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.