Life in Group 5 – A Resto Shaman Blog
A resto shaman perspective on raiding


Philosophy

June 5, 2012

Failure: The Misunderstood F-Word

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Written by: Vixsin
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SuccessFailure(2)

The pattern of events is easily recognizable in any raiding scene—a player dies, several more follow, a wipe occurs, and the fail shaming starts. Sometimes, (all too rarely), you are presented with an even-mannered assessment of the issue, while other times the depth of analysis is along the lines of “[Stabbymcstab]: LAWL FAIL NOOB. U SUCK”. After which, it quickly devolves into a game of failure shaming. It’s enough to make even the most resilient person become twitchy at the mere mention of the word.

As healers, we are more well-positioned than most to observe the failures of a raid team by virtue of the fact that we spend most raid encounters with our eyes glued to raid frames. We are (and I confess I find this to be a hilarious mental image) the fussy mother hens of health bars. “Oh, let me just heal that up for you”, “Here, have a hot to tide you over”, or “Oh my that was a big hit. Let me just … all better now”. Sometimes, we turn into the sarcastic martyr, “Oh don’t trouble yourself. You go right on ahead and stand in that deadly fire. I have limitless mana to expend on your idiocy”. But, we are certainly not immune to the effects of playing whack-a-mole every night—healers can be some of the most failure-adverse players out there.

But I wonder if our distaste for failure is really helping us, or if it’s hurting us in the long run by perpetuating the two distinct misconceptions. Namely, that failure is a single cause-and-effect, and, secondly, that failure has no value.

Failure is a Horse Race

Back when I was walking the hallowed halls of my chosen university, striving for another line to put on my resume and another notch in my belt of credentials, I took a course that looked at risk management in engineered systems. It went over typical topics that most engineers love sinking their teeth into: risk factors, degrees of reliability, and how to calculate the potential failure of a system. It was during one of our first sessions that the professor imparted his “If I teach you anything …” bit of knowledge–failure is like a horse race.

This is to say, don’t be fooled into thinking the failure is an isolated and singular event. In any system, whether it’s virtual or tangible, you’re not just dealing with one point of failure; you’re dealing with a multitude of parallel failure paths . And, as any engineer might tell you, no system is immune to failure. So what you have is a pack of horses barreling down the track; all in motion, all racing towards that final marker. It’s very rarely a matter of “if” they’ll finish, but rather which horse will reach the finish line first. When you’re talking about failures in an engineered system, the end of the race is the “end effect”, which is generally the failure of the system (the explosion of a reactor, the disconnection of a walkway hanger from the post, a floodwall falling over, etc.)

In WoW’s raiding game, the end effect of failure is a wipe. And most times, it’s easy to identify the horse that won the race—a missed knockback or stun on Rag, a frost orb connecting with a player on HM Council, a missed interrupt on Maloriak, a flubbed soak on Ultraxion, a non-cooldowned Impale, etc. Cause-and-effect is an easy link to make. But in our desire to quickly pinpoint the failure that resulted in the wipe, we ignore, consciously or unconsciously, the concurrent failures that occurred prior to the final collapse of our team, ones that didn’t have the chance to become critical. We ignore the other horses on the track and look only at the guy who won the race.

The problem with this is the false sense of validation when we pinpoint someone else as the problem. All of our small failures are wiped away as we play pin-the-blame-on-the-lol-fail-noob. Furthermore, by ignoring concurrent yet non-critical failures, we extend the time in which it takes to learn an encounter. If there is only ever a 1-to-1 relationship between a wipe and the problem that the raid team identifies as needing to be addressed, then imagine the difference in iterations that it will take to identify all the potential sources of failure in a raid. Every raider has had the experience of listening to a teammate say, after his failure led to a wipe, “But I’ve always done it that way!” In other words, the constant perceived reinforcement of bad habits/practices let that teammate think, for countless iterations, that his failures were non-existent, when in fact, he was maybe inches behind the horse that won the race.

Valuing Failure

I think it’s fair to say, that we raiders can be a cranky bunch. Despite the fact that we oftentimes fail as much as (if not more than) we succeed, it can still bring out the worst snark and sarcasm in us. And as quick as we are to isolate and condemn failure, we consistently use it to validate our successes. The encounters you are oftentimes the most proud of beating are the ones that either contained or created the most failures.

