Aloha, LOL

May 7, 2010

Warcraft, like any other large-scale hobby with a devoted following, has a great deal of its own language. “Tank”, “DPS”, “PST”, “LoS”, “pull”, “boomkin”, they all mean exactly doodly squat to someone who doesn’t play and they’ll all get you called noob if you don’t know what they mean. But in the entire game, is there any so versatile a term as “lol”? In the greater internet it tends to mean “I am laughing out loud right now”, but over my career in the World of Warcraft, especially its pickup groups and battlegrounds, I have come to find that it can mean so many more things.


“I am furious with you right now”

“I love you”

“I’m going AFK to do my taxes and send in some suggestions on balancing the national budget, someone else heal”

“I’m sorry, was that fourteen mobs? I thought it was the win button.”

“Check it out, this stuff on the ground tickles.”

“I am a complex tapestry of shaded emotions.”

“I am the vampiric bastard child of Kael’thas and Sylvanas.”

“I am extremely impaired right now.”

“I hate you all.”

“Group one go north and take stables, group two hold lumber mill, the rest of you defend farm”

“Please tip 10% of mats cost”

“I’m sorry, I have no gear, gold, or brain cells, could you let me skate on this and just get what I want anyway please?”

“Goodness that wipe was spectacular, who was healing while I was on my smoke break, they must have sucked.”

“I find the existential nature of our situation to be truly side-splitting. Also I am so baked right now.”


“Real tanks don’t need defense”

“I am sorry, I am deeply embarrassed right now and have nothing else to say.”

“I find the expectations you have burdensome.”

“Check it out, my toes are made of pizza.”

“GTG, raid”

“I exist to infuriate you.”

The Mythical Mighty Consecrate

May 5, 2010

Sorry I’ve been a bit absent lately; in addition to getting rather serious about leveling my warrior alt, I’m busy being the world’s most epic failure at PvP over on the Tournament Realms. Pet-addict Ossifer Bear tempted four of us into going for the murloc, which ordinarily wouldn’t be enough for me, but the chance to play a max-level character doing something new with any gear I wanted was more than worth it to me. For all ten seconds I survive an average match, anyway. Eventually our team rating may drop low enough that we’re only facing other pet addicts, but for right now we’re like those exploding sheep. Actually “Exploding Sheep” would have been an excellent team name.

Anyway. Leveling Holly the prot warrior has been an interesting experience, in no small part because warriors and paladins seem to have as much of a tanking rivalry as mages and warlocks do in caster DPS. Where warriors are strong- interrupts and on-demand control abilities- paladins are weak, and where warriors are weak- sustained AOE- paladins are strong. When I feel masochistic and read the tanking forums, there seems to be absolutely no end to the warriors either demanding paladins be nerfed or demanding to be given copycat abilities. And one of the major sources of butthurt seems to be consecrate, the glowing gold patch of ground that basically acts like a stationary DoT and generates threat on everything standing on.

Maybe it’s just that I’ve only played fifty levels of warrior to my 80-plus-raid-tanking as a paladin, but to concerned warriors looking at a consecrate equivalent as the solution to their tanking woes: it’s not. It’s not what makes paladins dominate at what they do best, and it wouldn’t actually be that great an addition to the warrior toolbox.

In terms of threat generated when it counts, consecrate is the weakest tool in my multi-target toolbox. I activate this ability LAST when tanking multiple targets unless it’s waves of mobs in HoR when the mobs are going to be coming in in a staggered fashion that makes me give up a lot of my ability to control pulls. First I hit holy shield, which in terms of functionality works basically like a warrior’s damage shield. Then I pull with Avenger’s Shield, which hits up to three conveniently-placed targets for big burst threat. (Or only one if Blizzard has decided not to design the mob pack to my greater convenience.) Then I hit hammer of the righteous, which hits four targets if glyphed and three if not. (I don’t keep it glyphed, since making sure my taunts never miss is more important in ICC.) I’m running any heroic or trash pack I’m in Seal of Command, which spreads holy love around like whoa and is frankly what is really overpowered about my AOE tanking capacities. Once I have done all of this and multiple targets are safely glued to me, consecrate goes down. If it’s a heroic and mana may be an issue due to low return from spiritual attunement and everything dying too fast for judgment of wisdom to make a difference, I may skip it entirely. As a general rule mobs don’t run over it and then switch to me- if they were running toward a healer or a DPS for any reason other than a facepull they’ve already got too much threat on not-me for the second’s worth of contact with the floor patch to make a meaningful difference.

