Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Identity Crisis

I want to share some theories about the nature of the avatar/pc (player-character), for people to consider or debate. Your avatar being of course the character you lovingly created for five minutes before first setting out on adventure.

Several ideas exist about what these avatars express about their creators. I will provide an overview of some of the key theories here.

The Avatar as a revealing truthful expression
Some studies imply that the behaviour of an online avatar is unlikely to stray too far from that of the real world player. That play at being someone widely different to the player cannot be sustained over time. Further that ‘aspects of real persona normally inhibited by physical or social limitations’ may find expression through the behaviour of the avatar’ (Krzywinska 2007). Or in other words, that inhibited aspects of the real world personality may come to the fore through your character. ‘Virtual worlds enable you to find out who you are by letting you be who you want to be’ (Bartle 2003).

The Avatar as pure escape
If we consider the MMORPG environment as a substitute community providing ‘an alternative to life’ (Alexander 2008) then the avatar might be regarded as an opportunity to escape from being oneself. Along with incredible powers and an exciting environment, the player may choose to become more noble or ignoble than their real life inclinations, in order to extend the sense of escape.

The Avatar as edited self
Another theory is the idea that the avatar represents a carefully chosen selection of qualities that the player wishes to express within the game environment (Taylor 2002). This might involve hiding or subduing qualities that they do not wish to share. The avatar from this perspective is an edited version of the player.

These perspectives may resonate more or less true with different players. To test the robustness of these ideas further, one would also need to consider the incidence of players deliberately role-playing characters which they have designed to further the story-telling aspects of play. However this might not necessarily imply a further filter between the truth of player and character, because choices made in a deliberate predetermination of behaviour are still reflective of the decision maker.

How do others see you?
However we are not in absolute control of how others perceive our avatars. There are issues both in superficial and intimate interactions with other avatars. In the most superficial encounters you will not recognised beyond your class, for example when referred to simply as ‘Pala’ or ‘Lock’ in a busy party or raid. Your behaviours and capabilities will be the next things noticed, but only you will have a near accurate sense of your values and identity. Further the absence of non-verbal communication may further muddy the waters and cause misreading of other’s intentions.

In sustained intimacy, for example long-term friendships, guilds, or role-play others are sure to see things about your avatar that you will be blind to. These may or may not be flattering! (For more on this google: Luft & Ingham’s Johari Window 1955).

Final thoughts
As you explore and express whatever it is you personally want to get out of playing a fantasy character in an imaginary environment, you may have some fun by paying attention to the roles ascribed to you by other players. Through their eyes you may be playing a supporting role in their story (whether friend, foe or merely incidental). How much attention do they pay to you beyond your class or function? How much attention do you pay to others?

‘The challenge is that of how to accomplish heroship for all PCs, while also allowing PCs to play other functional roles for other PCs in their function as heroes’ (Eladhari 2007).

Monday, 14 December 2009

Conduct issues in the Wider World of Warcraft

So it’s here. Dungeon Finder, allowing us to group with adventurers with other servers to complete instance runs. Aside from the advantages to gathering a party, what are the interpersonal issues raised by this significant adjustment to the WoW experience?

To answer that question, let us consider for a moment the concept of a community. Community describes a collection of people who are share some common ground. For example WoW players or members of The Venture Co. server.

However a community is not a stagnant thing. It develops and progresses, experiences a ‘life’ of it’s own. Most importantly, members of community are stakeholders within it. Or to put it another way, how you behave in your community is important, if you want to keep enjoying it’s benefits.

Cross-server experiences are very interesting, because whereas there is something to gain from cooperating, the penalties for being anti-social are less severe. If your behaviour with a group of random people from other servers is ruthless, dishonest or antagonistic, the chances are they won’t be shouting about it in your local Ironforge and killing your reputation.

It’s back to the old adage about the Internet, anonymity and being an asshole.

So what we have here is a good test of character. You may find it interesting to observe player behaviour in coming months, and to note when people are unable to be pro-social, honest or useful without the sword of server notoriety hanging over their heads.

Bit like the Battlegrounds then.

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Serious Soloist

In a society dominated by powerful guilds and a world where the greatest challenges must be faced by large groups of highly co-ordinated and well-prepared heroes, what is required of the serious solo adventurer?

