6 November, 2013
Superstition is an interesting thing. As a kid, I remember playing Dragon Warrior on my NES and being impatient, I'd often tap the button to get through combat messages as quickly as possible. I made a little game of it, trying to time my taps in rhythm so that I'd get through the combat as fast as possible. Of course, sometimes it seemed that I'd get critical hits more often when I did that, so eventually I started tapping the button rhythmically to get more critical hits. (In reality, it was probably survivorship bias, where I noticed the critical hits more when I was doing the tapping than when I wasn't. Also interesting to note that the later Super Mario RPG games would require you to tap the button during combat for extra damage/defense/etc.) But, in my mind a superstition was born.
Of course, MMO players have superstitions as well. And plenty of them.
This isn't a new topic, as superstitions have been observed for a while.
Why do players form superstitions?
MMOs have a lot of moving parts and often rely heavily on randomness, so it makes sense that you'd have parts that players just really don't understand. When something happens, instead of accepting randomness or it being the result of so many moving parts, players will try to boil down the result as the effect of something they did. I wrote in a comment to the Terra Nova blog post I linked above that I think a big part of the reason why we get superstitions in MMOs is because players want to feel that they have some control over forces they really have very little influence over. Sending a hunter in first because they might have better loot tables might work. At the worst, it probably can't hurt, right?
Of course, sometimes the superstitions can do cause harm.
Superstitions in DDO
Just like the last few years, DDO recently had a Halloween event where the plane of Mabar, the Endless Night, encroaches on the world. You can kill undead and get motes to get some nifty equipment that is only available during this time. You also need to do a special event raid instance and defeat a spectral dragon to upgrade some items. Unfortunately, the spectral dragon instance often suffers from lag, and this year it was particularly bad. So bad that when the dragon showed up, sometimes you'd freeze in place and then get dumped out of the instance after some minutes dead and failing the instance.
Of course, all sorts of superstitions have arisen about what causes lag, and it became worse this year as the lag was particularly crippling. A lot of the superstitions revolve around abilities that players can use, especially ones that could actually help more even with the lag hits. For example, people often warn against casting area-of-effect crowd-control spells that are really useful for stopping enemies when lag does hit. Lingering AoE spells and some DoT spells are also blamed for causing lag, as are pets. What's interesting is that many of these things are great because they can have effects even if the character is frozen with lag; one time we froze with lag late in the instance, but I'm pretty sure it was the AoE spells that let us succeed anyway. Also, it's particularly interesting that most of these effects are caused by casters, which shows some bias.
I had a little bit of fun. After hearing the litany repeated so often, I started throwing in gems like "And, don't move or attack, as those cause lag, too." I also tried to spread the rumor that Halflings cause lag on several servers. :)
Controlling the uncontrollable.
The reality of the situation is that none of these things seem to consistently cause lag. I've been in instances with a lot of players letting lose all sorts of these effects with no lag, and I've been in instances with few people casting hardly any of these effects and still being bogged down with lag. One time I ran the instance and someone convinced everyone to wait for a few minutes to let other instances finish first to see if multiple instances going at once caused lag. Turns out the answer was "no", as our instance lagged hard and we failed even thought we spent a quarter of an hour mostly just standing around.
Ultimately, it seems that this is about people wanting to control the uncontrollable. There was simply no rhyme or reason to what caused lag, but by doing little superstitions it gave people a little sense of control. The strange thing was that people seemed to be intentionally sabotaging their chances by using abilities that would continue to have an effect during periods of lag. It's also interesting to note that there's very little accountability: someone could use all the proscribed abilities and cause lag, but there is little anyone could do since the instances are filled automatically during the dragon event. The worst that could happen is someone might remember your name and cause problems later if you got into a pick-up-group.
Anyway, I'm interested to hear about your superstitions, or superstitions you've heard about. What so you do that makes no sense in the context of an MMO (or other game)? What have you seen other people do or ask for? Why do you think players follow these behaviors without any hard data to back them up?