fredag 5. desember 2008

Big Brother Sees You!

Riskcalculation is a central part of playing MMOs like WoW: Will the reward be worth the time? Is the cost justified by the reward? And more importantly: Will teaming up with this person be beneficial or dangerous?

Even in smaller groups, players depend on each other to fulfill their role. If someone isn't performing at their best, the group is at risk to ALL have to spend more time and money to accomplish something. In guilds this is enhanced as new members are risky; they get a chance to reap the benefits, but you don't know them and how can you trust them not to screw things up or run away after they have gotten their part?

A commonplace practice in serious guilds (as well as less serious ones) is to make applications, usually on a forum/website. They are in most aspects similar to a work application with questions like; What are your previous experience? What do you bring to this community? Are you a team player? What are your goals?

The problem ofcourse is that this is The Internet (tm) and it's possible to forge this. To claim to have more experience or brush over earlier misgivings. Reputation is a key element for players to ensure success, the name sticks with the character and a rocky reputation will exclude you from many a community (See Taylor 2006: Between Worlds). So, how do you ensure that people are telling the truth?
The Armory: a online database which holds a copy of your WoW character with both it's gear and spec (skill specialization) put some pressure on this when introduced about 2 years ago (?). Now everyone could see what gear the character had, and thus what part of the game this toon had explored and overcome.

The Armory is now an integrated part of the game, a chance to look up guilds, servers as well as battlegroups to get an impression of what standard and achievements have been done. But, apparently that wasn't enough... With the 3.0 patch the Amory was extended. In game an achievement system appears (will log if you complete instances, do x amount of quests, make x amount of gold, train professions, explore zones, get many pets etc.) similar to that of LOTRO and WAR. In addition a statistics function appears which tells how much money I have made, how many potions I have drunk, how many kills, how many times I have died and more.

For some obscure reason, this achievement and statistics system is now also available in the Armory. So - anyone can basically log on and find out fairly intimate details about what I have been up to since last patch. Is this really necessary?

Is there really a need for other players to find out how many bandages I have used? Its like your boss keeping track of how many pencils you have used, or your partner wanting a graph over how many sheets of toilet paper... Why is this posted in public?

My character isn't excellent by any standards. It's actually an old character I have revived. In early vanilla WoW she kicked some ass, but in WoW terms that's so long ago it might just as well be during the Second World War.

Looking at her achievements and statistics, it tells the reader about how much I have done on her since patch 3.0. However, it doesn't tell much about me as a player. It doesn't tell what other characters I have been lvling or playing with. Am I just sulking cause now everyone knows she sucks, or is it still OK to be angered when the illusion of privacy is broken?

One good thing is that you can access the in game calender through Armory, so you won't forget what you are raiding tonight.

torsdag 4. desember 2008

Misconceptions about gaming and gamers - More addiction...

A highly misinformed article in Dagbladet told us on 30th of November, that WoW now had a netpoker function that could be linked to virtual gold, but also real net poker sites. Reading the article it was clear that this was actually a crazy cooked up story about an old addon (player programmed software addition) that allowed players to play poker in game.
Fortunately today Martin Eide put the facts right: this has nothing to do with Blizzard, gambling is NOT encouraged and kids are NOT the majority player base.

Reading both reactions to these articles on Dagbladets commentary field, as well as related blogs - I am constantly shocked over the misconceptions around. Statements like "the biggest problem we are currently facing" and "we all know this is a danger to society". What? Who? Where?
So a bunch of kids and young adults who cant manage their time is the biggest threat to society? Did I miss a memo?

When portraying game addiction there are several key elements: excessive time use, conflict with family, neglecting other responsibilities such as work/school and aggression. Also, this seems to concern primarely young boys. Going by this standard there are several things I have issues with.
Firstly, there has been no studies linking gaming as the cause for any of this, and when there are - you will find equally as many stating the opposite. A scientific community is dissent holds no "truth".
Secondly, that a teenage boy is not enthused about school, is in conflict with his parents, don't go to bed at time and can be agressive - might have very little to do with World of Warcraft of any other game. In fact it sounds very much like the state most teenagers are in. And to be honest, is it really THAT bad having your teenage son at home on a saturday night?

Ofcourse, there is always a minority that has severe problems linked to gaming. However, it is not necessarily addiction and its not necessarily something the game hsa caused.

tirsdag 11. november 2008

Computer Game Addiction

This was published in Klassekampen 28th of October
Sadly they dont give out a full version of their newspaper so I whack it in here. Its in Norwegian, if you dont understand norwegian... Well... too bad for you... Atleast I have posted an image to explain the moral of the story.

Bruk eller misbruk i online rollespill?

