodate a new piece is not fun™. Having to hang on to last-tier gear because Blizz fucked up the tier bonuses is not fun™. Having to run supercomputer simulations for every conceivable combination of gear/talents/relics is not fun™. 

Mr. Game Director Hazzikostas, I implore you, fix this gear mess!

This is why we can’t have nice things

Today’s topic is incredibly minor, but it set me off on a thought train that kind of surprised me. Blizz recently changed its forum policy by removing the downvote option on forum comments. The main reason(s), according to CM Ornyx:

We originally added this feature as a means for players to assist with forum moderation by upvoting helpful posts and downvoting inappropriate or toxic posts. In practice, however, we found that it was primarily being used for things like downvoting a post simply because they disagreed with it, which was not the intent, and too often led to different opinions getting unfairly buried. Moving to an upvotes-only environment will remove this unintended abuse, while still allowing players to give recognition to posts that have a positive impact on the World of Warcraft community.

The ability to troll threads with downvotes, or downvoting for the sake of disagreement was the prime reason for removal here, and it nay (sic) make some increase in workload on the moderation side, but nothing we can’t handle.

For example, if a Paladin posts in the Paladin class forum about something the ‘general’ Paladin community doesn’t feel is important, they were just downvoted to oblivion, often with no context. We’d much rather people engage in meaningful conversation with each other to convey those kind of things, and, even if they don’t, the poster of the thread doesn’t feel worthless for posting a thread that ended up with -70 votes for no reason.

(In response to comment that “And now if there’s not a lot of likes then it’s still not popular?”)

I think your concern is how do we know x is popular versus y and z (wheras x may be a disagreement about game design and y may be a thread about Illidan lore). Things will be compared on the bigger picture now instead of thread by thread, which is how we’ve been doing it for a long, long time to be honest.

Predictably, this policy change caused howls of anguished protests from the forum crowd as well as expressions of gratitude for finally making the change. Many of the protests were along the lines of:

  • If you didn’t want us to downvote something because we disliked the idea, why did you label the button “Dislike”?
  • How else can we get the attention of the moderators when someone posts something really troll-y or downright disgusting?
  • Downvoting is efficient shorthand that expresses a valid opinion without clogging up the forums with “I disagree” comments.
  • Removing the button will turn the forums into a phony love-fest where everyone “likes” and no one “dislikes”.

Most of the comments in favor centered on one of two opinions:

  • The dislike button was being used mainly by trolls or haters, thus the original reason for putting it there had been abused.
  • Removing the button would serve to civilize the forums, making people actually express their disagreements non-anonymously and in somewhat logical fashion rather than as a visceral shortcut.

Also, there were a number of comments that advocated removing the “Like” button also, making people actually comment one way or the other if they agreed/disagreed with the post.

As I said at the start, this is incredibly minor in the big picture of things. I don’t think I have ever used the dislike button in a forum post and am pretty sure I will not miss it at all. If I agree with any of the reactions, it is with the “get rid of all the buttons” one. But here’s the interesting thing about the policy change — Blizz changed it because they felt it was being used as a social weapon rather than as an expression of opinion. Think about that for a minute.

I happen to think Blizz was right in their assessment, although I am not sure removing one button will do much to fix the underlying problem of the weaponization of social media. The WoW example that sticks out in my mind is the gang-like behavior of a group of warlock thugs last September when they commandeered forums — even non-warlock ones — and spammed Twitch and generally bullied the entire community because they were unhappy. This was a well-orchestrated mass tantrum designed not to express legitimate opinions and grievances but rather to employ standard toddler tactics of making everyone else miserable because they were not getting their way. They turned WoW feedback mechanisms into a weapon of mass destruction. And this is certainly not the only example of the scum elements of society abusing social media, even in the microcosm of WoW. Think about the troll gangs that used to rule trade chat.

