Life in Group 5 – A Resto Shaman Blog
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Philosophy

May 27, 2010

The Argument for Elitism – Part II

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Written by: Vixsin
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Arrogant Linux Elitist T-shirt

In WoW, as it exists today, elitism is both a good and a bad thing; its connotation greatly depends on who you talk to. Most oftentimes, being an “elitist” is looked upon as a negative, and not with the tongue-in-cheek approach that a certain theorycrafting guild took when they launched their intellectual salvo against “uneducated” players the world over. It is a term applied in a variety of fashions, often slung in defense of a real or perceived accusation, and is an almost guaranteed response to unsolicited advice, no matter how tactfully delivered.

When I broached the idea of this blog topic with a friend, his question to me was pretty blunt: “why the f- would you want to write about THAT; do you want people to think you’re an ass?” (To which I responded: I’m sure many people already do.) And so I hemmed and hawed about writing this post series, wondering if I might alienate some of my reader base by stating “hey guys, I think there’s a right way to resto shaman!” But, after some serious thought, (mostly conducted on my commute to and from work,) I solidified my theory that being an elitist wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, I reasoned, being an elitist could be a very positive thing indeed.

In Part I of this post I touched on a number of issues centering on the evolution of elitism, its definition, and the “n00b” versus “oldtimer” polarization that many of us experience when playing WoW. I think I managed to dodge the harsh criticism by conceding that yes, some elitists are asshats, but there are a good number who actually are elite because they raise the bar. In addition, the premise that I left you with was one that might draw some stronger criticism this time around—elitists actually benefit the WoW community.

 

The Contributions of an Elitist

Now it’s important to remember something here (and I mentioned this in the previous post)—an intellectual elitist in WoW is *not* someone who simply regurgitates the information he reads on EJ, because hell I could teach a parrot to shout “GEM HASTE! GEM HASTE!” and it would still be sound advice regardless of why the parrot was saying it. The players, the elitists, that I’m championing are those that contribute to the game and the community in a way other than simply contributing to the noise of the crowd. And for the reasons I’m listing below, I think that the community is the better for it.

 

1. Theorycrafting & Tools

I know I’m starting with the low-hanging fruit here, but I don’t think there’s a doubt in anyone’s mind that the elitists and number-crunchers that make up the EJ core have contributed a massive amount of information to the WoW community. They have become a resource that almost eclipses all others, and a reliable source for quality community-policed information. In addition, a number of mods and theorycrafting tools, including ZAP!, DXE, Shaman HEP, Rawr, MageGraf, EnhSim and a host of other simulators and analytics, have been developed by EJ members. And while some of the tools have only been used by those pursuing the mathematical optimum values, others like RAWR are used frequently by a broad range of the player base.

 

2. Bug Checking & Testing Limits

While Ensidia may be known for its “clever use of game mechanics”, I’ve no doubt that these elitists would be able to find the one thing in the WoW universe that gives them an edge in any encounter, no matter how obscure or rare it is. I’m sure everyone remembers the kersnuffle over Ensidia’s Lich King kill, but no matter where you placed in the debate, the fact remains that Ensidia once again found an unanticipated effect, a bug, as they have done time and time before based solely on the rigor they apply to boss fights. In addition, the extensive Alpha, Beta, and PTR testing contributed by top guilds the world over means that Blizzard has a dedicated and skilled testing base to draw from when launching new features and/or encounters. (If you’ve ever tested on the PTR, you know how much QA goes into transitioning the rough encounter to the final one.) And while the community at large may often view Blizzard as less than perfect when testing, the elitists and number crunchers are, more often than not, the ones to point out when something isn’t “working as intended”.

 

3. Difficulty Tuning

With such an apparent divide between top guilds and the majority of mid-level ones, I’d be hard pressed to argue that anything is precisely tuned to meet all skills levels. But the one thing that top elite performers and theorycrafters do when attempting encounters is establish how doable a fight is based on near-optimal performance. Although sometimes this results in nothing more than the divide between skill levels being put into stark contrast, there have been times where Blizzard has appropriately tuned the difficulty of an encounter based on feedback.

