Sunday, October 9, 2011

Learning vs Relearning

I love how I, six years after I first started playing this game, still can make new discoveries about myself and my playstyle. Maybe that partially is why I've stuck with this game for so long, there is always something else to find out, something to improve and get better at.

I pride myself in being a fast learner. I don't think I've always been good at learning fight mechanics and learning how to avoid stuff, although I couldn't say for sure what would be the moment when I suddenly defined myself as a decent, maybe even good, raider. I do think I fail less than average (although I haven't confirmed this) and I do think I learn faster than average (but maybe I've just been in guilds with low standards). For instance, when I did my very first Majordomo kill (normal of course) I hadn't watched any videos or read any tactics (yes, shame on me) and  hadn't the faintest clue what would happen in the fight. Add to this that my TeamSpeak wasn't working so that I couldn't hear anyone in the group talking to me. My raid group couldn't be bothered to give me the entire tactics, so they only told me to use my Barrier at a specific point. I still managed to heal through that fight without any trouble, avoiding all and any fires. When I did heroic Ascendant Council for the first and only time I didn't have a clue that you had to kite the Frost Orbs through the fire patches, but as soon as I saw them both it clicked in my head and I knew I had to do it that way. I have been doing this for so many years now, I've probably started to learn how Blizzard think and how they design their fights. And seriously, how difficult is it to get out of fire?

How difficult indeed. Let's now move from the "how awesome I am" part of this text to the "what I really suck at part" (which probably is more fun to read too). Because I might be a fast learner, but I recently noticed something I definitely wasn't good at - relearning.

I do my fair share of mistakes of course, but like I said, I think I am good at keeping them to a minimum. But there have been times when I've failed a lot more than everyone else. When I just can't seem to figure out what the hell I am doing and I am instead doing the same bloody mistake over and over. I look at my res button and think "what is going on? Did some alien take over my brain, what's up?". I have two great examples;

We were doing 25 man heroic Conclave of Wind and I was put to heal on Rohash platform. On normal, healing on Rohash platform basically means going afk and watching some Star Trek (at least in my case). On heroic however, Rohash occasionally does a Wind Blast that goes clockwise around the platform. Depending on where you're positioned on the platform, it will move faster than you can run. If caught it will deal damage to you and knock you off the platform. The difficult part is that you don't know exactly where it will start out, which means you will have to adapt on the run, while of course avoiding all the tornadoes that fly around and heal your team mates (if you're healing). I think I managed to get caught in that damn Wind Blast ten or eleven times in a row. In a row! After the tenth time my raid leader told me that "now I know you don't normally fail to these things, or I would've replaced you by now" and he was absolutely right. It is a tricky mechanic, so it might take three-four times to get the hang of. But not ten. Definitely not ten. And every single time I basically died the same way, I just didn't move away from it fast enough. I just couldn't understand it. Why was this particular boss mechanic so darn difficult for me to get the hang of? Why did my fingers just not move in the right way here specifically? And then it hit me - I had done the fight before.

Just the week earlier I had gone in there with a tweaked 10 man team to get the feel of the fight and see if we could down the boss (we didn't at that time). We wiped for a couple of hours before giving up. The thing was, I had been healing on Rohash platform at that time too, but had no issue with the Wind Blasts. Same fight, same Wind Blast, only different raid sizes. What was the issue? Simple, the Wind Blasts didn't occur at the same time. In 10 man it came some 40 seconds into the fight while in 25 man it came only some 15 seconds into the fight. Those two or some hours wiping in 10 man had already made me hardwire the Wind Blast into occuring at 40 seconds. I had mapped my brain to not bother reacting to such a mechanic until way later. Then, when I got into 25 man and the Wind Blast came at a whole nother time, I didn't just have to learn to react to it - I had to relearn to react to it. Which took me about three times as long as just learning the thing.

Another example. I joined a 10 man for heroic Nefarian and was assigned to the NE platform. The first five or so wipes, I managed to run to the wrong platform. I didn't fail on getting up, I just simply ran to the wrong one. Every single time. After a few tries of me failing like this I started putting up special cues that would help me, like trying to follow some raid member that was also going to the NE platform, going there prematurely, turning my character in the right direction at once and so on. And I still managed to run to the wrong platform! I was furious, until I realized what the problem was. I had already done the fight many times in my 25 man raid, and nearly always been assigned the South platform. After having done some 50 attempt running to the South platform, I just had hell trying to get myself running to the NE platform instead. I had mapped out exactly where to stand, how to turn, when to throw this and that heal to time myself to run at the right time to my south platform, and none of that knowledge helped me when I was supposed to get to the NE platform instead. No, it actually hampered me, because while trying to learn to get to the NE platform I also had to suppress all my automatized urges to run to the South one.

Pre-existing knowledge would also explain how I managed to miss the extremely obvious left path from Revantusk Village in Hinterlands, every single time I ran by it. Not until Love pointed it out and said "did you know they implemented a new path from Revantusk?" did I notice it, although even then I said "no they didn't" and had no recollection whatsoever of ever having seen it when he showed it to me. Because it had never been there the 200 times I've run passed that place before over the years, not only did I not bother to check - I didn't even see it when it was right in front of my face!

Fortunately, I rarely switch between 25 man and 10 man settings (especially not anymore since I left the 25 man guild), so this problem only arises very rarely. Before I managed to pinpoint my issue though, I was really perplexed at what my problem was. People around me would say "just don't fail" in the same way I've probably thought that about others who fail at what I consider fairly simple stuff. Yet it took me an abnormal amount of tries to manage to purge my old playstyle, the way I had decided to run with the fight, and fit in a new one. A lot of people who do something for a long time learn more and more of their profession by hand. It means they can do it faster, smoother and safer than a novice, but it also comes with a drawback - being slower at adapting to a major change. Not only do they have to learn something new, they have to unlearn, or at least put aside, the way they had been doing it up until then. I was amused to see myself in this position, and happy actually to have been able to find something about myself that obviously needed improvement.

Now, whenever I find myself having trouble with something, I think to myself - have I really understood this fight? Have I done the right assessments? Sometimes I have to retrace several steps back to be able to pinpoint my first mistake that lead to my death (or other kind of fail). Maybe I moved to early which meant I didn't get to point X in time which meant I would be late with a heal which meant I wouldn't get a certain buff which meant the tank died. I realized that getting too comfortable in a fight has its problems too, and that I should try to be as mentally active about my decisions as possible (that might sound obvious, but I'm lazy like that). And once I'm awesome in this area too, I will have to find the next thing to work with. Maybe my humility.

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