Thinking about blogging? A TL;DR for Newbies

Over the years I’ve written quite a few posts designed to help people who were thinking about getting started with blogging. Here is the TL;DR version of those rather long thoughts!

What could I get out of blogging?

You can have fun talking about things that interest you, feel part of the community, and make lasting friends.

See Reflections on the NBI and Bloggy Christmas: Unexpected Parties for more about this.

Can anyone be a blogger? Can I?

Yes you can.

See To Blog or not to Blog? for more on this, including why whatever reasons you think you can’t are not really a problem. And discussion of my hangups before starting!

Where should I blog?

I recommend going with a free WordPress.com blog. Just like this one!

If you want to know more about the pros and cons of different options read my post on Where to Blog?.

What should my blog be about?

Keep it pretty broad.

You can read more detailed discussion in Blogging: To niche or not to niche?

What should I call it?

I have no clue.

You can read about my lack of a clue in more depth in Thinking Names. Maybe you’ll be inspired by some of the great names mentioned!

Can I make money doing this?

Hell no. But it is fun.

Explained in greater length in the sadly unfinished series on Careers, Hobbies and Fun (Part 1, Part 2). See also MMO Writing: Pros vs Amateurs.

But what about…?

I deliberately kept this post very short as I think that is more helpful to newbie bloggers. If you read any of the links, you know that keeping things short doesn’t come naturally to me!

If you have any questions that I didn’t cover, you can try asking me in the comments section below, or on Twitter (see sidebar widget). No guarantees I will have a good answer, or even time to answer at all. But someone in the community probably will have!

I wish you good luck in your blogging adventures.

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What is your play personality?

According to Stuart Brown, a psychologist who specializes in studying play and its importance in our lives and well-being, all adults have “play personalities” …

As we grow older, we start to have strong preferences for certain types of play over others. Some things float your boat, others don’t. Over the years, I’ve observed that people have a dominant mode of play that falls into one of eight types. I call these play personalities.

Stuart Brown, Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul

His eight types are:

  • The Joker… “A joker’s play… revolves around some kind of nonsense…. Parents make infants laugh by making silly sounds, blowing raspberries, and generally being foolish… Later, the class clown finds social acceptance by making other people laugh”

  • The Kinesthete… “Kinesthetes are people who like to move…includes athletes, but also others… who find themselves happiest moving as part of dance, swimming, or walking… While kinesthetes may play games, competition is not the main focus — it is only a forum for engaging in their favorite activity.

  • The Explorer… “Exploration becomes their preferred avenue into the alternative universe of play… Exploring can be physical—literally, going to new places… it can be emotional—searching for a new feeling or deepening of the familiar, through music, movement, flirtation… It can be mental: researching a new subject or discovering new experiences and points of view…”

  • The Competitor… “The competitor loves fighting to be number 1. If games and keeping score are your thing, this may be your primary play personality. The games can be solitary or social—either a solitary video game or a team game like baseball—and they may be actively participated in or observed as a fan.”

  • The Director… “Directors enjoy planning and executing scenes and events.. They are born organizers. At their best, they are the party givers, the instigators of great excursions to the beach, the dynamic center of the social world. At worst, they are manipulators.”

  • The Collector… “The thrill of play for the collector is to have and to hold the most, the best, the most interesting collection of objects or experiences. Coins, toy trains, antiques, plastic purses, wine, shoes, ties, video clips of race-car crashes, or pieces of the crashed cars themselves, anything and everything is fair game for the collector.”

  • The Artist/Creator.. “For the artist/creator, joy is found in making things. Painting, print-making, woodworking, pottery… furniture making, knitting, sewing, and gardening… Artist/creators may end up showing their creations to the world… or may never show anyone what they make. The point is to make something… or just to make something work… someone who enjoys taking apart a pump, replacing broken parts, cleaning it, and putting back together a shiny, perfectly working mechanism…”

  • The Storyteller.. “Storytellers are, of course, novelists, playwrights, cartoonists.. but they are also those whose greatest joy is reading novels and watching movies, people who make themselves part of the story, who experience the thoughts and emotions of characters in the story. Performers of all sorts are storytellers… through dance, acting, magic tricks, or lectures… the realm of the storyteller is in the imagination, they can bring play to almost any activity. They may be playing a recreational game of tennis, but in their mind, each point is part of an exciting drama”

According to Stuart Brown, while we’re all a mix of these personalities, and our preferences might change over time, or be different in different contexts, most of us do have dominant types. He believes that identifying your own types can be useful for self-awareness and finding greater satisfaction in your play. I imagine that it can also be very useful in understanding our friends who might have very different play personalities to us, even though we’re engaging in the very same play activity together!