 

4. Setting the Bar

No matter the number of disparaging remarks made at players who spend their time in the game, testing, theorizing, and going to extreme measures to increase performance, the elitists at the far end of the spectrum, nerdy girlfriendless basement-dwelling virgins that they are, set the bar not only for performance standards but for class standards as well. Oftentimes, the hypothetical discussions held on theorycrafting sites in advance of content releases pave the way for stat shifts or other adjustments in a dynamic game environment. With every change that is implemented, the elite players go through an interative process of re-evaluation to ensure that, for example, Int gemming is still viable or that armor pen caps matter more than expertise.

 

5. Community Development through Debate

Forum trolls aside, I think one of the greatest forms of community building comes from the active debate held on so many forums, and oftentimes sparked by the “elitist” players with a passion for their beliefs. Not only do their suppositions, assertions, and questions enable a pseudo-Socratic debate, which can serve as a way to encourage players to work towards a greater understanding of their class and the game, but also the arguments they put forth can encourage players to develop a vested interest in class development and direction. While this vested interest can materialize in “don’t nerf me, bro” posts, other times it can and will be the guiding force for some well-reasoned class changes.

 

And the penultimate reason why elitists contribute to the betterment of the WoW community—all of their efforts are free. Even if they have nothing to offer beyond criticism and delineation of your own deficiencies, it’s feedback that you didn’t have to do a darn thing for. (Companies pay people to give them feedback on their performance, for crissakes!) And while I may not like someone questioning why I’m using a sub-optimal libram on my Holy Pally or calling me out for gemming to meet 2 blue sockets instead of 1 on Vixsyn, I realize that existing in a vacuum doesn’t get me anywhere. If anything, the benefit of the elitist asshats out there is the fact that they keep us all humble enough to question whether or not our beliefs are founded. And personally, I’d rather be questioned every step of my way towards my goals, then allowed to blithely wander into failure.

 

So, why does this discussion matter?

When I first started brainstorming this topic, after reading this post by one of the most well-known Shaman bloggers out there, I wrote up a quick list of questions that I wanted to address:

  • Does an optimal rotation exist?
  • What is its value and to whom is it valuable?
  • Does the “why” behind a decision matter?
  • Can you separate “fun” and a “kill” in terms of PVE? In terms of PVP?

In retrospect, I’m not sure all of the above questions have been answered in this debate. But as I sat writing this post, wondering if I had wandered off from my original intent, I was struck by the last question most of all because it was implied in some of the responses to the previous thread.

Speaking strictly in terms of end-game, when the goal of a player is the successful completion of an instance or PVP encounter, then whether they realize it or not, there are a threshold of requirements that they and/or the group need to meet. Some requirements are set in place by Blizzard—hard or soft enrages, HP, level of difficulty and complexity—and they vary by environment, think: Heroic Drak’Tharon versus Heroic Halls of Reflection. Other requirements are implied or stated by the group’s members—speed, wipe avoidance, and strat, for example. But beyond the RP aspects of end-game, these requirements become the very definitions of success.

Like it or not, I think it’s safe to say that the source of players’ enjoyment of WoW comes from the successes that they achieve. Whether it is completion of a quest, an instance, a boss kill, or a personal goal, most players are actually working towards an objective and not simply killing time. That means, that if enjoyment is predicated by success and success is defined by a kill, and a kill is defined by Blizzard as a set of metrics, then I’m sorry to say, the elitists might have it right after all. Because with their numbers, spreadsheets, rotations, specs, and copious arguments for X or Y, regardless of how inept the delivery, they might actually be handing you the keys to fulfillment.






11 Comments


  1. Gronthe

    So the question is did you convince me that Elitism is good? I think you presented your arguments and deliniated between positive and negative elitism. That said, I think I already believed in the power and need for non-jerklike elitism…but I dare say that even if I didn’t your series would have won me over.

    Whether it’s raiding (10 or 25), PvP, Auction House/Gold Making, questing, farming, whatever your aim at end-game or throughout the game, they all have optimums and all benefit from elitists who help make the game great. Probably the only thing that doesn’t require a good elitist is being a moron or a troll. But then, those people have such natural abilities at such behavior that they don’t need to read a strat or do math, they just have to be stupid (or, in other words, be themselves).

