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Philosophy

May 21, 2010

The Argument for Elitism – Part I

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Written by: Vixsin
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shamant3

I have a slight confession to make; make sure you’re sitting down for this one folks. I am … a WoW elitist. I make no bones about it—I believe in optimal stats, optimal specs, optimal rotations, and optimal performance. I do believe that an optimal condition exists, and although I concede that it is unattainable, for all intents and purposes, it’s nonetheless my goal to get as close to it as possible. But I’m not telling you this so I can predicate a tirade about Smite DPS priests or melee hunters or players who advocate “doing your own thing”. No, I’m telling you this because my goal is a risky one—I want to make you an “elitist” too.

(Don’t tar and feather me just yet … I swear I have the best of intentions.)

In starting to write this post I realized that there are really two essential elements to my arguments about elitism—the first centers around the definition and evolution of elitism in WoW, and the second centers on the premise that being a (decent) elitist actually benefits the gaming community. To make it easier on us both, (and give you twice as many opportunities to skewer me) I’ve decided to divide the discussion into two parts, the second of which will follow in a couple days’ time. So without further ado, let me draw that target on my back and get the ball rolling …

 

The beginnings of Elitism

You’ve seen the term bandied about trade chat, thrown into an argument in a PuG and tossed into posts ranging from gemming strategies to Gearscore. It is a key word for almost any debate, and generally an indication that things might get ugly. But when talking about elitism and the elitist mentality, the one thing that most discussions lack is definition. Am I an elitist if I rely on calculations? Am I an elitist if I think my opinions are right? Am I an elitist if I think my gear is better than yours? And what separates being a good elitist from being a bad one?

Although I suggested that my definition of elitism centers around the belief of an ideal situation, the dictionary definition is a lot more simplistic:

e•lit•ism

[ih-lee-tiz-uh m, ey-lee-]

1. practice of or belief in rule by an elite.

2. consciousness of or pride in belonging to a select or favored group.

While in the real world, being a social elitist means you belong to a very select upper level of society, or being a religious elite means you belong to the highest level of your religious structure, in WoW being an “elite” originally referred to those players who operated at the top of their class (in PVE or PVP).

Once upon a time, being a member of an elite group in WoW was a badge of pride. Elite gamers were part Mensa member, part Macguyver; players who according to urban legend could rattle off proc statistics while beating down an army of Murlocs with only The Stoppable Force and an Ogre Loincloth. Starting in Vanilla, the WoW elite were decorated with titles (“Sacarb Lord” or “High Warlord”) or had unique armor (like Thunderfury or Hand of Rag) to distinguish them from the average player, and they were largely regarded as the authorities on their respective classes. Over the years, many have been memorialized within WoW for their efforts. In fact, with the release of Ulduar and Icecrown, the blogging realm saw a number of the WoW writing/researching elite memorialized in the names of loot. These were players who knew their class, who knew enough to give advice, and who used their above-average knowledge to help others, and they definitely took pride in doing so.

But, somewhere between the days of Molten Core and Icecrown, being “elite” morphed into something else. It became a derogatory phrase, an insult thrown out all too frequently when players start talking about optimal rotations, spell selection, gemming, etc. Guaranteed, if I throw out unsolicited Shaman advice to a PuG healer, pointing out that he may want to rethink his crit-based gemming strat based on Shaman HEP values for his gear level, I will likely be rebuffed with an “elitist” stamp. If I start throwing out numbers and mathematical theory, I’ll only be digging myself deeper into a hole.

 

The Information Surge

So how did it come to pass that a compliment was transformed into a caustic insult? I think the answer lies in WoW’s growing popularity and success. In fact, I’d argue that the degradation of “elite” was actually made possible by the mass dissemination of information; with formulae, boss strats, class discussions, boss mods, websites, and detailed information available to most players at the click of a mouse, no longer is information something that’s discoverable based on your /played time. That I can know a max dps rotation before I even reach level 10 on my warrior stands as a testament to the fact that even the noobiest of players can gain substantial insight into a class simply through the shared experiences of others.

Thus, demonstrating the same “in-depth” class knowledge as someone with over 300 days played is possible for almost anyone with the ability to read and parrot. (I’ll note here that understanding is not requisite to reiteration of concepts and theory.) As many long time raiders will admit, the number of resources that players have access to is staggering when compared to those that existed when WoW was an “underground” movement. And as the game has grown, the resources have too, at an almost exponential rate. Because of this surge in information, I think it’s safe to say that the general gaming education of the WoW player has increased over the years, which has, in turn, forced Blizzard to increasingly raise the bar on complexity. (Yes, I am absolutely saying that the game is more complex than it was in MC. LK is a prime example—How many phases? How many mechanics? How many ways can things go wrong?) Thus, you have a situation where the degrees of knowledge between the new player, the average player and the veteran are increasing, with each struggling to define the game as it exists for them.