Blizz, like the rest of us, is generally powerless to stem this tide of social vitriol, of meanness just for the sake of meanness, of dehumanizing incivility. But lately they are doing what they can, in their corner of the virtual world, to remove some of the tools that enable bile-spewing bottom feeders to do their thing. I am disheartened by the fact that a dislike button became a weapon rather than an efficient way to communicate, but if removing it makes it more difficult for the knuckle-draggers of social media to pursue their despicable goals, then I say go for it.

Still, it’s a net loss when a decent idea has to be retracted because people purposely abuse it. It’s like having to put an ugly plastic cover on your couch because the teenagers in your family decide it is fun to jump on it with muddy shoes — the real solution would be to teach them some manners, but if they refuse to comply and you have lost control over them, covering the couch is the only remedy you have.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

WoW as a personality mirror

Yesterday, according to MMO-C reporting, there was a dev pseudo-interview about raid and encounter design. I did not know about it in advance, and I would not have watched it even if I had known. If you are interested in it you can read the crib notes here. I would say you can also watch the video but apparently some of it is “proprietary” so not available unless you go to the Snotbag Slootbag Twitch account. I am only guessing about this, as I was not interested enough to track it down.

You may have surmised I am not a big fan of Slootbag, and you would surmise correctly. I do not know the guy personally, I only know my impressions of his public persona. He may be a fantastic human being in person, but in my opinion he presents the public image of a supercilious, slick, weaselly, chiseler out to advance his own name at any cost, to get all he can while the gettin’ is good. The “interview” yesterday was less about getting encounter design info out than it was about Slootbag tooting his horn about how connected he is and what a fantastic interviewer he is, not to mention what a great raider and gifted player he is. He has been a part of a slimy world-first guild that looked the other way while he and others almost certainly crossed the line in their game play. So, yeah, I am not a fan, but that is neither here nor there. I suspect he is not a fan of mine, either, if he even knows much less cares that I exist. Trashing him is not the focus of this post, but his public persona serves as a jumping off point for my real focus.

I have a theory that you are who you are in WoW. I know there is another point of view — that WoW and similar games are where people try out alternate personas and experiment with psyches that may be the polar opposite of who they are in real life. I suppose some of that happens from time to time, but I think over the long run such pretense is very hard to maintain, and people revert to their real selves even in their avatars.

I think the anonymity of MMOs encourages the real core personality to emerge. You are free from normal social restrictions on behavior, and you act according to your own internal morality code. If that code is based on empathy, kindness, trustworthiness, honor, etc., then that is how you interact with others in the virtual world. On the other hand, if your core morality is based on personal resentment, unfettered ego, greed, or other less attractive human qualities, then that, too, is what emerges in your online persona. Virtual anonymity assures us that no one will report our behavior to our parents or our significant others or our close friends, so we are completely free to be exactly the person we are with no fear of censure from those we care about. It is at once liberating and frightening.

WoW is a microcosm of this greater virtual uninhibited world. You see true unfettered behavior in activities like trade chat, pugs, LFR, and chance world or quest encounters. Some players prey on the weak, others go out of their way to help. Interestingly, I think guilds tend to moderate this Lord of the Flies behavior, because they add a certain amount of social accountability back into the equation. You are no longer completely independent of organized society — you are held to some standard of behavior codified by the guild, and you know there is a chance that if you violate this standard you will be held accountable for it. In other words, guild membership establishes a kind of non-anonymity in an otherwise anonymous virtual world, and some of the social restrictions of the real world start to apply.

I am someone who wants to believe most people are good at their core, that given a chance they will nearly always try to do right by their fellow human. Sadly, I am coming around more and more to the realization that a sizeable number of people will only behave honorably if there is a punishment for not doing so. In the real world, that punishment is frequently social or family censure, but it is also more concrete reactions like a guaranteed punch in the nose or legal punishments or losing one’s job.

In WoW, this was driven home to me with Blizz’s fairly recent reaction to the toxicity of trade chat. Left alone, that channel became a cesspool of spewed hatred, vile language, and implied threats of extreme violence. It was run by bullies and trolls, and they stomped down anyone daring to speak up against them. Then about a year ago or so, Blizz announced they were implementing a system of immediate and graduated bans for reported bad behavior in the game, including in chat. And they followed through. Miraculously, trade chat improved almost overnight. This is a good thing, but it is sad that it only happened because suddenly there was actual punishment for bad behavior. It does not give one great faith in the innate goodness of humanity.

