The An’qiraj Effect

 Oh dear.

Okay, bit of a preface.

The only reason this essay exists was because I coined the slogan ‘An’qiraj Effect’. I attempted to just use the term and pass it off but then realized “I can’t just coin a phrase and not define it”. So here I am; 20 seconds after finishing my first editing run, writing a response to my own essay. Man my wrists hurt already.

So, An’qiraj Effect. I use the term to describe the motivating force behind any bottoms-up structuring or restructuring involving the titanic effort off a large mass of individuals performing seemingly mundane tasks and characterized by an exponential participation curve. Once again, bit verbose. Lets try that again. Remember my story about the An’qiraj event. Dozens of servers, each containing tens of thousands of players, all doing their seemingly insignificant part to contribute to an absolutely titanic movement. Armies of folks tackling and completing monumental tasks, its like the legendary death by a thousand paper cuts of any massively multiplayer environment from the gaming world to the grassroots efforts of the physical world.

Hopefully, over the next few pages, Ill manage to talk enough to make this effect as easy to understand as possible. I’ve never really tried sloganeering and I could probably teach an entire course on the An’qiraj Effect (maybe once the identity of this Author been revealed by someone clever or treacherous enough) but for now I will try to sum it up as quickly as I can.

Let us begin by parsing my above definition. “motivating force” refers to the catalyzing agent. Think about Mass Effect, the Mass Effect is the force by which anything in the ME universe functions. The Mass Effect isn’t important in itself, it’s merely the mechanism by which everything operates. You use Element Zero to lower the effective mass (the number that’s used to determine how hard it is to accelerate or decelerate) of any given object, accelerate or decelerate by the effective inertial mass of the object, and once the object leaves the mass effect field it reverts to it’s standard mass. Just as the Mass Effect is the motivating force behind technology in the super future, the An’qiraj Effect is the motivating force behind a specific type of event.

Now, when I say bottoms-up structuring or restructuring I refer to a certain type of organization, some call it grassroots. Most organizations function top-down, with a single individual or collective gathering an organization with various ranks of increasing size below them. Think Walmart; CEO at the top, associates at the bottom. Grassroots organizations start the opposite way. Think the Occupy movement; at first its just an army of individuals seeking to bring about an event. Occasionally you will get cases like Anonymous in which a single individual will stand as a face for the collective, but nobody really has any organizational authority over anyone. When a “face” does rise from the crowd the face typically says his/her/their part then falls back into the shifting mass. To put it in the context of the An’qiraj event, the face would be whatever guild your server decided would represent your server and faction in the An’qiraj raid. Much like the face evoked from any An’qiraj Effect, while their names will always be known amongst the records, the guild itself soon dissolved back into a casual organization of players. They became no more important than any other guild.

When I say “performing seemingly mundane tasks” I refer to the thousands of tiny details required in any great undertaking. Picketing outside the White House, attending rallies, parsing SETI data, etc. these seemingly mundane tasks are typically very small things rarely more complicated than telling your friends to show up somewhere at a specific time. This can involve everyone picking up 1 or 2 pieces of trash or reading off a few lines of a particularly large string of figures. In the An’qiraj event this was shown in the gathering quest. Everyone was expected to turn in 20 or so iron or cloth. Occasionally a group of players would complete a raid that dropped a particularly potent donation item but for the most part it was individuals each bringing in their own stack.

Finally, that bit about the An’qiraj Effect being “characterized by an exponential participation curve”. Consider again the Occupy movement. Did you notice that it was suddenly just there in full force? You didn’t hear anything about small groupings of occupiers showing up, saying their piece and running back to the ghettos. Every report I heard involved armies of folks just appearing on Wall St. with more showing up every day. Yes, there were murmurs on Facebook, Twitter and 4chan. Yes, Anonymous had been waxing dramatic about the dominance of big banks and megacorps for decades by then, but the presence itself, waves and waves of people came fast and hit hard. By the time the first cop car showed up on the scene there were already more folks than the cops could illegally detain.

To throw it all together, The An’qiraj event was characterized by a sudden massive swarm of activity involving a quickly growing group of participants represented by a face group for each faction and server with no organizational motivation other than a bunch of folks wanting it bad enough. So, what? Why should we give a name to this freak occurrence? Trick question, it wasn’t a freak occurrence. It keeps happening; more and more every year. We’ve even found a way to artificially manufacture it. The An’qiraj event wasn’t a freak one-off incident. It was the result of a quirk of psychology that has reared it’s magnificent head over and over again.