For example: no one brags about killing Argolath (remember him? Big guy, under TB? Yeah, I had to look up his name, I admit it). But you can sure as hell bet that they brag about killing HM Ragnaros. Why? I’d argue that it’s because the potential for failure, and the actual failures that did occur, are exponentially more on Tier 12’s final HM boss, versus Baradin Hold’s loot piñata. HM Rag was “hard” because of how much exactitude the encounter demanded from your raid team and the devise punishment associated with each failure. (How “enjoyable” he was as a result of that difficulty is, obviously, debatable). And at 461 attempts on HM Rag, I’d have to kill him every week for almost 9 years to equalize my failures with my successes. (Now that’s a pretty sobering thought). Yet, those failures, the very fact that in my Tier 12 retrospective post I took the time to count how many wipes our raid team had accumulated, clearly demonstrate that those failures are something that I, as a raider, as a gamer, value.

So maybe the title of this section is a bit of a misnomer, because it isn’t failure that we as raiders value so much, as it is the potential for failure. In fact, I think it could be argued that one of the reasons that farm content oftentimes feels so uninspiring is because the potential for failure is almost non-existent, except for those rare encounters that don’t yield to brute force effort. As fun as it is to collect that shiny upgrade that you’ve been waiting for, the lack of challenge somewhat diminishes the item’s luster.

Personally speaking, it’s the potential for failure that keeps me looking forward to raid every week and what keeps me raiding on multiple characters even when content is past its expiration date. In fact, some of the most enjoyable farm content I ever did was T11/T12 farming with Pie Chart, where I was blessed with a healing lead that was more than happy to create situations where the healing team’s potential for failure was incredibly high. I distinctly remember the night he yielded to requests to underheal Atramedes HM, but instead of dropping down to 4 or 3 healers, we did it with 2: a disc priest and me. Or 3-healing HM Rag with 2 shaman and a priest, which was as rewarding as it was frustrating.

These situations, and the many more that our healing team found themselves in, reintroduced the possibility of failure, and I’d argue, made us better healers as a result. But it isn’t an experience exclusive to healing, because the potential for failure is present whenever you have something that pushes you outside of your comfort zone, whether it’s interrupts, kiting, creating healing assignments, or even raid leading. The potential for failure is what pushes us to be better. By that basis alone, it should be something we look forward to, not dread.

Failure is Inherent

As I mentioned before, I find it odd that the majority of my time as a raider is spent in situations where failure is seen as something that needs to be marginalized in order to succeed. As a healer, I think this is especially true, as raid leaders and teams hedge their bets and dull their healers’ aptitude by overloading healing teams, sticking with limited healing assignments, even micro-managing healers’ CDs. And this is done under the misconception that by isolating potential areas of failure, they are in fact, ensuring greater success for their raid team.

But, the more I look at it, the more I think that isn’t the case. We aren’t doing anything other than refusing to see the other horses in the race; thinking that if we eliminate the front-runner(s), that other failures won’t step up and fill the gap. We’re sending raiders a message that they need to perform under pressure but not allowing them the opportunity to do exactly that. All for fear of failure, when it is something that is an integral part of our PVE experience. The fact is, everyone fails. Every raider out there, from Blood Legion to Super Casual Happy Chipmunks, has been a failure. And not necessarily because that failure resulted in a wipe. So, in the end, it is not successes that we should actively seek out, but rather the failures that might go unnoticed, because that is where the greatest potential lies.

“I have missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot . . . and missed. And I have failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why . . . I succeed.” – Michael Jordan






5 Comments


  1. Kevorkien

    Nice philosophical write-up, here!

    Our guild has come to understand that everyone needs to fail at a mechanic at least once for us to be able to progress. Of course, this isn’t strictly true, but it sure feels like it. I feel that what really separates the extremely successful players from the rest is predicting and avoiding failure each attempt – being the last horse every time. “That Thunderfury isn’t helping us when you’re dead.” The raiders that only need to fail at a mechanic once to never die to it again are my favorites, even if they have 5% less output.

    Thanks for the thinking :)


  2. Squidfayce

    Not a single comment after a few days – lol.

    Im unsure if people “got” it, or they just dont know what to say.

