WoW Classic and Random Group Invites

2,144 words.

I took a screenshot last night in World of Warcraft Classic that really captures my nostalgic feelings for the old days.

I never ran down this particular road in Vanilla, but many like it.

I’m by myself, running down a long, empty road. That’s pretty much how I played World of Warcraft back in the day, and how I usually play MMORPGs today. I play on my own schedule, I never play the same time two days in a row, I start and stop on a whim, I log out suddenly when I get bored or think of something else I want to do in real life, often right in the middle of a field of mobs. In 2019, I’m very rarely in-game more than an hour at a time, and usually closer to a half hour.

Last night I was trying to figure out how to progress in and around the Valley of Trials, the Orc starting zone. I’m pretty sure I’ve completed all the quests I could find in the Valley itself, except for the one to kill Sarkoth and the one to get a Medallion. I’m not sure, but I think both of those involve going into The Cave In The North (note: not the real name) and waiting, waiting, waiting for “boss” mobs to spawn. I’ve mentioned before that never like to wait in any game, unless it’s absolutely vital to progression.

So I wandered over to Tiragarde Keep, but it looked dangerous. I wandered up to Sen’jin Village. The quests there seemed a bit higher level. (I’m level 5.) I wandered up to Razor Hill. The quests there seemed even higher. Most everyone there was closer to level 10. Then I wandered up to Orgrimmar. I’m sure I’ve been there before in my WoW lifetime, but I have little or no memory of it.

The main reason I’m returning a second night to WoW Classic, by the way, is that the Orc starting zone is new to me. I never played Horde in Vanilla, and only seriously leveled one Horde character since, which is an Undead Warlock. Now I’m trying to get some kind of return on the $15 I spent on this sub.

I trained up some professions in Orgrimmar. Skinning, Tailoring, First Aid, and Cooking, if you’re wondering. I have no idea if those are the “right” ones to get. I’m probably going to drop Tailoring and get something like mining or herbalist. I won’t be playing long enough to do any crafting, but gathering is fun for me. Not that I’m going to do a single thing with the components I gather. With such limited inventory, I might end up dropping them right on the ground. I won’t be sticking around long enough to “work the auction house.” I just find it satisfying to click on things in the environment as I’m running by.

After training professions, I didn’t know where to go to progress with questing. My only progression option is grinding mobs until I gain a couple of levels so I can return to Sen’jin. I didn’t really feel like doing that, and I was tired of wandering around aimlessly and pointlessly, so I figured I’d run all the way back to the Cave of the Medallion and Sarkoth (note: not the actual name) and see if I could complete those quests.

I knew it would be impossible because someone would surely be there, but I figured I might get lucky. It was the second night and starter zone populations have dropped off dramatically. There’s still a bunch of people around, but they are mostly keeping to themselves and doing their own thing. On the second day, playing WoW Classic looks and feels almost exactly like playing WoW did back in 2006: Individuals wandering all around, but not very many clumps.

I had some fun skinning Boars and Scorpids on the way back. I found it funny that I wasn’t always successful, and half the time I ended up with ruined leather. Ah, the good old days. (Actually I don’t think I’ve ever done Skinning before in WoW. Only RIFT.)

I arrived at the Cave of Everyone Is There (note: not the actual name) and found it teeming with people wandering around the passages. Well, not teeming in the same way it would have been on the first night, but there were at least a dozen unique names wandering up and down the hallways undoubtedly looking for the same things I was looking for. I don’t know if Sarkoth spawns in this cave or not, but I assume so. I never saw him/her/it, so maybe not.

I made my way quite by accident to a ledge where a named mob was standing, a guy by the name of Yarrog Baneshadow. Ah ha! I thought. This guy probably drops the Medallion. I had a chance to tag him with my super-fast Scorpid Serpent Sting shot, but there was another player there. They were making their way to the ledge, so I assumed they were waiting for Yarrog, so I left. I got lost a couple of times, just sort of wandering around killing time, killing mobs as they appeared in front of me.

I helped out other players with drive-by Scorpid Serpent Stings, which does a damage-over-time. I can cast it on a dead run, which is nice, because I can just throw it out as I’m running past someone else’s fight. Once or twice I helped someone who appeared to be getting mobbed by multiple enemies by aggroing one of the mobs away from them. Nobody said thanks or even acknowledged my presence. I was very comfortable with it. People have done similar things for me in WoW Classic, and many other games. Just throw out a helping hand as they run by, because why not?

I was starting to run out of energy for playing, so I thought I’d go to the ledge once more before leaving to see if I could get lucky and find The Medallion Dude by himself. I wasn’t lucky. Someone was there, clearly waiting for the spawn. I sighed heavily. I stood there for a bit, thinking about whether to wait or not. Thinking mostly that I would leave and log out.

