Friday, August 14, 2009

Nostalgia for Things Past

With the recent announcement of the 3.2.2 Patch Notes, containing within it the revelation of a throwback Onyxia raid, it caused me to think on the severe emotional attachment many of us in WoW feel towards the Good Old Days. I'm personally not one of these people. I joined World of Warcraft just prior to the dropping of The Burning Crusade on our collective lap, and didn't set foot into serious endgame territory until everyone's favorite Hamlet wannabe was good and dead. I have no idea what it was like to wipe endlessly on Neltharion or C'Thun, or grind for weeks on end for an honor title. I'm also pretty sure I never want to know anything about those things. It is, however, hard to miss the near endless pining of those who would trade everything to have Vanilla back in their arms.

How are we to explain this kind of Nostalgia? We've all experienced it in one form or another, but we usually get over it fairly quickly. Some others aren't so lucky. Psychologists and medical professionals have spent a few centuries throwing the nostalgia/homesickness tag on a variety of medical illnesses. Beyond the obvious anxiety and longing for the past, other attributed sympoms have included insomnia, anorexia, loss of thirst, weakness, palpitations of the heart, smothering sensations, stupor, and fever. Heavy stuff. Some of the most severe nostalgia cases have involved individuals committing crimes or murdering their children in an attempt to return things to the way they were before.

Surely no one would go to such extreme lengths to get 60 capped servers or return to the old days of Southshore/Tarren Mill pvp, but I suspect the same type of emotion is there. The vast majority of instances of nostalgia have involved homesickness to one degree or another, and what is Warcraft to many of us if not a second home? We spend more time and invest more energy into it than some people put into their own families. We work there, we play there, and some of our best friends are there right along side us. Taking that away from someone could imaginably be a serious emotional blow. It's very little wonder that some people who spent their lives and soul in Vanilla could be asking who moved their cheese.

How, then, could one treat this sort of nostalgia? It is pretty well agreed that the best way to help homesickness is sending someone home. It tends to work very well. It does, however, come with consequences. Sending a college freshman home at the first sign of homesickness is usually counter-productive. In the case of Vanilla, Blizzard has made it very clear that they will never give these people the classic servers they crave. It makes no sense for them to invest those kind of resources into content that's become old hat.

There are ways to get around this, though. In military situations, psychologists have found that straight up lying to people can get the job done just as well. Counselors would actually forge leave documents for soldiers, letting them think that they would be going home, but never actually being able to do so. While this likely sucked for the soldiers when they discovered the truth, and would probably lead to the counselor getting fired/gang beat today, these soldiers suddenly felt much better. Yay for scientific progress through lack of ethics.

Although I doubt it was intended in quite that way, letting us run Onyxia again is doing just that. People will get to experience the same content, get deep breathed moar by the same deep breaths, and heft around the same hefty sword. Although people will never really get to go home to Vanilla, they can at least get a piece of that experience back. And who knows, maybe riding around on the back of that experience for a while will help keep people focused on an even brighter future.

Source: McCann W.H., 1941. Nostalgia, A Review of the Literature, Psychological Bulletin, 38:5, 168-182

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Symptoms include...

Welcome, gentle reader. Whether you meant to or not you have stumbled onto something far from a unique snowflake. It's a WoW blog. Nothing special, right? It's hard to move around any portion of the interwebs without tripping over them left and right, toes being stubbed in the process. When it comes to World of Warcraft, anyone who's made the long jaunt to 80 has invested enough time and effort to feel justified in calling themselves an expert. The result is so many blogs heaping mountains of gathered wisdom that it's exceedingly difficult to discern why any new ones need to exist. If there was a niche to fill it was filled long ago.

Yet, here we are, another WoW blog. If that's all it was, I couldn't even dare to dream of saying anything unique about WoW that hasn't already been said in a thousand other places. Smarter people with resources and time far outstripping mine have done a fine job making sure I could never break any new ground that way. (Un)Fortunately for me, this is more than a WoW blog. It's also a Psychology blog.

Why I put the little "un" in brackets up there is because I'm not actually a Psychologist. I'm only a lowly peon of a Psychology undergraduate. That literally means I know nothing about Psychology. I am, however, practiced in trying to think like a Psychologist. What that means is that I enjoy seeing little patterns in human behavior and relating it to what little I think I've been learning in class. Now, what happens when you take someone like that and give them two years of experience in all aspects of World of Warcraft? Low and behold, you realize that human beings play this game. Human beings who behave largely like human beings should.

This last fact is often what makes people pull out their hair in massive knotted chunks when attempting to navigate WoW. Most people just grit their teeth, buy a tupee and move on with their lives. I, however, want to understand things just a little better. I want to know exactly what is going on in the minds behind those collection of pixels we scream at when they one shot us in Stranglethorn, or ninja that Betrayer, or post [Anal] jokes in barrens chat.

I believe I'm not alone in this.

And so thus I have started a blog where I will, hopefully once a week, go through the exercise of relating a random interesting Psychological topic to the World in which so many of us spend our lives. I will do this while attempting to start what will likely be the semester that determines the rest of my career. Wish me luck in this.

World of Warcraft for me is more than just a game. As I have spent several hundred hours traversing and clicking and macroing my way through its terrain it has taken on a life of its own. Integrating my own life with this new one has presented interesting challenges in terms of happiness and productivity. Someone might take a look at what this game does to people and call it a disease: something that needs to be protected against at all costs. I don't really blame some people for feeling this way. My response to them is that they just don't understand.

If WoW is a disease, then it's one that puts me in the shoes of a hero, acting within a system that allows me to be a force for good within its digital confines. It allows me to meet dozens of new people and act in conjunction with them for that good. Better yet, it allows me opportunities for insight into human nature both online and off. Call it a disease or a plague or a syndrome if you like, but it's one that millions would prefer not to do without.

Let the syndrome spread.