    I know for a fact that my enjoyment of the game has been greatly augmented by the elitists that you have described have helped form the classes and mechanics, etc we play with now. I remember flailing around a one hander and a shield as Enhancement Shaman when I was a young pup of level 20 and it wasn’t until I was on a two man escort quest with a rogue where he suggested that I use a two hander. He not only suggested but explained why it would help and suggested some websites to help me further. Until then I had no idea there were websites made by unpaid elitists that wanted to teach me how to play better. So I went, I studied, I practiced and I learned. I will ever be grateful to a good elitist.


  2. The value of the elite players with spreadsheets and rotations is always high, every community, every game has them. They will always exist, it is just the way it is. I want to make it clear I have nothing against them, hell I contribute to those groups regularly!

    I think the biggest strength in a community with elites, newbies and every thing in between is when dialogue is opened up. When you can freely discuss these things, ideas flow and everyone benefits. Everyone was new at some point even the elites and through trial and error they got the spreadsheets, rotations etc etc etc. And you are right, the criticism they give is free and useful, but is there a line between free and useful and just spiteful?

    Great read here Vix


  3. Asa

    Consider what WoW would be like if there were no elite players. What if nobody playing could answer the question about whether there is an optimal rotation or not in any kind of detail? What if the very best answer was “lol idk”? What if nobody knew what contributed to a quick boss death and what wiped a raid?

    Given that knowledge, intelligence and in-game experience are unevenly distributed among players, the interesting question isn’t whether having more of each is hypothetically beneficial but how specific people are treated during the exchange of information. That’s a social, ethical and pedagogical question. The poor reputation that some of the elite have earned comes from being good players and bad citizens. There is no achievement for being a great mentor.

    How can elitists use their knowledge in ways that build other people up rather than tear them down?


  4. Hmm thought I commented on Part I but maybe I didn’t end up hitting Submit. Just wanted to chime in that I don’t think badly of the true elitists – I admire their skill and their brains.

    Great article, so glad you wrote and published it and didn’t leave it hanging around in your head on the train home :)
    .-= Cassandri´s last blog ..Ravenholdt =-.


  5. I agree with everything you said except the name. People who know the mechanics of the game are experts, people who know the mechanics of the game and lord their knowledge over others are elitists. “I have/know something you don’t, let me share it with you” = beneficial for everyone, I don’t think anyone has a problem with that. “I have/know something you don’t, [insert derogatory remark here]” = those are the elitists that people hate.
    .-= Lyraat´s last blog ..WoW Remote Auction House iPhone App Review =-.


  6. Calmly

    Vixsyn – Great post, a guildie turned me on to your site after I told him I was rolling a resto shammy.

    I always remember that most people in the world (of warcraft) are great and kind, it is a small number who make it tougher to enjoy the game for the rest of us. Like Gronthe I have found elite players in the oddest places (ie. Mining ore in Un’Goro Crater) not just standing around waiting for the next raid in Dalaran. It is due to these kind Elite players giving me great information nuggets along the way that I, for lack of a better term attempt to “pay it foreward”.

    Calmly


  7. Gosh, very late to this party. But I didn’t want to read this until I had time to concentrate on it.

    Interesting that a few commenters above homed in on the way that “elitist” ideas are communicated and disseminated among the community. There’s something scary about those folks who seem to know it all and rant scathingly at anyone who asks a “stupid” question. Oftentimes it’s the “stupid” questions that help us become better players (even better people). But I will defend the true elitist “jerks” by pointing out that it seems when someone gets to the point of knowing what they’re talking about with some authority, they do seem to become the target of a lot of very similar questions that can become very tiring and very disillusioning. I imagine after a while of that it could get really hard not to behave a bit sociopathically if you feel you’re supporting the community and it’s not supporting you?

    But this is why I think it’s so important for the “elitists” to be truly part of the wider community. If we shut folks away in, say, “elitist” and “newbie” camps and never the twain shall meet, we kill off dialogue and inadvertently create one or two “experts” who know everything, a few sycophants who hang around the “experts” calling other people stupid for not knowing everything, and a whole bunch of very confused, very nervous people who’d just like to understand what that weird formula means for someone in their gear.

