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Posts Tagged ‘socialization’

This one’s simple:  Blogging is a social activity.  It’s not “social” like a FaceBook “cow clicker” pseudo-game, or “social” like raiding in an MMO, more like a good dozen-plus-player version of Frozen Synapse, with sparks flying between ideas as people connect thoughts and forge new conceptual links.  It’s asynchronous and persistent, both very useful for fostering communication.

Yes, it usually starts with just getting words in type for one’s own benefit, but blogs are, by nature, getting words in type out where others can see them.  At some level, socialization happens.  Bloggers engage in hobnobbing, rubbing digital shoulders with each other.  Ideas cross-pollinate, links sprout, groupthink evolves, and every once in a while, the pulse of the “blogosphere” actually indicates a strong interest or opinion on a topic that is relevant outside of the blogging circles.  (Case study: Blizzard’s RealID kerfluffle, where the voices in MMO blogging circles tended to be almost uniformly… concerned.  For good reason.  It’s not so much that bloggers drove opinion, more that they were a good cross-section of gamer moods, and near consensus among such a disparate group is usually significant.)

It’s even possible to forge friendships online.  Now, noting that it’s possible you’re befriending a persona instead of a person, it’s still true that social interaction online is still social interaction.  Those are people out there, not Turing-complete bloggerbots.  (Though in twenty years or so that might no longer be true.)  People with interests, feeling, histories, preferences, and sometimes even a sense of humor.  Over the years I’ve met a bunch of pretty cool people, like PsychochildProfessor Beej, Larisa, The Friendly NecromancerGordonCynwise, Ixobelle, Klepsacovic, Gazimoff, YeeboMBP, Dblade, Saylah, Nugget, Dusty, Syl, Thallian and Anton, Tipa, Ferrel, Pete, Victor Stillwater, AnjinModran, ZombiePirate, Void, Rog, Stabs, the guys at KTR and Word of Shadow… others I’m forgetting at the moment, and others that have dropped off the grid, like Wiqd, Mike Darga, Phaelia and Andrew of Systemic Babble.  Anyone I link to over on that Blogroll on the right is someone worth reading.  I might not always agree with any given one of them, but then again, I don’t always agree with my local friends or family.  Even when I don’t agree with them, there’s usually still something interesting there.

Blog writing often follows blog reading, and the two tend to positively reinforce each other.  Commenting on someone else’s blog is a great way to make the two work together even more.  It’s about communication, really, and as some are wont to remind us, humans out here in “monkeyspace” are social animals, for better or worse.  Thing is, with a blog, you can take it at your own pace rather than diving into a real time social gathering with real people around.  The ability to filter and react at leisure isn’t exactly a magic potion to make wallflowers into butterflies, but it does go a long way toward opening conversational channels that might not otherwise exist.  Blogging isn’t a FaceBook or Twitter pith contest, neither is it an Instant Messaging textspeak competition.  It’s not a Ventrilo cacophony or monkeyspace mosh pit.  It’s a more sedate matter, allowing for deeper thought and more civil dialogue.

In theory, anyway.

Practice, as always, varies as widely as fingerprints, but blogs really do offer a communication platform that isn’t quite of the same nature as some of the other big “social” media.  They are valuable as a result, and a crucial ingredient to the social stew that is the modern internet.  I’d even go so far as to call it a leavening ingredient, one that counters the leetspeak ADHD impetus of far too many “social” media outlets.  There’s great value in the long form of written communication.  There’s value in having outlets that aren’t controlled by big media conglomerates or corporations.  It’s important to have places where impassioned writers can make cohesive arguments and keep public records without being shouted down by troll hordes or censored by The Man.

You may not change the world in big ways with your blog, but blogging is changing the world.  If nothing else, it’s a good thing to be aware of and understand the potential of the beast.

…and sometimes, you don’t need to be a big force of change, you just need to be a good part of someone else’s life.  Blogs can help forge links that might not otherwise exist between people, and sometimes, that makes all the difference.

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I greatly enjoy playing volleyball.  I’m passingly good at it, though less because of sheer physical prowess and more because of good reflexes and situational awareness… and no small amount of tactical guile.  I’ve reached an odd plateau in the game, though.

I used to play with others who were better at the game than I am.  They inspired and taught me how to play better, and the most fun that I had playing was when I was learning new tricks.  Lately, just because of life’s various circumstances, I am almost always the best player in the groups I find myself in.  I’ve almost stopped learning… and the game simply isn’t as much fun any more.

Indeed, sometimes it’s flatly painful.  I see players making bad mistakes and flagrantly ignoring rules of the game.  I think of myself when I was starting, and remember that I learned to mold myself to the rules and improve my abilities within their parameters.  When I learned how to play, you could only touch the ball with parts of your body above your waist.  Period.  These days, pretty much anything goes, and you can hit the ball with any part of your body.  Many players consequently wind up with lazy footwork and presence of mind, and simply kick the ball if it moves low, leading to weaker ball control.  Similarly, serves once were faults if they touched the net.  These days, if the ball hits the net on the way over, it’s still legal. The game is much sloppier as a result, and that’s the official play (college rules).  If it’s sloppy at higher levels, it’s perfectly natural to see sloppy play at lower levels.  Core rules like carrying and double hits are routinely ignored.  It’s… disheartening.

