The Ethics of Warcraft Raiding

...and now for something completely different! I suppose I can and should post "and everything else" stuff once in a while. This essay is written for a general audience so that people who don't play massively multiplayer online games (MMORPGS) can understand.

I argue that players in World of Warcraft who raid with others in a serious guild should do everything that is reasonable to maximize the efficiency of their character, their effectiveness in raids, etc. Failure to do so is acting in an unethical manner and negatively affecting yourself and others who you play with. As always, feel free to comment and disagree. If you feel that I went wrong somewhere, please make an argument and identify where my reasoning is flawed.

I haven't played the game for about three months now, but my arguments and criticisms should still be valid.


When joining a raiding guild in World of Warcraft, you're investing a great deal of time and playing with several others who have agreed to put everything aside to spend about four hours in any given night to work together to accomplish various goals such as obtaining guild achievements, blazing through bosses that have been killed over and over, and progressing through new encounters. WoW is much different than a single-player game because players are typically part of a larger group (a guild) that works together to accomplish goals. In a single player game, your actions, by definition, can not impact others because there are no others in your game, but in WoW, since you are playing with other people, it appears that you have various moral obligations to live up to for various reasons. I will argue that World of Warcraft players who actively raid in guilds have various moral obligations and are acting unethically if they fail to meet reasonable expectations.

As I previously mentioned, players are part of a larger group and are not only limited to their own characters and their own success. What happens in a larger group contributes to an overall success; if one player is under-performing, others in the group are almost certainly negatively affected in most situations. [Some goals can be attained without maximum performance and not all players have to employ “optimal play” to achieve a goal, but as I will argue, you should be obligated to reasonably maximize your performance.] You simply can't separate individual success from the group's success when the total performance of the individuals add to create the group's success or failure. This being said, it's quite obvious that when one person is not optimally performing, the group suffers and the effort of other individuals can not salvage a “lost situation.”

Many boss encounters require individual players serving specific goals: some players heal others, others deal damage, others deal damage and need to use specific skills to control or regulate the fight, and others take the attention of the enemies [agro] and take the damage given by the enemies. If one player who is assigned to a vital role fails and only one person is capable or is assigned to perform that role, the group effort ultimately fails. There are certainly cases in which some players can “carry” others by outperforming others and thus achieving success in a particular encounter, but if someone is under-performing when he/she could be performing as expected or better, the overall success of the group is hurt.

People come to raids with the expectation of success. People enjoy succeeding and receiving rewards (whether in-game items, notice, praise, or whatever else the person enjoys). If each individual maximizes the chances for success, the group effort is bolstered and the group has more chances of succeeding. If some players come to raid without having knowledge of encounters, do not have items properly gemmed, enchanted, etc, the chance of success is diminished. Imagine a model in which each player's character has a point value that increases with the addition of enhancements to that character [an addon called gear score does this]. At any given point, suppose that a player has no enchants and gems on his/her items. With each addition, the player's “score” goes up and the chances for success go up, thus positively impacting the group's chance of success [remember, individual success is not limited to the character, but rather contributes to the group]. Theoretically and actually, a player should strive to make this chance of success as high as reasonably possible for the sake of the entire team and not doing so appears to be neglecting to fulfill an expectation that other players have for you.

If, for example, Joe can achieve a score of 9000 on his character by reasonable measures [I will get to this later], members of the group should expect Joe to do so and Joe should be obligated to do so. If Joe does not achieve this score or come close to it when reasonable effort is displayed, he is hurting the overall success of the group and is not contributing at the same level as the other players, thus he is in the wrong. In raiding, lack of performance, as I mentioned hurts everyone in the group and may lead to what would be called “1% wipes” or close calls. This is especially important to understand and pay attention to when a guild is just beginning progress on a specific task and are not overpowering the content by having previous experience on the encounter or really good items that eclipse the difficulty of the encounter.

When a person joins an end-game raiding guild, his/her guild almost certainly has a statement of purpose and various expectations for the players who join. Joining a guild, in many ways, is like entering into a contract. If someone discovers that the terms of the contract are violated or the person is not suited for the job, the contract is dissolved. This same thing happens in World of Warcraft guilds; if players do not meet the expectations of the leaders of the guild, the person may be released from the guild or remediated before this happens. The moment you join a guild, you are agreeing with the mission statement and rules that the guild sets forth [in fact many guilds require players to fill out applications that explicitly require players to answer “yes” to specific “do you agree” type questions.

Reasonable Expectations

Imagine, for sake of example, a superhero who has the sole power of reading others' minds. The superhero can put this power to great use in order to help others, help him/herself, or harm others. The superhero can travel to police stations and be present in interrogation rooms in order to “extract facts” and tell whether a person is telling the truth. The superhero can be a truth-extractor in courtrooms and assure that justice is dealt with better than the current system (much better in fact). We can desire that a person such as this do as much as possible to better the world with his/her power, but would it be reasonable to say, “You should devote your entire life to helping others with your powers,” I think not.

