Me, Myself, and I

One of the strangest things about online virtual words in general, and online gaming in particular, is the fact that we can do favors for ourselves. In my earlier post, Identity Crisis, I outlined some of the things that can happen when serial and parallel multiplicities are allowed. In other words, when you can have more than one avatar in the virtual world….sometimes more than one at the same time. Having several avatars and logging in as any one of them at any given time is called serial multiplicity. If you can manage to log in as more than one avatar at the same time I call it parallel multiplicity.

I’d like to discuss some advantages to this distributed presence or meta-presence in a virtual world. As usual, I will try to stick to what I know, so for these examples I will draw from my own experiences in the World of Warcraft (WoW) online game, in which you can use serial multiplicity.

Like in many online games, WoW avatars start off with few capabilities and develop, if you put the time in, into much more powerful entities. The shorthand term for this process is “levelling“, which refers to moving up from lower levels to higher levels by obtaining experience points (XP). For example, you can enter the game and create a Mage or a Warrior with only a couple of attack powers, and as you strive against the monsters in the game you accumulate XP and eventually reach higher levels and learn more abilities. At the same time, you can learn crafting professions like Alchemy (making potions) and Blacksmithing (creating weapons and armor). To distinguish these crafting abilities from offensive, defensive, and healing powers, the process of becoming more proficient at crafting (and gathering) professions is called skilling up, as opposed to levelling.

For many players, the object of the game is to level up to the highest level available. To this end, the most efficient strategy is thus to make only one avatar and spend all your time playing that character to level up as quickly as possible. This is because at the high levels the game becomes more of an interpersonal sport like tennis or boxing…your high level character dukes it out with others in player-versus-player (PvP) combat. In this sense, the game becomes a sport, where the idea is to become as good as you possibly can and have fun sparring with (and hopefully beating) other players in arenas etc.

I have to admit that I do not approach the game this way. Sure, I want to have high level characters with oodles of abilities and powers. But I enjoy simply being in this virtual world so much that I tend to take more time to smell the roses, so to speak. Yes, I have high level characters now, and yes, it took me longer than it does those pros who are happy to sell you their speed-levelling guides, but I’d like to think I have learned a lot while levelling up. This is because I made many avatars — at least one of each kind (mage, warrior, shaman, hunter, warlock, etc), so that I could learn how each type works, how they prevail, theirs strengths and weaknesses.

If you make more than one avatar in WoW, and play them all, it will take you much longer to get them to high levels. No question about it. But there are some advantages to this kind of meta-presence in the game. And I’d like to talk about the advantages of serial multiplicity in WoW, rather than discuss levelling strategies or specific tactics or campaigns.

My main avatar in WoW, the one that got to high levels first, is a Warlock. Warlocks (also referred to as locks) are spellcasters. They are not like Warriors, who wear strong armor and wield mighty weapons like swords and axes. Warlocks wear the weakest kind of armor, cloth armor. This means they have to try to avoid clinches and stay back away from the melee, lobbing in ranged attacks — or sending their familiar demons in to fight instead of them. Warlocks cannot use axes or maces; they use staffs or wands.

Ok, so I’m a warlock. Now I need good cloth armor and a wand. Where do I get them? Well, you can get lucky and have good-for-you items appear when you kill a monster (these are called drops, as in “oh cool, look at the wand that guy dropped!”).  Or you can buy them at the in-game Auction House — if you happen to have a lot of gold. Or you can get them from others in your guild if you belong to one. Or you can make them.

Now I am a rugged self-reliant individualist (translate: since I am a recluse hermit programmer I tend to be shy about joining organizations and fraternities), so I figured: the best way to make sure it gets done is to do it yourself. So my Warlock is a Tailor/Enchanter. Meaning, he can make his own cloth armor and enhance it, and can make his own wands. At first, I wanted to see how far I could get this way, as an experiment. Likewise, my main Warrior is a Miner/Blacksmith, so he can make his own armor and swords.

At first, I thought of my avatars as islands, each solitary and self-reliant. But then I ran into an awkward fact: as you skill up in tailoring, blacksmithing, alchemy, and so on, you suddently discover that you need materials (”mats“) that your avatar cannot gather. For example, you find that you cannot make the Gloves of Meditation unless you have some Elixir of Wisdom, a potion made by an Alchemist. And then it’s back to the olde Auction House to buy some damned Elixir of Wisdom so that your tailor can make the gloves. This is a wonderful parallel to our real-world specializations, where even a doctor needs a dentist to fix his teeth and an auto mechanic to work on his car and a teacher to teach his kids, and so on. In real life I cannot sew worth a damn — I have to go to a clothing store to buy clothes, just as I have to buy food because I am not a farmer or a herder.

Now people intent on levelling up one avatar handle this interdependence problem by joining a guild. If the guild has an Alchemist to make potions, a Blacksmith to make metal armor, a Tailor to make cloth armor, and so on, then you can specialize in your crafting just as you have specialized in your type of avatar, and everyone can get what they need in order to do what they want to do.

But like I said, I tend to be more of a loner. So what to do? Then it hit me — I could, in effect, be a guild — all by myself. If each of my avatars on a given server had different specializations, then they could send each other stuff, thanks to WoW’s in-game mailbox system where you can “mail” gold and items like raw materials and finished items from one avatar to another. My Alchemist can make Elixir of Wisdom and mail it to my Tailor so he can make the gloves. I know, I know, to those of you who are WoW experts this is like, duh…but it was a revelation to me at the time. I had stumbled across the power of synergy that guilds and auction houses make possible….but that can also be made possible by having several avatars of your own in the game with different specializations. In WoW, as in other virtual worlds that allow serial multiplicity, you can be your own best friend.

Enchanters in WoW need a progression of runed metal rods in order to do their enchantments. I bought a copper rod from the enchanting supplies vendor, but soon I needed a silver rod — and the vendor does not sell silver rods. Arrgh! Where do you get silver, golden, etc. rods? Blacksmiths make them. Hunters need good guns — and Engineers make guns. In short order I was loving life again, because my avatars, as they skilled up, could supply each other with crucial ingredients they needed to make their metal and cloth armor, their weapons, their potions, rings, and so on. Yes, having so many avatars meant I did not zoom up to high levels in record time…but I found that I was learning about WoW more comprehensively because I had one of everything and could see how they helped each other.

Okay, class, what we learned? (And by “we”, I mean “me, myself, and I”.)  We learned that you don’t have to know everything, learn everything, do everything, in order to be the best you can be. In the real world, you rely on others to specialize in the things you don’t like doing or do not seem to have a talent for doing. In virtual worlds, such as WoW, you have a second option: you can be several people, each with different skills, who help each other. I wouldn’t call myself an expert on WoW, because all the time I’ve been playing it (and other games) I’ve also had a job and nearly a life, so I do not live, eat and breathe WoW. But I know a little about it. And I’d like to think I know more about that virtual world than I would have known if I had stuck with my one Warlock and relied on guilds and drops and the Auction House to supply my needs. Yes, others level faster than me, and verily I say unto you: they have their reward. They get there faster. And if that is what they want, then I say more power to them. But there is more than one way to play the game. Make your own path, find what works for you, and enjoy. — MRK

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52 Responses to “Me, Myself, and I”

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