We interupt these services… Monday, Oct 5 2009 

I’ve been pretty happy with the growth of this blog. As vanity projects go, it’s been fun. And while we’re not talking thousands of visitors each day, I’m proud of the growth this blog has experienced.

While I make no claim to being anything but an “enthusiastic amateur”, I hope some of my thoughts have been interesting to those concerned with all things MMO.

I’ll be taking a AFK break for the next week with Real Life projects. Thanks for stopping by and reading.

Cheers,
Augustine

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What life lessons MMOs can teach us Friday, Sep 11 2009 

"No, no, no. Always stack strength for ret palladins. Just read Elitist Jerks my dear Aristotle!"

"No, no, no. Always stack strength for ret palladins. Just read Elitist Jerks my dear Aristotle!"

A recent post by one of my favourite bloggers – Tobold –  asked the question “what does playing MMOs teach you”. I liked his post, and was inpsired to expanded on it a little. MMOs are complex games requiring a high degree of social and technical skills. Playing them does teach individuals something: but what?

Broadly speaking, the skills we learn fall into three categories: technical skills, social skills and personal skills.

Technical Skills

By technical skills I mean specific skills or abilities.

  • The value of learning – MMOs are complex entities, and it’s impossible to know everything about them. You could spend a lifetime in WoW, EVE or EQ and still not learn everything. Fortunately there are many, many others who write guides for these games: how to gear up, how to raid, how to spec your character. In the end it teaches the people that researching, reading and learning are valuable skills. I work as an information professional, it’s been my job to research companies and industries for clients. What amazes me is just how sophisticated the level of research skills the average MMO player has. All these helps players learn: they can see the tangible results of their handwork.
  • The value of planning – Want to run raid? You need to learn how to plan well in advance. What night, what time, who to bring, make sure everyone is geared, the food buffs are there… then there is co-ordinating the group itself. Success depends on planning.

Social Skills

So what social skills can MMOs teach you?

  • The value of good communication – more often than not conversation in MMOs is limited to typing in general or guild chat. Ideally you can also use voice systems such as Ventrillo. What you say needs to be concise and to the point, while also striving to be polite. Because of their inherently social nature, can’t get to far in a MMO by being a complete jerk *all of the time*. It’s why some people have poor reputations across a server. Being a good guild leader or officer is about communicating with the guild, ensuring they feel the guild management is responsive and listens to their concerns.
  • The value of good teamwork – knowing your how to play your class and your own particular strengths and weaknesses is an invaluable skill. If you’re a raider in WoW or a someone who loves to run Warbands in WAR you understand intuitively that your game is enhanced by knowing how to play your class and understanding the role of others. It’s summed up by the old adage:

“If the tank dies it’s the healers fault.
If the healer dies it’s the tanks fault.
If the DPS dies, it’s their own damn fault!”

It means you need to understand how your class fits into a group. As a Retribution paladin I have two jobs: bring DPS to the encounter and don’t die. I bring DPS by ensuring I am geared properly and have the right food/potion buffs. I live by staying in range of the healers spell casting, by not taking aggro off the tank and knowing what mob abilities I’m vulnerable too.

Personal skills

Believe it or not, MMOs can teach you a few valuable life lessons.

  • The value of acting responsibly – MMOs teach you how to balance your passions with your real life commitments. Seriously. Many players are often married, have jobs and kids or at school. They’re time poor, but love playing games such as WoW, WAR and LoTRO. But these games are serious time sinks. So they learn the skills of balancing real world commitments with their gaming passion. It means negotiating with loved ones and knowing when to not play. Spending all your time in an MMO means your job and relationships suffer. On the other hand, if your a guild officer, raid leader etc. then you also have responsibilities to other players. I have a wife, kid, busy job and raid on WoW. I’m also a guild officer. I have to negotiate with everyone: with my family to ensure I spend time with them. I also have to let my guild know how much time I can dedicate to raiding and guild management. Happy players are those that can balance RL and MMO time.
  • The value of respect – respecting your guild mates, treating them as equals, will get you far. They will be prepared to help you run instances, talk to you and may even become your friends. The same goes with other players – the more you treat people with the respect, the more likely you’ll be invited back to run an instance with their guild. Ninja looters, whingers and people who verbally disrespect others also don’t get far in MMOs.
  • Managing dissapointment and the value of persistence – you’ve run that same dungeon fifty times, and the loot you want never drops. Every other member seems to get it but you. Do you QQ and make snide remarks, or swallow your dissapointment and move on? A raid team spends weeks wiping on the same bosses. It’s frustrating, but they keep trying. They’ll experiment with new strategies, research the boss fights, talk to guild mates. They swear they will get there! Long term players of MMOs have learn’t they can’t always get what they want, while persistence can pay off. Just like life.

