Sunday, August 14, 2022

What Do You Want on Your Tombstone?

“Most people do not have a problem with you thinking for yourself, as long as your conclusions are the same as or at least compatible with their beliefs.”
― Mokokoma Mokhonoana

There are times when I have to remind myself that while the name "meta" for "metagame"* is relatively new --within the pencil and paper RPG Era, certainly-- the concept of following the crowd for an optimal solution is anything but.

Anybody remember peer pressure? Or how financial bubbles are created?  Or the concept of The Greater Fool?

Yeah, that stuff is "the meta" in another form. 

I was reminded of this the other day during a discussion at work when the magic word "Gartner" came up. If you work in IT --or in Corporate America to any degree-- you can't help but run up against the monolith that is the Gartner Consulting Group. They are a $4.7 billion per year consulting business, of which most people know them by their White Papers that they use to identify trends in the business world. I use the word "trends" rather loosely here, because if you talk to people in the corporate world you run up against the belief that Gartner doesn't really identify trends as much as they create them.

I believe I just twitched when I posted this
snippet from Gartner's "About Us".

Gartner likes to say that they are data driven when they create recommendations for clients or industry leaders, but when you reach a certain critical mass of influence --and believe me, Gartner has that-- you begin to dictate the trends. By elevating one trend over another, Gartner acts as a force multiplier for those trends as CIOs and others (or their wannabees) in the corporate upper echelons of power implement their recommendations. 

Or use their recommendations to choose a company to do business with. After all, the Gartner Magic Quadrant lays it all out quite nicely: you want to do business with people in the upper right hand of the quadrant chart, because those are the true leaders in an industry. By making these charts, however, Gartner alters the dynamic within an industry by the sheer weight of their influence. They make the industry leaders even more so, and those left behind even farther behind than before. 

Which ought to explain the groans that went up when someone mentioned Gartner at work. There's always a Gartner shill in any corporate gathering, because it's the safe bet. But because it's the safe bet, there's no room for creativity or quirkiness. 


Now, replace Gartner with "influencer" or "popular kid in high school" or... say... Wowhead...** and you get the idea.

Or maybe a better way of looking at the meta is under the viewpoint of data analytics, because that's pretty much what it is. Someone crunches the data to determine the optimal way of doing things, and that becomes the meta. Data analytics has even crept into the sporting world, as early adopters such as baseball's Tony La Russa*** led the way for widespread use of data crunching to determine the best way to do things for a variety of situations. 

While perusing the Sports Illustrated for this
post, I realized just how much also happened
in that issue: Hank Gathers of Loyola Marymount
University's basketball team collapsed and died on
the court, and Dayton defeated Notre Dame
and Xavier in their quest to make the NCAA Tourney.
(From Sports Illustrated, March 12, 1990.)

On the face of it, data analytics makes sense: you use raw data to determine what successful outcomes are for a variety of scenarios. You can drill down and add all sorts of variables to help with your analysis, but in the end what you get is the likelihood of success for various situations. The goal is to maximize that likelihood of success, but athletes still have to perform out on the field to realize that success.

In the business world issues such as employee retention, sales success, market penetration, and other things that would make my eyes glaze over are ripe for use with data analytics. The age old problem of how to keep employees in the fold --without simply paying them more****-- has been subject to many a data crunching session. And a Gartner White Paper, to be honest. The thing is, even if the data show you an obvious path forward, there's no guarantee that it'll work. 

Just like in video games, the meta will only get you so far; you have to actually perform to live up to your potential. But just like in video games, if you're not following the identified "trend", then you're already at a disadvantage. It doesn't mean that you can't do the job effectively, but nobody ever got fired for following the current Gartner recommendations, either.


