Before I get onto today's topic, I thought I'd give a bit of an update on how it's going in my new guild... And it's going well! I'm fitting into the raid group nicely, enjoying the social interaction - though slightly less than I'm used to - and generally having a blast while online. My trial is essentially complete and the GM/RL is very happy with how I've been performing, so that's really positive (though, I reckon I could be doing better). He's also pleased with how I've generally fitted into the guild and we both hope for more to come.
Now, onto the actual topic - and I start with a warning.
What I'm going to write about is relatively sensitive and some people will perhaps not appreciate my bringing it up. That's why it's sat on my hard drive for the better part of five months, as it's a difficult thing to introduce meaningfully while giving the subject its due deference. Not bringing it up, though, would be doing a disservice to those who confided in me during my time as GM of the Eye of Nerzhul and I really feel it's something I'd hope to have a worthwhile discussion about. So, without further ado:
I'm going to write about psychological disorders, specifically those on the autism spectrum.
Don't worry, I heard the resounding "WTF?!"
Allow me to explain why I'm talking about this subject. Essentially, disorders on the autism spectrum are characterized by symptoms that effect the ability of sufferers to interact socially or communicate effectively; the other most obvious symptoms are the adherence to repetitive behaviour and poor linguistic or cognitive development. Now, please accept my sincerest apologies for any misunderstanding or misrepresentation because I'm not a qualified expert on this subject at all. But the key point for me, in the World of Warcraft context, is the aspects of communication and social interaction, and why this could make online games a welcome respite from awkward situations in the real world.
And while that last point is purely speculative, the number of guild members who informed me that they were indeed sufferers would possibly mete it out.
As responsible players, community leaders and people, it's worth understanding what may be going on with your guild mates when they try to honestly relate a problem to you.
When seeking an escape from social difficulty, it's no help at all to be faced with online ostracism for something you can't do anything about. Of course, you should never single anyone out due to a condition they may or may not have, but trying to understand necessary limitations on a player (limitations they possibly cannot overcome) will assist you in making a better environment for your guild mates, your realm mates and for the game itself.
Now, I have to start by asking everyone who's got this far to do the first thing I had to do when approaching the subject; forget the movie Rain Man starring Dustin Hoffman as the autistic Raymond. While this form of autism obviously exists, it is extremely rare and you're unlikely to come across a person of this type while playing. What you will undoubtedly come across, however, are those who have very mild forms of autism with the accompanying symptoms mentioned earlier, as well as specific disorders on the scale such as Asperger syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or Tourette syndrome. All of these have psychological implications that will potentially pull people to online gaming to escape social stigma, but also make them perform in certain ways while playing. And, yes - I have a clear example.
One of my core raiders back in the Eye of Nerzhul was a Retribution paladin who suffers from Asperger syndrome. Asperger has the same general symptoms as other autism spectrum disorders, but doesn't have the stunting to cognitive or lingual development. What it does cause, however, is very intense and restrictive concentration on specific tasks. With the launch of Cataclysm, this player deigned that his main class and spec was going to focus on melee DPS; the prime candidate for the interrupting that tier 11 seems to love so much. During our fights with Halfus and the Omnotron Defence Council, I was naturally asking him to get stuck in and interrupt the nasty things that were going to hit the raid.
He was awful.
Not only was he missing his interrupt a large percentage of the time, his DPS was very poor in these encounters. This issue cascaded into the obligatory criticism which made him feel even worse, as his confidence got shot to bits after originally being so happy at getting his chance to do some progression raiding. As you can imagine, I shortly had a very unhappy raider on my hands. But what was actually going on?
Males are notoriously incapable of multi-tasking at the best of times, let's face it; far be it from me to argue with sex-specific genetic disposition. In this case, however, I also had a player who can only really concentrate intensely on one thing and it's extremely difficult to snap his attention away. By requesting him to focus on two things instead of one, I was severely hampering his ability to do either. As he wasn't capable of doing what was required of him, I had to remove him from the raid group and get someone who could do the job.
I took the pressure off him but kept him in the raid group. I passed the interrupting responsibility to a shaman, hit-capped myself to help out with it, and just let him get on with his DPS and staying out of fire. The net loss to the raid group was negligible - the shaman in question was one of the best players in the guild anyway, and the impact to him was zero. The raid as a whole benefited greatly as the interrupting was being done, taking away the choice to slow DPS and consider self-healing more. But what of the melee DPS in question? Why was I choosing to carry a player who could do no more than lousy damage?
Because that wasn't all he could do.
As soon as his focus was set, his DPS shot up. In a tier that strongly favoured ranged DPS, he was suddenly competing and his damage was going up with every single raid. Not only did this manifest in basic numbers, he fine-tuned his rotation to the point where it was done subconsciously and allowed him to focus on other things. Healing intensive phases saw him using Word of Glory quite liberally to help out the healers. Adds all over the place saw him hitting Divine Protection to pick up anything loose while the tank got sorted. His liberal use of Lay on Hands saved several wipes and he rarely made a bad decision with it.
In short, the person in question who was being "carried" became a damn fine raider once we recognised the problem and addressed it. He enjoyed his place in the group, it made him feel much better about himself and the impact it had on his presence in the guild was also overwhelmingly positive. A point of failure became an unequivocal point of strength.
I appreciate I've gone off topic slightly and have crossed into the realms of assessing basic strengths and weaknesses. But identifying effects is always inferior to identifying the cause. And in an online world free of basic social difficulties, you may find that more players than you ever realise suffer from autism spectrum disorders that will impact on their ability to do things for you. Once you've attributed the cause, handling the effects becomes far easier and you can remove the added anxiety you've unwittingly placed on your guild mates.
I know I'm fabled for walls of text, so I suppose I should make the point clear.
When it comes to performance, psychological conditions may be the cause of negative effects - recognising them will help you to work around them.
This can only be good for your raid group, your guild and the community at large. People are not always open about personal issues, nor should they be; they perhaps play online games to escape ignorant social stigma. But trying to notice certain types of behaviour might illuminate what's going on with your players. I already mentioned Asperser syndrome and that could manifest itself with a sufferer only engaging in very streamlined and rigid in-game pursuits. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) causes repetitive action and thoughts, so that could easily see a player doing the same thing repeatedly and becoming anxious or angry when things change. I've no shame in admitting to a little of this myself - to the point when I used to count my footsteps as a young nipper to ensure I took the same number of left and right foot paces. Tourette's syndrome, though not on the autism spectrum, is something that can cause involuntary verbal "tics" that are normally expletive. Got a member who doesn't like being on ventrilo? No doubt it could be considered embarrassing for a sufferer of Tourette's to have to suffer it.
I'm going to wrap this up. At the end of the day, everyone should be aware of any number of issues, problems or concerns that the player base could have. The reason I'm bringing this up specifically is because I've had numerous discussions with guild members who suffer from these issues and the impact that it can have on them. These things obviously effect both performance in game and has an impact in real life. If we as a community can recognise these things and increase our general awareness, we can perhaps foster a better community for everyone.