Science has had a bit of a revolutionary week. Suddenly we know what gives everything in the Universe that wants it the ability to possess mass. Last week, the existence of one particle was only speculation, and now we know it's real. That's pretty damned amazing.
Knowledge is a startling thing, and it is easy to forget that without it people can feel many things: angry, frustrated, disillusioned. Those people who are perceived to be more intelligent than others can be bullied for being 'different', but without those people the Universe would really be a staggeringly bland place, if we'd even discovered the fact we were in a Universe at all. Everything is relative, never forget this. You can't simply look at things in isolation, there always has to be the understanding that actually it's an infinite existence and, like it or not, everything is rather inextricably intertwined.
Hence we come to the game, to a comment left by Kurn on my Attunements thread and a series of exchanges on Twitter. @soetzufit this evening asked if people's experiences of the end of Cataclysm were the same as those at the end of Wrath. One of her comments immediately struck a chord:
Let us go back to the days of Vanilla. Depending on your experiences, it was many things. Most people agree that it was something rather special: the beginning of a game that would, one day, become a hugely significant experience for tens of millions of people worldwide. No-one knew that at the time, least of all Blizzard. What was apparent, and it shines through in so many other people's telling of 'their' Vanilla stories, was the way people first met and played together. Without Voice Chat, or addons, and in large groups which would be impossible to organise today. It was that way, of course, because that was the ONLY way. Those friendships that were forged, that (for many people) remain today, came from the those special moments... except they weren't then. Back then, that was the game. There was nothing to compare the experience to, no benchmarks except in other MMO's where nothing quite like this had ever happened. The 'universe' was still just this one small place with nothing else to commend it but the fact that individual experience shaped so much of most people's early history.
The Twitter comment stopped me in my tracks: the game changes, of course it does. It is altered to respond to the demands of those who play it, and wish to continue doing so. Blizzard have bent over backwards to make this happen in Pandaria, but still I see people saying this is not enough, and that we need a return to the days when we all had to learn for the first time. Except those individual perceptions of what made the game great are a long way from what the game has now become. Returning it to the previous state is impossible, because that has passed. History has come and gone. Learning from the past is what keeps Blizzard on top of its game, after all. Reinvention happens every two years or so, much to the annoyance of those people who'd love their game to remain the way they remember it... except that can't really happen. People change. Their priorities shift, their ability to play the game and do everything else... and here we see the bigger issue. The issue of the game's faults, of its failings or strengths, needs to be separated from what the players see as their experience of it. We need to go back to basic scientific principles to consider the real ramifications.
It has to be about facts.
We must put aside our emotional responses. We must forget the anger and the joy, the elation or defeat, even if they are key factors in what makes Warcraft such a significant experience. If you really want to understand why things change, then the basic facts are what we should deal in. Vanilla was clunky, badly made, it took time to do anything of note, and time is a luxury most people can ill afford to waste. When riding became too slow, we got flying mounts. Quests started to give us transport between hubs as standard. No longer did you need to travel to a Meeting Stone, LFG took you there instead. All of the improvements that have occurred are, in essence, quality of life upgrades via time management. If Blizzard want to make a quest line a challenge... it takes longer.
Time is what really matters.
Think back to the last occasion where you saw someone leave the game, and think about why they went. Did they spend too much time playing? Was there not enough time for other things? Did the person feel that the game was taking over parts of their life, or that other things were simply more significant in the overall scheme of things? In the inevitability of linear existence you make choices based on a myriad of different factors but it doesn't stop the clock from ticking. Everything has a relative place in your overall chronology, and the key to you remaining with the game as a part of your life has to be because it is able to fit into your life in a fashion that allows everything else to continue along with it. Blizzard know this, of course they do, and as time becomes ever more precious as you get older, whether it be with kids or life changes or simply just with the fact you are moving forward, the onus becomes not simply what you do, but how long it takes you to complete it.
Blizzard know those who'll farm until their fingers bleed. They know those people who'll log for raids 3 times a week. They know how many people farm herbs in Tol Barad. These facts are the key, the massive amount of data that is the game itself, the numbers and the spreadsheets and the data fields that are their facts, at their disposal. In Pandaria we will see faction rep run in a completely different way as a result. There'll be no need to get reputation for enhancing your gear. If you want to spend all your time wandering the land and finding lore you can do that too and this time you'll be rewarded for it because, I think you'll find, Blizzard worked out a way to make more people happy by spending as much time as they want playing. This could be the biggest masterstroke of all. If you want a Legendary this time, you have to go through to the end. Every patch. No exceptions. Blizzard understand the nature of time only too well, and they fully intend to exploit it.
In order there is always chaos. The idiots and the wasters and the fools remain, slowly being weeded out by bans and group pressure and the same methods of self-policing that have existed since Vanilla. The people who want to cause trouble simply will. Those who don't want to learn won't. Just because they start their journey now doesn't make any real difference: if they are lucky and meet other people who take the time to stop and think, who try to educate, then maybe some of them will be saved. Perhaps their experience will one day be remembered as fondly by them as those who began so long ago... the experiences are totally relative, after all. It depends where you begin the journey. What all of us need to remember is that the only way to really understand why things change and what makes things work is to divorce ourselves from the emotional issues and simply consider the facts. Blizzard has all of those at its disposal. If we think they're reading them wrong we tell them, and in most cases they go away, consider the situation, and realise that maybe they weren't considering everything as well as they could be.
Relative to everything else you could be playing right now, this game still has an awful lot going for it. We just need to remember to look at it in context.