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The Frozen Orb
10:50 AM   Tuesday
March 30, 2010

In Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, players perform repetitive tasks in order to improve the effectiveness of their avatars in the game. There is no way to win because as soon as you think you’ve finished, Blizzard adds new content that invalidates all the work you’ve done. It is never-ending, and in this way, it is quite a bit like life itself: you can’t “win” at dishes, laundry, garbage/recycling, and even your job, because you’ll be doing them all over again soon enough.

At Warcraft’s current stage, one of the things that can help add to your avatar’s effectiveness is the Frozen Orb (albeit in minor and roundabout ways: you can sell them or use them to build new equipment). Players typically acquire these by hacking and slashing their way through a dungeon filled with challenges that require working together in teams of five. The experience can be a rewarding one, as each player has a specific role (shield others from harm, heal the wounded, deal damage to the enemy) and the end result is plundered treasure, usually a piece of equipment that could be of use to someone in the group. And then there’s the cherry on top: a Frozen Orb one player will get to keep.

At this point, all five players must make a decision: do you roll Need or Greed? In other words, do you declare that you truly Need the Frozen Orb, or do you merely Want it? This is important because if just one player claims that he Needs it, that player gets priority and anyone who rolled Greed is immediately out of the running. This system works out relatively well for other types of treasure, but it fails abysmally when it comes to Frozen Orbs because no one actually requires Frozen Orbs. They can help you get stuff, yes, but ultimately they’re icing on the cake, and players all know this.

Here’s where something very interesting happens (and where I get to the point). When all this started, most players would roll Greed on the Frozen Orb at the end of the adventure because that’s the polite and socially acceptable thing to do. After all, it’s just a tiny bonus and it doesn’t do anyone harm to walk away without it (nor any great good to walk away with it). But of course, with five people involved, there’s a good chance at least one of them will be a troll (and I don’t mean the playable race) and roll Need, guaranteeing that he wins the Frozen Orb. This isn’t the end of the world at all, but it comes off as rude: everyone is on the same playing field here, so what makes you so special? If you’re going to roll Need, why shouldn’t I?

What it comes down to is that one player has decided he is more important than the other four players. Alright, fair enough, that can be respected to a certain extent; at our very core is the will to survive and thrive. But that doesn’t make it any less rude seeing as the other four people in this team all managed to put that aside and were willing to let random chance make the decision for them. Those four players observe this behavior and each comes to a conclusion: some will shrug it off and continue to roll Greed in the future, and others will decide to take matters into their own hands by rolling Need from this point forward. Of course, those who join the latter group are part of a snowball effect in thinking that assumes everyone else will, or at least could, do the same based on the actions of one selfish player. This eventually spreads even to the former group because those players tire of always being the only one out of five to roll Greed, which effectively makes it so they can never win a Frozen Orb (while everyone else can). By the time all is said and done, all players are rolling Need because they don’t trust anyone else. The only way to win is to drop the manners and the socially acceptable conventions and do what it takes to win, even if that means directly interfering with the success of others.

All this over an item I described as icing on the cake? Is this guy really that upset about his stupid game? No, no. But I think this phenomenon demonstrates, on a smaller scale, what I’ve observed in the real world: people are ruthless. It spreads like a plague because Person A’s antisocial behavior impacts Person B, who naturally seeks to prevent further harm to himself in the future. But in so doing, he takes the initiative against Person C… which is exactly what Person A did to Person B in the first place. This propagates forever, as people farther down the alphabet realize that they must act in the interest of preventative self-preservation. What we end up with is an endless stream of jerks.

Anyone who drives a car in a well-populated area knows exactly what I’m talking about, as does anyone who works at a job involving a lot of office politics. Most people are rude, cutthroat, and careless (about you, anyway). On the road and on the internet, anonymity makes it a thousand times easier to take out your frustrations on some idiot; because let’s face it, there probably won’t be any repercussions! And in the office, where there could actually be social consequences… “it’s either you or me, I want that promotion, and I won’t have to deal with you once I’m on the top, anyway!” Who could blame you for clawing your way through your co-workers? You must be working very hard to have earned such a mighty position!

I’ve come to the realization that I happen to be one of the poor idiots who follows the Golden Rule (“do unto others as you would have others do unto you”). This is cute, idealistic, and a bit dangerous. It is foolish to believe others won’t do things that they know will harm you, as most people are thinking only of themselves and they won’t hesitate to do what’s best for them — even at, and sometimes especially at, your expense. That’s difficult for me to comprehend since (to my knowledge) I manage to get by day-to-day without dragging other people down.

So should we join the Needers and quit giving others the benefit of the doubt? Should we let that mindset prevail? I don’t think so, and I still refuse to step on the heads of others just to get ahead. I don’t think I could be satisfied with the results, even if they were quite favorable for me. Unfortunately, that leaves me in a spot where I’ve essentially resigned myself to always coming in at second place, because inevitably someone will take advantage of my nature and use it to his own benefit. My current plan regarding this is another stupid old adage: “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.” Truth is, there are still some nice folks out there who will work with you and not against you. They’re few and far between, but you can’t find them if you indiscriminately step on everyone’s head from the outset. Thus, give each person one (and only one) opportunity to reveal his true colors. After that, you’ll know what to do. The real question here is whether or not that first opportunity is worth the risk. I guess that’s what separates Needers from Greeders.

In the end, Blizzard realized the flaw in regards to Frozen Orbs and made it so that no one is allowed to roll Need anymore; no one can get an unfair advantage. That’s great for Warcraft, but what about real life?

One Comment
Zanthrophia

Good to see that there are someone else who thinks on the same things as I do. I have a bit of a problem that I donĀ“t really dare to trust others too much due to the worldly problem you speak of. My mom still tells me that I am a little naive, but hey! Thats because the Golden Rule got a catch on me since I was little! My mom and grandma told me that over ad over again when I was little, even school taught us kids that. Unfortunately few are following this and that makes me sad. Stabbed too many times to count, and that leaves footsteps in life. Wat I can do to overcome this is to forgive over and over again.

I have been visiting your site a lot of times since 2005 mostly because of your music, ad I will still do that. But now I will keep track of your blogging too.

7:49 AM   Wednesday
March 31, 2010
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