Friday, July 30, 2010


Lesson 4: Identity
C&I 675: Researching Virtual Worlds
Dr. Constance Steinkuehler
Spencer Striker

Assignment Due: Who is your avatar? What is the relationship between your avatar and your self? Use the readings to explore this relationship.

Analyzing World of Warcraft’s Notion of Identity via a Close Reading of Turkle, S. (1997). Aspects of the self; Tinysex and gender trouble. Life on the Screen: Identity in the age of the Internet (pp. 177-232). New York: Touchstone.

Writes Turkle: “…for him, a favorite MUD afforded an escape valve for anxiety and anger that felt too dangerous to exercise in real life. Julee’s role playing provided an environment for working on important personal issues.”

Ventilation and/or Therapy

This notion of video games as ventilation and/or therapy reminds me of several things at once. On the one hand I think of the intensely visceral experience I have had playing Grand Theft Auto IV as Niko Bellic (more so than the detached experience I have had playing my WoW avatar, ZZ Blackstone). And on the other, I think of the violence in video games controversy—in particular, the debate after Columbine as to whether Klebold and Harris were influenced to commit atrocities by their experiences playing Doom and Wolfenstein. Turkle’s point, written in 1995—fourteen years before GTA IV came out in 2009—remains relevant to this ongoing debate.

Niko, the Homicidal Terrorist

Niko is not the ideal, rugged handsome hero like Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones, Christian Bale as Batman, or Daniel Craig as James Bond 007. Rather, he’s a scumbag. More aptly, he has a scumbag-quality that plays on a video game screen as it never could in a feature film, which is a passive representation, a narrative that unfolds without any interaction from the audience. Important to note: there’s never been a GTA film adaptation despite huge sales of the franchise. Niko goes so far over the edge—in his role as avatar, controlled by us, the gamers—that he’s not even a charismatic anti-hero, he’s a homicidal terrorist.

Or, perhaps more to the point, he makes us into homicidal terrorists.

When I play as Niko, am I “working through”? Playing as Niko in GTA, more so than in any other gaming franchise—including WoW, Assassin’s Creed, or even Hitman—there’s a sometimes scary sense of crossing the line, going too far. Massacring civilians in an ultra hyper realistic New York knock off can definitely give you the creeps. But simultaneously, when that guilty pleasure is at its most raw, that’s when the game is the most impactful, the most fun. As the lead designer of Prototype, Eric Holmes, has said in interviews: players want to behave badly. If there’s a bus full of schoolchildren dangling from a cliff, in an open world action game, such as GTA IV, you better believe most gamers are going to send those kids to their bloody demise. Gamers want to behave badly and games like GTA IV serve players this experience on a macabre, morally ambiguous platter.

Case in point: driving in GTA is truly sociopathic; the gameplay mechanics cause you to smash into everything, killing pedestrians brutally and constantly. The game invites this. It’s almost impossible to drive patiently enough to avoid wreaking carnage—the game play designers expect and encourage you to drive like a maniac. That’s why it’s so easy to replace totaled cars by jacking new ones. Of course, throughout this entire murderous experience, there’s a snarky laughing up your sleeve quality to the whole thing, which perhaps alleviates what might otherwise be a dark rehearsal for a life as a narcissistically delusional mass murderer. Cops are another case in point. Players know they’re being abhorrent when they kill cops. In real life (RL), cops are intimidating. They make a room go silent. They cause us to become self-conscious and evaluate our behavior to make sure we’re acting ‘within the law.’ People have a complicated view of cops. We need them, we respect them, sometimes we like them, sometimes we hate them, sometimes we’re afraid of them. Killing cops in GTA provides a kind of visceral pleasure—we experience guilt intermixed with a sociopathic catharsis.