So, even though it depresses me a little, I still think you are who you are in WoW. And if you are the self-aware, introspective type, that can help you to become a better person, to see yourself as others see you. When I look at my WoW characters and how they interact with other players, I see someone who basically would never cheat others or berate them for their play style or gear, someone who is happy to give mats and crafted items to guildies and donate to the guild bank, someone who can be relied on to show up for raids on time and be prepared, someone who values her word and would never go back on it. Someone you can trust. That is really who I am. But I also see someone who can be snippy and snarky, who has a quick temper, who lacks confidence, and who frequently obsesses over imperfections in the game. That is also who I really am. A mixed picture, but a picture nonetheless, and one I can use to improve myself.

And now, I will further improve myself by enjoying a beer on the front porch and starting my weekend. You enjoy yours.

Doing the right thing

Some poetry for you to contemplate while you go about your weekend:

The Listeners 
BY WALTER DE LA MARE
‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grasses
Of the forest’s ferny floor:
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
‘Is there anybody there?’ he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
’Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:—
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

You will forgive me, I hope, for waxing philosophical today. There is not much going on in Blizzland, at least not much I can find worth writing about. Patch 7.1.5 has been around long enough for the initial excitement to have passed. Patch 7.2 is weeks away. We know it is too soon to even think about the next expansion. We know Legion is what it is. Those of us still playing the game have decided its positives outweigh its negatives, even if some of the negatives are significant.

The poem I quoted above is one that I learned as a child, read to me long before I could read the words myself. It was the last poem in a children’s story book of nursery rhymes, and I was entranced by both the imagery it evoked and the moral code it taught. I still am.

Over the last few months I have noticed a remarkable change in Trade Chat in WoW, at least on my server. A year ago, it was filled with some of the most vile and disgusting behavior you can imagine. Trolls and spammers were rampant, and anyone daring to actually be civil was hooted down, called horrible names, and treated to thinly-veiled threats. It was Lord of the Flies every night. Then, early last July, Blizz implemented its new set of “silence penalties” for toxic players, and the difference was immediately noticeable. After nearly 7 months, I am ready to call this Blizz action an unqualified success. In my opinion, it is one of the greatest improvements ever made to the game.

Still, there is this nagging little thought: Is it only the threat of punishment that can compel decent behavior from some people? Have we as a society really migrated to the notion that as long as no one knows who you are and as long as there is no punishment, it is acceptable to be a vile piece of shit?

“Tell them I came, and no one answered, that I kept my word …” This is the polar opposite of anonymous asshattedness, this is the human belief that doing the right thing, even when no one knows, is the proper celebration of humanity. I am saddened that this noble moral foundation seems now to be the exception rather than the rule. I hate thinking the main reason the game now seems more civil is that players are afraid they will get a timeout if they don’t mind their manners.

We are in a better place in the game in terms of civility than we were a year ago, but, absent the whip, would players soon revert to rampant nasty brutishness? I don’t know. Perhaps the game is indeed a microcosm of larger society — a very pessimistic thought these days, at least in my particular corner of the world.

What I do know is that there are still at least some of us who will do the right thing, though no one is there to witness it, though there is no penalty for failing to do it. In the game, we are the ones who help out a player struggling to down a mob beyond their level, who let the player originally tagging a mob skin it, who see a new player and stop to maybe give them some gold or mats just for no reason, who donate expensive crafted goods to the guild bank, who respond kindly to someone asking a naive question in trade chat.

We do the right thing because it is right, not because we will be punished for doing the wrong thing. There is a vast difference.

Ahead of the curve and behind it

Last night I think I had the most fun I have had in the game in a very long time. It was raid night, and we downed both Cenarius and Xavius in heroic, giving us our EN 7/7(H). It was not easy, nor was it especially pretty, and we killed them by the hairs of our chinny chin chins, but we did it. There were cheers and hoots and hollers all around, and much posing for screen shots, and in general it was just very cool.

