Saturday, March 12, 2011

Reading list

I've been doing quite a bit of reading about virtual worlds over the last few months. The focus has mainly been on SL and WoW, but some general/theoretical stuff crept into the mix. For now, it's just a list of names; I will come back and annotate them later.

Here's the list, in the order that I read them (or will read them, for those yet unread).

Tom Boellstorff, Coming of age in Second Life

Edward Castronova, Synthetic worlds: The business and culture of online games

-- , Exodus to the virtual world: How online fun is changing reality

Janet H. Murray, Hamlet on the holodeck: The future of narrative in cyberspace

Zach Waggoner, My avatar, my self: Identity in video roleplaying games

Bonnie Nardi, My life as a night elf priest: An anthropological account of World of Warcraft

Ken Hillis, Online a lot of the time: Ritual, fetish, sign

T.L. Taylor, Play between worlds: Exploring online game culture

Celia Pearce and Artemesia, Communities of play: Emergent cultures in multiplayer games and virtual worlds

William Sims Bainbridge, The Warcraft civilization: Social science in a virtual world

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Reconsidering WoW

Being a cheap and lazy way to create another post in the series on World of Warcraft.

Aggers: So how have you been lately?
Wol: Busy as hell. I realized yesterday that I hadn't looked at facebook in a week
Aggers: Ok in yourself?
Wol: Middling
Aggers nods.
Wol: Tired, on a deep-down level. Not body, soul tired
Aggers: I understand
Wol: It seems everyone wants something from me, and I'm late with them all
Aggers: Nothing new
Wol: And all that I do goes wrong
Aggers: Ha, you too?
Wol: I'm making so many mistakes, forgetting so many things
Aggers: I always do, I put it down to age
Wol: Well, I didn't, and it worries me.
Aggers nods
Wol: Some of this is from being absorbed in WoW (confession time)
Aggers: Oh
Wol: I play nearly every night, at least 12 out of 14, after leaving SL. It's addictive
Aggers: 12 out of 14 what?
Wol: Nights, sorry
Aggers: Right. Thought you meant hours!
Wol: "Just one more quest" --- ha! No, that would be too extreme. I haven't yet missed work because of it
Aggers: Truly
Wol: But it is cutting into my sleep time and my everything-else time too
Aggers: No wonder you're tired
Wol: Yeah. That's the truth of it. I'm having something of a break this weekend, reading instead.
Aggers: Good idea
Wol: She said as she danced in SL.
Aggers: Do something different, break the monotony
Wol: The addictiveness of WoW is in the figuring-it-out challenge. It's a black box covered in un-labelled buttons and you have to work out what they all do. It's totally engrossing
Aggers: What is?
Wol: WoW
Aggers: Oh. Thought you meant your Mac :p
Wol: heheh. And there is actually social life there, I was wrong in that post about WoW, but it's all in guilds. Your guild is your tribe, your friends; them you chat with. Everyone else is a stranger to be ignored
Aggers: I see
Wol: But mostly just hello and congratulations (as one moves up the levels and completes quests)
Aggers: The team ethic
Wol: Yeah. Every time you do something right, it's announced to your guild
Aggers: And if you do something wrong?
Wol: If you do something wrong, you die :) but that is mercifully silent
Aggers: Ah. Well, at least you don't get called a prat
Wol: Ah, wait for it :)
Aggers: Uh oh
Wol: *Unless* you die while fighting as part of a group, because the odds are that your death will weaken the group and get them killed too. There is much prat-calling in that case. And worse, much worse.
Aggers: They revive you and take the piss?
Wol: The social ethic of WoW is "12-yr-old-boys in a tree fort". That gets kinda tiring
Aggers: Hm, not me for sure
Wol: Well, not all and not all the time. I'm in a good guild, there is little insulting done there. The tone is calm and friendly
Aggers: What is a guild exactly?
Wol: A guild is a formal group of people who join together for socializing or for organized fights. We have a permanent chat channel that only we can hear, in addition to the public channels and direct IM
Aggers: Ah, sorta like a clan in Final Fantasy
Wol: Yeah, I guess so. There are levels and hierarchies and points within the guild structure. You advance in the guild by doing good things, and as you do so your guild itself advances in the rankings of other guilds, bringing advantages in combat or in banking
Aggers: I see. And is there an end product?
Wol: Not really, no. The game changes direction as you progress in it. At the beginning it's you against the game, mostly fighting alone against single monsters
Aggers: Sounds like a typical MMORPG