GTA Designers Smart-Ass Approach to Cops

Importantly, the way the GTA IV designers have written, performed, and recorded the voices of the in-game police reveals their smart-ass approach to the whole thing. GTA cops are extremely aggressive, rude, mean, and foolish—somewhere between Keystone cops, Reno 911, and real life cops caught on YouTube beating civilians. They’re rarely if ever portrayed as 3 dimensional, sympathetic, or heroic. Ironically, being chased by cops actually serves in the game as a way to keep the player in check because evading cops can become a dreary penance for acting too mischievously. The more cops you kill the higher your Star Rating becomes, making it exponentially more difficult to lose the heat. For practical game play purposes, it makes the most tactical sense to kill the least amount of cops possible so you can break free with only 2 or 3 stars. Elevating your star rating to 4-6 is purely recreational, like a survival mode, because you will almost certainly be killed or arrested, wind up back in the hospital or jail, and lose your money or weapons. The designers force you to be somewhat reasonable, (and non-bloodthirsty), if you want to progress through the game’s story. So even in the game—as in life—we are forced to follow the rules, and get in line.
Returning to this idea of “working through,” which Turkle develops in her book: is that in fact what’s happening in violent video games, like GTA IV? Am I “working through” my repressed sociopathic impulses via my identity association with Niko Bellic? Turkle points out that truly successful therapy requires a professional therapist to help you break free of your crazy cycles, of your lack of ability to see beyond the same murky mistakes you make over and over. She makes the point that ventilation is not the same as progressive psychotherapy. In this analysis, the notion that playing Niko Bellic affords the opportunity to heal or clarify issues for troubled youths is a dubious one, because people with problems need more than to exercise/exorcise their violent impulses.

“Working Through”

This brings me back to the second part of this thought, which is whether or not Harris and Klebold were damaged by playing violent games, or nudged toward the brink. In my view, these were deeply troubled boys with dark issues of rage inside them. They were denied access to play games during the month leading up to the massacre, which presents evidence that their ventilation of violent impulses through video games had been working on some level, as if they were self-medicating. I personally do not get the impulse to shoot anyone after vicariously inhabiting the body of a psycho like Niko Bellic, and I believe the overwhelming majority of people who play violent video games share this sentiment. On the other hand, young people who have violent impulses will probably continue to be disproportionately attracted to violent video games, but perhaps this is a good thing, since the games will serve as an outlet for this aggression, rather than a primer for real world killing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Social

Lesson 3: The Social
C&I 675: Research Virtual Worlds
Dr. Constance Steinkuehler
Spencer Striker

Observe a major in-game city for one hour. Make an argument, using your own observations as data, for MMOs as social or nonsocial.

Analyzing World of Warcraft’s City Life via a Close Reading of “Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen Name): Online Games as “Third Places”” by Constance Steinkuehler and Dmitri Williams and of “Alone Together? Exploring the Social Dynamics of Massively Multiplayer Games” by Ducheneaut et al.

Wow as a Neutral Ground & the American Wanderlust

Americans have long had a love affair with the freedom of travel—and of coming and going as they please. The unique attributes of our boundless continental geography in combination with the expansionist history of the settling of the Americas, the early 20th century automobile manufacturing revolution, and the building of a national highway system has led to a deep cultural fascination and affinity for freedom of movement. Americans like to be able to just get in the car and drive. If they’re not happy with their current situation in life, Americans reserve the right to pack up everything and resettle in a distant place—not asking for anyone’s permission to leave. Neutral grounds, or third spaces, are those places that are defined by a lack of obligation; thereby allowing people to do whatever they damn well please—within reason. To extrapolate on this further: the popularity of World of Warcraft in the United States can partially be attributed to American wanderlust and predisposition toward entering and spending time in neutral spaces where they have no “boss,” nothing they’re “required to do.”

Of course, as a caveat, I have observed from both playing the game and from my readings that entering into a guild “contract” can in fact bring the second place of work into the virtual world, thereby creating time and labor obligations, but I suspect this type of obligation is far less popular than the default playing style, which is to retain one’s total freedom of movement and decision-making, etc. After all, if you have to work in real life—and we all have to work—then the pleasure of immersion in a virtual world for most people must be the total freedom of the world. That’s what is relaxing about. That’s what’s fulfilling about it. That’s what keeps people coming back: the fact that they can, like free Americans, come and go as they please.

The Great Levelers of History & the Natural State of Man

There have been many great levelers throughout human history, one of which was the railroad, another was the mass-produced automobile, the personal computer, and yes, now the Internet. I believe the natural state of man is egalitarian. This was our Neolithic default condition. We evolved through the millennia as poor and struggling together to survive—to have enough to eat, to provide shelter for our families, to survive the harsh winters. It was not until the rise of civilizations, relatively recently in human history, that our society became drastically stratified and hierarchical. As Michael Moore brazenly points out in Capitalism: A Love Story, the richest 10% of Americans maintain 90% of the nation’s wealth. This is unfair, and humans have a natural abhorrence toward injustice. World of Warcraft functions as a leveler in that no matter how rich or powerful or connected you might be in the real world, in the world of WoW you are born again and forced to remake your identity, achievements, value, etc.