You know one thing I really love about tanking on my warrior as opposed to the paladin? My AoE snap threat from thunderclap and my other abilities to control REALLY multiple targets. All of my paladin’s multi-target abilities have a set target limit, and they work fantastically as long as I’ve set up the pull correctly and render keeping the mobs on me the dull go-make-a-sandwich task that warriors complain about. But if I DIDN’T set up the pull right, or some DPS too busy humping Recount front-loads AoE damage before I’ve had a chance to do much, my options are limited. I can pull up to three mobs off someone with Righteous Defense, but if a pull has gone REALLY bad- think the first room of Azjol-Nerub gone pear-shaped- then that doesn’t make that much difference. I can try and land hammers, but that still has the target limit and things have to be in front of me and it has a six-second cooldown. Bothering with consecrate at all is laughable given its low snap threat, small area, and limitation of being dropped wherever I happen to be standing and then staying there. Basically, my options for meaningfully affecting a situation truly gone to hell are bubbling the healer and running around like a headless chicken with RD and my single-target taunt. If I do the latter particularly well I might save one or two of the DPS as well.

If the same thing happens on my warrior: challenging shout to immediately move to the head of the threat table for ALL the mobs in the room, thunderclap to get a snap burst on ALL of them whether they’re in front of me or not as soon as they’re close, shield block and start tabbing around revenging every proc and cleaving away with my suddenly limitless rage on every swing I can hit. If things are still running at healers and it wouldn’t make the situation worse, I also have intimidating shout to buy a few precious seconds to regain some control. In ten more levels I’ll also have shockwave, which works the way I’m used to hammer working except without the target limit and it will also force things to hold still if I’m running up on them from behind chasing them to the back line.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying warriors have nothing to complain about and certainly not saying they’re actually better multi-target tanks than paladins are and just haven’t realized it yet. Paladin tanks are designed around being able to establish control easily right at the beginning and keep it with minimal challenge- but warriors are far more capable of rescuing a multi-target situation and re-asserting control if it’s been lost, with minimal sacrifice of other party members.

If you want to equalize warriors and paladins in terms of multi-target capabilities, don’t give warriors a consecrate copy, give paladins a challenging shout copy- and put seal of command out of reach of tanking paladins while bumping cleave’s target cap up a few. Making the threat scaling more even between the two classes in end-game gear would help too, though it seems the Cataclysm developers are already all over the concept.

At the end of the day, what makes a good paladin tank isn’t actually what they do to the mobs- almost everything they can meaningfully do to mobs is built into their core rotation, save the taunt. It’s what they can do to the party: a good paladin tank is using the attention freed up from having to watch their targets closely to pay attention to the party and bubble, salv, freedom, or DS as necessary and useful. A warrior tank is much more defined by what they can do to the mobs, which abilities are available, and keeping things stunned, interrupted, and otherwise controlled.

It’s much easier, thanks to the AoE-centric, undead-heavy nature of Wrath to be an adequate paladin tank than it is to be an adequate warrior tank. It’s just as difficult to be good at either class.


April 26, 2010

I have come to enjoy it when the DPS or healer pulls for me.

This may seem to be in rather stark contrast to the below post, but it all goes back to my original point: what is important is not my health pool, but how well I can control the fight. I DO have the health and the mitigation to survive pulls much larger than the vanilla dungeons are tuned for- and like I said, the limitation is on how well I can build and maintain threat over that pack when the DPS isn’t focusing and the healer has to throw big heals.

