Friday, December 28, 2007

Have Yourself a Merry Little Wintersday

This time of year provides one of my favorite and most interesting yearly gaming experiences. Last year, I discovered there is a yearly change made in Guild Wars, one of the online games I play. Several of the towns in-game are altered to be covered with snow and the fictitious holiday of "Wintersday" is celebrated. There are several holiday festivities added to the game, including special quests and items. My favorite part, however, is the PvP Snowball fights.

To play in the Snowball Arena, as it is called, you chat with one of the "Wintersday Priests" and are then transported to the arena gathering area. When you click the "Enter Battle" button, you are randomly assigned three other members to your team and a random side to represent in the snowball fight. All the normal skills used by your character are replaced by the special snowball skills and you are tasked with delivering 5 presents to your team's avatar before the other team can.

The key to this PvP competition is that it is all random. You will likely not know any of the players on your team, nor on the opposing team. You have no say about which side you are playing for. You cannot pick which character classes you want to be teamed with. The luck of the draw determines all of this for you.

I haven't played a lot of PvP prior to the Snowball Arena, and started playing only after exhausting all the other single-player Wintersday festivities last year. However, once I began, I understood the fascination with PvP.

If you lose, you are returned to the waiting area. If you win, the previously random group stays together and plays another round against another random team. If you find a team that you "click" with, you can string together an insane number of wins (my highest is 34, but during one of my runs, someone on my team said his highest was 87 wins in a row).

What interests me is the feeling of comradery that develops between a group of strangers. After you win 10 in a row, everyone knows where to go, what to look for, where to be, all without the benefit of communication: you can only type to one another, which is unlikely during a round, and there is only a short 15-30 second break between rounds. When a team clicks, the hive-mind that occurs really is uncanny. You start to trust in strangers in a very short period of time.

I played a lot of games that I either lost or only won because the other team was more inept. But, when I found that winning team, the feeling derived from that unrehearsed, spectacular show of single-minded teamwork. I haven't played much PvP prior to Wintersday, but I think I will have to participate in some of the regular PvP now.

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