Kristine Ask, stipendiat, NTNU, Institutt for tverrfaglige kulturstudier

Avhengighet er en enkel måte å forklare hvorfor noen velger å bruke store deler av livet sitt foran en skjerm, men det er ikke nødvendigvis en riktig forklaring. Er vi så redde for kompleksitet at vi unngår den virtuelle virkeligheten?

”Spillavhengighet” har fått mye spalteplass i norske aviser de siste månedene. Både familie, spillere og helsepersonell har fortalt om hvordan ungdom blir ”fanget” i en virtuell verden. World of Warcraft (WoW) har ofte blitt trukket fram som et særlig risikofylt online rollespill der spillere forføres til et stadig større tidssluk på bekostning av skole, jobb, familie og kjærlighet.

At WoW har fått mye oppmerksomhet er kanskje ikke rart, siden det på mange måter brakte online rollespill til det store publikum. WoW spilles i dag av millioner på verdensbasis og det det er videre anslått at et sted mellom 70 000 og 100 000 av disse er nordmenn. Som det har blitt fokusert mye på i det siste, tar spillingen overhånd for noen av disse. Hjelpelinjen for Spillavhengighet (en hjelpelinje sponset av Lotteritilsynet) forteller at de får stadig flere henvendelser angående dataspill, hovedsakelig fra bekymrede foreldre som føler at tenårings sønner og døtre forsvinner ut av familielivet.

Bruk eller misbruk?

I en kronikk om spillavhengighet ’Fanget av den virtuelle verden’ (Aftenposten 03.09.08) beskriver Espen Idås og Hilde Tafjord beskriver seg selv som et del av hjelpeapparatet for spillavhengige og er med på å sette søkelys på problematisk bruk. Her avviser de spillforskeres krav om kjennskap til dataspill for å kunne uttale seg, diagnostisere og behandle ”dataspillavhengighet”. Siden de gjennom sin bakgrunn som henholdsvis psykolog og lege har kunnskap om andre former for avhengighet, hevder de at spesifikk kjennskap til dataspill ikke er nødvendig for å behandle spillavhengighet. I motsetning til dette valgte The American Medical Association senest i 2007 å ikke inkludere dataspillavhengighet som en klinisk diagnose nettopp på bakgrunn av mangelfull forskning på feltet. Argumentet for dette var at de manglet både datamateriale og gode teorier som kunne forklare slike fenomener. Istedenfor å anta at spillavhengighet arter seg på samme måte som andre avhengigheter, og slik kan forstås og behandles på samme måte, burde et gryende hjelpeapparat kreve mer forskning og viten på dette feltet - ikke avvise det. Uten særlig kjennskap til hva bruk av dataspill faktisk innbefatter, bør man ikke gjøre vurderinger om hva som er misbruk og hvordan det arter seg.

Som forsker på online dataspill som World of Warcraft vet jeg at dette ikke et enhetlig fenomen (eller problem for den saks skyld), nettopp fordi det er et mangfold av spillertyper og aktiviteter som foregår side om side. Selve spillets design og målsetninger kan for så vidt fortone seg enkelt nok; gjennom en digital avatar (den figuren som spilleren styrer) skal man i samarbeid med andre spillere drepe virtuelle monster eller andres avatarer. Gjennom å overvinne utfordringer som er satt (hovedsakelig datagenererte monster), blir avataren mektigere. Ser man på hva spillere faktisk gjør når de logger seg på finner vi en rekke aktiviteter, og disse aktivitetene gir et mye mer komplekst bilde av hva spillet handler om. Der noen holder seg for seg selv og utforsker verden i eget tempo, blir andre del av store grupper som stiller krav til aktivitet og deltakelse. For noen er det et par timer i uken, for andre er det mange. Noen fokuserer på å drepe monstre, andre foretrekker å rollespille eller kanskje prøve seg som digital finansmekler på auksjonshuset. Noen møter venner online, andre tar med seg vennene online. Det finnes mange spillestiler og aktiviteter koblet til spill som WoW, og før vi beskriver dem som ”avhengighetsskapende” eller farlig bør vi se nærmere på hva det er som egentlig skjer.

Det stemmer at noen av disse aktivitetene er tidskrevende. En av de mest tidsintensive aktivitetene er ”End Game” eller ”Raiding”. Slike aktiviteter blir aktuelle på et tidspunkt der enkelt-spillere ikke lenger kan utvikle karakteren på egenhånd. ”End game” refererer til de største og farligste utfordringene som spillet kan tilby, oppgaver så krevende at de kan kun løses om man går sammen i større grupper og samarbeider. Gruppen må så trene kveld etter kveld, uke etter uke for å vinne. For å lykkes krever det stor grad av koordinering og presisjon av gruppen som en helhet. Grupper som driver med ”End Game”, er tidkrevende og kan være en belastning i forhold til kjæreste, studier eller jobb. Men, når ble det farlig å engasjere seg i et fellesskap for å oppnå et felles mål? Hva er galt med å trene dag etter dag, uke etter uke for å bli bedre, og stille opp når man er litt trøtt fordi ”laget” trenger det?

