What’s In a Name?
As a general rule, I try and remain as aloof as possible. It’s partly a defense mechanism against the eldritch machinations of an uncaring, absurd universe. But it is also somewhat necessary in an age wherein marketing departments have weaponized hype and doublespeak like “value-added” as if they are doing consumers any favors. In other words: wish in one hand, shit in the other, and see which fills up first.
Enter Guild Wars 2.
I signed up for the Beta like everyone else, with a current disposition of extreme skepticism. And I still am extremely skeptical. Will it “save” MMOs? Doubt it… assuming MMOs need saving at all. Is the holy trinity dead? As this BFF Report clearly shows, no, not in the sense that there will not be a guy who primarily tanks, someone who heals, etc. Even the whole “freeform” questing bit (which you can also see earlier in the BFF Report) does not necessarily move the needle, as a gamer who responds to ostensive purpose, no matter how flimsy said purpose may be in the abstract. Cave full of kobolds? Who cares? Oh, farmer Joe cares, because the kobolds are stealing the pumpkins? Let me go solve that for you.
That being said, I have been keeping up with the game, reading interviews, and so on. And what I am finding is that the little things are moving the needle all over the damn place. For example, here is Mike Ferguson’s Q&A response on a Reddit AMA interview:
Q: We all saw that enemy players are currently listed as generic invaders, and some are turned off by that. Will there be a toggle option for showing our name if we want to?
A: There’s been a lot of discussion about seeing enemy names in WvW. While I certainly understand the reasoning behind the request to see enemy names, we are fairly firm about not showing names of the opposing teams. I think of it this way, in a war people dont introduce themselves before trying to kill each other. When you are fighting in the mists for your world, you are in the middle of a giant war against two opposing forces who want nothing more than to take everything you own and kill you as many times as they possibly can. That guy who just shot you is not Bob the Engineer, he’s the enemy.
Not showing enemy names in WvW also helps players that are less pvp-oriented feel less threatened about venturing into the battle because seeing enemies as anonymous ‘invaders’ creates a sense that opponents won’t be able to recognize them and pick on them because of their lack of skill in a fight, so they in turn feel more embolded to go out and fight in the first place. Not showing names also makes it so people can feel as if they can ‘hide’ in a fight if need be, but still be around to help out. That’s a pretty critical part of making WvW feel more inviting for people that would normally never think about playing PvP in any other game.
We’ve heard “I usually dont PvP, but I love WvW” again and again from people in our beta, so even though showing names might make for a more competitive pvp environment, we’d much rather create a game that is more welcoming for people that don’t normally play the more hardcore PvP games. If you want to see enemy names and get to know the community of people you are fighting against, competitive PvP is the place to get that sort of thing in Guild Wars 2. WvW is the place where you fight with your friends and show your might against a faceless never-ending horde of enemies. It’s not about taking names, it’s about taking back that tower and claiming it for your guild so it can wave your flag right in the enemies face!
…now that is interesting.
A lot of blogging space has been dedicated to examining the effects of, say, LFG on community culture. For the record, I believe the LFG culture (such as it is) in WoW is merely the natural expression of difficult, group-based daily activities minus the desperation.
But it is fascinating to think about the possible effects of a struggle against an intentionally nameless enemy in GW2. Would people really feel “safer” being anonymous in a wider war? I think Mike Ferguson is onto something. Imagine you are trying to take a tower from a single defender, but he keeps killing you. In my own WoW experience, I feel the standard shame of defeat, but I also feel worse knowing that the defender can put a name to the face, so to speak. If we meet up somewhere else on the battlefield, he might recognize the fail paladin he defeated with ease earlier and go after me first. In my mind, that second possibility is worse than the initial defeat(s).
I know this happens because I did it all the time in WoW BGs. “Hey, there is that Boomkin made out of wet paper. Ha! Look at him run!” Inspiring dread ended up being a lot more entertaining than most of the BGs themselves. Indeed, one of the biggest draws of having a rogue was following someone around and Sapping them repeatedly, then watching their panicked, futile AoE dance afterwards. After they felt themselves safe, that’s when you kill them in a stunlock. Repeat until they just abandon their keyboard after the first Sap.
Take away the name, though? People could probably figure out that the Norn Elementalist who keeps trying to take the tower is the same player. I might even be wary of the nameless Mesmer defending said tower. But at the same time, perhaps we would care less. Perhaps it would make people more inclined to group with their own faction, since that this the only avenue of social recognition – you cannot be known and feared by your enemies, so you seek out the accolades of your server. Only your own team will ever know your name.
It is such a subtle, brilliant change that I cannot wait to see how it works. Not “if,” how.