Take the American War for Independence. Years of cultural repression lead to a hand full of folks participating in the catalytic event, in this case, dumping a bunch of tea into Boston Harbor ( 300 years later the thing still tastes like Earl Grey). From there the An’qiraj Effect began to take hold. Glorification of the victors aside, nobody who actually studies the War for Independence can say that the colonists ever formed a proper military. Yes, folks like George Washington occasionally took the Face role to sign important documents and give rousing speeches, but most of the important work was done by peasants and farmers with their hunting rifles and farm equipment. There were no classical big battles in the tradition of Rome, there was no de facto leader, no great spearhead. Just hundreds of splinter cells wrecking face on the British occupation. The Brits had no idea what hit them or what to do because they were used to military engagements of the Roman tradition, 2 huge armies having at it on an open field. They found nothing of the sort in the colonies, they didn’t know where to set up camp because the nearest town could switch apparent allegiances 3 times in 3 days.

So, why do we care? Why study this thing if its just a bunch of peasants getting in a tissy? Once again, trick question. While a “bunch of peasants getting in a tissy” is an element of this bad boy, it is not by a longshot the ultimate summation of this thing and all of it’s implications. At the risk of sounding politically partisan, let’s look at the New American Tea Party.

Rhetoric aside, what is the New American Tea Party? Let’s start by examining the easily observable elements. We have thousands of proletariats selecting, by no apparent authority, to affect a given restructuring of a given system. Most Tea Partiers act without pay, participate purely via presence and contribute via actions such as making signs and posters. If the Libertarian rhetoric is to be believed they have managed to make serious quakes in the way America does business using vast numbers with no centralized hierarchy. Whether you believe the Koch Bros. or not you have to agree they carry the potential to shift the current paradigm about 90 degrees to the right. I know, I still haven’t given you one reason as to why any of this deserves studying or discussion. Just stick with me.

On the other hand, if you believe the left wing rhetoric, (or, you know, if you media intake involves anything other than WSJ or Fox News) you have read about the liberal involvement of folks like the Koch brothers and Walmart. There is evidence out there indicating that folks like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are not only reporting on the tea party, but are themselves primary generators of their collective ire. This is different from the ‘faces’ of an An’qiraj event, Joe the Plumber and Tito the Builder were the ‘faces’ in the case of the Tea Party Movement. If you believe such stories then this grassroots movement consisting entirely of proles just trying to make their voices heard is actually funded and given direction by some very powerful people in some rather dimly lit rooms at the top of some very tall buildings all stroking their very Persian cats.

This is why studying the An’qiraj Effect is so important. The aftermath of the 2008 election proves indubitably (I’ve always wanted to use that word) that the An’qiraj Effect is not only a real force behind crowd psychology, it’s even artificially reproduce-able. This harkens back to my essay on the Skinner Box. What happens when we figure out an ironclad way to program volition? Well, I already answered this but let me reiterate. This is a vorpal +5 double-edged sword of masterslaying we have on our hands. No technology, including the reprograming of cognition and volition, is inherently evil but this one comes pretty damn close. I repeat, this is a potential doomsday device we are fumbling around with. My government has been proving such for a few decades now, ever since the cold war.

Before I go any further I want to issue a few warnings. As I said before, you aren’t swinging around some green longsword, you are toying around with Frostmourne. Okay, mom, in WoW, green quality gear is called Uncommon Gear. While useful greens are fairly abundant, any specific piece of green gear you look for may be hard to find. Even so, there are literally thousands of comparable pieces. Frostmourne, on the other hand, is a weapon of literally unimaginable power. Anybody, regardless of previous class or alignment, who manages to find a way to touch the hilt without being slain on the spot by power surge is immediately turned into the vessel of The Lich King, the chaotic evil god of disease and undeath. No saving roll is permitted, and the victim of Frostmourne is granted unlimited control over any disease or undead creature – including vampires and other liches he/she encounters – while having his/her alignment immediately switch to chaotic evil for as long as he/she holds the weapon. Think The One Ring on crack. It was removed from early builds of Wrath of the Lich King pre-launch because it’s power level in comparison to the narrative was so inconceivably huge. (Oh, and if you’re a lore nerd like me you know I am massively oversimplifying the means by which the Lich King does what he/she does, but I have important stuff to talk about. I might unravel the lore behind The Lich King for my birthday or something). You really need to be careful or you are going to start looking more like Crucia than anything remotely human.