Dataspill må forstås, ikke fordømmes!

Problemene med å forstå onlinerollespill ligger ikke bare i hva som skjer, men hvor det skjer. Det skjer ikke på en stadion eller på det lokale samfunnshuset. Det skjer via internett, og fordi det skjer et sted som ikke alle kjenner og forstår, framstår mange hverdagslige aktiviteter som farlige. Men er opplevelsene til en dataspiller mindre verdifulle enn til en fotballsupporter, bare fordi aktivitetene foregår i cyberspace? Poenget er at i denne digitale verden er det ekte mennesker som legger inn tid, arbeid og engasjement for å nå sine mål, og ekte mennesker gir ekte opplevelser. Hvis det bare er samhandling ansikt-til-ansikt som er ”ekte”, er det vel bare kunstig når vi ringer hjem til foreldre eller kjærester?

Det ideelle ville selvsagt være at det ikke finnes noen problematisk bruk av dataspill, at alt bare gir positive og berikende opplevelser. Dessverre er det ikke slik, og for noen ytterst få oppleves dataspill som problematiske. I denne situasjonen er det viktig at det eksisterende hjelpeapparatet faktisk forstår situasjonen og kan gi relevant veiledning. Det krever mindre moralsk panikk, mindre profesjonspreget interesse i å lage nye diagnoser, og mer aksept for nye måter å leve på.

søndag 2. november 2008

Talking about games to non-gamers

We have all been there. A questioning parent, uncle or grandparent trying to find out what you do in your spare time. With great enthusiasm I try to share my exitement about an upcoming game, the latest develpement in my character or a planned drink-and-play evening. The reaction is mostly the same; a polite but worried smile.

Of all the things I share with family, talking about gaming is the only time I never get follow up questions. Even the times when I am able to rein in my enthusiasm and give short and brief accounts of my gaming existance.

Am I telling it wrong? Or is it just that boring to listen to?

One obvious answer is the lack of respect and understanding that still surrounds gaming as a activity, however is that all there is to it? Can it all be blamed on The Damn Fascists (tm)? I am trying to look at other possible answers to why noone seem to want to listen to the glorious virtual exploits of the gamer.

Perhaps it is boring. I am fully aware that I "went native" into (especially) the MMO community and still have a hard time differantiating between words that are and aren't explainable for people with no epics. And to be honest I have never really found the narrative of a single game session something of great estethic value. The times I enjoy talking about games, is when I am talking to people who play the same (or similar) games. A chance to explain and compare, where the small stories created within the game (like when you find that OH MY GOD AMAZING SWORD OF DEATH) are used as examples - not as stand alone account of events. Without that common background, it would make little sense and its entertainment value would be even lower.

Its a moment of self reflection when I realize that this probably works more then one way. I would have to agree that I dont ask follow up questions (unless I am in a extremely good mood) about my sisters new shoes. Neither about how things are going for my dads fotball team. Cause honestly, even though I love them to bits, I dont care. Them telling me feels like wasted time, like pollution of my brainwaves.

So perhaps I shouldnt be so surprised when they dont bounce up and down to hear more about my latest epic item, an upcoming con or where I am planning to take my character next.

Another part of me also want to keep it to myself. To let gaming preserve its somewhat mythical and unknown qualities. The more its described, populerized and publisized - the more magic disappears.

Perhaps its ok that people dont want to listen....

EDIT 11/11/08 :

A comment was made to me today during lunch about this topic: that the lack of followup questions, or show of interest - might simply be a lack of knowing. Cause its hard to ask about something you know nothing about. Noone likes looking like a fool, and if you barely know what computergames are - it can be hard to know what to ask about. The point is: This is not necessarely a lack of interest in the topic, or the experiences of a gamer. It can simply be that its so different from one's own known world that one doesnt know where to start.

søndag 26. oktober 2008

To study or to game?

Studying games through participation is quite common. The logic is simple: In order to analyse games you need to play them - just like studying literature means reading books, or studying films necessitates seeing a few. Its not rocket surgery... Really...

So, what do you do when studying a game and playing the game - becomes interchangable?