My Play Personality

For myself, I’d say I’m firstly an Explorer, and secondarily a Kinesthete. The Kinesthete part is quite a surprise to recognize as growing up I was never a sporty type, nor much of a dancer. Much later in life I took up tennis and loved it, and nowadays I do a lot of walking. Interestingly my physical activities are influenced by my “Explorer” leanings. Walking, I love to explore new places, or discover unnoticed nooks and crannies of familiar places. In tennis, I get a kick out of developing my skills, discovering the range of things I can do with my body and the racket, etc.

The Explorer side of me is much more evident in my not-so-physical activities. I enjoy learning about almost anything, have traveled widely all over the world, like to meet and learn about new people etc. One of my main hobbies is chess, and one my main satisfactions in it is gradually developing a deeper understanding of it, and exploring different types of position and different ways of playing.

Interestingly, among my chess friends, despite us all having the same hobby, I can see quite a range of play personality types. There are the Directors, and thanks goodness for them. The chess scene would not exist without people who get satisfaction out of running clubs, organizing events etc. There are clearly Competitors, who care about results and winning most of all. There are people who collect stuff, such as chess books. I’ve met a guy who likes to make chess sets, and I know someone who enjoys studying and writing about local chess history, perhaps a kind of Storyteller. For all I know there may be Jokers and Kineshetes and such as well, but they don’t have much opportunity to express that side of themselves around chess events.

Of course I do have elements of many of the other personality types as well.

  • Joker – Well, I don’t really see myself as a joker or someone dedicated to entertaining people. Yet I do engage in banter and humorous remarks, and people generally find me fun to hang out with.

  • Competitor – I definitely have a competitive side, so I care about my tennis and chess results etc. But it’s not all that dominant, and perhaps intriguingly what competitiveness I have is perhaps only loosely connected with play as such. It’s not the competing that makes a thing fun. I’d generally rather play a tough opponent who will provide an interesting challenge, than someone who I’d have a better chance of beating.

  • Creator – Well, I get a kick out of things like writing blog posts, or coding small bits of software. But by and large, what I create for fun is small and I don’t do it frequently. If I write fiction, it’s a very short story, not a novella.

  • Storyteller – I do have a little bit of this in me. I enjoy a bit of light RP, or making up tales to amuse kids. Yet it’s never been a major activity for me.

Maybe you noticed that I left out Collector! I struggle to think of any aspect of collecting that really appeals. I might love an author, and seek out many books by them. But it would not occur to me to try to read all their books, just for the sake of completeness. Nor to collect different editions of their books, or collect other items associated with them or their work.

Your Play Personality?

I was reminded of this whole concept of play personalities by Syp’s post Am I missing out by not having a collection?. I wonder if Syp is a Collector who’s not got around to expressing that side of himself, or if he’s never got around to collecting seriously because that is not really his play personality at all.

Among my online friends with several I can make a good guess at their play preferences, while with many others, I don’t have much idea.

So, I’ll wrap up this post with a little survey…


Play Personality Survey

What is your dominant play personality?

If you had to pick just one, which personality do you most strongly identify with?

What types of play attract you?

I assume most people like several different types of play. Tick anything that is a good fit for you. If something is only mildy you, something that only attracts you occasionally for example, don’t tick that.

If you’d like to expand on describing your own play personality, or have thoughts on the concept of play personalities itself, please do comment below.

LOTRO: Quest Pack Recommendations

Quest Pack Sale

This week there is a 50% sale on LOTRO Quest Packs! (Note – the headline on the linked sale page says it’s only a 20% sale, but the body says 50%, and the prices in TP back up the 50%-off figure. The picture above is a screenshot of the actual store prices today.)

Back before I had all the packs I used to love sales like this, and look forward to them. But in the early days when I didn’t have a lot of TP to spare it was always a conundrum which packs to get next. How would I know which I’d enjoy without trying them? Of course I Googled around, and checked out what info I could find to help me.

Now that I’ve been around a bit more, and seen a lot of the content for myself, I thought I’d offer my own brief reviews and recommendations for the latest generation of LOTRO players.

List of Quests Packs

Here’s the list of Quest Packs from the ever helpful Lotro Wiki, along with their regular prices and the level range they’re for.

Quest Packs LOTRO Wiki

I needed the list to refresh my memory, and make sure I did them all in a sensible order!

Level 30-40

Your options are North Downs, Trollshaws and Evendim.

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Evendim is highly recommended. It has a huge amount of content, an interesting storyline, some fantastic scenery, and a bit of lighter fun stuff. There’s so much there that I ran three or four characters through the zone before I’d done everything there is to do. A few highlights worth mentioning:

  • The ruined city of Annuminas is crawling with invading forces from Angmar while being defended by the rangers. Lots of challenging fights to figure out how to win. At first there don’t seem to be a lot of quests there, but there’s one that gives you a ranger companion and then lots of quests open up from that.

