Category Archives: Cynwise’s Field Notes

On Merit Badges, Achievements, and Accomplishment


I went to pick up some patches for my son’s Cub Scout uniform a few weeks ago at the regional BSA Council store. I walked into a drab, non-descript building and stood there staring at walls of patches and badges and belt loops and beads for about 5 minutes before I was able to get the attention of someone working there. I, thankfully, had a list.

While I was standing there, I was partly overcome by memories of doing something similar with my own father, more than three decades ago. I remember, very clearly, the air of ritual around awarding merit badges; the presentation to the pack, the semi-formal recognition of accomplishment, the handing over of the patch or belt loop, the handshake, the salute, the applause. You start out with a few things, but the more involved you get, the more your uniform reflected that involvement. You walked around with your resume.

I said I was partly overcome by memory, which is true.

The other part of me, though, was struck by the incredible variety in the system of accomplishments that Cub Scouts/Boy Scouts presents, and how clever it all was psychologically. Much like a military officer accumulating fruit salad on his uniform, there’s a physical representation of accomplishment that the BSA presents to young men while trying to motivate them to do things. It starts off simple – beads for attendance – and over ten years grows into massive community service projects to satisfy the requirements of the Order of the Arrow. Along the way there are hundreds of small rewards for participation and accomplishment.

I stood there looking at a wall of Achievement Points.


I try to focus on extrinsic motivations on CBM – those rewards and goals outside of ourselves which drive us to do things. Extrinsic motivations are easy to spot, and can be used as a guide towards mass behavior: i.e. if players want the most Honor Points/Minute to get the latest gear, and Tol Barad rewards it through win-trading, then players will collaborate to win-trade TB. Extrinsic motivations drive a lot of what we choose to do with our leisure time, and WoW provides a surfeit of those motivations. Gear, both in power and appearance. Achievements. Achivement points, which is related but different. Pets. Mounts. Titles. Reputations. Even just having characters of given types and levels. Gold. Status symbols.

And then there are social motivations: being in a good guild, gaining the respect of your server or raid team, being an authority on something, hell, being a successful blogger.

Extrinsic motivations don’t have to be public; they just have to be outside of you. And they’re not bad! Just because a motivation is outside of you doesn’t make it somehow invalid. You want to be rewarded for your work and effort, no matter if it’s a “good job” or a belt loop or a digital dragon your avatar gets to ride around on or a promotion or a diploma or staying out of jail or even a gorram paycheck. This is important to remember; extrinsic isn’t bad.

But it’s only one facet of motivation.

Intrinsic motivations are those drives which are self-generated. You do something because you find it fun, or personally rewarding. You do it because you enjoy it. You’ll stay up late doing something not because you’re told to do it, but because you’re driven to do it. And there’s an element of intrinsic motivation in pretty much everything we do.

It’s relatively easy to sit back and look at Warcraft with the gear grind and cheesy points and go, this is all extrinsic motivation, and surely, MMO players are rats in a maze, pushing pellets until their prizes show up. And that’s not picking on MMO players, really. I look at all those Merit Badges, and wonder how many Boy Scouts started out just like my son did, saying I’m going to get them all, and how many of them actually work towards that goal, and how many actually do it.

(They don’t have an Over 9000 merit badge. I checked).

Patches, belt loops, pins, beads. It’s easy to dismiss chasing after them as a child’s pursuit of shiny baubles. I don’t think anyone who really looks at motivation ever thinks that’s all there is to it – competition, accomplishment, learning, social pressure all factor into why the merit badge system works – but it’s awfuly easy to be dismissive of something solely because it has physical rewards, even though those rewards aren’t really the point.

Achievements, mounts, first kills, titles. It’s even easier to dismiss a system that relies entirely upon virtual assets for rewards than a physical one.


When does an extrinsic motivation go bad?

I mean, I have a spotty track record when talking about achievement points and merit badges alike – part of me enjoys the chase, the triumph of completing something difficult, and of having something to show for it. And in the same breath, I can complain about how this doesn’t really matter, this isn’t a real indication of skill, the difficulty of an achievement is variable relative to your environment, these systems are in place to compel people to spend more time in game, etc. etc..

