I spend most of my free time gaming with my husband, with friends or with family. That’s one of the reasons why I play MMORPGs as my main genre, all the infrastructure and systems are there for playing with a varying number of people.
This weekend my parents were down so we played World of Warcraft with my Mum in the evenings. My current WoW token expired after the first evening – we were down to two accounts and three people – so, I actually sat with my Mum and played with her. That’s actually how she normally plays anyway, with her twin sister – her on mouse (movement and clicking things), her sister on keyboard (ability bar and other shortcut keys). It was an enlightening experience to play a game that closely with someone. It made it much easier to see and understand the little interface, graphical or environmental design decisions that may confuse or confound a player. It’s easy as a (relative) veteran player of the game to just assume that things should be easy to pick up, but then actually seeing those issues played out gave me a fresh perspective.
For instance, it highlighted the unique skill issue that melee DPS faces in the game’s combat. For ranged casters/dps ‘closing’ is rarely an issue – the need to get into melee is irrelevant or even detrimental for most abilities. The twins have mostly played such ranged characters over the years (a Warlock, Hunter or Mage), but more importantly the only melee characters they do play are a Protection Paladin or (relatively recently) Arms Warrior. Playing this kind of tank means closing is rarely an issue – you hit things with your thrown shield and they run at you (even spellcasters as the shield silences them). For the Warrior likewise you can use the charge ability with abandon, so closing is a single button press with almost 100% accuracy. But we noticed in group dungeon runs, where another tank already has and keeps aggro, that they were not always close enough to said tank and current pack of monsters during fights; playing melee classes in dungeons does impose a need to ‘close’ with the tank frequently as his or her character moves during fights, if you just play such a character solo you’d not necessarily learn the importance of this basic.
I was also made more aware of just how complex and byzantine the user interface and graphics can be in MMORPGs. Trying to sort through the inventory on several alts with her, I was reminded of how much information the game bombards you with and how much unnecessary stuff there is – quest items, toys, crafting materials, artifact relics, artifact power items – Legion has actually made this clutter worse not better. I even confused things myself by initially referring to items in a non-obvious manner, when trying to indicate what should be sold to clear space. Without thinking, I referred to the quality colour of an item (“that green one” or “this purple one”) as the distinguishing feature, (i.e. the border colour of the inventory icon), when the actual item’s icon was mostly some mix of colours representing a greyish statue, a flaming horn or whatever fantastical treasure. It’s just something I’m used to doing when talking to my close circle of WoW friends, even though it’s counter-intuitive.
The complexity of the visuals of the game also can cause issues, notably in the latest content. When you’re surrounded by dozens of players fighting some world quest boss monster, even I can find it hard to see what is going on, so for my mother and aunt it must so confusing. Knowing what to target and in what order comes mostly naturally to me as a veteran player, but playing with her I understood better how confusing the gameplay can be.
All this doesn’t detract from the very real joy that both my mum and aunt get from playing World of Warcraft. They have played regularly for ten years with no other games to distract them and no breaks to try the latest “3-monther MMO”. They have more level 110 characters than I, and had legendary items long before I had them on any of my characters. Some aspects of the game do confuse them, but when it comes down to it, they have a lot of fun playing, especially because the game allows us to play together on occasion.