As much as there’s a moment of schadenfreude in the people compiling lists specifying that no, World of Warcraft: Classic being classic is not a bug, it’s not something that I find particularly interesting beyond the fact of it. People not remembering when certain quality-of-life features were added into the game is just a reality, and while some of them are very much in the “you thought you were getting something you weren’t” category, for the most part it’s not interesting to me.
The fact that people thought Elite enemies weren’t hitting hard enough, though, is legitimately fascinating to me. Not simply because the people thinking that were wrong, of course; that’s true, but it’s not of particular interest in and of itself. What’s really interesting to me is the why of this memory. Why would people remember the game being so much harder than it actually is? Why is there this memory that the game used to be this super-dangerous chain of deaths compared to the reality?
First and foremost, I need to separate two related but similar thoughts here. There are people who will look at the damage being done by these Elites and say “I remember these hitting harder” who will then more or less shrug and move on. That’s not the sort of person I’m talking about here. Remembering things inaccurately is no great mystery; we all remember stuff wrong from time to time, and sometimes it’s just thinking that monsters dealt more damage in years past than they actually did. No big deal.
No, what’s interesting and relevant here are the people who remember enemies hitting harder and then insist that the problem must be with the game. That’s where you get people insisting that this must have been harder because they remember it being harder. Why does that happen?
It seems to me that there are two forces at work here. The first is that the past is a closed book, but the second is the more insidious fact that we tend to remember results more than events. Let’s pick those apart.
One of the things I mentioned is that I’m not really interesting in picking apart every instance of memory just going cross-eyed, and that’s definitely an element when it comes to our own slow improvement over the course of the game. Players went from knowing little to nothing about the game at launch to having a clear picture of how the game worked, and so we all know that’s a reason for us remembering “this hit so hard” when we now know how to gear and play properly to avoid that.
But we don’t always remember the process of getting there. Think for a moment about the dumbest decision you remember making in high school. When you think back, do you put yourself in the shoes of yourself at the time? I know I don’t. I put myself back in that memory with my adult thought patterns and more mature observations, and perhaps just as importantly, with full knowledge of how this story ends. It’s really easy for me to look back and see past me as an idiot when I can’t remember learning the lessons and the changes in my thought patterns that made present me better able to evaluate things.
That ties into the other issue, too. I like to think that I’m pretty good at remembering what I did when I was younger. I do my best to understand why I did it. But my memory has conveniently filtered out most of the how because that’s irrelevant information.
At PAX East this year, I was stuck in an overlong line to get into the convention hall, because media is not actually allowed to go in except in the general queue when the hall is opening. This was two or three months ago, obviously. And yet I have no recollection of actually waiting in the line. I know I did, I know I was annoyed, I know that I found myself muttering that it was nonsense… but the actual temporal experience faded as soon as it was over.
For that matter, the year before featured some of the worst traffic I’ve ever hit heading up to Boston. Again, the memories have completely faded from my mind; it’s as if they never happened. What stuck in my mind was “driving was annoying” and so I planned ahead a bit more this year. I remember the results, not the events themselves.
So let’s take a step back to World of Warcraft again. In order to form parties to take on dungeons, you had to search for people, whisper back and forth, and talk about where you were and when you would be arriving at the dungeon entrance. That’s already a lot more talking than you have to do for just entering a queue… and yes, I do think it can cloud memories because it’s easy to remember “spent time talking” and not what was actually discussed.
Similarly, it’s really easy to remember the fact that dungeons took longer to get into, were more inconvenient to do, had more trash lining the halls and less guidance, were being run by more inexperienced people… but have that all rush into a melange of “it was harder” in your memory. Why would you remember each of those pieces individually unless, like, you’re some kind of high-functioning prodigy who actually collects this stuff in your memory in lieu of actual important information? Ain’t nobody got time for that.
And let’s face it: Human beings can be absolute garbage at dealing with the idea that we might be wrong in our memories. There’s an entire website devoted to The Mandela Effect, in which people find it easier to believe that they have somehow slipped into a parallel universe than accepting that maybe their memories are just not quite right. That sounds more plausible to some people than accepting that “Berenstain” was always spelled that way, but you mostly heard it spoken and didn’t really internalize the spelling.
So what happens when those memories of things being more inconvenient and harder to do in WoW Classic collide with the reality? Well, you’ve seen it. The insistence comes in that no, the damage is wrong, it used to be higher. Other players double down and insist that Blizzard is somehow not giving us an actual Classic experience, that it’s been dumbed down or it’s all based on patch 1.12 or anything other than their memories might be wrong.
I don’t take this as some source of malicious glee, obviously. If you’ll recall my own written impression of Classic, it was that the game’s mechanics ultimately shine through in a number of ways to provide a better play experience than the current live version of the game. But a lot of the “challenge” was about coordinating people for mechanically simple raids, or just having fewer gearing options, or scouring for quests because they thinned out a lot in the higher levels… you get the idea.
Put another way, if your reason for wanting WoW Classic was an insistence that the modern game is “too easy,” you kind of need the classic game to be a lot harder. And the reality is… well, it’s not. Sorry, friend.