  • There’s a hobbit at the glass-blowers’ camp who is an in-game tribute to Tolkien himself. I’ll leave you to find out more.

  • Nothcotton Farm makes a nice change from combat quests. You can gain a whole level just helping them get everything ready for the market day. Be warned, first time I tried to do it I got so frustrated at getting lost in the maze-like farm complex I gave up. Second time I made a map to figure out the layout, and had fun seeing how fast and efficiently I could tick things off. Now I always enjoy taking an alt there.

  • You get three scalable instances, and they’re good ones. I don’t see them being run too often mind you.

North Downs was revamped earlier this year, and I haven’t run it since then, so some of what I’m going to say may not apply any more. (Anyone who’s done it recently, please add your thoughts in the comments.)

Overall I found North Downs pretty disappointing. The area didn’t have too much of a distinct character, the stories didn’t add up to anything coherent, and the quest flow didn’t make a lot of sense. A few things that ND does have going for it…

  • You can go there in the low 20s, so if you’ve already done Lone Lands enough times and want a change, ND is the other option.
  • You get the Fornost instance cluster. There are four scalable instances, though you might have trouble finding a group to do them because I don’t see them being run very often. Personally I also like soloing instances, but you need to have high-level chars for that.

  • There are a lot of deeds to be had to help with getting your virtues, and being a relatively low-level zone, the slayer deeds are less painful to do here than in most places.

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Trollshaws was also revamped earlier in the year, so the same caveat applies – some things may have changed since I last ran it.

I’d say Trollshaws is more enjoyable than North Downs, but not as good overall as Evendim. Some of the upsides of the region:

  • You get to hang out in Rivendell. And while you’re there, you can play some games of riddles with Bilbo Baggins himself. If you love your Tolkien lore as much as me, that alone might be reason enough to get the Trollshaws!
  • There’s some good questing at the higher end of the zone around Tal Bruinen.

  • Music and scenery are very good in this zone.

On the downside, Trollshaws is a region that is very hard to get around. The map is almost useless, and I spend a lot of time getting lost and backtracking. And that’s even after having been through the zone several times on different characters. Even when you don’t get lost, you spend far too much time getting to quest objectives.

It also seems to be a very hard region in which to complete deeds or get reputation. Part of the reason for that is that you don’t get any instances with this quest pack, so none of the kills and rep that you might get from instance runs.

My Recommendation

Overall, if you’re only going to get one region in this level range, I’d say Evendim is the standout choice. Trollshaws comes next, and North Downs is for when you’re looking to complete your collection.

Level 40-50

This is the hardest level range to make your choices, not least because there are four regions to choose from:

  • Angmar covers the whole range from 40-50
  • Misty Mountains used to cover the whole range, but was revamped earlier this year and now seems to cover just 40-45.
  • Forochel covers 44-50
  • Eregion covers 45-50

Angmar has big pluses and big minuses.

The biggest minus is that since the place is basically Mordor-lite, hanging out there for any length of time is liable to get you down. It’s dark, desolate, devoid of greenery, and crawling with nasty creatures. And no sky should look like that.

On the plus side, there is a heck of a lot of content, and plenty for all tastes and playstyles. That includes so many good instances that I struggle to remember them all. Urugarth and Carn Dum in particular are some of the best instances of all time. Sadly they haven’t been made scalable yet, apparently because Turbine has yet to figure out how to do that while still keeping their original flavor which people like so much. But if you like doing instances then I’d say definitely get Angmar.

If you’re going to do the Epic you’re going to spend a lot of time in Angmar anyway, so that’s another reason to get the zone. While you’re there, you might as well quest, and rack up deeds. (And the Angmar part of the Epic is one of the best parts of all, so if you’ve not done it before, it’s highly recommended not to skip it.)

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Misty Mountains was also revamped this year. Again I’ve not re-run it since the changes, but this time I’m more worried that the changes will have taken away what I loved about the zone than I’m wondering how much they improved things. Anyone who knows more, please do comment.

Pluses of the zone, as it was:

  • Nice mountain environment, with snowstorms and such.
  • It’s hard to figure out how to get around through the mountain passes, but very satisfying once you do. Unlike Trollshaws, once you discover your way around it’s fairly easy to remember and find it again the next time.

