The need for and the etiquette of going away from the keyboard (AFK) was stronger in WoW's earlier days. During classic WoW, 5-manning places like Blackrock Depths was an all-night affair. Players were more forgiving of a quick dash to the bathroom, and groups doing longer content tended to schedule natural breaks along the way. Today's WoW is a much more terse affair. Scenarios, group instances, and raids are likely to be over long before your bladder is. It's not so difficult to simply plan ahead or wait for a group to come to a natural conclusion.
Yet people don't always do that. Like That Guy who's always texting and checking his Twitter feed instead of looking you in the eye during a conversation, That Guy in game is likely to wander AFK just when you need him the most. Tuning out the people you're with, online or off, simply is not socially acceptable behavior. (You've heard what they're calling those tuned-out types who'll be wearing Google Glass, right? It's not a complimentary term.)
The best way to handle going AFK is to avoid it in the first place. For the rest of those moments when something comes while you're grouping that's beyond your control, let's look at the best ways of managing the interruption and getting you back into the game.
The mechanics of AFK
Here's how WoW's AFK system works:
- The game automatically marks you AFK after 5 minutes without any interaction.
- You'll be logged off and sent to the character selection screen if you are AFK for 30 minutes.
- You'll be disconnected from the server if you remain at the character selection screen for 30 minutes.
- You'll remain marked AFK once you become active again unless you set your controls to change that. Choose Interface Options > Controls > Auto Clear Away.
- You can add a short message to your AFK status line by adding it to the same line as the AFK command: /afk Back in five minutes.
The first thing players have to come to grips with is that going AFK during group content should not be a routine occurrence. When you step away from the keyboard, you're stopping the action or placing an extra burden on four to 24 other players. That's disrespectful. They shouldn't have to wait on you to take care of your personal business. Participating in group content represents a tacit agreement to being available and present. To be blunt, when you agree to participate, you agree to actually participate.
Your personal schedule may not always make that possible. Maybe you need to eat dinner, and it will be ready right in the middle of the group. Maybe you're expecting a call that you want or need to take, and it will happen during the raid. Maybe you're the only parent home tonight, and your little ones tend to wake up and need help randomly throughout the evening. At times like these, you're better off playing on your own or hooking up with some understanding friends until you can sort out your responsibilities.
Let's be clear: Life happens. What we're talking about here is the difference between running a raid when your four-year-old wakes up unexpectedly from a bad dream versus running a raid when your two-year-old has been having trouble settling down for the night for a week now. It's the difference between getting into a group and then being interrupted by a phone call from your mom, who rarely if ever calls at this time of the evening, and getting into a group 20 minutes before your mom's weekly Sunday evening phone call. It's the difference between a minor, unexpected interruption and the interruption that you know is going hit at least once during the time you'd like to play.
Not every little occurrence actually merits going AFK. Let's review Robin's scale of AFKs:
Minor cat emergency Cat barfs on the carpet. Cat knocks something over. Cat is meowing loudly about some unknown issue. The MCE can usually wait until the battle is over. But then you need to announce your intention to AFK (if in a group) and get to a safe place as soon as possible. I assume there are dog owners out there too, so apply this to all MDEs as well.
Expected visitor/delivery at the door Pizza! Girlfriend! Whatever it is, this SRLI needs your immediate attention. But before the expected visitor shows up, make sure your group knows that the AFK is forthcoming.
Unexpected visitor at the door Use your own discretion. I am not too keen on being at the beck and call of whatever solicitor wants my attention. But you know your situation better than I do.
Expected phone call Unless this person cannot be reached otherwise, you can always call him or her back after the battle. But, again, make sure that your group knows the phone call is impending. Often, you can play and talk at the same time, though it is rather rude to the caller.
Unexpected phone call That's what answering machines are for.
Fire, earthquake, etc. Captain Obvious to the rescue! Don't even bother to type AFK. You can explain later.
Medical emergency Again with Captain Obvious. Type AFK only if you absolutely have time, otherwise take care of the emergency immediately -- no matter how minor it turns out to be.
Significant other or family member calls urgently for your help Type AFK very quickly then run to help. Do not wait until the end of battle. Even if it turns out to be something that you really weren't needed for, it is better to be safe than sorry. Your significant other in particular will help keep the SRLIs from occurring if you are responsive and understanding about the ones that do happen.