So, how could this possibly be used for good? If you’ve been paying attention, you know what my favourite use of video games is and should be able to guess why I’m so jazzed about this concept. Give up? It’s education. Masterfully weilded, the An’qiraj Effect can be used to get people learning, studying, and having fun at the same time. Over the next few paragraphs I’ll go over how to do this thing.

Step one, this is the most important. Get your students thinking that it’s stuff they will already be doing on their own. Blizzard got people invested in An’qiraj by only asking for the odds and ends that invariably crop up on the journey to max level. You walk into Orgrimmar, you see that one of the quest givers is askng for 10 linen cloth, no big deal, everyone, even tailors and people like me who always level First Aid, winds up with a stack or two of linen cloth just sitting around in their bank collecting dust. Hell, every character I’ve ever had wound up with more netherweave, frostweave and embersilk than I could possibly use. If all this guy wants is cloth Ill just give it over, get a few experience points and—

“Good gracious, I contributed to a war effort? Whats that?” you look it up, see that your faction is neck and neck with the Alliance for something called the An’Qiraj war. You then start contributing all of your excess materials to the war effort because what the hell, it’s just sitting there anyway. How do you do this in education? Well, you know that your students are stuck there listening to you prattle about the Waring States period in Japan. Maybe one of them is a gamer and you mention the Kusenagi no Tsurugi, Nobunaga or the related legends concerning Yamata no Orochi. Trust me, ancient weapons, monsters and lore from the real world are fertile grounds for ramping up the hype about your gameplay. That collection of zeros and ones feels a lot more badass to kill if it has a name like Lucifron, Original Sin or Bafomet (or Bahamut or Behemoth, depending on which offshoot of Judaism you know best). Encourage your students to look up anything that strikes them as familiar. All of the kids today have smart phones, let them whip it out in class if they are going to Wikipedia to see why every ancient Celtic war somehow involved some bloke eventually questing for Cadabolg and what said sword was doing in Final Fantasy 10. The trick is to get them to take one more step in a process that they would be participating in anyway. I have gained vast amounts of functional knowledge concerning multicultural legend from playing Final Fantasy, Halo and LoZ without setting foot in a classroom. I barely remember any of my highschool lessons but could regale you on the conquests of Xerxes and Hannibal from rote memory. All of that studying I did on my own in my own free time because I learned at a young age to just take one more step when something strikes me as curious.

Step 2, metrics. If you just tell your students to go ahead and look it up, you’re going to have a bad time. Many, perhaps most of your students will follow through with Googling any subject that piques their interest. Curiosity is the defining quality of mammalian life and the urge to understand is overpowering in any child, but if you really want to go Super Saiyan on this thing, you will want to give your kids a metric by which they can grasp the significance of their actions. For every tangental topic they can discuss related to the subject matter give your student some sort of bonus and mark it towards a goal. This goal can be completely arbitrary, for example, if your essay question on the test covers how Hannibal managed to catch the Romans off guard, give any student that writes about the trek through the Alps full credit for the test, then put a mark on the tangental subject bar for every mountain clan he recruited on the way if they name any and give a 2 or 3 tangent points for everyone who then goes off to talk about the ambush at Lake Trasimene or the sociopolitical implications raised by Rome’s citizens in response to the military’s apparent inability to beat even the smallest incursion force. The point is not to get them studying until the wee hours of the morning, the point is to program your students to look stuff up just for the fun of discovering a subject they didn’t even know existed.

This brings me to point 3. Never. Ever. EVER test directly for these tangental topics. I know, this chafes against every norm in education. We have tests for everything, we have tests for the more classical subjects like math and history, we have tests for gauging the rate at which someone learns (which are completely bogus, Carson’s IQ is almost twice Jesse’s and yet she’s far more clever and skillful at research and data corolation than he is. Carson scores well into genius levels while Jesse scored just above legal retardation, yet she runs mental circles around him on a consistent basis. I mean, look at the Youtube channel, Carson is a moron. This means either we aren’t doing it right or IQ scores are absolutely meaningless) we even have tests to see how one school ranks in relation to the other schools in the district, state, or country.