  • Goblintown. Opinions were mixed on this place, some people loved it, some hated it. I was one of those that loved it. The people who hated it found it too hard and too confusing. For the confusing part, you definitely need a really good map. As for the hard part, I think it was made with duos and trios in mind, and it’s fun to do that way. Like a lot of small group content it is also very enjoyable to solo if you like a challenge, especially if you’re playing a class that can cope well with crowds. Sneaking around with a burg is a blast!

  • There’s some Tolkien lore, via meeting Gloin and from exploring Goblintown. Who wouldn’t want to find Gollum’s Cave? (Not that it was easy to find!)

  • As far as I can remember you only get one instance, the Goblintown Throne Room, but it’s a good one. A lot of it can be done in a trio or even solo, though it is officially a full fellowship instance.

I understand the Misty Mountains changes have made the zone a lot easier, reduced the level of the mobs in there, and added easier travel options. Some might like it that way, but I’m not sure on that. One day I’ll go back and see.

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Forochel is very pretty. The Northern Lights that are often playing there are wonderful, and sometimes it’s more tempting to just gawp at them than to do any questing.

Overall there are some nice storylines and some good questing in Forochel, but the main downside is that there’s just less content than elsewhere. Which includes a total lack of instances with this pack. It feels a bit unfinished, like a good TV show that was inexplicably canceled before it got to the finale.

Eregion is a sort of middling zone, with nothing either outstanding nor anything horrible about it. In theory it should be a lore-fest, but the opportunity has mostly been missed. I’d have loved to hear all about the Noldorin elves who once lived there, and made the three Elven rings.

The high points for me are:

  • There’s a quest to save Bill the pony from wargs.
  • You get two scalable small fellowship instances, known to all as “School” and “Library”. They’re good instances, are pretty quick to do, and give good rewards. That might be why they still seem to be popular to this day, and you probably won’t have a hard time getting a group for them.

My Recommendations

In summary, in this level range there are pros and cons to each of the options depending on what you most like to do, and what you most want to avoid. Personally I’d say get Angmar as the default choice. It’s by far the most bang for your TP buck, and has fab instances. If you can’t bear to hang out in all that gloom for so long, pair it with one of the others for a change of scene.

After that, Misty Mountains and Forochel both have a lot going for them. Unless you like to play instances often, in which case Eregion has the edge.

What about Level 50+?

I’m not going to give you my thoughts on the quest packs above level 50 in this post. I might well do that another time, but there are a couple of reasons to skip them for now:

1) This is already a rather long post… at the rate I write I may never get finished! Or everyone will have already spent their hard earned TP, and my recommendations for the sale will be moot!

2) Over level 50, there aren’t that many choices of what to get at any given level. Basically you will want to get Moria, Mirkwood, Isengard and Rohan, because that is the main path through the game. The other packs were originally added to keep people going in-between expansions, and for anyone that doesn’t have them yet, they are somewhat of a sideline. Enjoyable maybe, but not the priority if you don’t have TP to throw around.

Final Thoughts

By now I have all the quest packs, and I don’t regret getting any of them. Unless maybe I regret that I don’t have enough time to play through all the good stuff that I’ve got!

While I mentioned various irritations and frustrations with some of the zones, if you like LOTRO you’ll probably find lots to enjoy in each zone. But I do remember what it was like when I was first getting into the game, and especially at sale time, when I was tempted this way and that, but didn’t have a lot to spend. I hope my recs will help people that are where I was a couple of years ago.

As for the old LOTRO hands, I hope you found the post entertaining. If you feel like vehemently disagreeing, wantonly agreeing, or just want to add something, esp about the updated zones, please do!

I’d love to know what zones are your favorites and your pet hates too.

The “Gamer” Label

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What exactly is a “gamer”? Is it even a useful label?

The topic has been doing the rounds on the MMO blogosphere lately, and the very fact that so many people have felt compelled to comment tells us that people have strong feelings about labels, one way and another. (Either that, or they are just glad to have a topic to seize on for Blaugust!)

I don’t think it’s entirely a storm in a social media teacup, it’s something that is on people’s minds without the promptings of Twitter or questionnaires. For example…

Whether or not I would call myself a “Gamer” (let alone a “Real Gamer”) is something I do think about now and again. It’s not a label I usually apply to myself, even though I’ve played video games for thirty-five years almost without a break.

Bhagpuss

Are Labels Useful?

One school of thought is that labels like “gamer” are arbitrary and of little use.

Another topic going around has been an attempt to define what a “gamer” or a “real gamer” is. While I am not as dismissive as some, it does seem to be a futile effort to expand or contract a label to fit an imperfect and varying set of assumptions. I play video games. Isn’t that enough?