Sure, players are still having fun, but it’s just not the same game that I grew to love.

I miss seeing players who want to get better and really exert themselves to do so.  Too many are content to just play as an excuse to socialize instead of really strive for excellence.

…sound familiar, grumpy MMO veterans?

Of course, I find myself on the lower end of the skill curve in MMOs, especially running dungeons with groups.  I’m still learning the best way to approach things.  Thing is… I am still learning, still making the effort.  (At least, when I feel like playing an MMO with other people.)  That’s why I’ve started tanking a little bit in the F2P WoW, and will try a tank in RIFT.  I’m expanding my skillset, exploring the game mechanics.  I’m simply not content to just sit back and do the same old thing all the time.  My aspirations are higher than just getting by.  This is simply part of my psychological makeup.  I can’t coast for long, I have to keep trying to be better.

Sometimes my simple lack of skill can come across as a bad attitude, but they are not the same thing.  I’m not looking to coast or be carried, I’m looking to pull my own weight and then some.  The numbers don’t always tell the whole story, though, especially when situational awareness is important.  (Say, when I’m playing as a Hunter or Mage with enemy control/disruption tactics… my damage dealing can fall off as I attend to tactical problems, but if I don’t pay attention, well, bad things happen.)

I wonder if this sort of systemic gradual decay of skill is expected in any long-running endeavor.  …but then, I see the three point line extended in the NBA, and I think there’s some push for skill at higher levels, at least in that game.  I don’t think that descent into a morass of lazy play is inevitable, at least not institutionally.  Socially, however, in order to appeal to an ever-widening playerbase, some “wussification” of the ruleset is going to happen.

So it’s not really all that surprising to see the tension in MMO design; they want to be supremely social games, living or dying on their communities… but there will always be those who want to push the envelope and actually excel at something.  The two impulses are strongly opposed… and I don’t think we’ll ever really reconcile the two.  I actually don’t think we should try, either, because that lukewarm water in the middle just doesn’t make anyone happy.  Those who just want to coast don’t function on the same wavelength as those who want to push themselves.  Whether or not that’s healthy is perhaps a sociological debate, but in the meantime, I’m convinced that a game simply can’t cater to both groups with the same content or mechanics, and there need to be better ways to get people together based on playstyle and aspiration, rather than by level, loot or some other extrinsic motivation.

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‘Tis the time of year that many people gather in groups of family and friends to celebrate assorted things.  I’m of the American and Christian persuasions, so it’s Thanksgiving and Christmas for me and mine, but there’s no apparent shortage of celebrations for diverse tastes.  Maybe being cooped up together out of the snow means we either party or kill each other.  I do prefer the former, though the latter might be easier sometimes, especially when awkward situations arise.

I’ve noted, with no small amount of whimsy, that I could map certain classes or roles we might see in World of Warcraft to people I see in these gatherings.  They don’t map perfectly, since socialization is PvP (Player vs. Player) rather than PvE (Player vs. Environment), and threat doesn’t work the same way, but there are some interesting parallels nevertheless.

The Roles

Tank

This guy wants all the attention, and will make efforts to control the direction of conversation and protect weaker conversationalists from the ire of dissent.  There are, of course, different different tanking styles, but all have a variety of tools to deflect tangents and monopolize crucial conversational pauses.  A bombastic or otherwise “large” personality or presence greatly benefits the social tank, even if it is ultimately of little substance.  Maintaining the focus of attention is key, not presenting a cogent argument.

DPS (Damage Per Second)

These are the guys who actually move a conversation along.  The Tank has to spend so much effort keeping a conversation on topic and heading off tangents that he has to rely on the DPS conversationalists to move the chosen topic along.  They will usually do this with supporting anecdotes or witticisms.  Some are blunt force conversationalists, seeking to make progress by sheer magnitude of presentation, while others are precision specialists, doing the most with a few carefully timed words in the right place.  Occasionally DPS teams will form and act in concert to magnify their efforts.  They must be careful not to steer the conversation, though, since they don’t have all the necessary tools to direct the conversation away from tangents and deflect dissent, and may occasionally be leveled by a precise counterpoint.

Some DPS conversationalists might specialize in Crowd Control, a nearly lost art of taking down tangential threats on the periphery of a conversation.  Since this is a job best done without drawing much attention, it is often unsung, but no less important, especially in large gatherings.

Healer

These are the peacemakers.  When tensions get high, these conversationalists seek to defuse the situation with placation, humor, distraction or food.  This tends to require a soft touch, lest the tank lose control of the underlying conversational direction.  The Healer doesn’t so much seek to change the conversation’s direction, but rather, to manage its tone, keeping things moderate and keeping contentions down and therefore make the Tank’s job easier to manage.  This tends to be easier when they have food to offer, so careful pacing of meal courses and foresight in management of non-conversation resources will benefit the healer.  Desserts are a powerful wildcard in the healer’s arsenal, and many healers will come prepared with a wide assortment.

