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The Illinx Rogue

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It appears there’s a deeper distinction between MMORPG character classes than I once thought, but how can that be described?

I’ve been thinking a little more on this uncharacteristic change in my play style, revolving pretty exclusively around Blizzard Entertainment’s World of Warcraft. One particular topic essay in Salen and Zimmerman’s Rules of Play Anthology cites French writer Roger Caillois’ theories on play styles, offering competition (agôn), chance (alea), mimicry and vertigo (illinx) as descriptors for player pleasures.

In competition, it’s easy to imagine the pleasure sought in topping another player’s performance. So too is it easy to see the appeal in chance, in which players might seek the thrill of a random (or seemingly random) outcome to their play. It’s mimicry and vertigo which intrigue me most. I’ve been known to dip into role-play on many an occasion, and the joy of playing as somebody else is what lies at the heart of Caillois’ ‘mimicry’. Vertigo (a sense of movement) seems an apt means of describing games like Rez and many of the core Wii titles, which offer a thrill perhaps not witnessed in conscious thought by that many players.

This idea has made me realise that MMORPGs reach a far broader scope than those games lacking the genre’s staple social aspects. I don’t mean to state the obvious though, as of course we must acknowledge the genre’s greater demands for variety of content than for the single-player game. It fascinates me instead to see so many different styles of play, and at a deeper-set level than simply providing professions, or a choice of ‘PvP’ and ‘PvE’. I believe that individual classes within the game are offering subtle new takes on Caillois’ model, so that a player using a rogue might enjoy a more ‘illinxical’ game than a mage or a healer might.

Having recently brought my rogue character back into play for my guild’s lower-level dungeon runs, I’ve begun to appreciate a different pace of game as well as a new role within the raid group. Rogues are designed to sneak behind an enemy and pounce, unleashing a flurry of elegant attacks in order to bring them down as quickly as possible. To control a rogue is to flow across the keyboard, fingers tapping a rehearsed combination of strikes which build his attack power before unleashing a satisfactory finishing move. Much like ‘rhythm action’ games and side-on, ‘beat ’em up’ titles, the rogue’s play scheme feels very physical. I feel, from my own amateur perspective, as though my rogue bestows upon me a sense of Caillois’ vertigo.

The healer class offers a much different style of play. My priest generally does not rely upon button ‘combos’, such as that for a rogue. As a healer is designed to cast health-restoring spells upon party members at critical moments, they tend to stand far from combat and are often rooted to the spot until combat has ended. If there’s no motion to her, or a feeling of ‘combo’-induced flow, what pleasure is my priest affording me? I believe that the priest’s design has crafted a game of chance. There is no way of knowing (beyond reasonable guesswork) just how much damage each character is likely to take, and therefore how often they will need to be healed. You may also guess the likely length of the battle ahead but that may not prepare you for a rapid depletion of the mana needed to cast your spells. Will you run out before the battle ends? Should you, therefore, reserve heals only for when absolutely essential?

Healer play appears to be rested entirely upon fate, while rogues afford a much more physical pleasure, but despite offering different thrills, one is no more potent than the other.. at least, they’re not for me. As much as I feel an equal thrill playing illinx rogue or warlock, or chancing it as a priest, I’ve found much less pleasure in the more hands-off, mage and hunter classes who may instead play a competitive game of dealing the most damage per second. I know of those who don’t enjoy the risks involved in priestly chance games, and tire of ‘combo’ attacks too.

I’m not sure where I could venture with such a conclusion other than to ask: how do we as players, or Blizzard Entertainment as the game’s designers, measure each Cailloise play style’s potential to deliver pleasure to its gamers?