Last night a discussion popped up in guild chat, about Paladin specializations, which as you can imagine I have an annoying, argumentative opinion on.
It wasn't even the relative stupidity of the information that bothered me though, because from a purely objective point of view it really wasn't that dumb. What I was really bothered by was all the people chiming in on the topic, as if they were experts, because they read it on some Paladin Blog.
WoW more than any other MMO I've played, I guess largely due to it's massive player base seems to suffer from this information overload. No one actually bothers to learn how to play their class, to think about the situation they're in and react appropriately, they simply google "Hunter DPS rotation" and press those buttons until someone specifically asks them to do something different.
In some ways it's not the worst thing, as learning from more experienced people is simply how we improve. The problem arises when people mistake knowledge, for skill. Too often will players focus on sticking stricktly to what they read or watched in a video and forget that what is more important is being situationally aware, and reacting accordingly.
Far too many times do I see Holy Paladins only use Holy Light, because they read somewhere that flash sucks, or Ret Paladins tunnel on their "rotation" because they don't see it as their job to Freedom/BoP/Sac as required.
A recent ICC10 run comes to mind. We were on Deathwhisper, and during the add phase I repented one of the undead adds until we were done with the first two. It started a brief discussion about whether or not you even could repent Undead, but more importantly, it was really helpful.
The following week I was running as Prot, and had to ask a few times to get our Ret friend to repent one. It's not that he was bad, and it's not that I'm amazing, it's simply that from leveling myself, trying and failing myself, and bothering to try things outside of the googled "rotation" or things that I watched on youtube, I was able to see an opportunity to make things run a little smoother.
It is not hard to be an average WoW player. To follow your rotation properly, to not stand in dumb things and to follow the "script" of an encounter is really very easy. It's being able to compensate for mistakes, to cover other people who miss something, and to use all of your abilities to their full potential that will make you a truly exceptional player. Unfortunately since these sorts of things aren't generally documented, and people usually only bother to prepare for what they know will happen, instead of what might happen, no one really improves.
I've made a point over the course of my WoW life to not watch any encounter videos, and I feel that I am a better player as a result. Sure I may have made more mistakes initially, but they were integral in allowing me to understand exactly what can go wrong during the course of a fight. Often you'll hear people say "Ok, the DPS stands over here" but if you ask them why, they have no idea. It's just something they read.
By winging it the first few times through a fight, I now know not only what to do, but exactly why I have to, and what will happen if I don't, so that if someone else is about to make that mistake I can give them a heads up, or if they already have, I know how to help them recover.
The ability to quickly learn an encounter is akin to sight reading music. You may be able to play a song beautifully when you have studied it and memorized all the notes as well as which keys on the piano they correspond to, but to be able to pick up a song you have never heard before and play through it with minimal mistakes on the first time is a skill that has to be practiced and learned. Playing the piano is one skill, but sight reading music is another - and the same applies to MMO raiding. Playing your class is one thing, but being able to identify situations and react appropriately on the fly is another thing entirely, and it is something that you will never be able to learn purely through technical knowledge.
There are still many times when pure knowledge is helpful. While we were progressing in Ulduar I was concerned with threat generation on Hodir's hard mode. I did some research on what I could do to improve, I learned a few tricks, and I improved as a player as a result, but I would never mistake this knowledge for actually being skilled at raiding with my class, as they are not always the same thing.
To sum it all up, there is a big difference between being a knowledgable player, who knows all the encounters and knows which buttons to press at which parts of the encounters, and being a good player that has the same knowledge, but also enough insight and comfort with their class to be able to compensate when things don't go exactly according to plan, and fight through a new encounter without knowing anything, and with few mistakes - this is the kind of player that is required for progression raiding, and it's one that is becoming increasingly rare in WoW, thanks in large part to the Eliteist jerks, and techno laden youtube videos.