I CAN hold that threat, and hold it easily- provided the DPS and/or healer know what the hell they’re doing rather than mindlessly counting on me to haul them through. Don’t grab everything in the room all at once, wait for me to grab a pack and have enough control over them (including positioning for casters) that I have some free GCDs to do something else. Don’t expect me to run around the entire room pulling everything and pulling the random thing in the corner you decided to focus on, grab them and bring them in range of me when I have those GCDs, without front-loading any more threat on them than necessary to make them move. If the DPS aren’t needing big heals and I don’t need to be constantly turning my back on a pack of melee to need them myself, the healer doesn’t get eaten, the DPS are able to open up their whoopass cans, and everybody has as much fun as they hoped.

Last night I had a crazy run in Uldaman with a druid healing in Boomkin spec and doing as I described- waiting a few seconds for me to have my mobs’ *full* attention, and occassionally facepulling packs in for thunderclap as needed. Things rounded up, things only paid attention to me, and he got to spend his time throwing his own thunder instead of nodding off. Everything died very fast and I had as much fun as he did.

The difference between him and the fellow who inspired the last rant? He waited until he was sure I could handle it, waited until he was sure the DPS were capable of not acting like epileptic squirrels, asked instead of whining and nagging me to entertain him, and made sure he helped in such a way that it was fun for me instead of just stressful.

I’m not opposed to blendering my way through- just opposed to being asked to run myself ragged on the demand of someone who has no idea what I do and no interest in helping me do it when he asks for something extra.

Dear LFD Healers

April 23, 2010

I am aware you are bored, and would be even without your puppylike whining as I heal as well when I’m not tanking. The only time I always have something to do as a healer is when the tank is inexperienced, undergeared, or both, and I’m not any of these things on any of my tanking toons. Hell, if I’m trailing along after one of the other raid tanks in the guild, I might as well have a Sudoku puzzle out in between refreshing Beacon, Sacred Shield, and Judgment of Light, because the only way I’m going to have something else to do is if one of the DPS pulls threat.

That said, the limitation on the number of mobs I pull at any given time is not my health bar. Having a big health bar and a lot of avoidance and mitigation is my reason for existence as a tank. They are there to make sure I’m easy to keep up through high boss damage and cases in which Everything Has Gone To Hell. I’m NOT nervous about dying- I’m well aware that the odds are, if indeed everything has gone to hell, I will be the last one standing.

The limitation on the size of my pulls isn’t how much you have to heal me, it’s how many mobs I can control. In a dungeon with casters, which is all of them, and a dungeon with linking mobs that run away to find help when they’re low on health, which is most of them, I can’t count on being able to round up a truly large pack and keep them there and keep their attention firmly fixated on me. I do have some control abilities to stop runners and to silence casters long enough to get them to me, but my ability to use these tools is strongly limited by cooldowns and how many varyingly located mobs I can pay attention to at once.

The more I’m running around trying to keep my plates spinning, the more confused the DPS is and likewise running around. The bigger the pull, the more likely it is that none of them are attacking the same thing, let alone attacking something I safely have a big threat lead on. This means most if not all the DPS will be pulling threat, which means big heals for them as well as for me as I turn my back to a large pack of following melee as I try to catch casters and pick up incoming mobs that runners have pulled.

The key point that I’m leading up to here is that, once a pull has gotten large enough that the healer is really challenged, the only person in the room consistently gaining threat on all the mobs in combat is the healer. I know you’re not watching a threat meter, because you don’t have the mobs targeted, you have the party targeted. It’s not the healer’s job to watch threat, because it’s the tank’s job to make sure to stay ahead of the healer on threat. If you’re used to your boring job healing a tank doing his or her job correctly, you’ve never had to watch threat at all, so you probably have no idea how much you generate doing constant big, exciting heals, or how little the tank is generating when they can’t stand still and build it over a smaller pack. I do have some emergency tools to pick up everything at once, but they are meant for emergencies and thus have way too long cooldowns to be useful as a standard pulling tool- and they fail anyway if I have no means of immediately applying more threat, ahead of the healing aggro that will still be ongoing until they’re dead.

If I pull as much as you apparently feel would be fun for you, the mobs will eat you and you will change your whining about my boring pulls to shrieking about how I failed to do my job while, once again, I stand there as the only person who had the health pool and the cooldowns to survive a pack that large.

If you have a need to be constantly doing something important at every moment of an instance in order to have fun, do me and the DPS a favor and go roll a fucking tank.