So there’s something going on there. Rewards have to mean something to be valuable, and therefore, effective. I find the same extrinsic motivations both compelling and repulsive in a short span of time. Like, in seconds, I can change my tune.

Look at Cynderblock – I will trot out that she killed the Whale Shark on a regular enough basis that it’s obviously something I’m proud of. It’s so outrageous, so in-your-face that she’s got an achievement that most 85s don’t, that she particpated in the kill of something with 9.6 million hit points at level 19, that it’s become my canonical example of why you shouldn’t set limits on what you think you can and can’t do in a video game.

But it wasn’t really all that hard. I lucked into a group who was killing him, and I just tried to survive. It’s not like I kited the beast for 30 hours trying to kill it. I showed up and dodged mobs in Vash’jir for about an hour.

If you were to ask me what my proudest moment with ‘block is, it’s getting the Ambassador title. Not because it was terribly hard – just a lot of questing – but because it was hard but fun. I did it with friends, I did it solo, I also did it because it was absurd and broke limits – but even though it’s easier to get now, that title (extrinsic motivation) also let me see all the Horde starting zones before Cataclysm (intrinsic motivation). That I also got to collect cool gear (extrinsic) that marked this character as unique (also extrinsic) didn’t hurt.

It doesn’t bother me in the slightest that Cataclysm made the Ambassador title much, much easier to get for level 19 twinks. So what? I got what I wanted out of it.

Extrinsic motivations can often be enough to get us to do things. They can make us do things that are good for ourselves, which enrich us, drive us to try things we hadn’t considered. They can also keep us out of trouble.

But if you lack the intrinsic motivation, then you won’t value the accomplishments that go with those extrinsic rewards. If you’re just working for a paycheck, eventually the work will burn you out.

If you’re just grinding reps and not enjoying it – well, you’re going to burn out too.



Oh hai, Cynwulf. Grats there on hitting 85. I know it took you over a year to make it to 85, and you’re Cyn’s … second toon … to max level, and you started off at 80, but hey, grats, man.


You don’t seem happy, dude. What’s up with that? Now you get to gear up, get phat lewts, go raiding, see some new bgs…

What? What’s that you say?

You want a nap? 

What the hell kind of DK are you, anyways?

Getting to level 85 isn’t, all things considered, an unusual accomplishment, or even a terribly difficult one. (Especially since he was level 80 when the expansion started!)

But for both of my 85s – yes, I really only have two, I know I’m slow – I really had trouble motivating myself to do it. I took my time on Cynwise because, while I wanted to play the endgame, I wasn’t in any rush. I think if I wasn’t a PvP blogger, and BfG, TP and TB weren’t off-limits to < 85 toons, I would have taken even longer to do it. It was like, there’s so much to see, why rush it? I spent a lot of time in the lowbie zones when Cata launched, to be honest.

Eventually I did rush it, though, and pushed through to start seeing the new stuff. I didn’t regret it, precisely, but in retrospect I didn’t have a lot of intrinsic motivations for doing it. I wanted to play Arena with friends, that was really about it, but when the task of keeping my gear up to date became burdensome, I ditched the endgame pretty damn quickly and went back to twinking.

A year later, and I decided to push Cynwulf – who I’d made into a semi-respectable level 84 twink – into the endgame. Not because I wanted to play him, but rather because I wanted to just be done with him. Like, enough already, either be at endgame where I can gear you up to play in Cata, or just skip it and move on. Stop hanging over my head as an unfinished project. Nagging guilt and a desire to be free of it (intrinsic) pushed him over the top, not the promise of new gear or new abilities (extrinsic). Unfortunately, because there aren’t really a lot of extrinsic motivations that are grabbing me with him right now, I’m just shelving him until later.