And WHO said spending two hours in Karazhan or Naxxramas night after night was a waste of your time? Think of all the valuable life lessons MMOs have taught you 🙂

The moral of the story: what MMOs reveal about ourselves Tuesday, Aug 18 2009 

What is it that you have learnt about yourself and others while gaming?
  • Do you consider yourself a team player or a leader?
  • Are you excited by the challenge of leading a 25 man raid or does such pressure terrify you?
  • Have you ever been kicked from a guild for “disruptive behaviour”?
  • Is your friends list brimming with contacts you regularly chat with?
  • Perhaps you prefer to solo content, only talking to other players if absolutely necessary?
  • Do you like to attack the “noobs” asking “dumb” questions in the general/trade chat questions?

What do these behaviors  say about you and the individuals who present them? After several years of online gaming  I’ve developed a “pet theory” – our interactions online tells us a great deal about ourselves and human nature. In fact, we expose ourselves far more than we do in the real world. Virtual worlds make explicit our actions, choices and foibles.

Virtual worlds allow us to roam deep space, stride through the corridors of a dungeon or take flight upon the wings of a dragon. And yet our in-game avatars say more about us as individuals than we choose to belive.

The dangers of the online world: won’t someone think of the children!

There’s the old joke that on the internet no-one knows your a dog. It implies the internet is a dangerous, shady place full of people masking their true identities while, poised to unleash their evil plans unsuspecting intewebz noobs. Critics claim this technology threatens to dehumanise the individual while destroying those conventions that help society function.

Egads! What horrors wait beneath the false masks peeps wear on the interwebz!

Egads! What horrors wait beneath the false masks peeps wear on the interwebz!

In this dystopian nightmare the internet is a place of child porn, money scams, terrorists plotting the fall of civilisation and recipes for nuclear weapons. Even worse, people are never who they say they are. That person claiming to be a sixteen year old school girl is really a 200 kilogram, forty-three year old man. Moral panic is alive and well in debates about the nature and value of online worlds.

Suffice to say I don’t subscribe to those views.

Actually I believe the very opposite is true: individuals are more willing express themselves online than they do in face-to-face conversations.

Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs (such as this humble effort) or overflowing with people expressing their opinions and exposing their innermost thoughts. This technology is creating more connections, allowing indivisduals to express themselves in ways like never before.

The same is true of MMOs.

When we enter Azeroth or Middle Earth we never leave ourselves. The true self will always come forth. Being online means you can drop some of the artifice you need to maintain in the workplace, at home and among friends and peers.

My WoW raid team spends two nights a week together in two or three hour blocks. Doing this week after week gives you insight into individuals. How they play, what they say in Vent or ingame chat… it all adds up and gives you a much fuller picture of the individual than meeting them a couple times a week over coffee.

Fantasy Island Syndrome: or why you can’t escape yourself.

Errr, I didn't order that...

Errr, that's not what I ordered...

MMORPGs are often compared to all you can eat buffet’s: a bit of everything thrown in to match the various “tastes” of a broad based player base. PvE, PvP, crafting, quests, instanced dungeons and end game content. But that analogy rests upon game mechanics.

Actually, to me MMORPGs are more akin to that old 1970’s TV classic, Fantasy Island.

If you remember the series – and yes I’m old enough to have watched it as a child – it had a very simple premise. The island was a place where individuals could have their fantasies brought to live – for a price. It was overseen by the mysterious Mr. Roake and Tattoo (Ze plane! Ze plane!).

The series struck a cord with the general public, and has since  entered the halls of pop-culture history.

Why?

Because we understand how fantasy worlds release us from the constraints of the everyday, but paradoxically allowing us to expose ourselves in ways we can’t in real life (RL). Freed from the normal encumbrance of the everyday, the individual can live and act as they desire. The mask comes off.

Each story followed a simular story arc: despite the individual paying a small fortune to enter a world perfectly crafted to meet their personal whims, satisfaction was only temporary. Soon enough the issues that had plagued them came to the surface.

Call it “Fantasy Island Syndrome” (FIS).

MMOs are just that: Fantasy Islands. We enter them wanting them to be freed of everyday constraints, but more often than not find we can’t escape ourselves. In fact the very opposite happens: we are more likely to be confronted with truths about ourselves.

Four things MMOs have taught me

Watching players implode in raids, guild drama and friendships come to life and die in online worlds, I’ve long since come to the conclusion that the true self is much more display in game worlds than in real life. Fantasy Island Syndrome is alive and well.