    On the other hand, if we have a pedagogical and social approach to our knowledge – sharing, discussing, critiquing, even humouring the “stupid questions” – then we end up with a whole community of people representing a wide spectrum of knowledge, skills, strengths, weaknesses, questions and answers. Sure there’ll still be some “experts” – and that’s a good thing, by the way – but in a true community, their works are constantly submitted for critical review and testing and as such their debt to the “lesser” members is never far out of view. And likewise the community which participates in the discussion and critique ultimately benefits from the enhanced tools and knowledge which the dialogue generates. That’s a community which has room for everyone and acknowledges the value of mutual interdependence, where the “elitists” actually depend upon the “newbies” and vice versa.

    So yeah, I’ve enjoyed these posts Vix, and I think you make some good points. Perhaps the terminology is a bit controversial but the underlying argument is sound. But I think the big issue for me is ultimately not whether “elitism” is good or bad, but how that elitism works itself out in the game community. And that’s something that every player can have a part of whether they want to optimise their gear to the smallest fraction of a percentage point or not.


  8. Alopheus

    Very good post with some excellent points, but I’d have to agree with Lyraat. This article talks more about the positive side of having expert players who are willing to share their knowledge with the game community, rather then elitists.

    elitism

    • noun

    1 the belief that a society or system should be run by an elite.
    2 the superior attitude or behaviour associated with an elite.

    Neither of these are a good thing in wow. Elite players, yes, but elitists, no.


  9. e·lite   
    –noun
    1. ( often used with a plural verb ) the choice or best of anything considered collectively, as of a group or class of persons.

    From Part I of this 2-part post:

    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).

    Ignoring the first definition of Elitism, since it is not one that I am implying with my usage of the term, “Elitist” as applied to the above scenario simply means that you act/behave like someone who is operating at the top of their respective class. (Whether or not you actually are a member of that top level is obviously open to debate, and likely a large majority of the WoW population subsribe to the belief that they are in the top 5% or so.) But, I don’t believe that the attitude/approach of a top player to the game is a bad thing, because it is not synonymous with douchebaggery; being an elitist doesn’t make you a douche, and visa versa. My contention is not that these players should rule the game, but rather that players openly aspiring to a high level of play, and achieving it, are the MVP’s that we all depend on to be role models in the game.

    So maybe the ultimate result is that some of us agree to disagree about a very broad community issue. And that’s fine by me; I simply appreciate the chance to make a counter-point. ^_^


  10. As Tamarind explains in his recent blog post, I think you’re misusing “elitism” here.

    Taking pride in being good at what you do doesn’t make you an elitist. Being aware of the fact that you have a rare or exceptional set of skills doesn’t make you an elitist.

    The Elitist Jerks aren’t actually elitists. If they were, they’d keep their information to themselves (because people who aren’t part of the elite don’t deserve the information). The EJs are actually deeply community spirited.

    Wanting everybody to play the game as well as possible is pretty much the opposite of elitism.


  11. I think you might have inadvertently hit the nail on the head, Chastity. The question I think you might want to reconsider is whether or not I’m intentionally misusing “elitism” here (perhaps to illustrate, through the course of my defense, that all the “elitists” out there, aren’t in fact, elitists?)

    Secondarily, I have to disagree with your assessment of EJ. Maybe it’s the pessimist in me, but I sincerely doubt that the EJ forums were founded (or are maintained) for the greater good of the WoW community. IMO, the EJ forums are “open to the public” for the same reason that someone wanting to sound important will speak loudly. Some participants may be interested in education of the populace, but frankly speaking, there’s no better way to prove your intellectual superiority than to expound on the mathematical characteristics of game mechanics. Thus, education of the masses is simply a byproduct in the quest to prove membership in the perceived highest echelon, similar to the education gained by someone eavesdropping on a heated theoretical debate between a noted scientist and his aspiring protégée.

    I appreciate the comment though. I greatly enjoyed Tam’s take on the issue, and found myself wishing I had some insightful and profound nugget of a comment to offer to his discussion. Unfortunately, I didn’t, so it just meant I tried to write and re-write a comment with my gratitude, and eventually gave up after 3 days of attempting to rephrase “you write gud”. :-P



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