As this personal definition develops, we have a prime example of how the “WoW Paradigm” comes into play:

Anyone who plays less than you is a casual scrub getting free welfare epics. Anyone who plays more than you is an unemployed virgin who needs to get a life, a job, and/or go outside.

As Kyle at the Crispy Gamer points out, part of the reason for the growing divide can be laid at the feet of gaming culture, and its origins as a sort of “indie” movement. Gamers’ references to the “good old days” of Vanilla only underscore the value placed on the whole “I was doing it before it was cool” attitude that many in the gaming world (both inside and outside of WoW) have adopted. The fact that the game has evolved into a better product since then, in large part due to its increased appeal beyond the “dedicated indie gamer”, actually further pushes a distinction between “new” players and “old” ones (and accordingly, “noobs” and “veterans”.)

 

Perpetuating Polarization

The polarization of players between the two experience extremes only lends further encouragement to a player’s distinction of himself as an “elite” gamer, one who has been there and done that, or the “laid back” gamer, who wants to discover things for himself. This distinction wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing except for the fact that players will oftentimes demonstrate knowledge by way of exception—things that I know and you don’t, you scrub. Combine this with patented internet anonymity, and you have on one hand, an informed player base running around trying to prove their skill through criticism and arguing that “casuals” have ruined the game, and on the other hand, a number of newer gaming converts trying to find their own way in a world where the legwork on just about anything has already been done. And as players find themselves actively trying to fit in with one group or the other, the swing of the pendulum gets more and more extreme.

In fact, the negative stigma surrounding the elitist has grown so much, that as a post on Mogamu recently put it, the Elitist Gamer has come to epitomize the very worst characteristics of the informed player:

They stand from their proud set of stats on a recreated character account as not to show there “learning phase” stats that EVERY player has. They are the masters of redirection by criticism. In order that no one focus on their own short comings they constantly point out the faults of newer or less skilled players.

While this is arguably the worst form that elitism can take, it is a perception is incredibly prevalent in groups and communities throughout WoW. So, for example, while Elitist Jerks is broadly acknowledged by players as the penultimate resource for WoW data and the players who populate their forums are recognized as significant contributors to the community, the information they offer is still oftentimes looked down upon as being pompous conjecture.

 

There is no One Definition

I think what we’re left with here is that there isn’t one definition for elitism, good or bad. Being someone who believes that level of reward should be tied to level of effort or being someone who believes that concepts like linear programming (which states that there is a mathematical method for determining a “best” set of outcomes given particular constraints and goals) are applicable to WoW, doesn’t make you an sanctimonious ass. (Being a sanctimonious ass makes you a sanctimonious ass.) It just makes you someone with different goals.

So, while the derogatory usage of elitst can imply arrogance, superiority, and a certain level of snarkniness, there is a positive definition as well, being a knowledgeable and accomplished member of WoW community. And this latter camp—the “elite” that set out to achieve greater rewards through increased effort, the ones who start blogs (teehee) or spend time roaming the MMO Champion forums, the MVPs who take time to teach others—these are the elite players that I’m arguing for. And these are the elite players I hope I can encourage you to be.

(With that, I’ll let you marinate on this idea for a couple of days and then hit you with Part II of the Argument for Elitism, which will center on the benefits of elitist thought and treading the line of helpfulness.)






14 Comments


  1. I totally agree with you. While it’s no good to be the arrogant prick that most people assume when you bring up an elitist, wanting to have the best gear and the best rotation and the best performance possible and actively attempting to get there is NOT a bad thing. In the end, being the best you can be is only going to help you and any raids or PUGs you get into.
    .-= Apple´s last blog ..SM Graveyard, crappy tanks, and losing my groove =-.


  2. Ed (Vexa, Dragonmaw (EU)

    Vixsin,

    Yet another great post, please keep them coming.

    I’d just like to chime in very quickly.

    I comepletely agree that “there is no one definiton” when it comes to elitism but I think this term, certainly on my server, has come to mean somethng not quite touched on in your post – ‘gearism’.

    In the example you gave early in the post about you offering some advice on gemming to another Shammy in the a PuG I do not see as elitist. Slightly rude, possibly, but elitist I don’t feel so. The advice was given in good heart and the other player can feel free to take it on board or not. You did not do it (I hope) to degrade the other player, merely to support him.