Wilhelm

Personally I think labels can be fairly useful, depending on what use you intend to put them to. Dividing the world into categories is a basic part of everyday thinking, even when most such categories are fairly fuzzy and vague. What exactly constitutes a “geek” or a “gamer” or “fantasy” is necessarily loosely defined. All the same, labels like that are important for thinking and communicating. For example we can make pretty meaningful statements that would otherwise be difficult to put in words, like:

  • Game of Thrones is fantasy that is enjoyed by more than just the usual geeks.
  • Raspberry Pi was meant to be for kids, but most of them are bought by adult geeks.
  • I play LOTRO, but I’m not much of a gamer otherwise

While labels make people bristle sometimes, it’s hard to think, talk and function without using them.

The Trouble with Labels

As essential as labels are, they can also be problematic. From what I can see, there are several major ways in which they cause problems.

Simplistic Understanding of Categories

Understanding the world through simple categories is where we all have to start. Whether it’s as children learning about life newly, or adults coming as newbies to some field of knowledge, the full complexity of any field is not something we can handle to begin with. And if we don’t need to progress beyond the beginner level, it may be that simplified understanding is all we’ll ever need or ever have.

Some of the over-simplistic thinking that we’re liable to:

  • Imagining there is a hard-and-fast cut off point, and the label neatly divides the world into two groups. You’re either a gamer, or you’re not.
  • Underestimating the diversity of the group. We have a picture of what a “gamer” is, and don’t realize that even if that picture might fit a sizable chunk of people who play games, there might be even more that don’t fit that picture.

Stereotypes – Good, Bad and Ugly

Gollum mural

Is there such a thing as a good stereotype? I’d suggest there kind of is, though perhaps it would be best to not use the word “stereotype” for it!

Dividing the world up into categories and having a picture of a representative member of the category that is used for thinking about the whole group is one of the basic ways the mind works. If for some reason you need to think about students, families, seniors or pets, your starting point at least will be some picture of a typical student, family, senior or pet. You might know perfectly well that there are all shapes and sizes of families, that some seniors run marathons, and some people have pet tigers, but for most everyday thinking and talking, it’s reasonable to go with the simplified stereotyped picture. If someone asks if a hotel is suitable for seniors it would be odd if you replied: “Absolutely, the rock climbing around there is great!” If they asked “Do they allow pets?”, it would be bizarre to reply: “Only dogs and cats, no chimps or tigers.”

A good stereotype is one that is fairly accurate and fairly representative of the group as a whole. It’s a simplification, but a useful one when you need to think or talk about the group and don’t have lots of time and energy to spend on sophisticated analysis.

A bad stereotype could be one that is inaccurate. For example if we imagine that the average age of MMO players is 17 when in fact it is 30, our stereotype is grossly misleading, and our thinking based on it will be deeply flawed.

More subtly, a bad stereotype could be one that is insufficiently representative. If the average age of MMO players is 30, but the age spread of players is so large that we’re nearly as likely to come across a 15 year old or a 65 year old as a 30 year old, our mental picture of the 30 year old player could still be seriously unhelpful.

In practice a lot of us have bad stereotypes in these senses in a lot of areas of our lives. This is for the simple reason that we tend to only come across skewed, highly unrepresentative cross-sections of the groups we talk about, and never know what the group as a whole looks like. That goes even when we are actually members of those groups ourselves – for example the people we hang out with in MMOs can be totally unrepresentative of MMO players as whole. Maybe we started playing with a bunch of our school or college friends, and as they’re all of the same age group, we imagine that age is the typical age of players. Or maybe we always gravitate to guilds with more mature players, and imagine that is the typical age. Or perversely maybe we imagine the players we know personally are unusual, but they are actually pretty typical of the player base.

The concept of “ugly” stereotypes meanwhile lead us on to the topic of the social dynamics of labels.

Labels and Social Dynamics

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Apparently, there was much discussion yesterday on Twitter about trying to define the term “Gamer” and specifically, who gets to claim the term.

Rowan

It seems that someone was spouting off in their lack of knowledge that tablet and mobile gamers were in some way lesser gamers than the those on the console or PC. This once again gets back to the definition of what exactly a gamer is. Over on the Moderate Peril blog he questioned exactly why we need a label at all. In other hobbies, you don’t see the attempt to exclude people the way that we do within gaming.

Belghast

As human beings we are social animals, with many drives and concerns that take precedence over thinking clearly or understanding the world accurately. In particular we are often preoccupied with matters of belonging, identity and status. Things like…

  • Am I really a part of this group?
  • Am I accepted by the others in the group?
  • What is my place in the pecking order?
  • What is the status of my group in society?
  • Does being considered part of this group mean kudos or derision for me?
  • Is my group better than group X?
  • How can I present myself so as to look good to the people around me?