But therein lies another obstacle to the return to Eden: humans instinctively recreate the inequities of our real world in this virtual space. By default, we decide to create a world with levels, a world where some are weak and some are strong, and everybody’s trying to get to the top. It must be that humans can have it no other way. As famously observed in the Matrix mythology, the architects had tried to create a perfect world for humans to reside in, but they broke out of it, growing bored and rebellious. Humans crave inequality, risk, differentiation, strive, struggle, quests, and the chance for glory.

On Playing Alone Together: Laughing at and With Others & the Sense of Social Presence:

Playing an MMORPG for the first time this week, one of my strongest impressions is that the key difference between an MMORPG like WoW vs. a console-based RPG is the fact that there are so many “live” players around you. This does give the world a social network feel, like a Facebook video game? Of course, this could never be the case, I think, because people don’t play the game to share details of their lives. The constant stream of written dialogue and updates, chaotic as it is—requiring a specific “literacy” as Gee would say, one that can only be gained through lots of time reading and observing in WoW—nevertheless serves a kind of entertainment purpose. The anything goes, playful culture of WoW is predicated on a kind of exhibitionism and clever one-upmanship. How can I amuse you while amusing myself? How can I be funnier and more clever than the last person?

Because avatars are detached from real identities people are able to engage in a form of liberated behavior unavailable in the real world. In other game contexts, this can take different forms. In Grand Theft Auto, humans give into repressed sociopathy, letting loose all their carnal, bloody instincts in a way that’s inwardly very satisfying, precisely because you could never do these things in the real world. Similarly, though in a less illicit, less ultraviolent fashion, WoW affords people the chance to throw off the restrictions of the world and the consequences of outrageous behavior. For it is true, most of us are deathly afraid of being embarrassed in public. We have nightmares about—such as the common nightmare of walking around naked. Society socializes us unconsciously, tames us, makes us good little boys and girls. Virtual worlds afford the opportunity to be absurd and be indifferently celebrated for it. The social experience is, for the most part, not a binding one, but a solo one—perhaps even a shallow one. But a shallow social experience, without consequence, that’s amusing, and liberated from worldly obligation, is I suspect, exactly what people are looking for.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


Lesson 5: Discourse
C&I 675: Researching Virtual Worlds
Dr. Constance Steinkuehler
Spencer Striker

Assignment Due: Collect an in-game chatlog and analyze it for (a) linguistic features and (b) big-D Discourse.

At 1:42am on July 15, 2010, I was adventuring on the Loch Modan map of World of Warcraft, collecting Tunnel Rat Ears from their cruel and unwilling owners, when Papanov shot me a piece of dialogue that I neither paid attention to at the time nor fully understand now. He said, “need help.” I had noticed that another player had entered the Tunnel Rat village where I was slaying the pesky devils, but I had only though to myself, “Good, perhaps this person will thin them out so I can kill them more easily.” Shortly thereafter Papanov asked me to ‘Join a Group,’ something I’d never done before—at least not with a perfect stranger while out in the wild. After a brief hesitation, I accepted. Now, I will analyze the hour and a half that I spent campaigning with Papanov—a conversation that oscillated between being something like the crisp communication of two soldiers on a mission together and the awkward, uneven exchange of two foreign travelers separated by age, language, and worlds of experience.

Analyzing my conversation with Papanov as a little d discourse, ie. the functional, commonplace aspects of language that people use to get things done.

“Need help.” This short, curt phrase—which I missed at the time—could either mean: he needed help or he was wondering if I needed help, and was willing to offer it. In general, Papanov utilized an ambiguous, interpretable lack of punctuation in all of his communications. This mode of writing reminds me of the poor email etiquette I experience often from my colleagues at work—emails that are short, curt, and lacking in the formalities of civility that people use when speaking in person. Stripped of these elements—niceties, punctuation, opening and closing salutations—these brief digital messages can appear cold, even hostile. Of course, this is rarely the intention of the sender. The person sending the message is simply busy mass processing so many of these micro-communications that to add such embellishments seems like an unnecessary extra effort. This becomes the norm, and everyone follows suit. But the problem is that without the affectations of politeness, reading email can become a cold, stark, utilitarian endeavor. The personality goes out of it. Of course, Papanov’s bare writing style contains elements of this so-called ‘poor email etiquette,’ but also many elements of Millennial Generation speak.

Upon completion of the tedious, grinding task of collecting twelve Tunnel Rat ears, in an attempt to seem friendly and enthusiastic, I added an exclamation point, “Just got my 12th ear!”

“And,” he responded.