Wol: Well, it is a MMORPG :)
Aggers: That's why then
Wol: But there are changes. At level 15 (of 85) you can take part in player-against-player combat in "battlegrounds": timed combat exercises, alliance against horde, with objectives to be met. Like "first to control all 3 bases", or whichever side has the most flags planted at the end of 10 minutes
Aggers nods
Wol: At level 70 there is another kind of combat available where you fight in groups against enormously strong bosses
Aggers: Vehicles?
Wol: Most races only ride animals, but dwarves and gnomes can make vehicles. Steampunk, very clunky
Aggers: Ah, not modern weaponry then?
Wol: Oh no. Mostly hand-to-hand combat with swords or axes or maces, except for the wielders of magic
Aggers: Was confusing it with... another one whose name escapes me
Wol: No, this is mystical/mediaeval/olde worlde stuff
Aggers: So it's like Neverwinter Nights sorta thing?
Wol: Possibly :)
Aggers: Mm, sounds like it
Wol: Yes, looks very much like that (google images)
Aggers: Use the Force Luke
Wol: Reminds me of something else: the camera position is fixed on you. You can't cam out and look around corners to see where the monster is hiding, which is sensible, but you also cannot change the camera position to get a decent screenshot of yourself. If you get close enough to see facial detail then you can no longer see your legs
Aggers: Oh that must be a pain
Wol: Yes!
Aggers: No snapshots then?
Wol: Yes but with this restriction. Your neck is always the centre of the image, however you rotate or zoom it
Aggers: Bugger. Definitely not as good as SL then
Wol: Different, very different. In some ways superior, actually. The graphical quality of the environment in WoW is great, because it's all made by experts.
Aggers: Unlike the Lindens :)
Wol: No, unlike *us* :) That's the point. SL is all homebrew, made mostly by untrained amateurs. This house of mine is pathetic, really, as a piece of virtual world archtecture
Aggers: I like it
Wol: It's nice because it's mine
Aggers: Right
Wol: But it is crap compared to the works of AM Radio
Aggers: Not right
Wol: All of WoW is made by people like AM Radio, whereas most of SL is made by people like me
Aggers: Well so it should, they get paid for it. You don't
Wol: Mind you the avs are inferior visually. Their appearances really suck if you're used to the avs in SL. And the body shapes are pitiful. You cannot change your shape at all, except by being male/female or a different race. Every male human has the same body, as does every female human
Aggers: Right. Boring
Wol: The faces are different (there are say 12 types) and there are maybe 10 hairstyles in maybe 10 colours each, but it's all the same body.
Aggers: No personality
Wol: mmhmm. And the players see it that way too. They talk about their "cartoons" not their avatars, certainly not about "themselves". When I talk about what my av is doing, I say "me". They say "he" or even "it"
Aggers: Of course :)
Wol: Not of course, aggs, that's the point :) We do that because we are in SL. They use their avs as tools, they do not *inhabit* them (by and large, I'm sure there are exceptions)
Aggers: And to me that's why SL is far better
Wol: Right, agreed :) but it is better in this particular sense
Aggers: Hm
Wol: I read a book called "My life as a night elf priest", about WoW, which Tom Boellstorff recommended. Very good, well writtten, instructive, thoughtful
Aggers: Not THE Tom Boellstorff?
Wol: Yep
Aggers: Who's he?
Wol thwaps you
Wol: One of the first and foremost theoreticians of SL. A sociologist, wrote "Coming of age in SL"
Aggers: I apologise profusely
Wol: Which is the go-to book if you want to start thinking formally about the meaning and nature of living in virtual worlds
Wol smiles and kisses your cheek
Aggers tingles

Wol: Anyway, Bonnie sees it the other way, since she started in WoW and then went to SL later on
Aggers: Bonnie?
Wol: Bonnie Nardi, the author of that book. She was disappointed by the crudity of the visual environment here
Aggers: Ah
Wol: The other thing about WoW, thinking further, is that there is no lag because it's all on your hard disk already.
Aggers: Well that helps
Wol: Playing WoW starts with a > 6Gb download :) Even if you bought the cd! But after that the network traffic is really minimal because there is no user-generated content
Aggers: Thats a plus
Wol: You need to get well over a hundred avs together in the same city before you see any slight deterioration in performance
Aggers: So you kill the orc before he kills you
Wol: Right, and you see him in full textured colour, not as a grey mass
Aggers: Well the orcs i know i wouldn't want to see at all