I think Belghast was wrong in the quote above that: “In other hobbies, you don’t see the attempt to exclude people the way that we do within gaming”. On the contrary, with most kinds of activity that people engage in from watching sports to drinking wine there are all kind of snobberies, reverse snobberies, social hierarchies and ways in which people use labels to look down on others, or to give themselves a sense of superiority. In pretty much any hobby or activity you’ll find groups of people that match descriptions like:

  • Hard-core and proud of it
  • Casual and apologetic about it
  • Casual and feels superior to those they see as “taking it all too seriously”
  • Casual but tries to give the impression of being pretty hard-core
  • Hard-core but tries to give the impression of being pretty casual
  • Insecure about whether they deserve the label
  • Reluctant to accept the label because of negative associations
  • Eager to claim the label because of positive associations
  • Highly engaged and looking down on the less committed
  • Highly engaged but maintaining everyone is equal regardless

This kind of adding on layers of judgments goes with just about any factual label that can be applied to a human being. Any fact about you, someone somewhere will judge you based on it. And some will judge you negatively for the very things that others judge you positively for.

A Useful “Gamer” Label?

A couple of properties are probably important for a label to be useful.

  • Differentiation… the label identifies a somewhat distinctive group. There is not much point in having a label of “movie watcher” in a society where the vast majority of people watch movies to some degree. But a label like “movie buff” has a place.
  • Broad Agreement… while we’re all free to define terms however we want, for the purpose of holding sensible conversations and communicating our ideas, we need to have reasonably broad agreement about what the label means. It doesn’t have to be universal agreement, as long as most of the time most of us have roughly the same idea of what a movie buff or a gamer might be.

Defining anyone that’s ever played Angry Birds as a gamer is therefore not going to be useful. That’s not a judgment on Angry Birds or the people who play it, just a recognition that since nearly everyone has played games of that sort, it is not particularly useful to focus on those people as a distinct group. It also seems likely to be a recipe for confusion if we decided to call them gamers, because there are plenty of people that won’t be thinking of the term in that way, and we’ll be talking at cross purposes all the time.

I’m inclined to use “gamer” as a term similar to “movie buff”. That would be someone who is especially interested in games, and for whom they are a particularly important part of their life. That could be someone who plays a good deal, or someone who follows the scene with interest. They could be into PC, console or mobile games, but they do have to be “into them”.

So… am I a gamer then?

It seems blindingly obvious that I am a gamer, but I do cringe somewhat at the label.

While I’m undoubtedly more casual than many gamers, I do have a number of MMOs installed, a Steam account, a bunch of PC games etc. I follow game blogs, listen to game podcasts, and even have a game blog of my own, albeit that I don’t post here all that frequently. Any jury would find me guilty as charged.

If I resist the label, it’s only for reasons of the social dynamics and stereotypes alluded to before. There is still some stigma associated with being a gamer, at least in some circles. And there are probably few if any circles in which being a gamer is going to positively arouse anyone’s admiration and respect.

Being a gamer is an aspect of me, but not one that I would want to be principally defined by in anyone’s mind.

LOTRO: The Shadow of the Future

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With the announcement of significant layoffs at Turbine, I’m feeling sad at what has befallen the staff and concerned about the future of the game.

Our first thoughts must be for the people who’ve lost their jobs, and are doubtless worried about what comes next. At the minimum they face a period of uncertainty and upheaval in their lives before they find their feet in new employment, maybe in new cities. I would like to think their skills will be in demand, and for sure they have great work to show on their resumes. Best of luck to all of them.

I would guess that many of them are also Tolkien fans, and this was not just another job to them. I imagine it was something very special, in much the way that we know that the Lord of the Rings movies were very special to the cast and crew that worked on them. Much the same as it would have been for many of us to have the joy and privilege of making a career out of bringing Middle Earth to life.

Here’s Amlug:

Please take the opportunity to wish him and others well at this tough time. I know that I probably underestimate how much it would mean to anyone to hear from me, being just another player and no-one they know personally.

The Future of LOTRO

‘…already, Frodo, our time is beginning to look black.’

With this news the future of LOTRO is beginning to look very uncertain. There were layoffs in 2012, and now this. Before Helm’s Deep came out, it seemed that there might be a proportion of the player base that would leave because of the class changes and lack of traditional group content. Just the passage of time meant that many people who were deeply involved in the game a year or two ago have drifted away a little. I’m certainly playing less than I was.

Then came the news that we will not have an expansion in 2014. We were told that there would be smaller but more frequent new content releases, plus updates to existing zones, and revamped game systems. All of that seemed plausible enough to me, and maybe even a good idea. But now, as Fredelas says…

There is talk that LOTRO may be headed for maintenance mode, and even if that doesn’t seem imminent, a lot of us are wondering if we will now ever make it to Mordor and see Sauron defeated.