    Its such a simlpe concept, but it had never crossed my mind. Of course I can tell when dream wasnt used by shrapnell affected parties, or when somone didnt use a CD for an hour of twillight soak etc, but calling it out there and then tends to put the raid on the back foot and cause further faltering.
    however by the time the boss dies or a wipe occurs, its seldom remembered unless that was the defining moment the attempt fell apart.

    I guess if we had raid teams that had raiders that ALL enjoyed pouring overlogs, this type of behaviour or responsibility for ones performance would improve. and the propensity for error fall or become quicker realised by each party making the non critical errors.

    Ah well, We’ll just have to stick to finger pointing at the biggest failure untill then :P


  3. Dak

    Hehe, I think people most love to argue points, or agree vociferously to a point they know others will strongly disagree with. This post is one of those things you feel is true in your bones, and a damn good read besides.


  4. Noirelle

    I loved this post. And you summed up pretty much why i like 25man raiding so much more than 10man raiding. Allthough this is not especially about the size of the raidgroup, it is one of the main reasons that makes 25man raiding more interesting for me, you have more ppl constantly failing to several mechanics.
    I’m someone who tries to not only learn the encounter but also the habits of my teammates. Most raiders have their special ‘blindspots’, smth they seem unable to learn and die to in multiple attempts. This is what I try to compensate if I have the possibilty and that’s what i like about healing. No one is perfect, everyone has his weakness, and as a healer, if you know your fellow raiders, you can compensate that (in a certain amount, not completely ofc).
    Sometimes, when we finally wipe due to smth a certain player has done wrong all attempts before (without leading to a wipe before) the healing team is the only group in the raid not surprised about it… because we are most of the time the only ones who carefully look at all those horses on the track and try to slow them down.


  5. Rathje

    I liked reading this. It reminded me of an experience I posted on Battlenet forums a couple months ago about my first “raid” ever.

    I’m hanging out in Stormwind on my Enhance Shaman main and get whispered by my friend/mentor that she’s two bosses into a heroic 25 man Icecrown Citadel PUG run on her Resto Shaman, and do I want to join in? I’ve never been, and it’s old content, so I say sure. How hard could it be?

    Well, a few trash fights into it, those delusions are quickly dispelled and I realize we really do need all the 20 players the raid leader managed to round up for this run.

    Well, no problem – it just means it isn’t going to be the faceroll i was expecting, I’ll just follow everyone else and this should work out. I wasn’t all that well geared (grinding HoT heroics for gear), but my friend is a top flight raid healer and we’ve got 20 level 85s running around.

    Well, we down Saurfang and the two zombie giants no problem. And I’m noticing there’s not much communication coming from anyone in the raid. We pretty much run up to the boss room and wait for everyone to catch up. Then the two main tanks start things up and we pile on however we like. It works fine up to this point, but we hit the Professor, and I’m having a real fight for survival. I’m dancing out of stuff I wasn’t expecting, getting pounded by… I don’t know what, and chucking just about every Malestrom Weapon proc on either myself or the healers nearby. Our entire raid was taking a lot of damage and there were a few deaths before we downed him – but we did get him. The Council is a similar story. They go down, but not before roughing us up a lot. I’m starting to feel a little wary at this point and treating this like serious content for my level, even though I wasn’t expecting it from WotLK content.

    Still dead silence from the raid.

    Start the Lana’thel fight and I get my first death halfway in when I got one-shotted by… something…. I have no idea what it was, and no one explained anything before the fight. Not even a simple “avoid X.” The Dreamwalker boss fight went fine though with no problems.

    At this point, the raid leader breaks silence – to complain about the poor skills in this PUG.

    I’m thinking, “well maybe if someone explained to me what the crap is going on, I’d be playing better.” But I don’t really want to single myself out for abuse out of 20 players, so I keep my mouth shut. I thought I’d done alright so far for someone who had zero knowledge of these raid bosses.

    Sindragosa… It was ugly. I’m just DPS-ing nicely and then I’m encased in ice and can’t do anything. Raid leader chats:

    “Unbelievable, I’ve never seen a group ever get 12 ice blocks” and then some other disparaging remarks about our skill level.

    I die in the ice and then watch the rest of the raid wipe. Still no explanation forthcoming from the raid leader, just a bunch of superior sounding remarks about how this shouldn’t be so hard. Second time through, we don’t do much better, and the only time the raid leader says anything is to yell at us all for breaking the ice prisons too soon.