In order for a person to be obligated to do something, the expectation ought to be reasonable. It would not be reasonable to point at one person and ask him/her to devote their entire life to a cause and have no entertainment, social interaction, or a choice in the matter. If we asked the superhero to use his power as a part of a full-time job, at least, and say, “Well, you can choose whether or not to use your power during your off-time,” this seems feasible because there is no overburdening, the hero has time of his/her own to spend as he/she wishes, and there is no present punishment for failing to act when action is not expected.

Right now, as I type this, I can be doing so much more in my life such as volunteering at a soup kitchen, working another job, helping peers with homework, reading, etc. We have to realize, as it is a fact of life, that only so much can be done in any given day. We have to face the cold reality, whether we like it or not, that we can't possibly accomplish all we want to do in a given day if we have to be on a schedule and accomplish numerous tasks. We must understand that we're not doing all that we can to benefit the world. Like the superhero, we can't be delegated with a task that would take up all our time, but we ought to fulfill certain obligations that we face that take little time, a moderate amount of time, and are reasonable to attain.

Back to Azeroth...

Let's suppose that Joe's character has almost all of the gear he would be expected to have at this point in the game except for two pieces. One of these pieces would require him to devote six hours of his day to possibly attain and may take a total of one hundred hours to attain the item if statistics are in his favor. Joe, like other players, has a “real life” in which he must go to work, school, and has other “real life” obligations. The potential item he can attain is only a slight upgrade from what he has (imagine the item he has is worth 4000 points and the potential item is 4050 points). It would not be reasonable to expect Joe to get this item because it it would take a significant amount of time and would not be much of a dramatic upgrade at all. He can better use his time in other endeavors inside or outside of the game.

Imagine that Joe's character has an item that does not have an enchantment on it. He can get the enchantment at a very cheap price, it would take perhaps four minutes to get it, and his performance would be increased (whether minor or moderately). Joe would be in the wrong if he failed to enchant his item and played with others because he had an opportunity to improve his performance and is now taking away from the overall chance of success of the group. Imagine that Joe has an item on his character that is quite bad and could easily be replaced by another item that would take perhaps two hours to attain and was almost guaranteed. If Joe refrained from getting this item, he's in the wrong.

Objections and Exceptions

The Element of Chance
Certain items in WoW are not guaranteed; they have a certain probability to appear and the chance of the item appearing, in some cases, is limited to once a day or week. An item, for example, may have a 10% chance of appearing for you and may never drop [each event is different and you can be profoundly “unlucky” day after day]. Personally, I've experienced this on my warlock, but I have three comparable items (one from pvp and two from instances) that have different stats which are comparable to the item that I don't have. In this situation, I found a replacement that is not very much damaging to my performance. I can't simply purchase this wand with little gold, like Joe can above, so this is a different situation. In my case, I have an appropriate replacement, so I'm not in the wrong. We can only do so much about probabilities in game, of course.

Don't Tell Others How to Play Their Characters!
Nothing in this essay entails that I am telling people what to do, but rather is indicating that there are certain reasonable expectations and obligations that each player faces on a daily basis. Characters who join guilds agree to meet various expectations and should optimally perform to maximize the potential success of the group. Many of the obligations that I listed are actually found in various guild mission statements and players agree to them. Even in random groups, players expect other players to have items that are suitable to defeat the encounters. It's obvious that a person would be in the wrong, for example, if their role was damage and they had all healing gear on. It should go without saying that this player is in the wrong and random players, if surveyed, would certainly agree.

You're an elitist!
No, I'm actually a person who puts a great deal of time into this game and don't want it “wasted” when others fail to meet reasonable expectations. Here are some expectations of a guild I was previously a member of:

- Raiders are expected to be online and available for invites at least 10 minutes prior to raid start unless otherwise stated on the availability forums.

- Raiders are expected to be thoroughly familiar with boss encounters, including viewing videos and reading descriptions before the raid.

- Raiders are expected to maximize the potential of their characters through talents/glyphs/gems/enchants/reforging. We are more than happy to provide constructive criticism if you aren't feeling confident in this area as long as you display the ability to receive and utilize it.

- Raiders are *required* to provide their own consumables for every progression raid, including but not limited to flasks and/or elixirs, potions, and food buffs.

- Raiders are expected to maintain a motivated and positive attitude during raids. It is extremely important that we have fun while raiding, as this is why we all play. That being said, when the boss encounter is engaged, we are professionals and will do whatever it takes to take down a boss encounter.

Compared to other guilds, these expectations are quite mild and less-”hardcore.” I've seen guilds that require you to post on forums and strategize for boss encounters before they even happen. I've seen guilds that require empirical evidence of performance via videos or logs. It goes on and on...

