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.
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