This to me is where the main fun is in WoW. It is a social game, after all, and even extreme introverts like myself can enjoy that. We started our Legion raiding season the first night Emerald Nightmare was active (September 20? I think). About 25 people showed up that first night, and the team has varied a bit over the last 5 weeks but has kept a fairly consistent core of 18-25 members. The guild has some people that have played together for many years, but it is a very active guild in terms of recruitment, the founders are extremely open and welcoming to new members, and it has been interesting to watch a collection of individuals come together and function as a team. Kudos to the GM, raid leaders and officers for providing the conditions for success.

There was some talk of where we might go from here, so I guess there will be some discussions about that in the coming days. We are not really a Mythic raiding guild, but of course inevitably that will be one of the options discussed. If we go that route I am not sure I should be part of it. I am not an exceptional raider by any measure, more of a reliable member of the chorus line. My damage numbers are usually respectable but not remarkable, and it often takes me a bit longer than others to catch on to certain mechanics. (Tornadoes come to mind, and I never did catch on to Durumu’s maze.)

Also, my gear is approaching the “stinks” level when compared to others on the team.  As I mentioned a few days ago, my RNG luck is approaching catastrophic. Last night I noticed that, of 21 raid team members, 20 had legendaries equipped. Guess who was the only person not to have one (much less two or three, as some do)? And honestly, well-intended advice to “just run Mythics and do emissary quests” is annoying, not helpful. I think I have missed doing only one emissary quest since WQs opened for me. I run 4-5 Mythics a week, some regular, some pluses. I have never missed doing a weekly world boss since they started, and I have never gotten even a single piece of gear from any of them — always only gold. I have gotten to the point where I save up my emissary chests and open several at a time so as to concentrate the disappointment rather than have it more frequently. When I do get gear from world or other quests, the only time I seem to win an upgrade is if it is so low level that I can’t equip it, and then the lucky upgrade I get is +5, making it a slightly higher piece for vendoring.

Supposedly there is some sort of “bad luck insurance” Blizz has instituted for people like me. I guess their definition of bad luck is a lot different than mine is, because I see zero evidence of any kind of insurance kicking in. I think it is at least a 50-50 bet that it does not exist, it is just a lie perpetrated by Blizz to keep people like me on the hook.

That great oracle of fun, Ion Hazzikostas, is fond of lecturing us on how much more fun RNG is than boring old tokens or other currency, that it is a real rush when you unexpectedly get a great piece of gear. What he asininely fails to admit is that, when you are consistently on the butt end of the probability curve, it is frustrating beyond belief to see literally everyone around you get the RNG rewards — some multiple times — and there is absolutely nothing zero zip nada you can do to get them yourself. There is no skill or persistence that can help you get that random drop. He has said it is not fun to grind for gear, but that is exactly what some of us are doing, except there is no guarantee whatsoever that the grind will ever be successful. At least with a currency system, you know that eventually you will get what you are grinding for.

And here’s a news flash for you, Ion: after weeks and months of bad luck, it is no longer fun even if you do finally get a drop. It is just a relief that you will temporarily not have to face daily disappointment, that you will now be on a par with other players — at least until their luck inevitably kicks in before yours does again.

Getting the AotC achievement last night was fantastic fun. I was part of team that worked for it — we were completely in charge of our success or failure, and it was a real rush when we eventually succeeded. It just felt good. Being behind the curve on RNG-based gear feels terrible, more so because players have zero control over their fate, and no amount of hard work will result in success.

The people you meet

I have often — far too often — posted stories of players acting badly in the game. Today I am going to tell you a different story, a small incident that made a huge impression on me.

A couple of nights ago I was grinding out some World Quests, among them that one in Highmountain where you have to kill the brown bears that have invaded an area. I love doing this quest on my hunter, because it is easy and quick, and also because lots of non-skinners do it and thus give me a chance to quickly gather up a ton of leather.