As someone who disliked following the current trends, whether it was in school, at work, or in gaming*****, I've struggled to put my aversion to words. Part of it is that I want to maintain my own individuality in the face of corporate sameness. I remember an article from the late 90s about the music industry's infatuation with boy bands at the time, and the assertion was that the industry professionals had figured out how to package music to such a degree that they could influence the trends all on their own. The boy bands of that era --Backstreet Boys, N-Sync, 98 Degrees-- were corporate sameness personified. Of course, the music industry was about to be blindsided by a wave of music file sharing and downloads, proving that dictating trends and thinking you know best isn't always the correct bet. 

Same same but different.
Also, Southern Rap and Green Day
were coming for your ass.
From Entertainment Weekly.

I guess another part of it is the loss of creativity when everybody follows the data driven outcome. If everybody is following it, then where's the fun of finding something else that works for you? Oh, it's out there, but like I mentioned above you're at twice the disadvantage: once for not following the data driven recommendation, and once for people's doubts of your abilities because you're not following those recommendations.

Still, my only advice for people is to be yourself. In the end, "They followed the Analytics" doesn't make for a good quote for a tombstone.


*No, not the even newer and more pretentious "Meta" as in "Metaverse". Even that in it's non-corporate state isn't that new, given that the concept of the metaverse has been around in comics for what feels like ages. It was enough of a trope that when WoW's Warlords of Draenor came out, that "alternate universe" Draenor concept was enough of a turn off for me to contribute to the cancellation of my WoW subscription. But still, Mark Zuckerberg has a certain spot in my heart for pure loathing.

**Or Icy Veins, or even Elitist Jerks if you're old like me.

***Tony was most famous during his time spent as manager of the Oakland A's and St. Louis Cardinals from 1986 through 2011. Columnist and baseball aficionado George Will devoted a large section of his book Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball to Tony La Russa and his managerial techniques.

****Don't get me started on that bullshit. Companies come up with all sorts of ways to keep from doing the obvious two things when you want to retain people: pay them more and treat them like people. I know, I know, what a concept!!

*****I mean, come on. I played D&D during the Satanic Panic, and lost all my stuff to the same. If you ever wanted to meet girls in the early-mid 80s, playing D&D and board games such as Civilization or Axis and Allies was most definitely not the way to do it. I think one of the biggest shocks to my system was during the first week of classes at UD I was at the game room down in Kennedy Union, playing a video game, when a couple happened to walk by and paused to watch me play. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the shirt she was wearing --a Dungeons and Dragons shirt-- and nearly died in the game due to my surprise. That had to have been the first girl I ever "met" who actually was into RPGs. Usually I got the "ew, gross" if any of them ever found out that I played.


  1. I've always seen the choice of choosing to go along with the common wisdom, or not. I don't get the pressure some feel to conform.

    Well, I do, but it's not a decision made in a vacuum.

    If you're not embedded in, say, a raiding guild that wants to, um, progress, then do your own thing. Wear your pants backwards. Who cares?

    But if you're part of a team that is trying to get somewhere, and there exists a blueprint for an effective way to contribute to that cause, which somebody has been kind enough to research on your behalf, then it behooves you to use it. Because you made a choice, and that choice was to be part of this team, and thus not let them down.

    Now, nobody says there is no wiggle room to find the path less followed. I encourage this in all things. But not doing that and waving vaguely at, say, WoWHead as the reason why is kinda puzzling.

    This isn't even about data crunching. Before we had datamining on the regular on WoWHead, we had sites like Noxxic and Icy Veins (actually still do) which used more performative methods to come up with recommendations. I mean, sure, draw the line on either side of "sims" as the Line That Must Not Be Crossed, I guess.

    Seriously, though, eventually this lands on "You know what ruins the game? THE INTERNET!!!! Bunch of effing nerds sharing experiences with each other? Where's the fun in that? Back before the internet we'd stumble around blindly until we fell off a cliff, AND WE LIKED IT!"

    This pretty much lands like "Flying ruined everything!" from ol Ghosty. To which I reply, "No, your inability to design zones that account for flying as part of the deal ruined everything."

    In that same vein, the sharing of experience is not the problem here, it's that the game was designed so that sharing of data ruins it.

    Ha ha, fat chance that'll happen.