(Needless to say, this is not directed at all healers, just the ones yipping at me to PULL MORE TANK I’M BORED I ONLY HAVE TO USE MY LITTLE HEALS OMFG PULL PULL. I spoke way too soon about running into fewer douchebags in there.)


April 14, 2010

Cross-posted between here and Atomic Nerds since it’s a pretty general post rather than being at all WoW-specific. Original kerffufle found at Ophelie’s and commented further upon by Tam. Since this post was written more with the other site in mind, rest assured that absolutely nobody involved with the original inspiration is being referred to in code. This wandered far from my original thoughts more specific to the situation.

It is not uncommonly observed that people shrieking “I’m OFFENDED by that!” are a general boil upon the ass of society, as they use the tactic to shut down any speech, expression, institution, or even person that they dislike. Any and all conflict with their worldview is treated as personal assault and satisfaction is demanded, always in the form of the removal of the “offensive” sentiment or person- preferably after a meek apology has been extracted. It’s a bully’s tactic for muzzling people and opinions the bully doesn’t like, and it is indeed quite commonly abused.

As a consequence, there are a great number of people out there, trying NOT to be bullies, that question themselves extensively when they ARE offended by something someone does or says. Most people do not want to be the jerk in any given social situation, and even if someone said or did something flagrantly assholish, people are frequently reluctant to make waves by saying they were offended at all, let alone calling the other person out on their behavior.

Further along the line are people who are sick of the scolds and make no bones about their willingness to say exactly as they think no matter whom it might offend. Some even go so far as to make being offensive a point of pride in and of itself- and to react to anyone who complains that they were offended by telling them to grow a thicker skin, not be a wuss, not be a bleeding heart, and generally not react.

Where it gets interesting is that it’s also not uncommon for this opposite-end-of-the-spectrum attitude to be used to bully in the exact same fashion as the sensitivity screecher: as a tool to define the conversation exclusively on their own terms. Most people don’t particularly want to put on a suit of metaphorical armor as a precondition of social interaction- and would prefer to be treated well with people they interact with- and will choose not interacting over attempting to become more competitively combative. The person willing to be most boorish controls all terms of interaction, every bit as effectively and selfishly.

This has its place; when a space is yours, you get to set the rules. I can and do say whatever the hell I like on this blog, and I’m not terribly concerned about who might find the language or my opinions offensive. I don’t generally go out of my way to stomp on toes because I get no particular joy out of toe-stomping, but I’m also not afraid to fight with my commentariat over one of those opinions- or tell them to get the hell off my porch, as this is indeed my space, owned and paid for. You don’t get to come and dictate to me how to act with that space. If I want to convert this space to a gallery of baboon asses it’s no one’s business but mine.

If I adopted the attitude that I should be able to set the terms of interaction so completely in someone else’s space that they owned, I would be the asshole, not anyone who was offended. I will not go to my grandmother’s house and use the same language I do here, or discuss some of the same topics, because that would be fucking rude and she would be completely justified in telling me to get my little ass sorted out or to get out of her home. Grandma’s house, grandma’s rules. If grandma and I were to, say, join the same book club, that’s not anyone’s owned space in particular- but the rules of interaction are tacitly sorted out by the people who make up the social system of the club. This is a pretty normal social-species thing; the rules aren’t written down and constitutions aren’t established because making cultures and setting social norms is something we’ve been doing since before fire.

In the book club, things might trend more toward grandma’s tastes and we might be skipping Titus Andronicus and doing Jane Austen instead, or it might trend more my way and grandma will just have to live with the rape and cannibalism being included in the discussion, but neither grandma nor I has any more right than the other- or the other members- in deciding what’s appropriate. Attempting to exert control anyway, either by my turning up in a “FUCK PIG” t-shirt and telling anyone who’s bothered to grow a thicker skin or grandma telling the rest of us we’re going to hell for torturing little old ladies and making baby Jesus cry, would be bullying.