The skinning profession is one that Blizz has admitted is not well executed in the current game. It is not a multi-tap activity like herb gathering or mining, and on top of that, if multiple people tap the actual mob for killing, no one can skin it until everyone has looted the corpse. The game does not give any preference to who can skin at that point, making it easy for greedy asshats to swoop in and skin a mob you might have tapped first, and for which you have waited patiently until everyone looted. On top of that, there are players who see that a skinner is following around behind them, and for some reason take pleasure in purposely not looting corpses just so a skinner cannot get the leather. These are not skinners, mind you, just pathetic people who take pleasure in denying something to others for the sake of meanness or for the power rush it gives them.

My point is, there are a lot of fail points when you are skinning. Sometimes it is not a problem and you can gather a lot of leather, sometimes there is no chance, even if there are a lot of corpses lying around. Knowing this, I am always careful to not steal leather from another skinner, because I know what it feels like. Usually it is clear that another player is not a skinner, because they will kill the mobs, loot, and immediately move on. In those cases I just follow them around and get leather. If they seem to hesitate after a kill, I will whisper them and ask if it is OK for me to skin. Almost always, if they remain in the area for any length of time, I will offer to trade them some leather as thanks for letting me skin their kills. I figure I have plenty, and they might appreciate either the mat or the opportunity to sell a bit of it for some gold.

Anyway, that is the background for my story. As I said, I was busy killing bears, as were some other players. I was picking up some leather from other people’s kills as well as from my own. I noticed a priest in the area, doing what seemed to be a speed run for the quest, killing rapidly and not looting. I muttered a couple of bad words to myself, thinking this was someone deliberately not looting just so I would not be able to skin. I wrote the priest off as an asshat and moved on with what I could do in the area.

Then I got a whisper from the priest, something along the lines of “I see you are skinning, I’ll go back and loot my corpses so you can get those, too.” Not only did she do that, but we then proceeded to do some rapid killing together, me sending my pet to aggro a bunch at a time, then both of us AoE-ing them down. After a few minutes, the priest whispered me that she was done, nice running with me, and good luck. (I say “she” — the character was female, I have no idea who the actual player was.) I opened a trade window with her to try and give her some leather, but she refused, saying she was an alchemist and could transmute anything she or her friends needed, thanks for the offer but really not necessary. In the end, when I was done for the night, I sent her a bunch in mail anyway, telling her I knew she didn’t need any, but maybe she could put it in her guild bank or give to someone who did need it, and thanked her for a few minutes of real game enjoyment. I got a really nice reply thanking me for the leather, which she said she did put in the guild bank.

The whole incident felt good, and it gave me a warm, positive feeling that lasted the entire evening. Maybe even beyond.

So, a couple of things about this very minor incident. First, sadly, it was unusual these days. It seems like, even when players are not being deliberately nasty, that everyone is single-mindedly pursuing their own goals and woe betide anyone who gets in their way. I can’t remember the last time I was part of an ad hoc group formed just for a certain area or bunch of mobs. I am as guilty of this as anyone — not only do I not get invited, but I do not issue invitations. I seem to have lost sight of the idea that this is a social game, and it really is more fun when it is played in a group.

Second, this priest went very slightly out of her way to help me — it maybe cost her 20 seconds of time to whisper me and quickly loot her corpses — but it made a huge difference to my game outlook for several hours. And I paid it forward, not only with the mailed leather to her, but I also took a little extra time to help out a couple players in other quests that night who seemed to be struggling with some mobs. Now, I usually do this if I notice someone is having a problem, but the priest’s actions earlier made me pay more attention to my surroundings and notice others having difficulty when otherwise I might not have noticed.

I don’t have any grand insights into this, no major pronouncements about the state of the game. But I did gain a renewed commitment to small acts of kindness. I haven’t been doing enough of that lately, and I need to do better. Small acts, as this priest’s behavior reminded me, can have a big impact.

Go forth. Do good. Rinse and repeat.