Reputation. Without an illustrious guild name over your head, your personal reputation is key. All the principles of courtesy to others, fair play, knowing your class/build and preparedness go double for the person whose invites stand on their own reputation alone. If you aspire only to be a well-geared delinquent, you will find an appropriate guild on your server to do that and get away with it. Solo play is not recommended for ninjas or unreliable people.

Friendships. This goes hand in hand with the above point. Know your key allies and cultivate mutually beneficial relationships.

Determination. Whilst enjoying all the freedom in the world, you must also do without scheduled guild runs. Therefore you must persevere to use your time wisely and pick the best opportunities for development. People pug for all kinds of reasons, and the poor quality of random groups is exaggerated in popular talk. However, you will have to accept that at least part of the time the groups you join will fall apart. On the bright side you set your own timetable.

Pride. At the end of the day you did it your way. Your success or failure will depend not only on your keyboard skills, but navigating relationships and choosing opportunities.

Monday, 5 October 2009


Ignore lists are a little problematic and there are disadvantages to being too hasty. Someone having a bad day might be a useful contact tomorrow.

However bad behaviour is often repeated and it doesn’t make sense to get bitten twice.

This weekend I cleared my ignore list. Only four names were listed as I am fairly thick skinned.

I began anew with a new policy. From now on if I feel someone deserves ignoring then I send a short, politely worded message explaining why they will now be ignored. They can then reflect on what has happened.

Readers may want to comment on what they consider ignore worthy behaviour.

I had two people listed before the weekend was out. One left a 10man raid we had spent a considerable amount of time recruiting after one wipe. Apparently his guild needed him. His ‘guild’ consisted of two other players, neither of which were level 80. I have to wonder what urgent raid he had to run off to. Predictably his departure caused a domino effect, everyone left, and all that time waiting around had been wasted.

The second successful candidate was in Arathi Basin, when a nobody (yes this sounds haughty but I mean a character of no repute nor notable guild) felt it was appropriate to /spit on me. If like myself, you’ve been bought up in a noble Darnassian bloodline, the idea of a random human spitting at you is intolerable. Nevertheless I had the pity to politely question why, but it seemed the neanderthal was unable to articulate any grudge or rivalry.


Thursday, 1 October 2009

Reward Feeling

So I decided to have a go at Aion.

It was a Friday night and ahead of me was the chore of doing the Daily Heroics over the weekend and maybe some daily quests for gold I don’t even need. Nothing much more exciting to look forward to until Wednesday’s raid. So I thought hell with the dailies, lets do something totally new and try Aion!

Naturally I rolled a Warrior, as up and close fighting is what you crave when you shoot arrows at people for a living. I had a lot of fun designing my character and then, miraculous birth, I spawned into an unsuspecting server along with about two-dozen other people spawning at that exact moment.

Imagine a world where every female looks like Kate Beckinsale, and you will quickly grasp the distracting beauty of the many player characters currently running around the crowded Aion servers. The environment was very nice. Not fall off your seat nice, or staggering innovative by any means, but pleasant to explore.

Here’s what happened in one paragraph. I moved between quest hubs and killed X number of monsters. I experienced several innovations on the WoW system. These were: player shops, more frequent cut scenes, a location helper, a campaign quest log, a great chain-combat system, the ability to fly slowly for short periods of time. (That last one won’t feel like a great innovation if you have an epic flying mount).

I had lots of fun hitting monsters with a big sword, and enjoyed the very regular reward feeling that comes from gearing up a character from nothing. Best of all there were lots of people around and there was a nice general atmosphere of communal exploration.

Then I logged on to WoW to do the Brewfest Dailies (achievement hunter). At that exact moment our 5v5 Arena leader decided we should run some games. We had an absolute killing streak and suddenly I had access to more new arena gear than I had the Honor to buy. I stayed up till almost 2pm grinding battlegrounds and got the first two items that night (reward feeling). But I needed a lot more Honor and suddenly I had new purpose.

I will of course return to Aion, to enjoy some more sword-fighting and at my own pace adventuring. It’s not as polished, precise or self-satirical as WoW no matter how shiny the graphics. It’s not as bloody or combat tactical as AoC or as stylised and innovative as WAR. However it has great atmosphere at the moment because of all the new players exploring it for the first time, and it’s a very competent fun example of it’s type.