Unfortunately, your students have absolutely no interest whatsoever in what you are testing. Literally. The second you say the words “this will be on the test” the brain shifts the subject from the exploration to-do list (which is fun) to the necessity to-do list; and when an activity that has no apparent relation to survival gets put on the necessity list you run headlong into slave mentality. You know the feeling. No matter how much you love math absolutely nobody likes filing their taxes, it’s just something you have to do to get by. Likewise, it doesn’t matter how much you love the scenery in Vale of Eternal Blossoms, you are going to hate the place if you have to complete 5 daily hubs there (seriously, has Blizzard gone overboard with the dailies this expansion or what?). Give potentially endless bonus points for students that prove they know more about a subject than you assigned. Just never. Ever. Ever test for anything more than basic comprehension.

Remember, you are testing for basic competence, not excellence. Hell, make the entire essay section bonus points if you want to and just tell your students “Here’s a stack of 5 pieces of blank paper, the subject is ‘significant generals from the 3 kingdoms era of Japan,’. Go” and give short form essays after every multiple answer question that is worth bonus points just for writing something relevant. Then allow them the full class period to just go hog wild on the stuff they find cool. The point is not to light the spark of curiosity. Trust me, your kids generate enough curiosity just sitting around. Your job is to provide kindling. You’re probably noticing a pattern, I feel strongly that basic data retention is not what we need to be teaching (nor was it ever, most likely). What we need to do is teach kids to completely geek out. We talk every day about making learning fun, that simply isn’t enough. We have to program the brains of our children with an irrepressible compulsion to learn. We need the next generation to seek truth and understanding with the same fervor that we seek clean air and uncontaminated water. In the digital age we have computers to retain information. I can get a comprehensive paper on the merits and deficiencies of atheism while I wait for my coffee using only my phone. What we need to teach is the drive to look it up.

Also, here’s an added bonus for you, provide a faction system. An’Qiraj would have been plenty successful if people were left to their own devices, but Blizzard really cranked it up to 11 and broke off the dial when they made it about the Alliance and Horde. This is why every MMORPG since WoW with a significant following has used a 2 faction system. Mammals want to be the best. Simply put, everyone wants to be number one at something. Get your kids thinking about the other classes in their grade level. Tell them that whichever class fills the tangent bar gets an award ceremony at the end of the semester and a note on each student’s permanent record saying “shows eagerness to learn”.

For an example, off the top of your head, can you tell me what Buzz Aldrin’s first words were upon stepping onto the lunar surface? No you can’t, because he was the second person off the lander. Using the different classes on your student’s grade level as benchmarks works because the slower paced classes can prove they’re deserving of higher placement by winning the competition, while Honors and AP classes know that if they don’t haul it they are going to be replaced by the very kids they were calling stupid months earlier. Nobody feels like they’re falling behind because every year is a new competition. If more than 1 classroom fills the tangent bar then the classroom that exceeds it by the most wins. Just make sure that your students know they are working to beat everyone, including the class ranks (standard, college, honors, AP) above and below them. Otherwise they start thinking “we won the kiddie league, big whoop, the real players are beyond our reach” which only serves to reinforce the current paradigm in which educational excellence feels solidly stratified. This works on two levels because not only are your kids foaming at the mouth to get home and figure out how that awesome sword they unlocked actually helped shape real world history, now you have fostered an environment in which the cliques have to work together (and wouldn’t we all be better if people with disparate world views actually started talking constructively with each other). It doesn’t matter if you are a jock, prep, geek, goth or any permutation thereof, your friends are in other classes. You have to work with the people around you whether you like them or not to beat the other teams. And trust me on that bit about the permanent record, every corp on the planet wants to be able to gauge how clever their potential hires are before the interview even starts.

So, to summarize: An’Qiraj accidentally provided an excelent social experiment. This experiment can be used to destroy thousands of lives or save thousands of lives. We must be hyper vigilant every time we even consider whipping out this BFG. The An’Qiraj Effect can be used to great affect on education, especially when used in conjunction with The Skinner Box and other psychological loopholes. Ultimately, the brain is just as hackable as any computer. I thank you for sticking with me for this tangent on education. I have no idea what I’m doing next, shoot me an email if there’s something you want clarified. I’ll do plot synopses, trope analysis. Really, anything related to video games. Just remember, video games might very well be the most educationally viable medium because it’s a lot harder to forget something you actually did than it is to forget something you heard or watched.

Oh, and for the record, Buzz’s first words were “Beautiful view” followed by “Magnificent desolation”.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s