The value of an accomplishment is going to vary according to your motivations and desires in it. It’s also going to depend upon your environment, your social setting, and your support structure. For some, reaching 85 is a major accomplishment, the goal they’ve been working towards for months. (First hitting 80 at Wrath for me was like this, holy crap, it was amazing. Then I was totally lost and adrift). For others, it’s all in a few days work, and they’re off to do it again – maybe this time beating their previous record.

You’re very dependent upon other people to succeed – in WoW, in life, it’s all the same. If you’re in the right raid team, you’re going to find that you can accomplish a lot more than if you’re in one where you don’t mesh, where they’re not as good players, where they’re not as driven, where they don’t sabotage themselves. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s amazing how we can collectively forget how much we depend on those around us when weighing our own individual accomplishments. Achievements (in WoW and in life) are as much about being in the right place in the right time with the right people as they are about having the skill to pull them off.

I was thinking about this when I took the picture at the very beginning of this article. That’s my son’s belt, he has the Horseback Riding belt loop. I never got that when I was a scout. I never even came close – I was a child of the city and suburbs, but even then I never had the desire to become a mongolian horse-archer or knight-errant. Even when I became obsessed with Fantasy literature and medieval history, I never really wanted to be a horseman.

My son loves horses. He’s been like this since he was a toddler, so we figured out a way to get him riding lessons years ago. This Horseback Riding belt loop was trivial for him. Like, it was barely even a warmup for his regular lesson. But for me, and most everyone else in his pack, it’s really, really hard. It’s one of those activities that takes a lot of planning, learning, and work. You have to get over your fear of the unknown, and fear of really large animals. You have to get up there on the horse and do it.

And that can be a big obstacle if you don’t really want to do it.

Extrinsic motivation can get you to do something, and you might enjoy it and keep doing it. Intrinsic motivation will make you do something even if there are no extrinsic rewards.

I don’t know about you, but this is starting to shed light on my behavior in Cataclysm.


Do what you love.

That’s what this comes back to, doesn’t it? In some ways that’s the central theme of this entire blog, of this crazy experiment which I started because I needed an unfettered place to write in. When the extrinsic motivations get taken away, what do I really enjoy doing? What do I find personally fulfilling?

I want, so very much, to be able to pick up my warlock again, to find that visceral joy in playing her. But that search for joy gets tangled up in all kinds of extrinsic motivations, motivations which trample on that simple desire. Achievements get in the way. Gear gets in the way. I can’t deny that. Those things which are supposed to motivate me to log in and play her? They aren’t working. If anything, they’re causing me to retreat further and further away from her. Tol Barad? No thank you. Firelands dailies? No fucking way. Rep grinds for a shoulder enchant? Er, only if it’s a grind I’ve never done before, and only for a twink, because, really. Really? Really. Do we need to do that again?

The benefit to this has been a period of wild experimentation. I don’t know what’s going to work, so I try whole bunch of stuff and see what sticks. I enjoy tanking and healing, who knew? I think I’m playing a warrior now, or maybe a druid or a shaman or a mage, but that’s all good. I’m making it work.

But the downside has been distance from the reward system, of looking at it as a system and not as something valuable in and of itself, which lessens its value. To me. Not to others. Value is personal.

I remember when those merit badges meant something to me. It was, mostly, a good time. There were frustrating parts about the system, there was jealousy and competition, but there was also a desire to do good deeds, and to do well while doing those deeds.

That’s not a bad thing. That’s how people grow. That’s how people develop.

That’s how people find what they love.



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On Meerkat PvP

On Thursday, I turned into a meerkat on Twitter. I’ve been stuck as a meerkat ever since, which has given rise to a new kind of PvP. Meerkat PvP.

I’ll let the pictures from my friends on Twitter explain.


(This is a picture of level 19 twink meerkats, in case you were wondering.)

Also, I made the tactical mistake of tweeting:

Not only did I get banned for mailing mogged heirlooms, but Blizzard turned me into a Meerkat as a punishment.

… without thinking through that hey, I’m on a WoW vacation and haven’t logged in for two days, maybe this could be taken the wrong way.

/facepalm /sorry

It prompted a Save Ferris-style reaction in the Meerkat PvP community:


Which pretty much made the whole thing worth it.