Anyone who wants to start a FUCK PIG, or G-rated book club is of course free to do so- and also free to set their own terms with the like-minded. But trying to bend the terms of acceptable interaction in order to get out of having to see anything you don’t like OR having to exert any self-control is being an asshole, not upholding any kind of principle- and hiding behind that principle is just plain cowardly. If you take satisfaction from being an asshole and just don’t want to censor yourself for anyone for any reason, just own up to it. If you really don’t care what other people think, you shouldn’t have any need at all to waste your time telling them to think differently- unless, of course, you care enough to want to be validated for your behavior anyway.

Stretching the Metaphor: Casual Sex, PuGs, and You

January 19, 2010

After 3.3 dropped and everybody started playing with the nifty new Looking For Dungeon tool, which would organize you with merciless switfness into five-man groups with the proper composition ready to tackle whatever random instance (or the instance of your choice) the tool felt like flinging you into, an obvious comparison of the experience in the WoW blogosphere at large emerged: casual sex. You’re all only after one thing, being there means you are, and you pick up whatever strangers can meet the bar and go until you all explode in climax badges.

As time went on and it became clear that random dungeon runs were full of particular patterns of asshattery owning to the anonymizing feature making it easy and consequence-free to abuse your group-mates, ways in which LFD is not even remotely like casual sex emerged. In casual sex, you’re not usually expected to skip extra badges climaxes in order to get the whole thing over faster. In casual sex, the chances are vanishly low that someone who claims to be undead will find it hilarious to bring forth an army of taunting ghouls in order to frustrate you. In casual sex, it’s unlikely that none of your partners will ever speak to you voluntarily and that the whole experience will be conducted in monkish silence.

However, there is one thing we can and should extend this metaphor for: the etiquette. When having sex with a person you don’t really know intimately, there are relatively few default assumptions, and the “standard” experience is a safe and predictable one; you whip out your condoms, tab A goes into slot B unless someone volunteers other tab and slot arrangements and the other agrees, you get your badges climax, and everyone departs amicably.

In a heroic dungeon, the content is tuned to a certain base level of gear and performance abilities. A tank or healer who still has a lot of blues and even some quest greens is capable of doing the content as long as the DPS restrain themselves. The DPS in similar gear is capable of getting the mobs down in a reasonable amount of time as long as he’s at least above 1k. This playstyle is the “standard” the same way “condoms, missionary, everybody gets off, get your clothes and get out” is for a random hookup. It’s certainly not the ONLY option, and it may not be the most fun- but it’s what everyone who showed up is guaranteed to be willing and able to do.

In randoms, meanwhile, it’s not uncommon to yell “GOGOGOGOGOGOGO” (when the tank and/or healer may not even be capable of sustaining a fast-burn grind), for frustrated, bored, or cheeky DPS or healers to start pulling mobs for the tank, for people to try and force the whole group into doing achievements that they have no idea the difficulty level and required approach for, or demanding optional bosses be skipped in the name of time. In terms of casual sex, this is like flinging your would-be lover to the bed, whipping out the Orifice Conquistador 9000 set to “high” and ramming it forth, and then being surprised and affronted when, in lieu of orgasming ecstatically, that person screams in pain, flees, or throws your dumb ass out.

Blendering as fast as possible through an instance can be a lot of fun. I do it fairly often with groups of guildmates. Sometimes the DPS even pulls for me, which I only sometimes notice because I’ve fallen into the rhythm of spreading threat around- and because they know my capabilities and our healers’ capabilities well enough that this can happen seamlessly. The Orifice Consquistador can be fun too if you’re in the mood for it, ready for it, and person wielding it knows your limits very well.

Today in a random I was tanking literally moments after setting up several unfamiliar addons to take the role of the ones I had been using that took up too much screen real estate, the following exchange occurred:

Healer I don’t know: “Please pull as fast and as much as you can.”
Me: “I’m getting to know a UI, I can only pull as fast as is safe given that”

And then I pulled as fast I could and no one pulled for me and we never wiped and we set several new boss kill speed records. The healer thought to ask for the whips and chains rather than just flinging them out, everyone respected my “no”, and then I gave everyone as exciting a time as I could within my limits.

If only all gaming nights went as politely as most hookups.

Nice Enthusiasm, Work On Your Execution

January 17, 2010

(Cross-posted from a Nerds post circa December 2009.)