Again, the dryness was interpretable. Did he mean, genuinely, “what’s the significance, my friend? Please explain.” Or did he mean, “so what, n00b, do you have a point to your amateurish, overly enthusiastic blustering?” Rather than enquire, I decided to test whether Papanov was truly committed to our newly formed friendship by declaring, “off to filthy paws if you want to come.” I decided to stop using punctuation as well—being an experienced texter, I was able to make this ‘code shift’ swiftly. As I ran off, he followed close behind. Then he said, “nice bear.” Once again, I couldn’t tell if he was being facetious, making fun of my Level 12 Elder Black Bear pet—of which I have grown irrationally fond, coming to see him as an old trusted (digital) friend—or whether he legitimately was admiring my big, furry, ferocious sidekick, something he could never have due to his race and class.

“Click number lock.” I had no idea what he meant and it seemed irrelevant to my obsessive leveling. “Click number lock? Wha?” I responded. At once I intended to a. tactfully not ignore his advice and b. via the use of the slang, Wha, demonstrate that I was ‘hip, with it, down with the lingo.’ “its makes u run non stop just click.” “I see, but where’s the miners gear?” I asked. Again, I tried to demonstrate that I was listening to his advice appreciatively, despite my preoccupation with leveling. Though I said, “I see,” I still had no idea what he was talking about, and didn’t really care either. Later, of course, when I finally processed what he meant, I realized he was observing how I was struggling to move fast and he was offering valuable advice on how to move faster with more consistency. Throughout our exchange, Papanov was eager to impart advice to me—more so, I believe, because I both communicated that I could use it and was open to receiving it.

Analyzing my conversation with Papanov as a Big D discourse, ie. the ways of thinking and being in the world.

Almost from the first moment I began interacting with Papanov, I got the sense that he was very young—a boy between the ages of ten to thirteen. “Want 1 gold,” he said, all of a sudden. This was a question, though there was no question mark. By now, I knew what he meant. And I accepted the money without question too, instinctively recognizing this to be a rare expression of generosity, a unique opportunity—perhaps my reward for being a faithful friend. “Thanks.” “No prob,” he responded. Then a little later, “my bros gana b pist.” Aha, I thought: he’s a kid who’s hijacked his older brother’s WoW account. Throughout our Discourse, I learned many meta-level things about him and he learned much about me—though probably not that I was secretly recording our conversation for analysis for a university course on Virtual Worlds.

I acted like a newbie multiple times during our time campaigning together, but perhaps none more grievously obvious then when I tried to lead the two of us to collect the head of Chok’Sul, an elite level monster on the outskirts of the map. “Let’s get out of here and go get the head.” I led us across the long bridge. “No hes levl 2o,” Papanov warned. “hes lvl 20.” He repeated, as I ignored him and pushed into Chok’Sul territory. “Don’t swim,” he said cryptically. Then, “stop.” I led us straight into a gang of overpowering, aggressive Dark Iron Insurgents who quickly killed us both, and our little pets too. I tried a few more times to doggedly push ahead in the face of overwhelming bloody setbacks before leading us to retreat to the bridge.

I learned the hard way—through experience—what Papanov had tried to impart to me through warnings: that we weren’t ready for that quest yet. Of course, despite the fact that I made a ‘faux pas,’—a newbish social blunder—Papanov did not seem to really care or hold it against me. My interpretation is that he preferred playing socially and found my amateurish mistakes more charming and interesting than it would have been to simply go adventuring on his own. The fact that he had so much gold—and that he was probably playing his brother’s avatar—causes me to think that his brother has long since taken other avatars to elite levels in the game, and that this younger brother, who’s not terribly committed to the leveling up of his brother’s level thirteen character, is in fact far more interested in the social interactions possible in a late night round of gaming. Who will he meet? What kind of interesting experiences might he have? Realizing I had little to teach him, he took on the role of mentor—albeit sometimes cranky instructor—teaching me how to run, trade, take free gold, back off when not ready, duel, and even dance. I became his apprentice, as he sought to move me “from the periphery to the center.”

The Following Transcript Occurred on 7/15 between 1:42am-3:19am; a d/Discourse Between my avatar, Zzblackstone, and Papanov in World of Warcraft.

(Certain non-communication text has been edited out to make it easier to follow our conversation).

7/15 01:42:57.486 Papanov says: need help

7/15 01:55:01.062 Papanov has invited you to join a group.

7/15 01:55:57.628 Zzblackstone says: Just got my 12th ear!

7/15 01:56:14.614 Papanov says: and

7/15 01:56:40.492 Zzblackstone says: off to filthy paws if you want to come

7/15 01:59:17.001 Papanov says: nice bear

7/15 02:01:17.206 Papanov says: click number lock

7/15 02:01:22.353 Your share of the loot is 8 Copper.