    On my server I see elitism ubiquitous to gearism, the act of judging someone based on their gear not their skill. I myself often come across this. I raid on a server with an extremely high ranked guild and am surrounded by highly geared players daily. I raid in a great little guild with all my close friends, most of which I know in real life and I wouldn’t change things for the world. We run no heroics and are yet to get LK down in 10man, and so my gear is not of the caliber of others on my server.

    I am often judged as being a ‘worse’ shaman simply because my gear does not reflect others on the server. I come across this in PuGs, in trade channel and even walking around Dalaran. I know myself I am equally as skilled as most of the Resto Shaman(s?) in the top guilds, but the fact that I choose to raid with my friends and theerfore have access to less gear means I am judged as inferior.

    So while I agree with all of your post I wanted to add my take on what ‘Elitism’ has become to mean from my perspective.

    Ed
    Vexa, Dragonmaw(EU)


  3. Gronthe

    Like in the 70’s when ‘Bad’ meant ‘Good’, cultural context often determines the definition of a word, not just Webster’s dictionary. And yet, not everyone in the 70’s used ‘Bad’ to mean ‘Good’, sometimes it just meant ‘Bad’. You are correct in saying, therefore, that “there isn’t one definition of elitism”. Whenever the term is used we need to quickly determine its context to comprehend its intent.

    Maybe those that identify with the non-arrogant version of the word can give themselves a different name, like Benevolent Royalty, that way there’s no confusion as to connotation.

    Can’t wait for part II.


  4. Juz

    I’ll drink to this. Just the other night, a couple Enh shamans in guild were debating gearing choices, and when someone reference EJ, the other responded “the people at EJ are just a bunch of retards, don’t take anything they say as good.” It left me completely flabbergasted. I mean, I understand skepticism, and that some of what goes on at EJ and similar places can get speculative. But I my experience, and that of most others, tends to prove EJ to be very good at what it does. Yet as soon as it was brought up as an info source, my guildie just opened fire with the derision.

    Interestingly, the guildie who seemed to hate EJ also seems to be the worse DPSer. Coincidence? 0.o

    Anyway, I look forward to the rest of this piece.


  5. Mmm, interesting. I wait for Part II before I go commenting away. :)
    .-= Poneria´s last blog ..Changing Directions =-.


  6. Well said, Vixsin, and well-reasoned. I have always loved to read all I could to learn and understand more about the game and my part playing in it. The prolific increase of information that WotLK brought has delighted me no end; I have thoroughly enjoyed the (continuous) process of chasing down rabbit trails in search of the (now rather large, lol) handful of key sites, authors, articles, threads, and discussions that ring my bell and provide me with information that helps me to manage my character better and play smarter. And although I don’t play a Shaman I’ve found that that I learn from reading smart blogs regardless of class, and I read yours regularly. Thanks for the education and the entertainment.
    .-= Oddly´s last blog ..US [A] <Mattachine Knights> – Proudmoore =-.


  7. Leiasolo

    Loved the post, and I completely agree with you. I tell my guildies, that I spend more time playing WoW outside the game than I do inside sometimes. Pouring over spreadsheets, reading strats, watching videos, putting together optimal gear lists so I don’t roll on anything except what I really need etc. Basically doing anything I can to better understand how my class works, why, and what if anything I can do to improve. As a result I see many compliments on my dps, and have established a good reputation on my realm. I’ve even been able to help new hunters to the guild in picking gear, gems, enchants, pets, etc. or work with them to improve their rotations and had my work appreciated.

    I think the negative connotation comes into play when people attempt to apply their own beliefs or playstyles to others. It’s great that I am willing to do whatever I can think of to better myself, but if I start expecting others to play like I do then I get the elitist(bad version) tag. And you’re totally right, adding numbers and proof to what you’re saying just digs a deeper hole.

    I wish you the best of luck in winning converts!


  8. Talexei

    I think that one of the key parts of the definition that is missong (so far) is the recognition of different in-game end goals. Without trying to sound “Elitist” (in the negative sense) I have been playing since Vanilla yet I have only started end-game raiding in the past six months. Part of that had to do with deciding to play with RL friends who did not have the time/skill/dedication to do end-game raiding and part of it was my own self-doubt about my skill/gear/rotation. About six months ago most of my RL friends decided to stop playing WoW and I joined a casual Raiding Guild and decided to give Raid Healing a try.

    So in the past six months I have started to do a lot more research on-line about how to gear, what gems to use, what to put into a Resto Shaman spec and now I feel that I am a fair raider (our 10 man guild is still trying to figure out Sindragosa in Normal mode so perhaps we are not quite as good as we like to think..whole other conversation there). And in almost all of the blogs there is an often unstated understanding that the sole end goal of the game is to Raid and to down Raid bosses.