Lately everybody and their brother with a grant looking to make a name for themselves in psych or anthropology (or even economics seems to be trying to get paid to play games get into the heads of people who play MMORPGs. As phenomenon it’s only really sprung up and become anything other than a dank and mold-infested little subcorner of the gamer world for about the last five years, and has only existed outside of MUDs and similar text-based environments for about ten. So it’s not surprising that people are looking to jump in and investigate the kinds of dynamics and psychology you get inside a virtual world where identity is at least partially created, but there’s a small problem dogging a number of them: they’re done entirely by people who have not only never played an MMORPG, let alone a MUD or MUCK, but by people who have played few, if any, video games at all. Some researchers are addressing the problem in a straightforward manner by actually trying to do what the objects of their speculation do, and others… not so much.

So here’s an article from New Scientist that starts out with an interesting enough premise: image the brains of people who play games with an online avatar (in this case Warcraft again), and see what goes on in their heads when they’re thinking about their online persona: How Your Brain Sees The Virtual You

Brain scans of avid players of the hugely popular online fantasy world World of Warcraft reveal that areas of the brain involved in self-reflection and judgement seem to behave similarly when someone is thinking about their virtual self as when they think about their real one.

Gosh, really? This sounds like an interesting result! How’d you arrive that this conclusion?

Disentangling how the brain regards avatars versus real individuals may help explain why some people spend large chunks of their life playing immersive online games, says Kristina Caudle, a social neuroscientist at Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire, who led the study along with her adviser William Kelley.

“It’s hard to imagine from an outsider’s perspective what might drive someone to spend 30 hours a week immersed in a completely imaginary world,” she says. More than 11 million people play World of Warcraft each month.

Um, okay. This would be about the point where I started wondering if Kristina has ever played anything more complicated than Tetris, because immersion in an imaginary world really isn’t the point of Warcraft, although some folks who work at it try. The thing is that there are a lot of different kinds of multiplayer online games; they range along a pretty big sliding scale of being a straight-up video game where the units you’re shooting happen to be live intelligences, to being an environment where the point is immersion in a virtual world. Warcraft is farther toward the latter than, say, Counterstrike, but it definitely is more of a traditional video game that happens to inhabit a shared universe than it is a virtual world. If that’s what Kristina wanted to study, she would have been much better off with Second Life- which DOES exist purely for that reason. Unless she considers all gaming to be incomprehensible immersion in imaginary worlds, in which case all I’d say is “the generation of the last thirty years wants to have a talk with you”.

To probe what brain activity might underlie people’s virtual behaviour, Caudle’s team convinced 15 World of Warcraft players in their twenties – 14 men and 1 woman – who play the game an average of 23 hours a week, to drag themselves away from their computers and spend some time having their brains scanned using functional MRI.

Jesus Christ, the sample size is fifteen people, almost entirely male, out of eleven million? I know brain-imaging resources are expensive, but this is kind of… unrepresentative. It’s not numerically possible for it to be even if the fifteen people were each hand-picked to be as different from each other as possible. And I suspect they were hand-picked for being undergraduates willing to turn up for little or no pay. Also, given the demographic data, male and female players and younger and older represent pretty distinct groups- something that would not have been difficult to research beforehand. Blizzard is very free with that kind of data.

While in the scanner, Caudle asked them to rate how well various adjectives such as innocent, competent, jealous and intelligent described themselves, their avatars, their best friend in the real world and their World of Warcraft guild leader.

This is actually an interesting data breakdown in and of itself, but I’m not entirely confident she realizes that only one of these categories represents anything imaginary at all. One’s guild leader doesn’t tend to so much be a cartoon elf to a player as he or she is the voice on the other end of a mic belonging to another person, no matter what their avatar looks like.

When Caudle’s looked for brain areas that were more active when volunteers thought about themselves and their avatars compared with real and virtual others, two regions stood out: the medial prefrontal cortex and the posterior cingulate cortex. That makes sense as prior research has linked the medial prefrontal cortex to self-reflection and judgement.

No seriously. The other people you play the game with are not virtual. The first time somebody who had a job relating to your not getting eaten by a monster steps away from their keys mid-monster to go attend to their kid kind of drives the point home. I’m starting to wonder if anybody was alarmed that people would be unable to distinguish the strange ghost-voices from real ones when the telephone was invented.