7/15 02:01:26.781 Papanov receives loot: Worn Leather Vest.

7/15 02:01:45.890 Zzblackstone says: click number lock? wha?

7/15 02:04:34.412 Papanov says: its makes u run non stop just click

7/15 02:05:10.852 Zzblackstone says: i see, but where's the miners gear?

7/15 02:05:27.485 Papanov says: ?

7/15 02:05:34.851 Zzblackstone says: guessing its in here

7/15 02:09:02.936 Zzblackstone says: Let's get out of here and go get the head

7/15 02:09:35.826 Elder Black Bear dies, you gain 54 experience.

7/15 02:09:41.001 Papanov says: no hes levl 2o

7/15 02:09:41.438 You receive loot: Chipped Bear Tooth.

7/15 02:09:41.838 You receive loot: Bear Meat.

7/15 02:10:04.721 Papanov says: hes lvl 20

7/15 02:14:40.532 Papanov says: dont swim

7/15 02:16:04.785 Zzblackstone says: do you need to swim for this

7/15 02:16:23.195 Papanov says: i hav 9 gold 81 silv 68 copper

7/15 02:16:40.119 Papanov says: im ritch!

7/15 02:16:48.686 Zzblackstone says: awesome

7/15 02:17:17.085 Papanov says: stop

7/15 02:24:24.516 Papanov says: trade

7/15 02:24:50.395 Zzblackstone says: what do you want that I have, never traded before

7/15 02:24:56.783 Papanov says: dude trade

7/15 02:25:40.628 Papanov says: right click on my picture

7/15 02:25:47.858 You receive item: Battered Mallet.

7/15 02:25:47.860 You receive item: Light Leatherx5.

7/15 02:26:20.564 Zzblackstone says: k

7/15 02:26:54.532 Papanov says: how is it

7/15 02:27:16.329 Zzblackstone says: can we swim over ther

7/15 02:27:22.911 Zzblackstone says: e

7/15 02:27:36.544 With arms flapping, Papanov struts around. Cluck, Cluck, Chicken!

7/15 02:27:52.600 Papanov falls asleep. Zzzzzzz.

7/15 02:28:09.103 Papanov bursts into dance.

7/15 02:28:18.541 Zzblackstone says: Can we take a boat?

7/15 02:28:29.543 Papanov says: idk

7/15 02:29:16.699 Papanov creates: Soul Shard.

7/15 02:29:22.673 Papanov creates: Soul Shard.

7/15 02:29:24.042 Stonesplinter Seer attempts to run away in fear!

7/15 02:29:26.057 Stonesplinter Seer dies, you gain 57 experience.

7/15 02:29:31.313 Your share of the loot is 8 Copper.

7/15 02:30:20.994 Papanov says: thanks

7/15 02:33:05.432 Papanov says: want 1 gold

7/15 02:33:38.523 Zzblackstone says: thanks

7/15 02:33:58.075 Papanov says: no prob

7/15 02:37:10.505 Papanov says: my bros gana b pist

7/15 02:42:10.567 Papanov says: watch me

7/15 02:42:16.932 Papanov sets

7/15 02:42:21.843 Papanov sets

7/15 02:42:26.472 Papanov sets

7/15 02:42:26.657 You have selected Need for: Simple Branch of Shadow Wrath

7/15 02:42:30.952 Papanov sets

7/15 02:42:44.638 Papanov has selected Need for: Simple Branch of Shadow Wrath

7/15 02:42:44.639 Need Roll - 91 for Simple Branch of Shadow Wrath by Papanov

7/15 02:42:44.640 Need Roll - 90 for Simple Branch of Shadow Wrath by Zzblackstone

7/15 02:42:44.641 Papanov won: Simple Branch of Shadow Wrath

7/15 02:42:45.001 Papanov receives loot: Simple Branch of Shadow Wrath.

7/15 02:43:17.218 Papanov says: wat u want wat mark

7/15 02:43:19.147 Stonesplinter Seer dies, you gain 57 experience.

7/15 02:43:29.625 Papanov sets

7/15 02:43:31.642 Your share of the loot is 2 Copper.

7/15 02:43:35.859 Papanov sets

7/15 02:43:43.443 Papanov sets

7/15 02:43:52.909 Stonesplinter Skullthumper attempts to run away in fear!

7/15 02:43:54.963 Stonesplinter Skullthumper dies, you gain 60 experience.

7/15 02:44:36.695 You receive item: Simple Branch of Shadow Wrath.

7/15 02:44:36.753 You receive item: Worn Leather Vest.