    Also in those self-same blogs there are many conversations as to the state of PUG’s (usually being negative in outlook) and what can be done to improve or avoid them. The main issue that I see is that perhaps those who do not meet your expectation in PUG’s are trying to meet other in-game goals and their selection of gear/gems/spec therefore is different than Raid optimal. So your well-intentioned advice, while perfectly applicable to meeting your in-game end goal, is not optimal to the other player’s in-game end goal. I believe that this is the origins of the negative connotation of the term “Elitist”. Basically the thought that one set of end game goals is of more importance than any other.

    Hope that this is not stepping on your second part of this discussion. As I said earlier I have only started doing a lot of online research a few months ago and this site is bookmarked and checked regularly as one with both great information and great discussion.


  9. Troll toes are fairly large, so no need to fear treading on mine! ^_^

    Re: gearism – I view gearism and the gearscore phenomena not so much as an elitist movement but rather a result of players subscribing to an easy metric. Generally speaking, gear is a representation of your *average level* of progress in the game. It’s by no means a precise or completely accurate means, but it’s fast and easy. Personally, I’ve never raised an eyebrow at someone in lower level gear than me, because IMO it’s what they’re doing with that gear that matters. So, I’m more likely to comment about the recently-hacked naked boomkin in H-CoS out-dpsing the enhancement shaman in ICC epics, than about the rogue in blues who’s putting out 3k dps. (Actual example; we didn’t make the Drake timer. And I didn’t say a darn thing about it until someone asked the party wtf happened.)

    Re: goal differences – I absolutely agree that players can have different progress goals within the game, and it’s perfectly rational that they might not align with whatever it is that I’m prioritizing. For example, the gearing strat for Resto Shaman healing 5- or 10-mans is a slight bit different than what I’m optimizing for 25’s. Context is definitely crucial. However, whether it is the player’s goal or not and regardless of if it is stated, there is a very real performance requirement when you step into any instance or PVP battle. So while I wouldn’t expect a player to be optimal, I think there needs to be some personal respect and responsibility for the group’s performance.

    Ultimately, my goal is to do the best with what I have, blues or epics. And I think part of the divide between the two ends of the spectrum comes from Type A’s not understanding why anything less than top performance could be acceptable to anyone and Type B’s wondering why anyone would try for a goal that simply isn’t attainable and can only be measured in shades of grey anyways.

    All these great comments are giving me fuel for Part II! Thanks everyone!


  10. Asa

    Different goals are fine. If somebody is focused on arena play, their gear and approach and professions should differ dramatically from somebody raiding ICC and may differ subtly from somebody gearing for battlegrounds. Somebody whose main interest is in roleplay will likewise appear different and not adopt the best advice generated for raiding. The best chest piece for a bank alt will usually not contribute to the def cap.

    But a player can still put thought and effort into reaching whatever goal they have. They can articulate the reasons why they chose to gem stamina instead of armor pen or haste over crit. Elite bank alts have the addons and macros that let them do their job as quickly and efficiently as possible. That’s the same attitude that elite raiders adopt.

    Enjoying an unfocused game without particular commitment to specific goals or the willingness to put in a greater than average effort to reach them is fine. It’s hard to find fault with people having fun. However, it is that focused ambition, fed by knowledge and achieved step by step which results in an elite player.


  11. Orccleaver

    I agree with pretty much everything you said. In response to some of the comments, I think that a players goals in-game will definitely influence their play style, gear, etc.

    My problem is not with casual players who don’t care about optimal specs, rotations, gemming, etc.
    My problem is with players who don’t care about those things but STILL try to get into end game raids.
    The worst case example I have ever seen was a Holy priest with 5800 GS who averaged about 2k HPS. His spec was wrong, his gems were wrong, etc.
    The same guy actually told a Warlock in OUR guild that he should gem for Spell Pen to up his DPS in ICC.

    There is nothing wrong with being a casual player, but don’t try to run end game raids. There is nothing wrong with being ignorant about the game mechanics, but don’t try to tell others how to improve their performance.

    Just my 2 cents…


  12. […] Vixsyn defends the use of the term “elitism”. […]


  13. […] and put others down to elevate their own status) are the rotten core ruining it for everyone else. Vixin perception/argument for the Elite mirror my own thoughts and experiences too closely. So don’t judge someone based on their […]


  14. […] posts about “elitism” recently, my favorites being Tamarind’s and Vixsyn’s two-part post.  I agree very much with Vixsyn on the concept of it and with Tam on the linguistic part of […]



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