Also, I have too many alts.


I ,,, think that’s about enough alts, don’t you?

Thanks to @outbirk, @rosaamarilla, @omgpoetry, @druidis4fite and @_lizzia for starting Meerkat PvP and creating these pictures – I didn’t want them to be lost in the Twitter River.

I cannot stop laughing when I consider the wonders of Meerkat PvP. 😀


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On Enjoying Your Play and Taking Breaks


The WoW Mogul has a good, short series of posts on how to enjoy playing WoW (part 1, part 2, part 3). I really enjoyed them, especially this bit:

(O)ne of the best things you can do to enjoy WoW is to stop playing it! WoW is designed to get you to sub each month and keep you playing repetitively, reinforcing the habit. As such like many MMOs it employs various techniques to keep you in; large MMOs are not always working in your interests. Take a month off and see what else is happening in your life.

I think that’s good advice. Things have been stressful outside of WoW, and when a patch hits all bets are off if WoW is actually going to be fun to play or not. Even though I try to remain neutral on CBM, I remain pretty damn pissed about how the endgame PvP gear transition works, so having to face it with the new patch just ratchets up my stress levels. Then there are class changes and unannounced changes and bugs and miscommunciations and …

Transmogging was actually a breath of fresh air amidst all of that. I had a lot of fun last week playing around with it, both on alts and on my main, in the intended and unintended ways. 🙂 So I was pretty disappoined when it was taken away, but then having it happen at the same time I needed to decide if I was going to leap back into gearing up Cynwise for PvP or not.

It brought the fun to a screeching halt.

And it caused me to think of that WoW Mogul article and go, you know what, maybe I need a break. This game shouldn’t stress me out, it should be fun. I should be able to pick it up for a while and put it down for a while. Why put in liesure hours on something that’s going to just stress you out, when you’re already maxxed out on stress from other parts of your life?

So I did three things.

First, I’m taking a WoW break for a little bit. I need a few days off, just to go take care of holiday things and family things but also to just decompress. I’m burned out at work and it’s showing. It’s showing in every aspect of my life, not gonna lie. A few days off will hopefully help me clear my head.

Second, I am going to try doing some different things in WoW when I come back. I talked to some friends and we’re going to level some stuck alts through Northrend, then hit the Cataclysm dungeon circuit. I have only done 1 dungeon this entire expac – one.

To say I haven’t seen very much of Cata PvE is an understatement.

So I’m going to say, let me do something different, let me do it with friends, and I’ll see if I enjoy it. I expect I’m going to level Ashwalker up to 85 and warrior tank heroics, just for a change of pace. I like tanking! Let’s see how it goes!

If it doesn’t work out, I’ll try something different – maybe a DK? Maybe even Ms. Cynwise? – but if it’s not fun, I’ll stop.

Third, I’m going to try disrupting some of those techniques MMOs use to keep you playing even when you don’t have any concrete goals. (Just like walking backwards through a supermarket! Don’t go to the right!) I cancelled my subscription today, not because I’m quitting, but rather so I have to actively choose to sub during any given month. It also places constraints on the things I want to accomplish in game – instead of “I have all the time in the world,” now it’s “I have until mid-February, I can’t do everything, so I have to say NO to a lot of things and YES to a few.” Once I get to the end of a time card, I can reevaluate if I’m having fun.

Having done it, I feel like there’s a great weight off my shoulders. There’s a plan. There are limits. There’s no endless horizion of the same old thing night after night. There’s something new to try, and a clear goal and focus. I don’t feel chained to WoW for the first time in months.

I’m looking forward to the break, but I’m also looking forward to coming back.

I think that’s a good sign.


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Five Quick Things That Are Different in Season 11


I’m in a mood tonight. I’m just warning you.

