It's not so much about "twitch" gameplay
October 06, 2010
Classic World of Warcraft (WoW) defender Tobold discusses player skill versus character skill in the context of “twitch” versus “strategy,” effectively accusing anyone who complains about WoW’s lack of skill requirement as downplaying the strategic elements required. This follows a number of complaints people have with “twitch” games in general (i.e. those games requiring quick reflexes and hand-eye coordinating like most first-person shooters). It’s an argument that’s heavily drawn a line between the players of games like WoW and, say, Darkfall.
Now some people believe that a MMORPG should be an action arcade game, a kind of Super Mario, in which your twitch skills (hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness) should determine your success. And these people often are using a dirty trick in the discussion: They claim that only twitch skills are “skill”, while other video game skills like strategy skills or puzzle skills are “not skill”.
But that’s not really what people are saying when they dismiss WoW as a game requiring little skill. Rather, it’s that WoW has successively become a game in which less and less strategy is required by a player, since the game has, instead, provided the opportunity for players to obtain high-powered gear rather easily, which makes up for a lack of strategy. In other words, had Blizzard reduced the potency of gear in WoW, it would require players to use more strategy (e.g. better spell rotations and timing), but that would mean not as many players would be able to accomplish certain in-game achievements. Blizzard’s decision was to make the game’s content more accessible to the vast majority of players, and thus more powerful gear was made accessible to people as a sort if crutch.
In this regard, most WoW-haters who rely on the “no skill” argument are likely to place “old school” WoW on a higher pedestal, since there was less wiggle-room when it came to player skill back in 2004. But since, Blizzard has reduced the need for strategic excellence.
Darkfall, and games like it, do rely more on “twitch"-based skill. Darkfall’s developers decided that strategy elements in traditional MMORPGs like WoW were themselves too simple, even if gear bonuses were drastically reduced. While Tobold is correct in saying that the developers could have made the strategic elements of the game more complex in lieu of relying on “twitch” mechanics, the developers decided that the latter allows for an easier learning curve. Either way, Darkfall is less accessible to the same number of players as WoW, since it does not offer the same gear-based crutch that WoW does.
So while Tobold and his supporters dislike the “twitch” play-style and believe that games should be more strategic to be considered “skill-based,” the ultimate blame here still falls on Blizzard. At this point, few people disagree with the notion that WoW has become dumbed down in great part because of gear inflation. It’s simply that some people want gear to be reduced in power, others want more “twitch,” and others yet want more strategy. Blizzard, however, is the one doing neither of these things.
Yet, Tobold blames the players:
It is simply not true that there is no challenge at all available in World of Warcraft. Instead what happens is that players DELIBERATELY are constantly working on LOWERING the skill requirements, through maximizing their “efficiency” of gear / talent builds / everything else, and even through the use of third-party programs (addons) which make encounters much easier.
How is it that the players should be to blame for min/maxing what the game provides them? Sure, people can play the game with bad gear in order to artificially increase the game’s challenge, but doing so only affects the players participating. If Blizzard offered “hardcore” servers with bad gear, so everyone was in a similar situation, then this option might be attractive to many, but if we’re given a certain number of tools at our disposal, why shouldn’t we use them, and why should we deny ourselves these tools just so someone who does use them can easily pass us by in terms of content progress?
The reason I personally dislike the “WoW needs no skill” crowd is that I always suspect them of elitism. Their main interest isn’t in playing through something hard, because they already could do that. Their main interest is in excluding a broader audience from the game, or from certain types of content.
Ultimately, success at a challenge is sweeter when only a sub-set of the whole has achieved it. Otherwise, is it truly success, or is it just a matter of putting in the time? Tobold’s position comes down to one of selfishness: he believes that just by paying his monthly fee and putting in a certain amount of time, that he should be rewarded the same as everyone else, even if he’s not as good of a player. The “elitists” he points at, on the other hand, believe that better players should be better rewarded. In a sense, it really is an argument for or against welfare, and whether simply contributing by logging on warrants a full game experience. But it’s certainly not an argument of “twitch” versus strategy - those are just fancy labels improperly used to discuss WoW’s gear inflation.