So what has FIS taught me? There is very little difference between how both myself, and others, act both online and in RL. At a pinch I can list at least four things I’ve learn’t;

  • The true self will always show itself – In RL we try to put on a good front, especially with people and groups they’ve just been introduced too. Same with the online world. Joining a guild is like starting a new job. People have to learn how to navigate it’s culture, find out who the “power players” are and work out who they could potentially be friends and/or ally with. They’re conscious of the impression they will make in guild chat, Vent and on the guilds discussion forums . But as time passes, and they become more comfortable with individuals and the group you start to drop your guard and reveal more aspects of their true self.
  • I’m a Fox – No, I’m not a small red animal of the canine family. I’m a fox in the sense of the metaphor the philosopher Isaiah Berlin conceived: that of the Hedgehog and the Fox . Broadly speaking, Berlin classed the artists and thinkers into two categories: those who purported to know one very big thing (the Hedgehog) and those that knew many little things (the foxes). I know players who understand WoW, all the classes and the underlying mechanics of the game with such depth that I can never hope to match their knowledge. Ever. I prefer to play a multitude of games, classes and explore as much as I can. I like to know a little bit of everything about not only the game I’m playing, but other MMOs. This is true in RL where I pursue multiple interests.
  • The nature of friendship – some friendships are the product of convenience, others more lasting and genuine. The former are more common and transitory, the other rare and often long lasting. Friendships at both work and in-game can trail off once the thing you have in common no longer exists. Stop playing WoW with some people, and there is nothing else to talk about. Stop working at an organisation, and the friendship does not survive the lack of mutual interests. But occasionally, at work or in the metaverse you make genuine, lasting friendships based on respect and understanding.
  • Community creates meaning – there is the “bowling alone” theory still popular in some circles which states the the pace of technological change and the pressure of capitalist societies are atomising individuals, sundering the traditional links people have had to their broader communities (i.e. neighbours, church and community groups). This leaves the individual lonely, depressed and prone to unhappiness. Again I’d challenge that assertion, as for many individuals the guilds, collectives and even their “Facebook” friends are the new forms of community. Previously communities where one of convenience – that is to say geography dictated which church, volunteer organisation or club you joined. Schools and families shaped are choices. Today we choose the community we wish to belong too. Geography no longer determines your community. From my experience, I’ve been in my WoW guild for four years. I view it as a community. It has it’s own culture, personalties and even values. My guild is representative of a phenomena happing in MMOs around the world. What draws people together first and foremost is their love or interest in online gaming. From their communities evolve. Friends are made and lost, people fall in and out of love. Goals are set. New members are welcomed and embraced, others leave. Most importantly people draw meaning from being a member of their community. Knowing they make a difference to a group – even if it’s your regular raid team – give people a sense belonging.

I game , therefore I am ;P

Spelling? Meh Tuesday, Aug 4 2009 

Well dear readers, you will have notived that I’m not always the best speller. But what the hey. Comments and suggestions always welcome. But seriously, even after forty years the whole “where” vs “were” thing confuses the hell out of me 😉

As with everything else, my intentions are good.

Real Life v Metaverse: which do you prefer? Thursday, Jul 30 2009 

/afk with Real Life

I started this blog with the best of intentions, hoping to publish three to four pieces of content each week. Some of it short, trivial and fun (like the Postcards series) and others a bit more reflective on gaming in general.

However, RL (real life) has a way of intruding.

The wife caught one of those nasty flu viruses and the bub decided she didn’t want to sleep much. Work was also incredibly busy, with numerous budget and staff issues to attend too. The life of middle management is never dull. Well, it is dull. Just busy. It was I’d like to call WFH (week from hell). As far as metaverse activities where concerned, the best I could do was hold my Wednesday 9.30 Naxx raid spot.

So, now that the worst of the virus and sleep issues have passed, back to blogging.

Real Life v Metaverse: which do you prefer?

The whole last week made me think about the artificial split between “real life” and the metaverse gamers such as myself inhabit. MMO gamers are part human, part game accessory (transhuman as the more trendy part of sociology would have it) . We’re plugged into a virtual reality via a game client, which most of us customise via add-on programs to handle a data rich environment.

Compound this with the head sets we wear to participate in game chat (i.e. Vent) and we look like day traders or fighter pilots. We’re mean, lean metaverse fighting machines… and yet at the same time we live in the world of jobs, spouses, children and families.

Both can be demanding.

Committing to raiding is almost a life style choice. It requires an understanding of your class, boss fights and how to best work in a group. Research outside the game world can take hours per week. At the same time, I’m a father, husband and senior professional. These aren’t light personal commitments. How does one do justice to the other? What comes first?