But it’s not Coca-Cola. And judging each game by its ability to differentiate itself from it’s peers, I feel it’s the weakest of the primary WoW alternatives.

Friday, 18 September 2009

WoW vs (other)

One talked about MMORPG coming very soon is AION.

I spent some time last night researching this, not because I’m about to jump ship, but because I have found that games such as Age of Conan and Warhammer Online (both great games!) have offered me a really enjoyable short-break akin to picking up an X-Box game and playing it for a month.

Inevitably the WoW comparisons overtake discussions about new MMORPG releases. This could be constructive if it were a point-by-point comparison as to how game-play issues were addressed in different or similar ways. You know, things that really matter.

However more often what we get is comments like:

‘WoW gets pwned’

‘WoW sucks’

If you dislike World of Warcraft – fine. But if you really believe that WoW sucks, then you need to add a bit more substance to your argument. Because as a solution to the challenge of creating an interactive virtual fantasy world, WoW clearly doesn’t suck.

First off we need to define the contested territory. Beautiful graphics may be a big consideration for some. But your personal preference to look like an emo in Aion rather than a cartoon character in WoW is only going to get you so far. If you just like eating cake and have no literally no idea what ingredients actually make a good cake then keep your mouth shut.

Core issues, i.e. things that contribute to the quality of the gaming experience are more to do with actual play issues that are; economic and social, that consider player reward and playtime longevity, environment immersion, learning-curve, variety and choice.

Second, on both sides of the fence, enough about what is a WoW-Clone or who stole ideas from Everquest. Unless your tipple of choice is 1st Edition Dungeons and Dragons, then it’s a moot point.

WoW has been embellished continually since its release. It has a lot of content and designers are responsive to the needs of the community, continually increasing the functions available to its subscribers. For this reason alone it will be extremely difficult to challenge by any new offering at point of release.

This isn’t to prove that’s it’s the best MMORPG possible, or even available already. I simply ask debaters to weigh up the ingredients that actually matter when exploring relative merits. I have to wonder if people who genuinely think that WoW is a poor offering will recognise a better one when it comes along… or know why it is better!

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Plz boost me Hercules!

Help-beggars and their alts...

Do you have an alt? I do own a couple, largely built from the desire to have same level characters to play with levelling friends, or the rare moment of hunter fatigue. But these days my alts rarely see the light of day.

I don’t often feel inclined to play an alternative character for two reasons:

1. I am quite immersed in experiencing things through the eyes of my main.

2. Given that I exist outside of WoW as a family member, employee and student, it is hard to find extra time beyond keeping my main character up to date. Especially right now when Emblems of Triumph can be farmed every single day, so priority one is often getting that daily heroic done no matter what.

However, many others do enjoy alts and are able to split their attention better than I. If you play an alt then feel free to comment why, so I can grasp the appeal better.

However, there are a proportion of alt-players who expect their friends to do the work of levelling that alt for them, through frequent boosts and assists. This is approached with a sense of ‘entitlement’ that is often part of the psychological make-up of any anti-social person.

Our usually worthy Guild-Chat was bought low by one such help-beggar recently. I was this player's Guild Master once, suffering about a year of their lazy antics. This week, having failed to beg a boost, they exclaimed; ’20 guild members online and no one can help me?’

How does this translate into what is understood about the mythical journey of the hero? Certainly the classical hero had helpers on his or her journey, people who provided crucial advice, or even fought side by side for similar ends. However this help appeared because the hero was on the path and attracted cosmic assistance, or inspired others to their cause. Not because they begged and whined about it.

Jason and the Argonauts - Deleted Scene:

Jason: Can anyone boost me to get the Golden Fleece plz!!

Hercules: Sorry mate, I’m a bit busy doing my dailies at the moment.

Jason: When will you be finished?

Hercules: Not sure. Why not get a party, similar level, and challenge the quest the way it’s meant to be challenged? That way it will be more fun and you’ll get the learning.

Jason: I can’t be bothered. Plz boost me Hercules! Plzzzzzzzz!