7/15 02:44:45.224 Your share of the loot is 10 Copper.

7/15 02:44:45.613 You receive loot: Linen Clothx3.

7/15 02:44:56.547 Papanov says: cant use it

7/15 02:45:00.069 You receive loot: Calico Tunic.

7/15 02:46:02.596 Papanov says: wat shape u want

7/15 02:49:20.606 Zzblackstone says: let's trade later when I can sell some stuff

7/15 02:49:25.970 Zzblackstone says: too full

7/15 02:49:34.940 Papanov says: k

7/15 02:49:50.559 Zzblackstone says: need to kill two more stonesplinter seers

7/15 02:50:21.964 Papanov creates: Soul Shard.

7/15 02:50:24.757 Papanov creates: Soul Shard.

7/15 02:51:02.223 Papanov says: all i can use is wrist bands pants and boots cloth onley

7/15 02:52:15.686 Zzblackstone says: one more seer

7/15 02:52:52.625 Stonesplinter Seer says: Destroy!

7/15 02:52:59.540 Papanov says: wat shape u want above ur head

7/15 02:53:53.071 Papanov says: ready

7/15 02:53:58.514 Zzblackstone says: awesome, let's get out of here

7/15 02:54:59.977 Papanov sets

7/15 02:56:20.517 Papanov says: that better no mark aboveur head

7/15 02:57:38.930 Papanov says: wait

7/15 02:59:22.630 You gain 1050 experience.

7/15 02:59:22.631 In Defense of the King's Lands completed.

7/15 02:59:22.631 Experience gained: 1050.

7/15 02:59:22.631 Received 7 Silver.

7/15 02:59:22.633 Received 3 of item: Lesser Healing Potion.

7/15 02:59:22.634 Reputation with Ironforge increased by 250.

7/15 02:59:22.942 You receive item: Lesser Healing Potionx3.

7/15 03:00:16.187 Quest accepted: In Defense of the King's Lands

7/15 03:01:05.144 Papanov says: in need 2 finish quests 2

7/15 03:01:10.665 Changed Channel: |Hchannel:-1073752334|h[(null)]|h

7/15 03:01:10.665 Changed Channel: |Hchannel:-1073752334|h[(null)]|h

7/15 03:01:14.574 Changed Channel: |Hchannel:-1073752334|h[(null)]|h

7/15 03:01:14.575 Changed Channel: |Hchannel:-1073752334|h[(null)]|h

7/15 03:01:50.003 Zzblackstone says: cool, I think I'm gonna crash buddy, but it's been great playing with ya

7/15 03:01:54.046 Elder Black Bear dies, you gain 54 experience.

7/15 03:02:06.270 Papanov says: k

7/15 03:02:27.719 Duel starting: 3

7/15 03:02:28.738 Duel starting: 2

7/15 03:02:29.762 Duel starting: 1

7/15 03:03:12.363 Papanov has defeated Zzblackstone in a duel

7/15 03:03:12.365 %s has earned the achievement Duel-icious!

7/15 03:03:24.729 Papanov says: nice job

7/15 03:03:36.398 Papanov says: now u win

7/15 03:03:42.517 Duel starting: 3

7/15 03:03:43.537 Duel starting: 2

7/15 03:03:44.553 Duel starting: 1

7/15 03:03:58.418 %s has earned the achievement Duel-icious!

7/15 03:03:58.418 Zzblackstone has defeated Papanov in a duel

7/15 03:04:11.940 Zzblackstone says: Fun, thanks

7/15 03:04:14.215 Papanov says: achevment

7/15 03:04:19.925 Zzblackstone says: yeah

7/15 03:04:25.958 Zzblackstone says: good stuff

7/15 03:04:49.400 Papanov says: ya stayin

7/15 03:04:56.910 Elder Black Bear dies, you gain 54 experience.

7/15 03:05:20.974 Zzblackstone says: trying to hit 13, v close

7/15 03:05:42.207 Papanov says: num lock

7/15 03:05:43.649 Zzblackstone says: gonna buy stuff and grind to 13 in town

7/15 03:06:21.723 Zzblackstone says: good tip

7/15 03:07:37.685 Papanov says: right click on my pic and claick fallow then no hands

7/15 03:07:46.128 Elder Black Bear dies, you gain 54 experience.

7/15 03:08:13.860 Papanov says: u do it

7/15 03:08:33.270 Zzblackstone says: cool

7/15 03:08:53.766 Papanov says: look ma no hands

7/15 03:09:02.141 Mangy Mountain Boar dies, you gain 60 experience.

