There are a ton of things I count myself lucky to have, but topping that list is a father who has always been my #1 fan. No matter where I have chosen to make my path, my father has always been there, foam finger fixed on his hand, to support me in any way possible. When I started playing soccer at age 8, he was my chauffeur, trainer, and cheer squad rolled into one. When I switched from soccer to volleyball, up through my senior college season, he was there for almost every game and tournament. When I broke away from my childhood dream of being the next Frank Lloyd Wright to get my Master’s in Civil Engineering, he sent me enough books to fill a small library, so that I wouldn’t go into the field unarmed.
And (don’t worry, this is the relevant part!) since I took up blogging about World of Warcraft three years ago, he’s shown his support by learning about the game I hold so dear, about website statistics, and even reading my posts from time to time. Our phone calls often include discussion of my “raiding team for the war games” and, whenever he visits, he’s always keen to discuss his new ideas for monetizing my blogging time investment. (“Could you make the posts into a book? Do consulting work? Freelance for a WoW Magazine?” he inquires, much to my amusement.) For a guy who just got online five or six years ago, he picks things up pretty fast. But the one thing I have always struggled to explain to him is what exactly it means to be a blogger. I can explain raids, I can explain healing, and hell, I’ve even drawn napkin diagrams to make points about class balance. But when it comes down to explaining what it means to be the sole author of Life in Group 5, I often find myself, shockingly, at a loss for words.
So, in celebration of my third blogoversary (/confetti), and in what has become a yearly tradition of wandering off the beaten Resto Shaman / Healing path, I thought it appropriate to give that elusive definition one more shot. But let’s start by getting something out of the way right off the bat …
I Still Don’t Know What a Blogger is
Despite my substantial early efforts at researching “how to blog”, and the 3 years that have elapsed since I first hit the Publish button on LiG5, I know I’m no closer now to understanding what it is to be a “true” World of Warcraft blogger than I was when I first vetted the idea of starting my own site. And admittedly, as anyone who has ever emailed me for advice on how to start blogging has discovered, I’m no good on doling out suggestions on the topic either. As job descriptions go, it’s a vague title at best—Blogger—identifying the system of publication instead of your means and methods, or even your end goals. And when you peel back the first layer of snark that surrounds the practice (as in: “Oh, you blog? How quaint”), you’re really just a writer; maybe a prolific one, maybe not. Maybe a member of Team Verbosity or maybe a devotee of Twitter-like precision.
If anything, it’s the lack of specificity, of guidelines, timetables, and rules, that I think gives bloggers the most pause. It will either lead them to embrace the medium or encourage them to avoid their computer like the plague (while their blog goes through the 3 stages of abandonment—AFK, Denial, and then, Justification). Blogging is both wonderful and terrifying in its nebulousness. A blank blog post can be exciting when you’re inspired or incredibly intimidating when inspiration is lacking.
For myself and LiG5, the definition of a blogger has most certainly been a journey. Because although I started this blog with a structure based on the suggestions of several now-retired prominent bloggers, along the way I picked up a chip on my shoulder that has, for better or for worse, refused to shake loose. It came from an MMO-C commenter, who, had the following opinion (I’m paraphrasing, since I didn’t actually save the link):
That this comment was made to someone suggesting LiG5 as good reading material is undoubtedly what made it stick in my memory. But that it has continued to impact the topics that I choose to address, the content that I present, and even the posts that have been relegated to the trash heap, is a testament to the fact that the definition of a blogger isn’t solely determined by the person doing the work. And although I might be working to establish one definition, the fact is that those who read my content might be coming to an entirely different conclusion.
So, the definition of a blogger? You can see why I don’t really have a handle on that one.
But I know the one thing a Blogger’s got
Opinions. Our sandboxes are positively brimming with them, based on our rules and our priorities. Like I mentioned above, the absolute lack of constraints on what it takes to be a blogger encourages us to fill in the gaps and give definition to the boundaries of our world. On LiG5, I talk about my version of WoW, the world in which my perspective is the dominant one, where PVE > PVP, where mix-maxing is required, and where meters are a valued tool. On my site, I am the ruler of my own fiefdom, with the power to not only control what information is put out there, but also what level of conversation I’m willing to participate in, because hey, I ultimately approve every comment that’s made.
But that right there is what makes the blogger’s business of opinions quite sticky, because someone is bound to disagree with you, adamantly, at some point. And while sometimes we get off easily, when an opposing viewpoint is presented rationally or somewhat objectively, other times bloggers’ stance on free and acceptable speech is put to the test. If I never wanted a dissenting opinion voiced on any of my posts, I have the power to never let those views be seen. (Remember: my fiefdom, my rules, my admin powers). But I think there is an innate desire in most bloggers to have the results of their posts be conversations, which is why you enable commenting in the first place. I’ve had plenty of internal debates about just where I draw the line on confrontational opinions and outright hostility, because honestly, it’s tough to embrace free speech when that free speech is calling you an idiot, an arrogant prick, or worse.
Regardless, I can’t deny that it’s my own strong opinions that fuel the content I generate. Because unlike theorycrafting sites, and as much as I try and fight it, blogs oftentimes have an imbalance of opinion versus fact. While every blogger might want to think of themselves as an unbiased voice for their class, the truth of it is, we are anything but. We’re either lobbyists or critics, with some amount of investment in the topic that we’re writing about.