The Classes

Druid

A social generalist, the Druid can Tank, DPS or Heal as necessary, though they must specialize in one to be as effective as a specialist.  They smoothly shift between roles as a conversation unfolds, filling in gaps left by inattention or mistakes.  They might tank at close quarters and then shift to backstabbing at a moment’s notice, or they might lob comments from afar, or even bring some snacks to the table.  Since none of their tools are very strong, though, they must try to anticipate the social scene’s intricacies correctly and use precise timing as leverage to maximize their efforts.  More than most, Druids need to understand the ebb and flow of the nature of social situations and all the varied aspects so they can shift their own position.

Death Knight

These guys are well known for their ability to kill a conversation and then revive it under their control.  Well equipped to deflect criticism with thick disregard for insult and having very strong presence, they work well as Tanks, or they can fill the DPS role well by making heavy handed points as they make others uncomfortable with implications.  Likely to be depressed and depressing, and possibly harboring conversational grudges from past parties.

Hunter

Careful conversationalists, Hunters function in a pure DPS role.  Some prefer to snipe from the periphery, offering precision arguments.  Others bring a companion for distraction while they chime in with timely comments.  Yet others lay careful conversational traps and quietly guide others into making mistakes.  Hunters are often used by Tanks to initiate a conversation with offhand comments, which they then follow up on with their unique talents.

Mage

Another pure DPS class, Mages have a few distinct styles.  Some prefer fiery rhetoric with lingering implications.  Some prefer the cold shoulder technique (sometimes called “wet blanket”), heavy on control tactics that help the Tank.  Some prefer broad spectrum wild generalizations and arcane statements about irrelevant factoids, reveling in confusing the foe.  Mages love to flaunt their intelligence in one way or another, often trying to outsmart opponents for the sheer joy in doing so.

Paladin

A Paladin is a hybrid like the Druid, capable of filling any of the significant roles.  They can’t shift between roles as fluidly as Druids, but they are better equipped at all times to deflect dissent.  Their reduced flexibility is balanced by their defense.  They tend to specialize in one of the roles, but all will have a sanctimonious air that is offputting to foes and encouraging to friends.  They tend to direct conversations to The Truth when possible, and have particular and peculiar talents that keep dead conversations down.

Priest

The quintessential Healer, Priests share the sanctimony of paladins, but wield it much more effectively.  They might play the pariah or simply call for repentance, or they might simply offer a constant stream of calming platitudes with little substance to argue about.  Some will simply keep bringing food to the table.  A few will step into a DPS role with biting chastisement or darkly portentious comments.

Rogue

Rogues serve only their own interests, but understand that hiding behind a Tank (or better, hiding behind their opponent) is a safer place to be.  They are pure DPS conversationalists, seeking primarily to make a point, and if possible, to make it hurt.  They converse from the shadows, sometimes seeking to slowly erode an opposing viewpoint, sometimes acting swiftly and mercilessly to cut down a line of thought.  They are remarkably direct, and everything is personal with a Rogue.  They may serve a team goal at times, if circumstances align, but are unmistakably their own person with their own goals.

Shaman

Adept at sensing the nature of conversation, Shaman tap into social undercurrents to work their magic.  Some will Tank in lighter encounters, but most will either fill a DPS or Healer role.  Uniquely equipped with trinkets and tools with which to make conversational points via object lessons, they tend to be masters of minutiae and trivia.  This can serve to further a conversation or manage its tone.  Shaman are hybrids, adept at filling holes in a team, though they aren’t as agile as Druids.  Shaman tend to be relatively immobile, but versatile.  They are excellent team players, with a wide array of support tactics.

Warlock

Pure DPS in every form, a Warlock can’t help but be caustic, and is inordinately fond of veiled insults that result either in lingering shame or self-doubt.  May or may not have companion in tow, appropriately attired for maximum distraction, whether employing fear or more… amorous (though cruel) intentions.  Master of snide asides, arch allusions and faux British accents.

Warrior

Blessed with an uncomplicated approach to life, Warriors tend to either master a Tank role or a DPS role.  Heavily defended from conversational dissent with a heady mixture of ignorance (pretended or not) and thick disregard for insult, Warriors often serve as rallying points for friends.  In the occasion that they step out of the center of attention, they either rely on fast, furious assaults or heavy precision strikes to further a conversation.  They can wield nearly any conversational tactic, but work best in direct confrontation.

It’s no great surprise to me to find that I can most comfortably identify myself with the Social Druid, though I have pretty solid Hunter tendencies, too.  (Never mind that I wrote this, I tried to make them at least somewhat fair.)  I’m especially fond of my brother-in-law who is a fantastic Social Warrior.  Maybe it’s because he’s a military guy?  He plays the Tank and DPS roles very well, leaving me to do my own thing.

These are somewhat… loose categorizations at that, and might be applied similarly to Your Favorite MMO.  (I really ought to do a Guild Wars version of this, but Longasc and Nugget might be better suited for that task…)

Whatever your game of choice and celebration of choice, though, Happy Holidays and good luck socializing!

Oh, and don’t stand in the fire.  It really hurts in the real world.  The cooks might not be very happy with you either.

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