Saturday, October 22, 2011

World of Warcraft: Mists of Pandaria and race choices

There's a lot of (sadly predictable) rage going on right now in the WoW community about the new race in Mists of Pandaria (the next expansion): Pandarens. Of course, the Pandarens have been around since the start and there's long been an unconfirmed rumor that they were slated to be the alliance race in the first expansion (confirmed, now, by the way at this year's Bizzcon).

I want to put the rage in some perspective. This is a game with foot-long floppy ears. This is a fantasy game where one of the most iconic images is a dwarf with a shotgun. This is a game where the magic-addicted deity-kidnappers are a playable race of "good guys". This is a fantasy game with blue space aliens. This is a fantasy game with orcs from space. This is a game with Jamaican-themed trolls.

WoW is, to quote Monty Python, a silly place. We should not be shocked when they add a cute race that riffs on cultural icons, and in fact if we are surprised by that it really speaks to how little we've been paying attention.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

What can PvP teach us about the economy?

I've been doing warfronts in Rift quite a bit of late (battlegrounds to the WoWers out there), and PvP with pickup groups teaches me quite a lot about social dynamics, and I think it's given me a moment of clarity about the economy. The invisible hand is an old economics concept, defined as: "a social mechanism that channeled ambition toward meeting the needs of society, even if the ambitious had no benevolent intentions." To boil that down, the economy as a whole continues to generally serve our needs by providing for stable sources of food and shelter, even though it's not at all the goal of those with the most wealth that the majority receive those benefits.

So, here's what I see in PvP. Generally speaking, I win some and I lose some. When I'm up against a highly coordinated and well-geared premade which wipes the floor with our team, I see a number of people losing it, and accusing their team of being bad; of not healing enough; of not dpsing enough; etc. They begin with the assumption that if everyone played "on their level" that they would have won the match. Of course, they were wrong. A randomly mixed group of people with whatever gear they happen to have and no real form of coordination will always be beaten by a well geared and highly coordinated team.

Interestingly, though, these same people will cheer ecstatically when they win, proclaiming "that's how it's done," and otherwise lauding his teammates for excelling. But did they? Didn't they just put in a nominal effort and happen to go up against a team whose nominal effort was hobbled by a lesser gearing or experience makeup that, over the long term, is guaranteed to happen in random matchups?

These peaks and valleys of elation and anger over forces which are essentially random got me to thinking about the economy. Let's say, just for sake of argument, that the economy was a fixed system with pre-determined behavior. Let's say that a recession or depression was "fated" and there was no way that it could be averted. Would the rhetoric change? Would blame not be assigned?

Let's now say that booms and bubbles were also pre-determined and unavoidable. Would politicians not claim credit for them? Would we not try to connect policy to prosperity and give new weight to the policies that preceded such times?

Now, let's go back to the real world where booms and busts are under our control... or are they? Does the invisible hand work toward a benign goal, or is it just the collective pull toward the center? Does it raise the living conditions of the poorest, or simply oscillate the larger trends enough that the rich can become poor and the poor rich, thus never reaching a state where anyone has singular control, and perpetuating itself? Should we blame our politicians for busts, or are they just the inevitable consequence of booms, to be expected; planned for; and weathered?

To return to the gaming metaphor: what is it that we actually expected when we lose? Are we surprised? Do the random things that people did wrong really contribute, or was it just statistics slapping us down and telling us, "that's RNG, bitch!"

As an aside to those who constantly berate their teammates when they lose, and to those who berate their leaders when times are bad, I've taken to saying this at the start of a match, "If we lose and you have to say something about it, try: I'll try harder next time."