Then it happened. The dreaded thing. The thing I honestly hate more than anything in an MMORPG.

I got a group invite from a random stranger.

I’m not going to get into the reasons for this, but let’s just say “for personal reasons,” a group invite from a stranger in an MMORPG instantly triggers a fight or flight response. It feels like an assault, like someone has just pulled a gun on me. I hate them so, so much. There are probably people out there who know what I mean, who can identify with this. I know I’ve seen people talking about this phenomenon before. Most of you probably don’t have the vaguest clue what I’m talking about, and can’t even understand the words I’m saying right now.

Intellectually, I know this person is doing a nice thing. They’re trying to help. They’re being friendly. They’re caught up in the nostalgia of WoW Classic and the “everybody is so nice here!” attitude. That doesn’t change the fact that it feels like I’ve just been tackled and wrestled to the ground, arms pinned and vulnerable.

I considered accepting, because society teaches that it’s rude to decline a friendly gesture. A lot of people will be offended. Then I imagined myself in a group with this random stranger, standing together awkwardly in a dungeon. Trapped there, with no way out, for God knows how long. No longer in control of my gaming session, no longer in control of my life, no longer free to make my own choices. I thought about it for what seemed like a really, really long time.

I declined. Sure enough, they typed “nice” in chat. I was the bad guy. I was the rude one.

I’m sure they thought I was there to tag the mob and steal the Medallion. I would have been perfectly happy to stand there and wait my turn, keeping to myself. To dispel them of the notion that I was a terrible person, I turned around and left, and logged out.

The whole incident pretty much ruined my game experience. I’d be fine if I never logged back into WoW Classic again because of it, but there’s that nagging feeling that I have to get $15 worth of value out of this game somehow, so I’m sure I’ll go back. My goal is to reach 10 hours of play time.

I’ve thought about this a lot “for personal reasons.” I’m sure the few of you who know what I’m talking about, know what I’m talking about. It’s the kind of incident that sticks with you for a while. Until you write a really long blog post about it, at least.

One thought I had is that it’s 2019, and nothing has been done to address this point of friction in MMORPGs. Random group invites from strangers are still a thing. It’s a lot rarer, but it still happens. Most people think they’re being nice and friendly when they throw out random group invites. They’re “bringing back the old days” and “spreading goodwill” or some such nonsense. And most people probably will receive it as intended, as a nice, friendly gesture. (Just read any recent blog post about WoW Classic.) None of these people have the slightest idea that it can be perceived as an act of aggression.

People like me are usually marginalized by the community. “Why are you even playing an MMORPG if you don’t want to socialize!” is the usual refrain. “You’re different! You’re strange! Get out of our world!” We’re certainly marginalized by the game mechanics. We have no choice but to resort to a cold, rude “decline.” The only other choice is to “accept” which is even worse, like being trapped in a suffocating, claustrophobic box.

One solution that occurred to me is to add more choices beyond “Accept” and “Decline” to the Group Invite dialog. Things like, “I’ll accept for the purposes of expediting quest completion but I’m not here to start a lifelong friendship and I’d just as soon not chit-chat.” Or, “I’m declining because I’m not up for a conversation right now but I’ll be happy to just stand here waiting my turn without interrupting what you’re doing.” Maybe shorter versions of that.

Of course you’re probably thinking, “Well simply type that in a whisper to the other person.” Yeah, no. That completely misses the point and fails to understand any part of the problem in the first place.

The second thought I had was how angry I get thinking about how I’m the one who’s perceived as the rude one for declining a random group invite.

Imagine this: You walk up to an ATM machine. There’s someone getting money out of the machine, so it’s busy. There’s a second person there waiting their turn. You walk up and stand behind the second person to wait in line. What is the accepted social etiquette there? Is it normal for the second person to turn around and strike up a conversation with the person behind them? “Hi there, you look like you’re here for the same thing I am, do you mind if I stand next to you so we can wait together? How are you? How’s your day been? Can you believe this weather?”

NO! Nobody is going to think that’s normal behavior. I dare say most people would consider that an egregious assault of personal space, if not an outright attack. But in a “classic” MMORPG, somehow that’s considered baseline normal behavior.

In real life, the second person in line might turn around and look at you. They would instantly see from body language and non-verbal cues that the new person wants to be left alone, and turn back around. That kind of non-verbal interaction is impossible in MMORPGs, and some people suffer for it.

I know there’s nothing to be done about WoW Classic. It is what it is. It’s incumbent upon me to avoid any of the “kill a boss in a cave” quests, more-or-less just like I did back in 2006. I’m writing all of this in the hope that, as unlikely as it might be (because it certainly won’t be profitable), maybe future MMORPG developers will consider some changes in future game design. For example, some way to incorporate non-verbal cues into character avatars would be cool.

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