Obviously RL does. It’s part of the tacit, unspoken code of all gamers. Raids can wait. The boss will respawn every week, and you can go back and kill him/her/them next week. My guild explicity states that RL always comes first.

However, during the WFH experience I experienced a moment that I’m sure any gamer/raider has felt:

“Gosh, I wish all I had to worry about was raiding. To hell with everything and everyone else!”

That fantasy of living in a small, remote shack with a kick arse web connection danced across my mind. I could grow my own vegetables, live a simple life and raid, write and blog.

“Perchance to dream…”

/sigh

But of course such fantasy life is not possible. But it did make me ask the question: “Where would I live? In the real world, or by magic I could live in Azeroth/Middle Earth/Earth Sea/Generic Fantasy World?”

Part of the attraction, which I may have already mentioned in passing, is the escapism that MMO’s and the Sci-Fi/Fantasy genre’s offer. Playing the part of the hero is very attractive. In RL most of don’t feel that we are in control of our lives. Bad jobs, bad marriages, the stress of maintaining a mortgage. The world itself seems too much to deal with: terrorism, global warming, the global financial crisis.

All of it seems too damn hard. Most of it can’t be controlled by the individual. Your choices seem so limited. What difference can you make anyway?

So why wouldn’t the chance to play the part of a hero in a small community (i.e your “Guild”) not appear to be more attractive.

Running a dungeon with guild mates, downing a boss and healing your friends offers instant gratification, recognition and respect. You can see the difference you make. People will thank you for the part you play. You feel far more in control of this part of the “world”.

So dear reader(s): which do you prefer?

RL or that corner of the metaverse you’ve managed to call home?

RL/Metaverse Dualism: time to end the dichotomy?

The conclusion that I’ve come to over the years is that for some of us both RL and our place in the metaverse are equally important. I like to think I’m committed to my career, friendships, family and relationships as  any “normal” person. But the guild I belong too in WoW, and the people associated with that guild are also important in ways those outside the MMO community can’t understand.

I’ve been in my guild, Mortal Wombat, just shy of four years now. I joined not too long after the launch of WoW. I was an officer from the start and have continued to hold that role. I helped recruit, build a new web site and have acted temporary Guild Leader on more than one occasion. The guild has experienced it’s fair share of “drama”, but I’ve stuck with both the game and the same guild. I’ve developed a couple of very good, genuine friendships over the years (/waves at my dear friend).

In early 2008 the guild went through a profound crises as the then guild leader went into melt down and drove away most of the membership. A couple of us stuck around and helped rebuild it. Now, the guild is the strongest it’s ever been with two raid teams, a permanent roster of raiders and a “Naxx 25 man” about to start up.

It takes a village to make a guild

The experience of early 2008 was intense, as intense as a crisis I’ve felt in RL. I lost many “friends” during that time, people I’d gamed with for almost two years simply vanished. I felt genuine grief. However both myself and the new guild leader threw ourselves into rebuilding the guild. We did so, and the reformed guild is the basis the thriving community that exists today. I feel intensely proud of that achievement. The hard work paid off. I look at Mortal Wombat and think “I helped build this”.

Myself and others put these peole together. We built this website. We run our raids. We’ve been going strong for four years now.

/smiles

Now that I’ve entered the world of raiding, the respect of my fellow guildies is important. I’m keen to show I have what it “takes” in terms of commitment and effectiveness in my role of damage dealer (Retribution Paladin). We have some increadible tanks, healers and damage dealers in our raid teams. Getting a private tell form one of them saying “Great job” or “Good job Aug” makes me feel proud.

The best analogy for a truly successful guild is that of the “village”.

A small community, whose members are known to each other. Some you know better than others. Others are new, but are welcomed with open arms. Some of them leave, and are truly missed. Some are “expelled” for disrupting the life of the community.

In last nights Naxxramas raid the effectiveness of the team really began to show it self. It’s only the second week, and we’re starting to one shot bosses (i.e. we kill the boss on the first attempt without everyone in the raid group dying). After the final boss went down we congradualted ourselves on how much we had improved, even in that short period of time.

You could feel the pride within the group, the sense that we were growing together.

So where would I live: RL or Metaverse?

I choose both worlds.

I don’t see the need to draw a distinction anymore.

Friendships and relationships in the real world can be as fleeting or as deep as those in the metaverse. I enjoy the feeling of respect from friends, professional peers and guild mates. If I make a commitment to raid a certain night, it’s not simply because I want to “chase the purples” or see end game content.

I come because I’ve told the people in my community I’ll be there, and that they can rely on me. I’ll come hoping to demonstrate my willingness to learn and become an effective member of the raid team.

Yep, I choose both worlds.

The challenge, or the art, is in balancing both of these.