WoW and The Social Contract
I dated a guy once who claimed he conceived this great explanation of the reasoning behind governments, cultures and social norms:
See, at the beginning of time there were no rules or laws and it was anarchy. But then people realized that if they felt like surviving they had to come together. And to come together, they needed to trade in some of their freedoms for rules. Rules that would be enforced by a neutral party, a State or Government. The sum of those rules would be like a Social Contract.
To which I rolled my eyes and informed him that I too had studied John Locke’s Second Treaty of the Civil Government. If he wanted to appropriate someone else’s ideas, he should aim for something a tad more obscure.
I’m reminded of that ex whenever WoW blogs debate the necessity of optimization, argue whether or not raiding or heroics are for “everyone” and discuss douchebags in PuGs. Not of his arrogance (he actually wasn’t arrogant at all when it came to WoW, which you’d find rather surprising if you knew the guy) but rather of his definition of the term “Social Contract“.
What it all comes down to is Social Contracts.
Optimization Depends on Your Social Contract
When you join a group of players, you’re expected to abide by certain rules, the, OMG plug, “Social Contract”.
Each group has its contract. The contract will always include, officially or unofficially, a section of the “attitude toward end game” spectrum and some “resource sharing” rules (loot/bank rules) . Sometimes it’ll include language norms, international relations policies (or how to act around non-guildies) and more.
If you follow the Contract, you’ll fit in. If you don’t follow the Contract at all you’ll be exiled (in the form of the traditional /gkick). If you partially follow the Contract, you’ll be a reject and have Cookie‘s rotten food thrown at you.
Whether or not you should optimize your character depends on that “attitude toward end game” clause. If you’re playing (and I mean, really playing, not just socializing) with people adopting a strict wring-the-most-out-of-it attitude, then yes, optimize or get out.
If you’re playing with a group who’s unwritten clause states “we’re here to hang out with more than 5 people and if we happen to get a purple while doing so, then all the better“, optimizing will cause you so much stress that you’ll cry yourself to sleep at night, burn out from WoW and never want to play again. (Slight exaggeration.)
Since most groups are somewhere between those two attitudes, you’re best associating with those whose social contracts include an attitude similar to your own.
But…but what about those who don’t want to optimize and who want to be in groups who do?
Well, every society has its deviants. Bottom line is, you can’t have your cake and eat it too (unless you bend the rules by sleeping with the head of State, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Doesn’t foster much self-respect). Play the way you want to play with those who also play the way you want to play.
Raiding and Heroics for All?
This doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the Social Contract for now, so lets forget our friend Locke for a second.
Whether or not Raiding and Heroics are for all depends on your definitions of “Raiding” and “Running Heroics“.
To me, Raiding and Running Heroics are broad terms. Raiding means being in a WoW group of more than 5 people (like an actually group, not just more than 5 people standing together) and engaging in combat. Running Heroics means being in a 5 man group with the difficulty arrow pointing to “Heroic“. And as far as I’m concerned, anyone who’s able to operate a computer is capable of doing that (well, the heroic option requires being over level 70).
Now, your definitions may include something along the lines of, you know, actually killing something your level. Or even more scandalous: killing something your level somewhat efficiently. In those cases, well, yeah, those activities have certain attitude and dedication requirements.
And back to the Locke, your definition of Raiding and your definition of Running Heroics will determine your sanity level while straying into no-Social Contract zones – aka the Dungeon Finder.
PuGs are taxing because of the lack of Social Contracts
PuGs don’t have Social Contracts. Well. If you consider the TOS, they do, but the TOS doesn’t cover much and most people don’t ask for it to be enforced very often.
The key to avoiding turning into a raging beast in PuGs is to accept that there is no Social Contract. People are going to act as they please. Sometimes it pleases them to fight efficiently, be polite and have a smooth run. Sometimes it pleases them to ignore fight mechanics, show up without preparing their character and be total douchebags.
If you’re lucky enough to get a couple of like-minded players in the group, you might end up with makeshift Social Contract. If 3 or more of you agree that this dps just isn’t going to cut it, then this dps will end up in exile. But if you end up with players that agree with each other but not you, you’ll be the one exiled.
Battlegrounds and the Social Contract
One thing I’ve always found fascinating about Battlegrounds is that there is a loose Social Contract beyond the TOS. It’s a zone of violence, a zone of letting off steam and zone of letting normally offensive things go. There are limits and the State (aka Blizzard) will act on TOS violations, but, really, it’s generally accepted that battleground chat will be full of colourful language, of whining and of frustration. It’s part of the Social Contract, of the unwritten agreement we sign by hitting the “Enter Battleground” button.
Those who don’t know of or who don’t like the Battleground Social Contract, however, don’t usually enjoy their Battleground experience.
At the End of the Day
At the end of the day, playing happily with others in WoW means finding a group that shares your ideals, a group that will have a Social Contract that you want to follow.
And playing happily with strangers in WoW means accepting that the Social Contract may be loose or non-existent. At those times, you might have to focus on yourself to keep your spirits up, or, in extreme cases, know when to head into exile.Internet Anthropology