12 September 2012

Single-serving Friends

Photo by Nathan Cooke via Flickr Creative Commons
I find that I relate much of my real-life experiences to things that I’ve either read in books or seen in movies. Therapy would have a field day exploring that, but suffice to say that I find parallels in fiction. For example, Fight Club feature’s Edward Norton’s character discussing the concept of “Single Serving Friends” with fellow airline passengers.
Tyler, you are by far the most interesting single-serving friend I've ever met... see I have this thing: everything on a plane is single-serving...
This resonated with me personally long before starting to play Warcraft. I used to spend an insane amount of time on airplanes. No, I wasn’t driving them. I was a passenger, and I was visiting clients approximately 90% of my working hours. It all added up to an obscene amount of frequent flyer miles and time spent sitting in airplanes or in airports.

To paraphrase Chuck Palahniuk (the author of Fight Club), when you travel that much everything is a single-serving. Your airplane service features a single-serving liquor bottle, a single-serving slice of cheese, a single bag of nuts....In my experience, my airline trips sat me next to random strangers, and invariably we struck up a conversation for the duration of the flight, becoming a single-serving friend just as Palahnuik describes.  I’d never see these single-serving people again, and the pleasant experience was limited to that small duration.

Enter Warcraft

Specifically, enter the LFD system. Almost all of the instances that I now experience offer a single-serving experience -- either positive or negative. I can draw the angry tank who’s bitter about everything and criticizes everyone. He or she is a single-serving jerk. Or, I can get that group that just clicks and everyone is on the game. The tank is pleasant and helpful (the kind of tank I strive for if I’ve dusted off my pally or death knight). I enjoy this experience. So much so that I find I queue for random instances much of my time spent in WoW. Ultimately, it’s all a temporary rush.

Before you start to say “But, But, But...” I realize that Blizzard has indeed provided me with tools, especially with 5.0.4, that I can use to stay in touch with those folks from my random instances that truly shine. Before 5.0.4, I would have had to exchange RealIDs with folks; I’m not too keen on that. But now, with Battletags, there is no reason for me not to reach out to people. I’m not giving out an email, after all. I would be saying “I’d like to hang out again for a cross-server event so feel free to reach me whether I’m on this guy or any of my alts.” Er... that’s a bit long-winded. How about “I like you. Let’s hang out more.” Yeah, that’s simpler.

But I don’t say either of those things! I just move along.

In the last months, the LFD instances also began placing a priority on players of the same server. So, increasingly, I’m finding myself grouped with other members of my server. This one’s brutally easy: I can simply friend that person. But I don’t even bother with that. How lazy am I, anyway?

I’m not using the tools the game affords me to stay in contact with players. I have no good reason, either. Is it a habit? Shyness? A joy of sticking with the transitory nature of an instance group?

There is something magical when you do group and get into that party makeup where everyone know’s their stuff, nobody is crabby, and the run is just plain fun. When that happens, it’s so unexpected (for me at least) that it’s treasured. I’m almost afraid to ruin the magic by placing some organization around it. Isn’t that crazy? I’m hesitant to continue a good thing -- because most of the reason why it was good in the first place is that it was a surprise. If I impose organization and then plan a run, the efficiency is now expected and I can only be let down. That’s pretty depressing, when you stop to think about it.

Bad Behavior

Am I alone in this? Perhaps... but it’s really interesting for me to consider why this behavior persists.

Before LFD (and to much more focused view LFR), my options for running a PVE instance were either hitting up guild mates or braving trade chat. Trade had it’s own perils. You had to commit to running an instance (God forbid a raid) because you had to brave the idiocy that is trade chat. It took effort to put a group together, and even then you still might get total buffoons. After all, the tank didn’t need to be nice. Tanks could get a group immediately if they dropped. Heals could usually regroup quickly. DPS? We were a dime-a-dozen and treated as such.

With the introduction of LFD (and LFR), the mechanics have evolved. Tanks still insta-queue. Heals less so. Blizzard even added the Call to Arms mechanic awarding tanks or heals a chance at extra loot when their role is underrepresented. In theory, a DPS could get this too, but really? That’s just not gonna happen.

So again, the DPS take whatever the tank dishes out. Sure you CAN boot somebody. A DPS is backfilled quickly. A Tank will take some time to backfill (even across servers). To some extent, I believe that part of the reason for piss-poor behavior in random instances or raids is based upon how easy it is to re-queue. There is no consequence, really. On a single server, a jerk would get a reputation and then trade chat would lambast them. In random, nobody on my server gives a hoot that someone from a different server was a jerk.

Without a consequence, there’s no discouragement other than social norms or even altruism to behave well in a random group.

I have come to expect poor behavior from random instances. That’s sad, but true. I expect better behavior from my pre-schooler than I do in instances or LFRs. It's a perpetual flash-back to Romper Room.

Even so, I find myself in the situation where I’m trying to quickly establish a rapport with 4 or 24 random people because I’m hoping for the best. I’m also on my toes because I need to perform to my best so that I’m not targeted for the Boot. I don’t want to do anything that would cause me to become a target.

There’s something in that experience -- I’m not exactly sure what -- but there’s something that is preventing me from wanting or even trying to reach out again to the other players in these random experiences. I know that I could; I’m just not.

Maybe I just really enjoy the anonymity and the transience of a single-serving friendship?

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