  1. Valor Points cannot be exchanged for Conquest Points. Sorry, raiders, this is just gone. It’s probably due to …
  2. Epic PvP gems are available for sale. 750 Conquest Points gives you like… +5 to a stat? Oh yeah, that sounds like a sweet deal.
  3. Weapons require different amounts of points to purchase. You need 7250 Honor Points for the Ruthless 378s, 7800 Conquest Points for Cataclysmic 397s, and 15,700 Conquest Points for the Cataclysmic 410s. Yeah, sure, like I’m going to fucking remember those numbers.
  4. MMRs didn’t reset. Oh wait, that’s the same as last season. The difference is that this season they were supposed to reset. Whoops.
  5. Conquest Points from regular battlegrounds will screw things up for a while. It will take a while for everyone to find equilibrium again. Shit’s all stirred up right now.


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On the Highly Cerebral Joy of Resto Druid PvP


Cynli didn’t want you getting the wrong idea from the last post.

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On Sucking


I was playing Cynli in WSG the other night when I got whispered by a rogue on my team.

God, you suck.

Wait, what? What the fuck?

Holy shit man, do you even know how to play? I can see what you’re doing.

It was at the end of a long day at work. I was in my son’s room, waiting for him to go to sleep. It wasn’t a great game for us – the Horde was working well together, putting a lot of pressure on our GY. We weren’t getting farmed, but we were starting to get bottled up.


I decided to take my chances and try to break through their lines – I was able to keep a few of them off of me, perhaps if we made a concerted effort to punch through their lines we could break the vice – worst case, get someone through to the flag. I ran through them, healing healing healing healing dead. They overwhelmed me.

You just ran straight at them. Holy shit you’re terrible. Stealth around them!

This rogue was not going to give me a break. I got pissed, really pissed. I’ll be honest – I think my first thought was a very uncharitable, “holy shit, do you know who the fuck I am, buddy?” – but then I came back to reality and just ignored him.

Release Spirit Y/N?

/ignore rogue

29 seconds to resurrection.

Well, damnit. We’re losing. Am I healing okay? Scoreboard says I’m healing okay, I’m 3x the nearest healer. I’m doing things right.

24 seconds to resurrection.


What the hell was I thinking, running into that pack? I might not be able to stealth that well, but at least I could have not just suicided into the Horde.

15 seconds to resurrection.

I shouldn’t PvP when I’m this tired. What the hell was I thinking, that I could distratct a group like that? That shit only works in Strand and EotS.

10 seconds to resurrection.

WTF am I thinking, justifying myself with the scoreboard? The scoreboard doesn’t mean jack or shit.

5 seconds to resurrection.


Maybe he was right.


The problem with hostile criticism is not that it’s criticism, but rather that it’s hostile, which makes us immediately defensive. When we’re defensive, we’re closed to the possibility that we could be wrong. That’s why effective criticism isn’t hostile – if you want to actually change someone’s behavior with your criticism, how you say it is as important as what you say.

But being hostile doesn’t make the criticism any more or less valid. It just makes sucking hurt more.

It’s important to distinguish between criticism of an activity versus criticism of yourself as a person. This is a tough thing to learn in life; doing things poorly doesn’t mean you’re a failure at life. It doesn’t mean you’re doing them well – but failing at something doesn’t make you a waste of human genome.

Attitude is key. Jesus christ, I’m sounding like my father, but he was right – attitude is key. It’s okay to fail. It’s okay to let people down. It’s not okay to stop trying to do better. It’s not okay to give up. Claim your successes, learn from your failures.

I remember the first time I got actively ridiculed in Warcraft. It was on my 59 DK, and some guy came up to me while I was at the training dummies. He laughed at me and said my spec was terrible. “Okay, I’ve been playing him for about a week, any suggestions how to improve?” “lol noob l2p” was all I got back.

I was pretty chuffed at that. But I really didn’t know what the hell I was doing on my DK yet, I knew I didn’t, so once I got over the gall of someone criticising a stranger, I went and asked for Twitter help on my build. I rebuilt my Frost spec and, indeed, did better. I stopped sucking.

It was easier for me to accept that criticism on my DK because I felt like I didn’t know what I was doing, and the criticism was open. On my Druid, I actually felt like I knew what the haps are, and in WSG I feel like I know what the fuck I’m supposed to do.

