Before people start worrying that I’m going to delve into “hardcore” or “casual” or whatever, be at peace knowing this has nothing to do with that. This is more directed at specific characters and roles. Most people will find that they have fallen into each category at some time in the game or, like myself, coexist in all three at the same time. I label the three categories as “The Cookiecutter,” “The Supervisor,” and “The Mad Scientist.” (Yes, I am sometimes far too amused with myself.) The major difference between them is what kind of work is put into learning a class/role.
– The Cookiecutter –
This is the category for when you just don’t care to learn the specifics of a class and just want to get on with the playing. You look up a spec, rotation and gearing strategy from somewhere online or perhaps ask a friend who you feel should know such things. Falling into this category isn’t at all a bad thing and is fairly common when you’re looking to play an alt or off-spec. I know that this is exactly what I do with my hunter. I don’t really care -why- doing things a certain way makes my DPS better, I just want that good DPS. This style of play is most useful when doing pre-raid content, as raiding in this style will cause you to run into the cons more often. When I’m on my hunter, it is all about focusing on shooting things until they are dead.
Which is one of the major pros of this kind of play; there is no mucking around behind the scenes to impede your fun. It is the “plug and play” of the WoW world. Another pro is that you don’t have to worry if you have no real idea what you’re doing. Listening to someone who does and doing what they do can make you seem like you know your class really well. As long as you implement what you read decently, your DPS/healing/tanking skills will at least be passable.
Of course, a major downside to this is that you need to make sure your information is good. The internet is a double-sided sword when it comes to finding accurate information and sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between the good and the bad. This sort of play also has the problem of not having the knowledge that makes working with class changes easy. For example, when the major changes to Survival Hunters went down with WotLK, I was pretty much lost as to how to deal with them. And these sorts of changes happen far more often than you might think. Even small tweaks can change things to a large effect. This means either trying to find someone to tell you how to changes things with each tweak or else falling behind.
– The Supervisor –
The name of this category comes from the fact that you will be taking raw information garnered from others (the Mad Scientists) and then decide how best to implement it yourself. This is likely the most common form of play for raiders, as it implies a certain amount of class knowledge without having to delve into the data. This can also be thought of as taking a Cookiecutter spec/gearing/rotation and then breaking it down to learn about it. When I PvP, this is exactly how I play. I listen to the advice of other players in my class (and my teammates) and use their experience to build up my own way of doing things. I don’t need to know exactly how hit works to know that I need 5% of it. Another example would be a healadin who reads someone else’s numbers on the mana regen from INT and uses that information to gem her/his gear.
One of the major good parts about this style of play is the customizable nature of it. When new information is reveled with patches, you can adapt and change things around with minimal effort. You get to save time by using the raw data gathering of others, which is also really helpful if you don’t feel you have the ability to work with the raw numbers yourself. While there is a small delay between the changes being made and the knowledge of how it affects play being disseminated, a skilled Supervisor knows where to get her/his information and has a keen eye towards making changes for her/himself.
Cons for this category follow those that plague the Cookiecutter, namely that information gathered may be incorrect. It can be very hard to distinguish between a good source and a bad one. Even generally good sources of information can make mistakes, too. There is also a potential issue with comprehension of the data being given, in that not having full knowledge of how things work can lead to incorrect conclusions. (ex. paladin tanks have the highest threat generation of tanking classes, so you never have to worry about threat stats) Another pitfall can be reliance on old information, either through seeing misleading data from previous patches or else in not keeping up with changes due to stubbornness. Most of the cons, though, can be balanced by someone with an ear to the ground and a good grasp of their class.
– The Mad Scientist –
My favorite! Feel the need to work out all your numbers yourself? Delve into every parse to see if there are any bugs or inconsistencies with your data? Find yourself standing around and casting your spells on yourself hundreds of times to work out the spellpower coefficients? You are, indeed, a Mad Scientist. This is not just wanting to know -what- works the best, but -why- it does. While some people consider the Supervisor a theorycrafter, it is the Mad Scientists who provide the information to him/her. For some, it is the thrill of discovery that makes this category appealing. For others, they simply want to know for a fact that they are doing the absolute best they can.
Which is one of the pros. You never have to worry about the sources of your information, because you are that source. Being able to double-check your work against the work of others means that you can make sure your data is sound. This also gives you the background information you need to apply what you gather into your play. The level of detail and accuracy when applying your work is very high, as you know the intimate details of how playstyle and mechanics meet. When changes to the class occur, you are at the front lines, conducting experiments and running the new equations.
For most people, the major downside is that it can be difficult to wrap your head around the math and its implications. It sometimes isn’t apparent how to turn a question into a workable equation so you can find the solution. There is also a matter of not wanting to put the time into the experiments. Actually, I’d say the greatest drawback is how much time and effort that people -think- it takes, and the fear that is associated with it. Human beings hate to fail and there will always be failure in these sorts of endeavours. Another serious downside is that sometimes the line between theory and reality can get skewed. (ex. just because Greater Heal yields the most HPS and HPM on paper, that doesn’t mean it is the best spell to use always) A Mad Scientist can get so wrapped up in the way things -should- be, that they forget how things -are.-
– Variety is the spice of life –
This was a fun exercise in thinking about how we play the game. I rather like that I can see myself in all three categories and I do think that most other people will be able to do the same. It makes me laugh to think that I, Mad Scientist as I am with my healing, fall so completely into being a Cookiecutter with DPS. Some guide tells me to use Explosive Shot on CD and I do it, no questions asked! If someone were to say something like that to me in regards to healing, I’d probably be pretty unhappy with them.
It does make me a little sad that there aren’t more Mad Scientists out there, at least in the healing community. Or at least, not that I’ve seen. Dip your toes in, fellow healers, the water is fine and peer-reviews keep the sharks away!