Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Sofa Story: Raids are Sick

I'm just going to go on record with my assumption that, at some point or another, most people have called in sick even though they weren't. I'm not judging, I have certainly had my share of faux-stuffy phone calls to the boss treading the fine line of sounding sick enough to avoid work but not so sick to prompt a request for a doctor's note (What's the point of playing hooky if you end up wasting half of your glorious day trying to avoid actually getting sick while waiting in a doctor's office?). Today I recount one such sick-day taken to participate in a World of Warcraft raid (ugh, I feel dirty just writing that).

Reading the above paragraph may have left you shaking your head. Non-gamers can't fathom wasting a whole day to play video games, non MMO players are imagining another sordid tale of WoW addiction, and MMO-veterans are wondering why I didn't join a guild that plays outside of my working hours. While I can't do much to explain my behaviour to non-gamers, aside from assuring them that this is an isolated incident, I feel it is necessary to defend myself from the dubious stares of my gaming brethren.

I have never really been a hardcore MMO player. Sure I've dabbled in my fair share and have maintained a few subscriptions with one or two play sessions a week, but I have never had a MMO dominate my gaming life for months (or years) at a time; my interest just can't be captivated for that long. Even hitting the level cap is a struggle for me in most MMOs as I get bored as soon as the experience feels like a grind and re-roll to freshen things up. In fact, despite having tried most major MMO releases starting with Everquest, the first time I managed to stick it out with a character all the way to the cap wasn't until the Wrath of the Lich King expansion for WoW (and not until late into its cycle at that!). It took a long time in real days (if not actual playtime) to slog it out and finally raise my dagger-wielding rogue to level 80... and I had no idea what I was in for.

I had heard about raiding before but had naturally equated it to the smaller dungeons I had been running on my long journey to the top. I had no concept of progression or gearing and pretty much assumed that once I hit 80 I could casually jump into a raid, loot some enemies, and show off my fancy new gear in town. It didn't take long before a few helpful guildies explained that getting into a raid required the dedication of slowly building up incrementally better gear until I met basic requirements to meaningfully contribute to the group. This was, of course, in addition to the requirements of thoroughly understanding the nuances of my class and researching the major fights before-hand. The cherry on top of all of this was that getting a good group together for a raid is a logistical nightmare requiring a significant amount of coordination and scheduling. Until this point in my MMO career, I pretty much played when I felt like it and the thought of scheduling my playtime was foreign.

In any case, I somehow decided that all of this work would be fun and dutifully built up my gear over the next few weeks while learning a bit about what was expected of me when the big day would come. Eventually, while running a dungeon with a guild officer, he gave me the tap and said, "I think your ready, next time we have a free spot we'll bring you along". These words triggered a jolt of adrenaline, all my hard work was going to finally come to fruition and I was going to have the shiniest sword in all the land. My guild had agreed to raid on Wednesday evenings which fit perfectly with my real-life schedule and I showed up on time to be routinely disappointed at the lack of an open spot for me. Just as my interest in the game was waning, a miracle (or not) happened.

It was Thursday morning and I had logged in to manage my auctions a bit before work later that day. The night before, the raid was scrapped for the week due to insufficient participation; this meant that the normal-group members were free to find another way to get their raid on. As I tooled around a bit, I got a private message from one of the guild officers telling me that he was getting a group together at that very moment to kick some major bad-guy ass. I contemplated my options. On one hand, I had a commitment to go to work at some shitty job that was paying me minimum wage, and on the other... seriously, I could write "prostate exam" here and the decision would be 50/50. I picked up the phone, called my boss, and convincingly coughed and wheezed my way to a day off. Now the goal was to make the most of my new-found freedom!

Unfortunately, my late morning and afternoon was a gong show. As it turns out, getting a competent pick-up group to raid during working hours is like trying to win the lottery as a retirement plan. For a couple of hours we had a revolving door of members joining and leaving the group and struggled to find a collection of decently geared players to fill the roles of tanking, healing, and damage. Eventually, after begging and pleading (and actually paying one guy with in-game currency), we cobbled together the most rag-tag pack of misfits to ever attempt a raid. Unlike the Dirty Dozen, we couldn't work together as a team and, as you can expect, results were dastardly. I won't bore with the specifics, but after 2 hours of attempting to down the first boss and a repair bill high enough to send the armor smith's kids through college, we collectively decided to call it quits. My first ever raid was about as bad as it comes. Eventually, I got my chance to play with a decent group and discovered that raiding can be an engaging experience once you get past the 'serious business' side of it, but, that's a story for another day.