This is part 3 in a series where I’m posting drafts of the dissertation chapter I’m currently working on. Much of this is wordy and stream-of-consciousness, but I figure putting it out there and soliciting feedback can only be a good thing.
The chapter is on how the introduction of a threat meter addon changed my raid group’s practice over time.
About four months into our raid’s life, in February [or March?] of 2006, we started using a new addon called “KLHTM” or “KTM.”
Created by a player named Kenco, KTM did the work of keeping track of which abilities a particular player used while fighting a monster, how much threat those abilities generated, and then visually displayed that information to that player. What’s more, any instance of KTM could talk to other instances of KTM installed on other people’s machines and thereby aggregate all of the threat data for all players who had the addon installed, displaying relational charts of everyone’s threat level to each player.
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[image of KTM here]
This allowed the offloading of human cognition to a nonhuman resource, effectively eliminating much of the guess work that went into World of Warcraft fights.
Before the addon, my raid group had progressed to the last boss in Molten Core. The write-up about our practice found in the Communication, Coordination, and Camaraderie paper describes how our chat was multi-threaded and interleaved, hierarchical and specialized, roughly divided by class role. Among many other things, one thing this allowed us to do was to be highly coordinated in our tactical take-down of a raid boss. By the time KTM was introduced, we had become quite proficient in dividing up our attentional resources and communicating along certain channels, escalating which channels were in use when necessary. After KTM became the standard, the necessity of using those chat channels was not as acute as before. Suddenly, any player of any class could keep track of the threat generated of all the other players. Not only did the addon help us with our cognition, it’s use also forever changed who communicated with whom about what, most notably allowing raid leaders to caution specific raiders about their threat generation. This effectively substituted knowledge-based trust in others with a technological advancement where trust or faith in other players’ ability to manage their threat didn’t matter. Yet, at the same time, KTM let us be much more efficient in our monster killing. We could ride the edge much more effectively, thereby taking down monsters faster than we had been before, which also lowered the learning curve associated with new encounters.
Kenco’s Threat Meter is an interesting example of Latour’s recognition that objects within an activity system may have multi-layered complex histories. The emergent network or arrangement of the objects in circulation, likewise, is complex and multi-layered, both in a micro to macro scale of physical closeness and across multiple timescales. [find quotes from Reassembling the Social to use here.. multiple ways of thinking about the shape of the network] KTM’s history is rooted in a gaming tradition of deconstructing [decrypting/decoding?] the underlying mechanics or math of a game, which, as a practice, probably existed shortly after the first game. Games, after all, essentially present players with some sort of system of rules or simulation to uncover. Pattern recognition is the main learning activity a gamer does. Early widespread understanding and taking advantage of the game rules probably came about with the rise in table-top role-playing games, most notably Dungeons & Dragons, where the practice of creating a character that exploited the game mechanics was called min-maxing–minimizing resources spent on relatively useless abilities and skills to maximize resources spent on the most effective abilities and skills. This was only possible after a player was able to grasp the underlying mechanics and figure out particularly effective combinations of abilities for specific situations. With the rise of digital role-playing and strategy games (particularly Starcraft) and access to web forums where players could discuss, debate, and co-construct their models about various game mechanics, the practice became known as theorycrafting, taking the name from the IC [double check this and reference Chris Paul’s work maybe].
[something about how D&D became about numbers rather than role-playing?]
Kenco was one of the early theorycrafters for World of Warcraft. In January 2006, he posted to the WoW European web forums that he thought it was possible to run a number of in-game tests, systematically testing out different variables, to uncover how WoW calculates threat. At the time of his posting, in fact, he had run several of these simulations, and he proceeded to discuss his findings, dispelling quite a few myths about threat generation. This was counter to the general thought that exact threat mechanics were forever going to be hidden from the player community.
It’s often said that we will never be able to work out the way threat and hate lists and mobs’ AI works, because it’s too complicated and unknowable, that we’ll only ever have crude approximations and guesses. I’ve conducted some decent, rigorous tests, and i have what i believe is a good list of hate values and explanations of gaining and losing aggro and the behaviour of taunt. I am also able to debunk a few myths about how threat works.
After carefully describing his major findings, he gave a list of suggestions for strategies to use in future fights and then ended his post with this: “There’s no amazing super secret randomised blizzard aggro algorithm. The concepts are simple and the values can be fitted with nice numbers. Even formulas for threat-reducing knockbacks can conceivably be worked out, if threat values are carefully monitored.”
In February [or March?] players started testing out Kenco’s first stabs at a threat meter addon, and on March 1, 2006 (according to Curse’s records), he released the first public version of KTM to Curse.com, a website devoted to hosting a World of Warcraft addon repository.
Since then, theorycrafting became common practice, probably most popularized by the site ElitistJerks.com, where class-based discussion boards devoted to damage and threat calculations feature players using sophisticated spreadsheets and custom tools to model and number-crunch every known, manipulable in-game variable. Figuring out threat and then exposing the underlying model to all players via the addon became so successful and so widely adopted into common raiding practice that Blizzard began to tighten up their raid encounters to depend even more on players’ ability to manage their threat and aggro levels.
[something about how WoW became about numbers and not role-playing… parallel to D&D’s evolution]