    1. I think that there's also the matter of just what does progression mean? How hardcore do you want to be, and does the raid want to be? If there's wiggle room, then enjoy it. If there isn't, then it was your choice to go and raid with them with all that entails. But if the raid starts out as one thing and then mutates into something else --and I now have had that experience firsthand-- then a decision as to be made.

      I've avoided the "internets" as the blame for everything, because in the end the people who control the game the most --the development staff and their leadership-- have to look themselves in the face and acknowledge that is how they wanted the game to be. If they wanted to change it, they could. But given that Elitist Jerks (the guild) like Ion are now on the dev staff, we know how that turned out.

      They didn't have to put in flying in the Old World; there was no need to do it. But since Blizz did it, they have to deal with the consequences. I remember those GC posts, and I also remember a lot of "don't you dare take flying away from us!" in Trade Chat. Once you give something like flying to people it becomes an expectation.

      And to be fair, it isn't the sharing of experiences itself that is the issue, it is the same as with GearScore back in the day: it may have been a third party tool to determine the iLevel of someone's gear, but people used it as a gatekeeping device to find people to raid with. The data was there, and it simply just is; how you use it is up to you.

      Now, there are things that Blizz has completely under their control that have nothing to do with how the game was implemented that could control a lot of the usage of the meta/data crunching: the rollout timeline. I personally believe that the acceleration of the TBC Classic timeline from the pace in Phase 1 and Phase 2 to where it changed into --shaving 4-5 months off of the original TBC timeline-- pushed raid teams into moving faster and faster than they wanted to, and contributed to burnout among teams that then had the ripple effect of a constant need for replacement raiders and then subsequent the migration to megaservers to find those raiders. It wasn't a gearing or mechanics issue at all that caused all that, but a social one.

      In the end it comes down to people, which is why I try to say to people "do what you want to do" when metaphorical questions like "what should I play" or "what spec should I play" comes up. In the end, you have to live with yourself. And yeah, I can talk a good game, but I'm just me. I've been much happier not doing the progression raiding routine than during it, especially in TBC. I enjoyed it in Classic until the last few months of Naxx, when all the pressure to finally kill Kel'Thuzad before TBC Classic's prepatch hit hard. We were practically the only guild left on Myz that was still pushing hard to finish Naxx; most of the other guilds in our level of competency had dropped out of raiding Naxx.

    2. "I try to say to people "do what you want to do" when metaphorical questions like "what should I play" or "what spec should I play" comes up"

      These questions get asked ALL THE TIME in general chat in popular mmorpgs and someone always says what you said there. For years, I used to be the one who said it. The problem is, no-one who's likely to find that an acceptable answer is ever going to ask the question in the first place. Everyone who feels that way already does what they want to do as the default. Just in asking the question, people are announcing they don't have that confidence in themselves.

      These days, if I answer at all, I just say something specific, if I say anything at all. I've found at work, when customers ask for recommendations, it's not what you suggest that matters but how definitively you suggest it.

    3. I consider those queries to be really "What class should I play so I can get into raids?" However, I try to take those queries at face value, since if I wanted to play the "what to raid with" game, I'd turn into an amateur psychologist.

  2. It's definitely interesting how these things can self-reinforce. I remember finding it particularly noticeable while PvPing in SWTOR, because it's one thing to say "class X is the weakest right now according to the numbers" but it's quite another when everyone goes "get on the X, they suck right now" at the start of the match, resulting in that one person getting piled on while everyone else is free to fight without disruption. Doesn't take a genius to see what kind of outcomes that will lead to...

    1. Yeah, having been on the receiving end of that back in the day in Retail, it's never a fun thing to get picked on in BGs. In PvE group content, you're simply not picked.

  3. Gartner doesn't really matter at my pay grade but is actually not too bad if you're looking for up and coming tech and in the past has matched our developer view a lot better. I'm 90% on your viewpoint as being wary of making a trend by following some "thought leaders", but just as a reference it's cool, even if it just makes you look at a bunch of new things or have heard the name if it pops up again.