Significant other or family member requests your attention It is in your best interest to treat these unscheduled intrusions kindly. Ask if he or she can wait until the battle is over and then go AFK at the next opportunity. A couple minutes of attention when requested politely will prevent your loved ones from resorting to more extreme measures.
Get ready, get set
Ultimately, you are the person responsible for dealing with interruptions when you're involved in group content. Eat your pizza, put your phone where it won't distract you, and take care of your kids (or ask your partner to take the lead) before you get into that group or raid. True, that means you won't be able to do everything you want to do the very moment you might like to do it. Welcome to the club!
If you live with other people, see if you can trade off taking care of interruptions. One night, you can be the one who answers the door, takes the phone calls, and wrangles the kids. The next night, the other person can be the one to handle interruptions so you can immerse yourself online.
In other words, get ready to play before you group up. Otherwise, avoid groups if you can't give them your attention. It's really that simple.
Control your scene
It all comes down to being able to control your scene. Clear your schedule by managing your life. Don't be tossed about by circumstance like a paper boat at sea. Who's in charge here? That right: you.
- Don't queue up or start running group content before the pizza arrives. We'll let you in on another little secret: If you're one of those players who pride themselves on getting to the door and back and then scarfing down their food so quickly that the group doesn't even miss them -- all while "playing" -- maybe it's time to take a look at what kind of performance you expect from yourself!
- Turn on voicemail or turn off the phone. Your phone is a tool for your use, not a cattle prod that tells you how high to jump and when.
- Stay physically and emotionally available to your children and family. Don't kid yourself that sitting at the keyboard makes you available to your kids. If you're not able to pay attention when they come to you while you're playing -- whether they need a Band-Aid, want to know where those yummy new crackers are, or have a story about how Nicole got Stephen in trouble today because he'd been passing notes to Pranab -- or if you can't really focus on what your spouse is telling you about what happened at work today, then you're not really available. Wake up and log out.
- Make sure your partner knows the score. Sit down some weekend or other relaxed moment and explain to your significant other what goes on during a group or raid, how long each is likely to take, and why it's important that you not leave your fellow players hanging during the process. Enlist your partner's help in finding a balanced amount of uninterrupted play time when he or she can leave you alone or run interference for you.
- Turn about's fair play. Whatever it is that your partner enjoys doing, make sure you help shepherd equally uninterrupted time for those pursuits, too.
- Avoid temptation entirely. Parents, if your kids wake up and need your attention with any regularity at all, simply accept that this isn't a good stage of your life for grouping in video games. Limit yourself to solo endeavors, or investigate a single-player game. Children grow so quickly. Be here now for your family; you won't regret it.
If something unavoidable arises and you simply must go AFK, let your groupmates know. Don't try to sneak out and hope nobody notices. If you fail, you've just earned the ire of everyone in your group; if you succeed, you've already failed, because what does it say about your skill and contributions if nobody even notices you're gone?
If you're raiding, take 5 seconds to shoot an extra whisper to the raid leader. You don't have to have a conversation; just get your message across to the group coordinator in a way that's likely to be noticed.
As far as what to say, there's no need for long explanations. Including a simple "sorry" is polite. It's nice if you can give people an idea of what's going on, but it's not mandatory. It's also helpful if you can let them know how you plan to ensure their safety while you're gone by mentioning where you'll position your character or who you'll set your character to follow.
The most important part of letting a group know you're going AFK is an ETA for your return. Your group deserves the opportunity to compensate for your absence, wait for your return, or replace you with someone who can be present.
- Sorry, must AFK unexpectedly. Should be back in 2 minutes. Will /follow Playername.
- Sorry, AFK RL. Not sure how long it will take. Moving over to the east wall.
- AFK emergency IRL. Kick me if I'm not back in 5.
Be here now
The person who suffers the most from frequent AFKing is you. Why would you want to go through life with only half your attention on the things that you enjoy doing? There's a lot to be said for focusing on the moment. Be here now. It's kinda fun.
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Dodge the drama and become that player everyone wants in their group with advice from the Drama Mamas. Remember, your mama wouldn't want to see your name on any drama. Play nice ... and when in doubt, ask the Drama Mamas at firstname.lastname@example.org.