I write about Resto Shamans and healing because that’s how I (primarily) experience the game. I write posts discussing our strengths and weaknesses because, at my core, I want the class I play to be the best that it can be and I care about its performance more than I care about the performance of any other class. (Hey, at least I can admit it.) So while I may strive and reach for objectivity, and do the best I can to logically and reasonably back up the claims I make, I cannot divorce myself from the passion I feel for my class. And that’s okay, because while it may seem self-serving, that subjectivity, that investment in the class that I write about, is what keeps me continuing to write about it.
And I know what Bloggers struggle with
You can put time first on that list; it’s something that I wrote about in last year’s Offtopic, and an issue that even the most unconstrained of bloggers will struggle with. In that same discussion I wrote about motivation as well, as another pitfall of taking on a hobby that stems from passion and initiative. When it rains, it pours, and there aren’t enough hours in the day to account of all of the ideas, topics, and opinions racing around in your mind. But the flip side is equally true; a bone dry mind feels like using sandpaper to fell a tree. The task feels so monstrous, so unachievable, that you’d rather do dailies on four toons than struggle with putting another coherent sentence on the page. And when a lack of motivation in game translates to a lack of motivation to blog, or visa versa, those can be the toughest of times for a Blogger.
Beyond the struggles to actually generate content, are the struggles that come once you’ve actually generated it. The big questions on my mind when I started LiG5:
- Will anyone actually ever read this tripe?
- (When I post something and no one comments) Why does no one like this tripe?
- (When I post something and some people comment) Why do more people not like this tripe?
are ones that still plague me to this day. Because although every blogger and their blogger friends will tell you “it’s not about page views or comments”, the honest truth is that everyone likes to have some validation that they aren’t just shouting into space (except maybe Perculia and Hamlet, who have seemingly embraced it). Views, page hits, comments, tweets, emails–all constitute reinforcement of the effort and time you put into your posts. Bloggers aren’t aging hippies walking around People’s Park talking to the trees, and despite the fact that some of us might be basement-dwelling nerds, we still do like to interact every once and a while. Even after all these years, I still suffer from my own fanboi moments whenever I see LiG5 links and referrals pop up into my page statistics. I called my SO immediately upon discovering that Wowhead’s Shaman page includes a link to my Resto guide (“Why yes, hunny, I totally interrupted your meeting for that. IT WAS IMPORTANT!”), and during Cataclysm, every time I saw the Resto Shaman EJ page show up in my referrals list, I got a warm-fuzzy feeling knowing that someone thought my comments on Telluric Currents were important enough to quote.
But with this continual search for reinforcement, and once you start receiving it, comes the danger of starting to believe in the fantasy world that you’ve woven. It’s the point at which a blogger’s opinions, ideas, and posts on class or game design can break away from context and perspective and run screaming towards the mic at the VMAs to babble on about how they’re the best thing since sliced bread. It’s the same affliction found on forums and boards across the entire community when one person, no matter how popular, loses sight of the bigger picture and the 10+ million that play this game, and starts believing that they can and should speak out for an entire segment of the population.
Does that mean that a blogger is incapable of contributing good ideas or commentary? Of course not; sometimes we can get lucky. My idea for Call of the Ancestors = Spirit Shell (not that I think I deserve credit, it’s more that I just got lucky), and most oftentimes, we’ve logged a significant number of hours on the class, so we can speak from some basis of experience. But not only are bloggers able to brute force our ideas onto players, and if we’re lucky a Blizzard employee or two, we’re not constrained by accountability and viability. We can throw out idea after idea without being burdened by the very realistic constraints of actual player data, implementation, balance, consumer response, budget/technology, and a host of other issues. On our soapbox, none of these matter, so we’re free to suggest things that would be cast aside within the first 5 minutes of any brainstorming session.
We may be loud voices, and we may be able to get other people to nod in agreement with us, but we’re single voices nonetheless.
And the payoff?
While I may never be able to come to a solid definition of what a blogger is (sorry Dad!) or whip up some fancy Excel analysis about the topic, every year that I renew LiG5’s domain, I find it easier to answer the question of “why?”.
Being a blogger is the way that I can not only find people who enjoy playing in this sandbox as much as I do, but it’s also the way that I can find people outside my walls, who expand my perspective, challenge my views, and keep me grounded lest my nose start creeping ever higher in the air. Being a blogger is how I can sort through all the ideas that a fantasy world inspires and completely geek out with someone else over some seemingly inconsequential detail. Being a blogger is how I can participate in or even, shockingly, start a conversion with strangers. And being a blogger is how I can share my enthusiasm for “just a game” with other people, by helping them with their characters, soothing their frustrations, or lobbying for class changes, making the game that much more enjoyable for us both. Sure, there are challenges that crop up along the way, but the reward, at least for me, is well worth it.
Because these days, it’s not just my Dad sitting in the bleachers, cheering me on as I find my way into new lands, slay dragons, find shiny treasures, or … pick mogu pumpkins. There’s a whole host of you out there (thankfully without vuvuzelas) that I’ve come to know, some briefly and some much more deeply. And that’s the one truth about blogging that you don’t understand until you do—it isn’t the audience who should be thanking the blogger for his efforts, it’s the blogger who should be thanking them. Because you all are the unobtrusive Bluetooth mic that takes the crazy guy ranting on the street corner about blue trolls and spinning pandas, and turns him into the gamer passionately talking on the phone to someone about his night of raiding. You are what gives this blogger context.
So thank you, for another year of Life in Group 5. Year 4 awaits.