This post is inspired by Aunaka’s post about raiding skill over at AunakaHeals.com. Aunaka asks, are good healers born or created? This got me thinking about the role of skill in WoW, and about innate vs learned skill.
I’m going to come right out and say WoW is not exactly a difficult game. That’s not me saying that it’s not a great game (that’s part of what makes it great, in my opinion), but I feel that most players are capable of being “top tier” players. The reason is that the game is limited – you can only do so much at once, and there’s a point when you’re doing it right – if you can avoid all the avoidable damage in an encounter, you can’t avoid the damage even harder next time. The only thing preventing most people from being considered “top tier” is the effort they are willing to invest in WoW. For me, I put a lot of time into my druid. I consider myself pretty up there in terms of skill, even after breaks from the game. But on just about any other class, not only am I not good, I’m actually pretty terrible.
Innate skill is your basic level of multitasking, which is doing multiple things at once, and peripheral perception, which is basically the ability to be consciously aware of multiple things at once – things that are happening peripheral to your current focus (which being a healer is probably your raid frames most of the time). This is something that you can develop or overcome as you learn to play the game. I say ‘overcome’ because frankly, someone who has really great peripheral awareness before ever logging in to WoW will learn to play WoW in a way suited to their ability, whereas someone with poor peripheral awareness might come up with some sort of “shortcut” to stop getting caught out – like frequent glances all over the screen. “Shortcut” may be the wrong word because it implies that having good peripheral awareness is the “right” way to be – I don’t mean it that way.
I liken multitasking to learning to drive a manual car (I believe Americans call it “stick”). At first, all actions you take require deliberate thought, and after a certain amount of practice, it becomes an automated process that doesn’t require thought at all. There are obviously changes that can be made that will require thought once again. In WoW, new boss mechanics may require adjustments in your ability to move and heal that you actually have to think about, even after it has become “automatic”, similar to the way you may have to think about shifting gears with your other hand if you are in a foreign country where they drive on the opposite side of the road.
I’m interested to know if peripheral perception and glancing are exclusive, or if someone is simply the first step until you train yourself to be able to take in the big picture. To that effect, I would love to hear from others about their own experiences with either of these. For all I know, peripheral awareness development might be really rare – maybe most people are glancers. This is actually something that I’m planning to do research in later down the track. So please tell me, are you a glancer? For my money, I think that boss mod add-ons encourage glancing, but I developed peripheral awareness even while using DBM.
Basically, what I’m proposing is that the two dimensions of innate skill are 1) multitasking and 2) peripheral awareness and/or glancing.
The thing with both multitasking and perception is that they can be developed over time, but the speed with which individuals are able to improve them varies. There is a threshold set by WoW, however, and once reached there is no meaningful disparity in skill. That is, if Person A is 10% beyond the game’s threshold of perception, and person B is 5% beyond the game’s threshold of perception, Person A has no advantage over Person B within the context of the game.
The most important element of skill however, which does not have an innate baseline, is the ability to make informed decisions. This relies heavily on your knowledge of the game. Before knowing what World of Warcraft is, you don’t have any understanding of it whatsoever. Everyone starts at the same 0-point in knowledge, and accumulate knowledge as they learn the game. People like Aunaka’s experience (and my own for that matter) will probably echo your own – “I was terrible, but then I started to learn about my abilities and how to use them, and now I’m good”. You can improve by a larger amount in a short space of time simply by learning your class than you can by training yourself to glance around the screen more, or to be more aware of multiple things at once.
I should clarify here that just reading a guide doesn’t make you great. You need to practice after you gain the knowledge, in order to internalise it. Every healer needs to develop a feel for their heals in order to make the right decisions. You can give someone ground rules, like ‘keep refreshing Lifebloom’, ‘use Omen of Clarity whenever it procs’ and ‘fill with Nourish’, but in the end their decisions like “should I use WG, or 3 Rejuvs?” or “should I spend my OoC proc on Healing Touch or Regrowth?” need to come from their own experiences and they need to be made in a split second. You don’t have a time to quickly write down each player’s health deficit, and divide the mana cost of each spell by the total amount healed and then consider things like overhealing potential, imminent damage, etc. You can’t teach a baby to run by explaining what running is, no matter how amazing your explanation is. It needs to develop in time.
So in conclusion, I feel that really, your overall skill level is determined by the amount you know and then by the amount you internalise and then use that knowledge (I see a lot of resto druids out there who probably know what Nature’s Grace is, but I don’t ever see them using it effectively). However, your innate skills set the limits on how quickly and effectively you internalise this knowledge.