    Well, excuse me – I died in there last time, and I figured I’d try to save other players from the same fate, but… OK… don’t break the ice prisons.

    This time, the raid leader finally gives us the first fight explanation of the entire raid. People marked for the ice prisons will have a blue mark over their heads, everyone has to avoid them, and they have to go to the bottom of the stairs and and line up to create a barrier from the dragons missiles which the rest of us will hide behind – then when we’re done hiding, we break the barriers.

    OK… NOW it makes sense to me. Thank you kindly Mr. Raid Leader.

    I think we might have gotten one more wipe after that (doing significantly better), but we finally downed Sindragosa with 5 raid members left. Proud to say, I was one of them and really felt like I’d pulled out all my DPS stops to pull it off. Honestly, it felt like downing my first raid boss, and I guess it was.

    We move on with the raid leader and one other guy making sarcastic remarks about “any bets on how many of them die to Arthas’ shadow bombs?” I think he also called us one of the worse groups he’d been in.

    So final boss – Lich King. And the only explanation we get is “avoid the shadow bombs.”

    Okay….

    We try it. And it’s hard to get the timing of things down, I try to avoid, but one nails me and I die. Others die, things go from bad to worse, and we wipe before Arthas hits 70%.

    The Raid leader is raging about “why aren’t you guys avoiding the shadow bombs?” His buddy jokes “they think they’re power ups.” Ha, ha, whatever… let’s go.

    Next run, I manage to avoid the shadow bombs, I’m following around DPS-ing one of the abominations on the outer ring, then someone yells something I didn’t catch and… the freaking floor collapses and I fall to my death.

    ….

    Wasn’t expecting that. Raid leader rages some stuff about running to the center when Arthas casts Quake. Note taken again.

    Keep in mind, I’d never studied this raid at all. I’ve only been playing the game a year and I just tagged along because a friend asked me and it sounded fun. How was I supposed to know it was a basically a bona fide raid? And keep in mind, for not knowing what I’m doing, I think I’ve been doing alright for myself.

    Take three: We start up again. Avoid shadow bombs. DPS Abomination the off-tank is handling. As it so happens, he’s tanking the thing not around the edges, but near the stairs to the frozen throne. Suddenly everyone runs and…. I get one-shotted by some massive frost nova. Then I watch what’s left of the raid mostly avoid the collapsing platform, and wind up dying anyway somehow. Wasn’t sure what was going on at this point.

    So I’m getting the idea that you have to be on the edges, and then you have to run to the center. First to avoid the frost nova thing, then to avoid the collapse. Wonder if the Lich King has any other surprises in store for us our Raid Leader hasn’t told us about?

    Well, I never found out. A few people dropped group at this point, and someone managed to start the fight with only two healers present, causing another wipe. At this point, as the Raid Leader gripes about how awful we are, people steadily drop group one after the other.

    Last words from the Raid Leader before I drop group myself:

    “I hope I never see any of you ever again.”

    Which seemed to me rather short-sighted. After all, our raid group had actually been steadily improving each fight. We weren’t idiots. We were picking up the mechanics and implementing the lessons from our mistakes. It was a WotLK raid – you can’t expect a lot of people to be familiar with that. We paid a lot for our knowledge of the boss mechanics that we could use again.

    At any rate, this leader wasn’t exactly Shackleton material (Wiki him). It’s not like we didn’t have time waiting in front of the boss chambers for a few simple fight mechanic explanations. Especially once it should have become obvious to the Raid Leader that a few of us didn’t know the fights.

    But whatever. It was my first raid ever basically! So I was feeling too pumped to really care much about our pouting leader. Reading up on the fight description for the Lich King on wowhead… it was absolutely ridiculous that no one gave a fight explanation before we tried to take him on.

    But complaining about the poor leadership aside, I guess the experience was a dramatic example of a group learning content through trial and error and eventually getting it. Sindragosa killed us repeatedly. But every fight, we did a bit better. Until finally we squeaked out a win. The group wasn’t stupid. They learned from their mistakes and were actually improving. It was foolish of the “raid leader” to throw all that experience away just because he didn’t want to wipe again. And like I said, downing Sindragosa at level 85 is probably one of the proudest memories I have from my year and a half total of playing this game.



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