I have been fighting for and arguing to my councillors as to why I should be able to utilize my own experiences. It just didnt seem right that after more then 3 years as a WoW fangirl that I shuold disregard all that I have seen, done and heard in game. I wanted to use all the things that got me exited about gamestudies in the first place. And it was agreed that indeed, I should bring in my own perspective and story in my work.

First I saw it as a victory. Now, I see that the victory was not quite mine... It's more likely a strike of brilliance on my councellors part. To be able to use my own experiences, they need to be formalized, noted down methodically and continually. In other words, every time I log into WoW I need to make fieldnotes about what happened, what I did, said and saw.

Its been argued several times that the gameplay of games such as WoW resembles work more then play in many instances. That its largely about going through monotenous, repetative tasks in order to achieve higher goals. So far, I hadnt minded that "blending" of work and play. Now however, play is becoming work. Largely enjoyable work, but still work.

So, why a streak of brilliance on my councellors part?
Well, what better way to keep me from slothing away all my time in game? Every time I consider logging on, I think about my studies. And suddenly I care that much more if its worth playing, if I actually want to game - or if I am simply too lazy to think of something else to do.

Damn brilliance.

onsdag 8. oktober 2008

StrongSquig is?

Fans and gaming

One of the main issues that makes studying games and gaming culture so fascinating, is that the basics are still not quite there. In other words: What is a gamer? The individual gamer is easy enough to identify: its someone who plays computergames and has computergames as an interest. However, if you think of a gamer as apart of a gamer community it becomes harder. How are we to understand gaming communities? What framework can we give gamers to gound their practices? How are gamers different to others?

One angle I have been working lately is through looking at fandom.

Henry Jenkins became the spokesperson for fanculture with his book "Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture" (1992). He described fans as poachers who takes text (in this case tv-shows) and makes them their own through their readings and rewritings. Fans bring out subtexts and make them explicit, as the (largely female) writer uses the characters to fulfill own curiosities and needs.

Going by this early conceptualizing of fandom, how can fandom help us understand gaming? Are gamers fans?
Several acitivites within the gaming community are almost identical to those of fans. Take the many webcomics or machinima that is made, creating new and exiting stories in a already existing world. On forums debates flurish with rumours of future patches or new releases, and there are speculations of what these would be. Collecting information and making databases are also practices that resonnates with fanculture. In many cases fandom helps explain the massive cultural work that happens outside the game. By reworking and rewriting the text at hand, fans find new types of enjoyment and involvement. Just cause gamers dont write slash about Super Mario and Luigi (I am sure it exist, but you wont convince me its common practice) or create work of fiction, doesnt mean that what they do are not a form of rewriting. Showing "l33t skillZ" (tm) in a short videoclip is not going to get you a job as Spielbergs' assistant (not that you would want to be his assistant..), but it is a way of using the existing text to create something grounded in yourself - a personal reading of the story.

So, are gamers fans? I dont know. So much of what gamers do seem similar to that of fans, however where is the battle of the gamer fans? What subtexts are we highlighting? Especially early fandom was largely written by and for a female audience. Slashfiction brough homosexuality into a heteronormative text. What issues are we raising? Are we raising any at all?

Fighting the WAR alone?

Warhammer Online (WAR) has become the latest obsession, and for good reasons. It truly feels like an innovate game with its PQs (Public Quests where the group is defined as "everyone in the same area") and the ability to progress your character through Realm vs Realm (RvR) combat at any level.

However, the game has no charm, no soul, no heart. The design is not flawless, but for a newly released game it feels well made. It's polished, thought through and in many cases seamless in its character progression as you can advance in so many ways. But, there is something missing: people.
Everywhere I go its quiet. No banter, no questions, no interaction. There are general channels present, but for some reason they are not used. Having tried several servers and starting zones, I have yet to find a place where the public chat is active. Even though the infamous "Barrens Chat" makes you wonder if evolution left someone behind, it was still an important part of the world. The sense of beeing in a MMORPG (weighting the Massive Multiplayer part) came from the scrolling of banter throughout zones: from a helpful tips to meaningless epeen declamtions.

So why dont people talk in WAR?

Perhaps its due to the games good design of open parties (you click a button and automatically join an open party in the area) or the ability to sign up to scenarios from anywhere in the world (no need to lounge around in a keep or barracks while waiting for scenarios). Maybe its the fact that all questpoints are marked on your map, or that you cant link items in chats? In many ways the need for communication with fellow players are gone. Still, players have not been known to always do what was intented. Perhaps we are just shy in the beginning. Or perhaps WAR is just so serious business that we dont have time to fool around.

fredag 26. september 2008

No moral highgound anymore

After resisting the blogoshpere for such a long time, it has finally dawned on me that my resistance is futile.

Someone on the internet IS wrong, and now that person can be me.