In WOW there is a tremendous amount of information needed to perform at a high level and the vast majority of it is extremely difficult to come by yourself. This is because the game itself provides only a small part of the information that a crazy math geek would need to understand the mechanics behind it. Instead that information can be had from secondary sources on the internet. The best example is Elitist Jerks. Yes, they are Elitist. Also sometimes Jerks. Most importantly this is the place where people are right.
There are a few things that fascinate me about this. The first is that even though the information is often extremely difficult to acquire there are people around who are hard at work collecting data, analyzing it and then making the conclusions available to average players just for fun. It is common to see people requesting enormous combat logs that require the player to stand still for hours hitting a target to acquire just to test a minute detail of the way in which one item works. When the data is collected math and computer geeks use advanced statistical techniques to discover the specifics of the mechanics they are interested in, then they incorporate their understandings into huge, detailed spreadsheets. The information they gather this way is then condensed and posted in such a way that the average person can benefit from the science that has been done without understanding any of the actual math involved.
You might ask what exactly motivates these people to do this work? Are the results even particularly important for their own playtime? The answer would often be no. Though surely some results are really impactful, much of the research being done is looking for results that are in the tenths of percentages, allowing just the tiniest fraction of an advantage. They do this work for two reasons I think: First because they gain tremendous satisfaction from making the completely correct choices for themselves, and second because of the recognition of their peers. I am one of these people and I certainly fit that mold. When I play I want to be as near to perfect as possible and I do enjoy the fact that people value my work. Being one of the relatively few people on the forums I frequent who is granted respect and credit is certainly something I enjoy, and I enjoy it precisely because I feel that I do it very well. Being recognized by your peers is something nearly everyone strives for, whether it be in the office, in sport or in mathematical video game analysis.
The second really interesting thing is that everyone somehow acquires these results. The information discovered and refined by the statisticians and spreadsheet authors is condensed down to simple rules and strategies and nearly everyone manages to learn those rules. This is true to the extent that people are considered uninformed fools if they deviate from the 'accepted' standards of play and design even though none of that information is available inside the game at all. Somehow these ideas of how to play and what to do make the transition from the world of 'game scientist' geeks to the realm of ordinary play for all kinds of regular people without WOW itself ever being involved. I have only a loose sense of how exactly all this information is transferred amongst the WOW population at large and I do wish I knew more.
Wendy tells me that I actually have a PhD thesis here, if I only spent enough time researching the ways in which information moves within a MMO like WOW. Certainly that would be an interesting bit of research but I just don't have the time. I have to update my spreadsheet you see, to account for the new patch that just came out. One must have priorities, after all.