A column in which we recognize and honor our terrible video game deeds.
Sometimes, nerd psychopaths don’t have to do crimes—shredding the delicate social contract that brings people together can be just as rewarding as poisoning a virtual well. Implicit social norms are social rules that aren’t usually written down, but nevertheless exert a powerful influence on group behavior. For instance, it’s not illegal to stand backward in an elevator and stare at the other passengers, but it creeps people right the fuck out. To better understand the way these social rules influence our lives, I recently assigned my students to write descriptions of the implicit norms they encounter in their day-to-day experience. The assignment is easy, and sometimes makes for entertaining reading. Fortunately, these are also the two main criteria I use when deciding on article topics. So, this week I’ve written about implicit social norms in World of Warcraft pick-up groups (aka PUGs). These consist of groups of strangers who temporarily band together to complete instances (aka dungeons). If you don’t play WoW, this may be hard to follow; but then again, if you don’t play WoW, you should probably be doing something besides reading this website (aka being outside, or getting laid). To make my experience analogous to those of my students, I haven’t done any reading on the subject, and have waited until the night before my deadline to begin writing.
There are a variety of implicit social norms regarding behavior in PUGs; some of these unwritten rules are in place well before the group is formed. For example, there are multiple conventions for naming your character. To name your rogue “Blades” isn’t particularly creative, but at least you were the first person on your server to get that name, and there’s something to be said for alacrity. However, naming your rogue “Xbladezx” is just pathetic; at this point, you are extremely late to the cliché party. To name your character “Dankbudz” or “Hateobama” suggests that you are a high achiever with a good work ethic, or have reasonable and highly nuanced political beliefs, respectively.
Once the group is formed, it is generally considered polite to briefly greet other members of the group by typing things like “Hey all” or “Hi everyone” or “Hold up, I’m changing spec” (if you’re a healer). It is rude to examine the equipment of the other group members and make negative comments; many people run instances to get better gear, after all. This is like making fun of someone for being too pale at the beach, or not muscular enough to be at the gym. Here’s a quick check: If you’re about to make fun of someone else for not having uber gear, please try to remember that, at this very moment, you are doing the equivalent of playing Dungeons & Dragons, except without having to understand probability. You do not have the moral high ground.
The pace of the group is generally driven by the tank; the tank’s performance is rated by the group on a scale from “Way Too Slow” to “WTF? How did everyone die?” One should strive for the middle of this scale (aka “Barely Enough Time to Loot”). DPS characters who are easily distracted (i.e., 75% of all DPS characters) can sometimes cause problems by pulling too soon, or pulling additional mobs. It is considered poor form to pull too much aggro and then blame the healer because you died. Also, please note that calling a healer rude names such as “douchebag” may result in that healer quietly watching you die, rather than saving you. Or so I’ve heard.
In addition to monitoring and controlling aggro, a good tank will keep an eye out for a healer whose mana is getting low, and will wait for him/her to drink. A good motto vís a vís the healer/tank relationship is: I’ve never actually seen an instance, because I watch your health bar the entire time; the least you can do is slow down when my mana is low.
In a related note, please be prepared for the instance by having food and drinks available. Relying on strangers to provide you with these items is like relying on strangers to provide you with free weed (and if you’re attractive enough that people keep giving you free weed, you’re probably wasting your time on WoW).
Finally, like in any relationship, communication within the group is key. If you’re planning on leaving the party halfway through the instance, Need-rolling for your alt, or you’re a mage who likes to fight up close and personal (“All cone-of-cold, all the time”), just go ahead and type /em is a douchebag. We’ll take it from there. -BW