The Shadow of the Future

‘It is not despair, for despair is only for those who see the end beyond all doubt.’

The future we see headed towards us has a way of impinging on the present. Knowing that the holidays are around the corner or an expansion is coming in a month adds an air of excitement and energy to life now. Knowing that someone you care about has only a few months to live alters a great deal about how you see the world and how you live your life.

Uncertainty is not quite the same. Nevertheless I’ve gone from taking it pretty for granted that LOTRO will around for a long long time, to feeling that the end may come sooner rather than later. The blissful assumption that things will carry on merrily into the forseeable future has gone.

Turbine could do a lot to reassure us here…

Assuming that doesn’t happen – and hopefully it still might – how will this uncertainty alter how we feel and act in LOTRO now?

Many people I would guess will start preparing their exit strategy, maybe even leaving right away. I’m glad that I already have my foothold in The Secret World and other games for example. I don’t want to wake up one day and find LOTRO a ghost town or to hear its termination announced and have no place else ready to go.

Other people will want to get the maximum out of LOTRO while there is still plenty of life there. Run those instances one more time while people are still doing them. Catch up with those kinnies while we still can. Go gaze at those amazing views, and grab screenshots.

The best thing about LOTRO is the community. Yet online communities have short lives; they feel like home and we love them, and then suddenly they’re on the way out, and the end can be quick.

That’s a theme in Tolkien too, and one that helps gives the Lord of the Rings its great power. The world as we’ve known it and loved it will pass away. If we’re lucky it may not be for many years yet.

‘All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.’

Perhaps like the Rohirrim we should shake our spears and ride.

Ride for ruin, and the world’s ending.

LOTRO: Hunter Skills Lost and Gained

This is a look at the skills that I’ve lost and gained on my 85 hunter as a result of the Helm’s Deep class changes, plus my thoughts on what it all means for me and my playstyle.

Some of these skills are gone from the game, others lost to me because although they exist, I spent my points elsewhere. In the latter case, by the time I get to the new cap at level 95 I will have enough points to get one or more back depending on how I choose to spend the points.

These are based on my initial builds, and things could change with more practical experience. I had 55 points to spend, which is the max that a level 85 can have if they have done all their class quests and deeds.

Lost Skills

OldHunterHotbars

  • Hunters Art. It’s gone from the game, but I didn’t use it anyway. I think few hunters did.
  • Heart Seeker. It has its uses and is still available, but I didn’t prioritize it as other things are more important to my playstyle.
  • Strength of the Earth. Still exists, chose not to prioritize it.
  • Cry of the Predator. Gone from the game. Was occasionally useful esp at lower levels, but at 85 I won’t miss it much.
  • Split Shot. Still exists, but I never used it that much. Though I do like to have AoEs, the mix of narrow target area and inductions does not fit well for the times I really need AoEs. I also build to generate lots of focus, so chaining Rain of Arrows is usually an option when I want an AoE.
  • Blood Arrow. Still exists, I never used it much. For similar reasons to Split Shot, I build in a way that gives me better options than this. I rarely have power problems, so there is no need to spend morale instead of power.
  • Burn Hot. Still available and useful for the times when you need to do a big burst. But I usually build for sustained damage rather than burst, so I passed it up for other things I needed more.
  • Set Snare. A similar skill is avail in one of my tree setups, so it is only lost when I’m running with the more straight DPS set up.
  • The traps consumables are gone, so I can’t set triple traps or drop quick traps in a red line config. I wonder what will happen to the traps we have. Can we recover the mats? Use them in some way? Or are they now wasted?
  • Fleetness and Needful Haste are gone as skills, but can appear as buffs that randomly proc, and you can affect the chances of it happening with your build. But they are not something you can choose to use on purpose to suit the situation. I think fleetness is not available unless you specialize blue, but I could be misremembering.
  • Swift Stroke is gone from the game. You can get a somewhat similar effect from hopping into endurance stance and firing quickshot. Stances give a 10s buff as well, so stance dancing is going to be more common I guess.
  • Agile Rejoinder is gone. Endurance stance quickshot gives you some heals though, and Press Onwards can be used more often than before. So maybe Agile Rejoinder won’t be as sorely missed as we thought at first.
  • Scourging Blow. It still exists, but I never used it much. I used Barbed Arrow for fire DoT at range sometimes on mobs with big health, esp if they have poor fire mitigation. But I don’t often use Barbed Arrow in a melee situation, so Scourging Blow was not very useful to me.

Overall this is not too bad at all, as I’ve mostly lost things that I didn’t use often. Except for Agile Rejoinder and Swift Stroke, which were melee staples.