7/15 03:09:26.569 Elder Black Bear dies, you gain 54 experience.

7/15 03:09:50.608 Papanov says: cood i tipe this wile following u manuley

7/15 03:09:57.536 Grizzled Black Bear dies, you gain 57 experience.

7/15 03:10:05.658 Discovered Grizzlepaw Ridge: 90 experience gained

7/15 03:10:21.678 Mangy Mountain Boar dies, you gain 60 experience.

7/15 03:10:27.125 Papanov says: wat the

7/15 03:10:52.203 Grizzled Black Bear dies, you gain 57 experience.

7/15 03:11:18.746 Grizzled Black Bear dies, you gain 60 experience.

7/15 03:11:20.506 Papanov says: how close r u now

7/15 03:11:42.072 Papanov receives loot: Chipped Bear Tooth.

7/15 03:11:42.464 Papanov receives loot: Bear Meat.

7/15 03:12:11.390 Elder Black Bear dies, you gain 48 experience.

7/15 03:12:41.124 Forest Lurker dies, you gain 41 experience.

7/15 03:13:26.843 Papanov whispers: jkrykfkjytkuyttttytuutyiui

7/15 03:13:41.428 Papanov sets

7/15 03:13:48.834 Papanov sets

7/15 03:13:57.588 Papanov sets

7/15 03:14:10.334 Mountain Boar dies, you gain 41 experience.

7/15 03:14:29.643 Mountain Boar dies, you gain 48 experience.

7/15 03:14:43.696 Mountain Boar dies, you gain 48 experience.

7/15 03:14:52.797 Papanov whispers: nice

7/15 03:14:55.701 Zzblackstone says: I got 13

7/15 03:15:10.652 Zzblackstone says: Nice playing w ya, let's do it again sometime

7/15 03:15:23.835 Papanov says: this

7/15 03:15:35.606 Papanov says: wait

7/15 03:15:50.805 Papanov says: meat u in the town later

7/15 03:16:09.667 Zzblackstone says: sho nuff, good night bud!

7/15 03:16:11.221 Papanov says: pres dance

7/15 03:16:31.810 Zzblackstone says: where

7/15 03:16:33.847 Papanov bursts into dance.

7/15 03:17:08.213 Papanov says: the main town behind me

7/15 03:17:20.264 Zzblackstone says: where's dance button

7/15 03:17:57.698 Zzblackstone says: later!

7/15 03:18:04.973 Papanov says: no tipe dnace but befor that hit the slash buttin

7/15 03:18:14.210 Papanov says: dance

7/15 03:18:35.565 You burst into dance.

7/15 03:18:36.833 Papanov dances with Bear.

7/15 03:18:51.893 Papanov says: nice moves

7/15 03:19:00.389 FRIEND_OFFLINE

7/15 03:19:06.584 Papanov says: wait

7/15 03:19:10.903 Zzblackstone says: thanks

7/15 03:19:13.013 FRIEND_ONLINE

7/15 03:19:34.660 With arms flapping, Papanov struts around Bear. Cluck, Cluck, Chicken!

7/15 03:19:46.020 Papanov dances with Bear.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Framing Games & Learning

Lesson 2: Framing Games & Learning
C&I 675: Researching Virtual Worlds
Dr. Constance Steinkuehler
Spencer Striker
Assignment Due: Analyze the first ten levels of World of Warcraft based on Gee’s 36 principles. How is the game built for learning?

Analyzing World of Warcraft’s Notion of Framing Games & Learning via a Close Reading of James Paul Gee’s “What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy.”

So, I’m finally starting to ‘flow’ with my Dwarf Hunter, ZZ Blackstone—I mean flow in the sense of Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, or better yet, Jenova Chen. I’ve overcome the initial inertia of learning a new game system, a new control layout, a new gestalt—a new mise en scene. And yes, as Gee suggests, I’m becoming increasingly addicted to the gameplay, continuously seeking one more quest—one more level up—before I can find a good place to pause. This kind of perfect balance in the unfolding gameplay action reveals expert game design on the part of Blizzard. Their design team has executed a masterfully incremental learning by leveling up/leveling up by learning system, that’s always just hard enough to be challenging, but fulfilling and rewarding at the same time.

Since I only have a few pages to work with here, I’m going to select some of James Paul Gee’s key Video Game Learning Principles and apply them analytically to my specific experience playing World of Warcraft’s first ten levels.