That said, I’m sort of curious what region she thinks might otherwise have lit up when it comes to contemplating your little cartoon representative of yourself in a cooperative video game. I’m also curious if she bothered to parse out exactly what kind of reflection on self and avatar she was asking about; when you’re staring at a character creation screen or running around the city your avatar is representing you, but if you’re in a cooperative group of players- especially one that you play with often, like a guild- YOU are representing you via your ability to play the game well. People stop seeing you as a gnome and start seeing you as a good player or a terribad one awfully quickly when success depends on it.

Caudle’s team also noticed key differences between how people thought about the virtual and real worlds, which must be a necessity for preserving your sense of reality. “Clearly you don’t think of your virtual self as your real self,” she says.

They found activity differed in a region called the precuneus, implicated in imagination. “It makes good sense to me if you’re thinking about things in a virtual world you might get [activation in] these areas,” says Caudle.

No. REALLY? Seriously, though, games are nowhere near good enough to confuse anybody on the point no matter how impaired, let alone people’s senses of reality being normally this fragile.

In the future, Caudle hopes to study volunteers who spend less time playing World of Warcraft to see if there are differences in how their brains discriminate between real and virtual worlds.

It could be that people whose brain activity is more similar when thinking of themselves and their avatars are likelier to end up hooked, she says.

Or how about just more people, period? Including those who spend less OR more time in-game.

As a side note, all of the people I know who I could describe as “hooked”- which, much like the definition of an alcoholic being anybody who drinks more than you do, I’d probably define as people who spend a lot more time playing than I do or can’t handle not playing- don’t see their avatars as extensions of themselves. What they are is hard-core gamers that are extremely achievement-oriented; they’re not spending all that time in-game pretending not to be themselves, they’re conquering every bit of content they can get their hands on and then doing it all again in hard-mode, and then going to the forums to bitch about how dumbed down the game has gotten so that more than one percent of players can do this now. It doesn’t matter whether they’re sporting a female elf priest or an ugly orc warrior or a gnome that stands on their head or what; they’re going to be bedecked with epic gear and achievements within weeks. They’re creations of the game developers’ grasp of operant conditioning- not the lure of imaginary worlds.

Liane Young, a social neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge is interested in what brain activity can tell us about our relationships to our virtual characters. “You have this control over your avatar such that you’ve created this better version of yourself. I wonder whether these neural processes support reasoning about our better selves in some kind of wishful thinking sense.”

Sometimes. And this is why they really need to study more people period, because as it rapidly becomes apparent to anybody who actually spends much time playing the game, there’s a huge range of motivations and rationales behind people’s choices there. Power-gamers like I described above usually like to get the best edge in game mechanics for their chosen class as possible, and usually care little what the avatar really *looks* like. Some people are *exactly* like Young describes and populate their server slots with buffer or prettier versions of themselves. Some think of their avatars as characters rather than self-extensions and create a character that just seems like fun to play with- and some, to judge by the huge percentage of male players that create female characters, just want a more interesting rear end to look at.

The first character in Warcraft I levelled to max was a male Tauren hunter. I may not have brainscan-level insight into my psyche, but I am very goddamn certain that my ideal self is not an eight-foot man-bull that can’t stand up straight and exists to shoot every animal they see. I didn’t create that character to be a visual extension of myself, I did it because I thought a giant cow was amusing to play. I’ve also played dozens of RPGs in which the avatars you control are always given some kind of characterization and background; it’s reflex to me to think of the toon I’m steering around as a character rather than an avatar. (I also have never played Second Life or any MUCK or other environment where that’s the main point.) I don’t role-play and don’t think I’ll ever want to, it’s just the way my gaming world is ordered in my head; if given no information, make some up and design a character to fit, THEN play. I don’t really do anything with it, it’s just a point of reference for me.

And if you asked another player, you’d get a different answer, and probably a different scan if you scanned them all- and asked intelligent questions. Video games may be frivolous fun, but if you want to understand the psychology of people who play them, the road to intelligent questions probably starts with play, THEN speculation.