Gained Skills – Config 1 – Red Specialization

Config1Red

Config1Hotbars

  • Explosive Arrow. Spreads its damage, so it can deliver a biggish hit to a single target or smaller hits to a bunch of mobs.
  • Pinning Shot. A 5s root with an 8s cooldown.
  • Upshot. The Bowmaster capstone, a big hitter with 25s cooldown, eats all focus.

I’ll have to figure out how to best use them, but on the whole they seem useful without offering any radically new possibilities for hunter playstyle.

Gained Skills – Config 2 – Yellow Specialization

Config2Yellow

Config2Hotbars

  • Piercing Trap. Somewhat similar to the now gone Set Snare.
  • Explosive Arrow. I picked it in both configs.
  • Deadly Decoy. Interesting skill! Creates a temporary tank for you that aggros mobs away from you for a short while before it explodes and does some damage. 45s cooldown, so can use a few times during a tough fight if needed.
  • Lingering Wound. It’s biggish DoT. Not much more to say about it.
  • Tripwire. In effect a 5s stun.
  • The One Trap. The Trap of Doom! The Trapper of Foes capstone, it does big damage and slows target.

One thing to note is that setting traps becomes a ranged skill. (If you spend your points in a way to make it so.) This has some important consequences. Less chance of traps being wasted because the mobs took a different path than you expected, you can wait and drop it in front of them as they arrive. Or even right on top of them, which in effect makes them ranged attacks, much like Rain of Thorns say.

Again it’ll take time to work out the best ways to use these skills. The Trapper of Foes line looks a lot more viable now, and could add some fun new ways to play a hunter.

What does it all mean?

Firstly, before Helm’s Deep I used to play the blue line! I didn’t put a single point into the blue line with either of my configs. I might try that later, but at first look what you can get by going blue didn’t seem worth the sacrifices. (Very little option for heals, AoE or CC, which are things I’ve always turned to in the more interesting tactical scenarios.)

Some of the most important parts of the old blue line have moved over to red now. If I’m remembering right, Deadly Precision, Arrow Storm and Strong Draw were blue, but now are red. So I am actually keeping a lot of my blue line playstyle intact by going red, and still running Precision stance mainly.

Overall the changes don’t seem to make the game radically better or worse. It still looks playable and enjoyable enough, and I can replicate my old playstyle pretty well.

I ran a couple of skirms, once with my red config and then with yellow. My feeling is both times they were a fair bit easier and quicker to do than with the old RoR skills. So hopefully there is still challenging stuff to do out there somewhere when I want to do that.

I haven’t yet checked how things work out at lower levels or on my other classes. I suspect around level 50-60 we’ll have a lot less skills than we used to, and at level 20 skills could be really thin on the ground. So leveling alts might be even duller, but maybe burning through mobs faster will help alleviate the tedium there.

Also I haven’t yet looked much at how to lay out my toolbars, or worked out how to have skills not move around when I swap configs. From what I’ve seen that won’t be hard to figure out though.

In summary… Helm’s Deep class changes are not as big a deal as I feared. There’s still quite a bit of scope to build how you like, and with the added bonus that the yellow line might be a fun alternative to try now.

Is there still a stigma to gaming?

Recently some established gaming bloggers discussed the pros and cons of using real names versus screen names for their gaming blogs. (See Survival and Identity, Using a pseudonym and What’s in a Name?) They raised a lot of interesting points, but one major theme was whether there is any stigma nowadays to being identified as a gamer.

Here’s stand-up Dara O’Brien on the subject of gaming and how it’s perceived by some… (Note: Includes a bit of adult humor)…

The serious point is that while there are plenty of circles in which gaming is perfectly well accepted, there are others where it’s not much understood and people are likely to be judgmental based on stereotypes they’ve picked up. Times are changing, but they probably haven’t changed completely and everywhere yet.

The story of Colleen Lachowicz, a successful candidate for the Maine State Senate, cuts both ways. Her opponents tried to portray her as someone who “lives in a fantasy world”, which suggests there’s still plenty of stigma for them to work with. But whatever there was, it wasn’t enough to stop her winning the election.

An interview with Lachowicz and another about her unusual guild make for interesting reading. To some extent there’s a paradox in these interviews that while underlining that serious grownups play such games and there’s no shame to be attached to that, they also make a point of stressing not being “hardcore” and that the people in the guild aren’t “typical gamers”. Which maybe suggests that “typical” and “hardcore” players are viewed with disdain, perhaps even by those gamers that see themselves as non-typical.

Perhaps the thing is, none of us actually know if we’re what is typical, or if we’re exceptions.