So this impertinent rogue had a lot of gall telling me to learn to play. I know WSG, buddy!

But the rogue was right. I wasn’t playing well. I certainly wasn’t playing as well as I know how to play.

I pulled my shit together, waited for teammates to rez, and healed them as they went out of the GY. When they went down to the zerg I hid and abandoned them to die, sneaking around the Horde and getting into the base. The rogue was running the flag and I healed him as best as I could – which was pretty well – but we couldn’t get the other flag down, we were behind 2-0. We lost.

It’s okay to suck. Honestly, it is. There are plenty of times I really shouldn’t PvP – I’m exhausted, I’m stressed out, I’m not really focused on what I’m doing – but sometimes, PvP is really what I want to do right then. I don’t need to be at top performance all the time, as nice as it is. PvP takes my mind off my day, it makes me focus on pushing buttons. BUTTONS I LIKE TO PUSH YOU LET ME PUSH YOU PUSH PUSH PUSH.

But I should be honest with myself when I’m not playing well, and accept criticism when it’s deserved.


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Five Ways I’m Amusing Myself with Heirloom Transmogrification


Oh, Cynderblock. You offer me all sorts of opportunities to do silly things, and I admit, I’m hitting the transmogrification cardboard box pretty hard with you. It’s a pity that you wear plate heirlooms, though – I have great outfits picked out for you, but they require a mail chest and shoulders. And mail chests at your level just aren’t BiS.

Still, we can work around it, especially since you can mog heirlooms on high level toons and send them to leveling alts with the new image intact. Here are five silly ways I’ve been amusing myself with transmogrification.

1. Smite’s Mighty Hammer on Repurposed Lava Dredger. The thing about the Lava Dredger that I’ve never really liked is that it’s an awesome looking weapon that’s itemized for a thematically-conflicting class. Druids, defenders of nature, wielding something with gears and a turning key? Doesn’t fit. So I took Smite’s Mighty Hammer – which looks either like a massive boulder on a stick, or a big pillow on a stick – and replaced it. I don’t get to use Smite’s hammer anymore, but I’m sure one of my future putative Druids will.

2. Armored Titanium Goggles on Burnished Helm of Might. These goggles have been tanking goggles in my mind ever since I started playing WoW, at first due to Aggrojunkie’s love for them, and then later because they were my tanking goggles, too. I was disappointed when I got a helm upgrade for Cynwulf in ICC, because that meant his goggles were no longer for tanking. Now, with mogging, I really want to find a good complementary chest and shoulder look so I can level all my tank alts with his goggles.

3. Argent Avenger on Bloodsoaked Skullforge Reaver. I like the look of the Reaver, especially since it’s one of the few 1H swords to go across the back. But I’m kinda disappointed that Cynwise never gets to use her lightsaber, especially since PvP spellswords are usually not available. (Maces and Daggers cover more classes. Phooey.) So now my tanks get to experience a little bit of SW:TOR and tank with a lightsaber. (If you are leveling Arms/Ret, use the Very Light Sabre from a gnome warrior alt on the Reforged Truesilver Champion – another sword with a great model, but not a lightsaber. If you don’t have the Argent Avenger, the Spellfire Longsword works too.)

4. Scarlet Sin’dorei Robes on Tattered Dreadmist Robes. I rather liked the purple Dreadmist heirloom set when it first came out, but, oh god am I tired of seeing it. Level with something pretty, like the gorgeous Scarlet Sin’dorei Robes instead. (There are a lot of great looking robes in the game – I’m pretty sure I won’t be able to stick with just one.)

5. Sunfury Bow of the Phoenix on Charmed Ancient Bone Bow. I have this bow on my Warrior, of all toons, and she’s not going to be able to use it come Mists. Time to put that flaming bow to good use.

I’m honestly really excited by the possibilities of changing the look of my heirloom gear. It really opens up possibilities I hadn’t considered for leveling outfits, and makes me think about how I want my character to look like for 80 levels, and that I can change my mind. 

I love it.


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