But I do enough now! I don't need to "x"
The idea that you "do enough" now does not exempt you from improvement or somehow overcome an already existing moral obligation. Since there is no cap in which all stats no longer benefit you in max-level dungeons, there is no such thing as "I do enough," unless of course, you're not raiding and easily outgear normal instances. Players who can improve should and are doing a disservice to others if they aren't meeting reasonable expectations. Sure, everyone can theoretically do more, but what I outlined was reasonable expectations, assuming that there is a minimum, finite set of obligations. Remember, I'm not arguing that people should dedicate all free time to WoW.

It's "just a game"
This is one of the most pitiful objections I hear that seems to somehow totally overlook the time, dedication, and effort that people put into this game that make it more than "just a game." This objection, in fact, misses the entire point of my argument and fails to recognize the case I build up that demonstrates that obligations exist. If you're going to say, "It's just a game," you're going to have to argue that obligations don't exist, but this is impossible because they do.

Concerns about time appear to be the most formidable objections to my arguments and it is quite unclear about how much time is reasonably expected to be put into the game on a player-to-player basis when many players have “lives outside of the game.” Some players may be in high school and have loads of “free time” while others might have a wife, two children, a full-time job, etc. We would expect the high-schooler to put more time into the game than the husband/wife simply because it is more reasonable to expect the high-schooler to play more because the husband/wife simply can't put as much time in. You can't expect the husband/wife to play ten hours in a day because he/she would be grossly neglecting responsibilities outside of the game. Real life, at some point, has to come first.

Real life coming first, though, should not be a get-out-of-jail free card in any given situation because upon joining a raiding guild and being expected to come to raids, a minimum set of expectations are in place. Upon joining a guild and agreeing to the raid schedule, you should be able to attend the raids and give an advance notice if you can't show. Obviously, real-life emergencies must take precedence. Obviously we can't expect one to neglect responsibilities like tending a house, going to work, taking care of children, etc in order to play the game. If responsibilities outside of game force someone to not fulfill certain obligations, the player should inform his/her guild and his/her participation/rank should be adjusted accordingly. Players who are able to, say, do homework in the morning rather than at night (this is what I do on raiding nights), would not be justified in saying, “Well, I can't raid tonight, sorry for no notice. I need to do my homework tonight” when the work can be completed the morning and adequate sleep can be had.

Many people, as I have mentioned, have many obligations outside of game (and this is expected and warranted). This game, of course, is not (for about 99% of the players) something that you get financially compensated to do. Participation is totally voluntary. With this being said, although you are not required to play, players who join a guild agree to certain terms. When you join a guild and actively raid, you don't have to put a great deal of time in on your main character when you have the best items, enchants, etc that are reasonably attainable at your current position in the game. My paladin, for example, can not profit by anything from heroic or normal dungeons and only does one daily quest and the daily heroic outside of raiding. I play for about 1.5-2 hours on my paladin per day outside of raiding. My warlock is missing one item [Corla's Baton], but has a comparable wand. For weeks, I've tried to attain the wand, but have been unsuccessful due to no fault of my own. Players need not spend much time outside of raids.

Some people have an extremely tight schedule that only allows them to play during a limited number of hours per day and thus can not be burdened with an unreasonable expectation. Even with a tight schedule of my own (I have six classes, work two jobs, raid, maintain an active Facebook profile, do homework, etc), I find time to do my daily heroics, attain my five arena wins per week, etc. If, still, a player doesn't have time to do anything outside of raiding, even on off-days, he/she should reconsider being in a raiding guild or otherwise not raid at all. Sure, some raid days force players to have tight schedules and they might not be able to finish a daily heroic each day. I don't feel that this is a big deal, but if it is possible, valor rewards are really good and should be attained as soon as reasonably possible. Players who have tight schedules can accomplish what they need to do on non-raiding days. Players who do have the time, though, appear to be in the wrong if they are not doing the minimum of their expectations (I'll list these below).

What can you do to improve...and what you should be doing...
- Reading guides to mechanically optimize your performance including but not limited to talent specializations, glyph choices, gem choices, rotations, etc.
- Doing a daily heroic on your character for the valor points.
- Having the best possible BOP items from heroics (or something very close).
- Attain five wins in rated battlegrounds or arenas each week in order to get conquest points to replace sup- par PVE gear (some items are better than anything that drops from heroics and should be attained as soon as possible).
- Optimally enchanting, glyphing, and gemming your items within reasonable limits (You shouldn't put very expensive enchants on sub-par gear).

Even with a tight schedule, players should be expected to meet a certain level of minimum obligations if they are an active portion of a raiding guild.

I have demonstrated that players in raiding guilds have an obligation to improve their characters [at least their main ones] via methods that are reasonable and are acting in an unethical manner when they fail to do so in most circumstances. Expectations arise when characters join guilds with mission statements and play with players who expect others to do the best that is reasonably attainable to improve their character. Performing at an expected level is treating your fellow players with respect and acknowledging that you value others' time and contributions that they put into the game. At the end of the day, people want to be successful and don't want to see others slacking when they put “their all” into the game and failure happens because of something that would have cost ten gold or two hours of game time. Have less 1% wipes and “close calls” and have more success!