2. The Design Principle. As Raph Koster once said in a GZ interview, “all games are systemic,” meaning they play out according to hard and fast rules. These gameplay dynamics and conventions can become well understood, predictable, and eventually mastered by students of the game, as happens when Halo players exploit glitches either to gain an advantage or to amuse themselves. In the process of unmasking the game’s design architecture, players begin to appreciate the artifice of game design and its principles. The corollary here might be an appreciation for the illusory craft of filmmaking. As a viewer, once one has begun to analyze and think critically about special effects and the trompe d'oeils that one is experiencing, a person may begin to enjoy films even more, since one is now able to appreciate this multimedia art form from a more rewarding, multi-faceted vantage point.

6. “Psychosocial Moratorium” Principle: My experience with WoW’s first ten levels has been similar to nearly every video game experience I’ve ever known in that failure is engineered into the game’s core design—it is expected to occur early and often. In WoW, I find it both original and uniquely morbid that you reawaken from death in a graveyard as a ghost and that you have to go reclaim your corpse. This strikes me as an idiosyncratic design convention that seems to have stuck. As experienced gamers might both hope for and expect: there’s no punishment for dying, other than the annoyance factor and the lost time. Other games, such as GTA, punish the player for dying by taking away money and weapons—a kind of tax for foolhardiness. As Ben Mattes points out in a GZ interview, modern games such as the new Prince of Persia utilize gaming conventions, exemplified by the reconsidered role of Elika, to prevent the act of death altogether. The goal is to prevent the game’s ‘flow’ from breaking.

Historically, games can wind up falling into a pattern like this: wind up, try it, fail, resurrect; wind up try it, fail, resurrect; wind up, try it, succeed, etc., on and on. Therefore, developers such as Ben Mattes have sought design methods to maintain continuous ‘flow’ and immersion. Therefore, Elika always saves the Prince of Persia when he falls, returning him to the moment just before he put himself in danger. This way the gameplay remains continuous. The trouble is that without any consequence for failure whatsoever players don’t feel properly challenged—the stakes aren’t high enough—and so they lose interest in the game.

The tone has to be just right.

The 12. Practice Principle is at work here, whereby the learner/gamer gets lots of more or less non-boring practice. This type of grinding performs a balancing act between being necessary in the early levels as a design tool intended to teach players the basics while providing players with a fun, rewarding experience.

Getting this right is invariably a challenge for both the designer and the gamer. The player can’t enjoy the game’s later levels without a firm grounding in the game’s systemic principles, but if the training is excessively tedious, the gamer will burnout, resent the game’s dull limitations, and rage against the designer’s lack of empathy, nuance, and controlled mastery. Harmonious design is essential for the 13. Ongoing Learning Principle and 14. “Regime of Competence” Principle to work, whereby the gamer is always testing the edge of his or her skill level, always having to build upon the skills learned earlier, unravel a previous understanding, and add a layer of complexity to it. This is where I think Gee really nails it. He’s absolutely right that game designers are excellent teachers—they utilize not only their own endless personal testing to find this sweet spot, but they also employ testers to play the levels endlessly until the level designs are functioning perfectly.

Learning a foreign language reminds me of playing video games in the sense that when you first look at a new language lesson, it could not appear more obtuse, random, and incomprehensible. It simply hurts your head to look at symbols and grammatical exercises for which you have no context, no clear means of deciphering their significance. But upon approaching the problem in increments, you decode this word, now that. And soon thereafter, the entire lesson makes perfect sense, and you can’t remember what it was like not to know what to do. You can no longer look at the lesson with that same lack of understanding—the memory of incomprehension becomes difficult to recall. Well-designed games achieve this via teaching/learning principles, to a point where after you’ve achieved Level 10 on WoW you can no longer remember what it was like to awkwardly move your character around the initial spawning area, trying to figure out how/why to click on a Quest Giver.

25. The Concentrated Sample Principle sustains as an ingrained training method in the early stages of video games, including WoW. Players must perform many types of fundamental tasks that are secretly training them, similar to the way Mr. Miyagi trains Daniel-son in the Karate Kid by making him paint fences and clean pools, only instead of Miyagi’s emphasis on monotonous work tasks, game designers attempt to integrate elements of enjoyable quests into core skill building. Importantly, modern designers avoid instruction manuals, attempting to integrate the instructions into the early stages of the game—something you experience both in WoW and in nearly every console game these days. Requiring a player to stop and learn the gameplay mechanics kills immersion and ‘flow’ and is therefore unacceptable. As defined by the 28. Discovery Principle, the game should unfold like an appealing, pleasure inducing narrative, totally immersing the player, creating invisible walls, and presenting the illusion that the player is experiencing an organic story world that emerges as they discover it.