I have, from time to time, found myself deep in conversation with one person or another about WoW.

There was the clerk at work who never seemed to be at his desk when you needed him to, you know, work, but who never failed to pop up if he heard me mention WoW. There was a frenemy with whom I would (and still do) frequently discuss WoW because it’s just about the only thing we have in common. There are, of course, people I actually like who I talk with about WoW all the time.

And of course, there’s the blogging community which I have so recently joined, which is kind of like a big room full to the brim of people talking about WoW.

In fact, I’d say there’s almost as much talking about WoW in my life, as playing WoW.

One of the interesting things about these conversations is discovering a disconnect (or not) between your perception of a given player based on conversations about playing the game, and the actual kind of player they are.

There’s one acquaintance-type-person of ours who talks real fucking big about his game – no matter what we said we’d done, he’d done it sooner, faster, and better. He practically oozed elitism (and somehow honestly believed this would endear him to us), had no patience for newbishness, and was openly dismissive of anyone who hadn’t played end-game. And all of this we gleaned from a fifteen minute conversation is a crowded club. My initial perception of him as a player was that he was probably a power-levelling, overgeared, mentally handicapped aggro monkey (who probably buys his gold). We have since had a chance (just the one, because, you know, Hell no) to play with him, and…yeah. That about sums it up.

The more common occurrence runs more along the lines of someone who talks like they know what they’re doing – they make what appear, without knowing the circumstances involved, to be valid points; they share many of the same complaints as the rest of us about PUGs and bad behaviour, etc. – but then you get them into an instance and all Hell breaks loose. They’re on the wrong target, they can’t control their pet, they AoE without understanding the consequences (or, you know, what it’s for. I’m pretty sure dropping a Blizzard on two targets is going to lower your DPS), they’re terrible tanks, and if they’re healing everyone dies. Or random people do. Randomly. The whole thing usually leaves you sort of dazed. You’ve been talking to this person for weeks, and you were sure they knew what they were doing. So why are you running back from the graveyard for the third time?

The flip side of that, is that we have also had the opportunity to speak with a few people who played down their skills and abilities. They call themselves newbies frequently, are curious about the end game but have never been there, and generally speak cautiously about their experiences and skill. When we’ve had the opportunity to play with these people, there have been two different results: either yes, they’re 100% newbies, and have been entirely honest in their description of themselves. Or they’re newish to the game, but a lot better than they’re letting on and they actually have a grasp of the basic mechanics necessary to be contributing members of the group.

All of this makes me wonder…which one of the above am I? I tend to talk pretty big about my game; I’m relatively confident with my skill level, and generally of the opinion that I know where my weakness are (not necessarily what to do about them, but hey! At least I can name them!). I’ve been playing the game for five years or something now, so I would hope after that long I’ve earned the right to claim I know what I’m doing, at least in a general sense. I don’t tend to think I’m elitist, and I like to think I don’t come across that way, but you never know. Elitism is defined differently by different people. I don’t think I’m lying about my in-game capabilities.

But then I think to myself…neither did the other people who talked big, but wound up kind of sucking. At least, not all of them. They thought they were legitimately skilled too.

What if I loaded up into that instance with them, and at the same time as I’m saying: “WTF is wrong with Gnomeregank? I thought he was supposed to know what he’s doing?!”…Gnomeregank is saying the same thing about me.

I know (painful, painful lesson, that) that not everyone plays the game the same way, and no matter how stubbornly I stick to my own way and insist it’s the best way, other people have their own ideas and they probably work for them. So if Gnomeregank sucks according to the paradigm by which I play the game…does that mean I suck by his?

Is there an actual hard-and-fast way to determine whether someone is as good at this game as they claim to be? Can you actually judge another person’s skill by their playstyle?

I know I do, but I don’t know whether that’s fair.

Some people like to pull obscenely large groups and fight their way through it. They smash their way through an instance, timing themselves to see how quickly (not how cleanly or skillfully) they can get it done. They’ll wipe six times on the way but as long as they’re gogogoing, they’re honestly content.

To me, that is made of fail. Were I part of that group, I would not be able to stop screaming about how they suck, and how they don’t know how to play the game, and how they’re completely ruining my play time.

But do they honestly suck at the game, or do they just suck at my game? Or, perhaps more pertinently, are they even playing my game?

I don’t know. But I think I need to start watching what I say in those conversations a little more closely – just because I’m good at my game, doesn’t mean I’m good at theirs, and there’s not telling which we’re discussing.