Saturday, December 31, 2005

No idea is new, no idea dies

So, I haven't been reading my assigned textbooks - big surprise there - but I've been reading a book I think we all need to be familiar with: Designing Virtual Worlds by Richard Bartle. I'm only on page 160, and already I've been blown away by a variety of concepts. Unsurprisingly, they've resonated with the topics of what we've been talking about in other contexts. Like, for instance, did you know that Lave and Wenger stole the idea of legitimate peripheral participation from the writings of a sys admin for a Lucasfilm MMO?

Okay, they didn't steal it. But in what's clearly a case of the permanence of ideas and how they bubble up and down through the ages, F. Randall Farmer described in a 1992 paper his experiences as a sys admin in Habitat, where he posits a five-step process, that he calls the "path of ascension", where MMO players progress from "The Passives" to "The Actives" to "The Motivators" to "The Caretakers" to "The Geek Gods". Doesn't sound like LPP enough yet? How 'bout this?

"Encourage everyone to move one role to the right, and the result will be a living, self-sustaining and thriving community where new members can always feel encouraged to become vital citizens."
Bartle also cites a similar model from an Ultima Online player, Hedron, who described it as six circles, from Survival, to Competence, to Excel, to Prove Mastery, to Seek New Challenges, to Everything Is One.

The challenge for all of us, I guess, is to find descriptive models to fit our world into. When Sue Talley was trying to teach me Lave & Wenger and LPP, I only finally got it when a metaphor popped into my mind - the whirlpool (or that large white ball-rolling example of a vortex so common at tech museums). At the edge of whirl, we move slowly in large paths around the center - and not always in a perfectly circular path - but by the time we reach the center, our movement tends toward the tightly wrapped circular motion, rotating at a high speed. What's fascinating to see is that, what ever the model, we all seem to get to the same place.

It Takes a Village: Socialization as a Practice Community

Yesterday several guildies were online at the same time and we all decided to do Blackfathom Deeps, yeah another instance. Balamor was one of those available, and he had in tow a friend he'd made while playing a few w0eeks back. Her name is Moonbows (as in rainbows), and she is 14 years old, but a level 40-something mage or rogue. The rest were adults.

As we began, I joked that I hoped there wasn't any swimming involved. (See my entry on swimming.), and was told no, no problem. Of course, that meant there was swimming, but only a little bit. There was also jumping across gaps, which can be a challenge when you are a tiny gnome. At each of these elements, I stumbled. At one point I suggested the group go on w/o me till I'd gotten a better grasp on my physical abilities. James was obstinate and actually used CAPS to encourage me to try again and again. He also went back to wait for me at the instance entrance instead of making me fight my way through to where the group was waiting. He demonstrated very kind and patience and supportive behavior, and with his help, I finally I got through to the group and we finished out the cave with much gusto and comraderie.

However, James is not the point. Well he is, but not just to commend his behavior. After the instance was over I realized that the whole experience had given the 14 year old girl the opportunity to hang with adults, see adults problem-solve, but most importantly, see adults help each other. The adult group, especially but not only James, demonstrated values in action, the kind of values that I think we'd all love our children to adopt and display as throughout life. It was better than Sunday school...well, as good as? it was better. This was not schooling ABOUT values, this was not a demo or a role playing experience. Even though we were in roles at the time, the behaviors were emanating from real people engaged with other real people. This was better than an afterschool special. This was a community of practice in action, where the practice was prosocial behavior. This was the village raising the young.

Now where else in real life do kids get to be part of something like this? In the structured play we offer them, e.g., Girl Scouts, sports teams, summer camp, the adults are really not engaged with other adults AND the child/children at the seam time on the same task. They are teaching or herding or parenting. There's got to be another place, though I am hard pressed to think of one. Perhaps in an emergency, say in New Orleans, you might get that experience. And perhaps that's why it happens in WoW. We must be able to rely on each other. We are brothers in arms and we know we need to foster relationships to make that possible. Because children are also playing the game, they get sucked in to that experience as well. Hopefully they also learn the value of collective relationships, and how and why to tend them.

Pondering all this and happier to have Sarah (now 12) playing WoW than Neopets or ToonTown, which are a kids only communities. (Actually she's safer on WoW than on either of those because those are magnets for inappropriate adult behavior whereas WoW is an adult space with adults actively, publicly monitoring their community.).

We should find a way to talk to the tweens and teens playing this game. I know I've commented on the shaping of youthful behavior in this blog before.


Got UI?

The first time I got asked that I was hugely confused. I know what UI stands for, user interface. So of course I have UI, I"m playing in it. Then I found out what it means inside MMORPG land, in this case, WoW, where it is also often referred to as addons

The client for WoW is written in XML and is therefore, extensible. A huge, and I do mean huge, developer community has arisen around WoW (and around other such games), working with support and encouragement from the game devs, to develop additional features for the client software.

It reminds me of the old days of computer OS, when developer community folks would construct useful widgets, INITS, that we'd all find, swap, and install in our system to facilitate the navigation and improve the useability of the standard interface.

At any rate, I got myself some UI/addons. It's interesting to look at the code. It's very simple and readable. I'm thinking, jees, I could do this if I bothered to learn the primitives and syntax. Pretty straight forward stuff. Anyhow, I got a shard management system for warlocks that hangs on the side of my mini-map. It sorts and counts soul shards in my bags. It also reminds me of cool down times for shard-related casts, such as soulstone, firestone, and healthstone. I also grabbed a more generally useful addon that posts the x,y coordinates of my current position. THis is very useful because a lot of the quest info on WoW db sites anchors information with x,y coordinates.

Two primo sites for UI/addons are listed in the links panel. I'll post a snap of the mini-map with addons when the Moon server is back up.


Just had to bump chests here on the blog. I am a level 30 warlock, babies!

If the moon server weren't down I could upload some snaps of me in my new level 30 duds.


Watch out. Sarah has earned her way back into our good graces and has an active WoW account. Be nice to Akmalla, her Night Elf, or she'll sic her Horde Tauren on you.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Beyond Steve Johnson and James Gee

So just when I thought I understood what was going on I found out that I had barely scratched the surface. Both Eric and I have discovered that there is much to think about when playing our respective roles of priest and warlock in a raiding party. In fact, I found my way to a set of WoW community blessed link to the warlock community. I was reading a posting in this one, and realized I could not understand a good bit of what she was talking about. Actually, I could understand her stuff pretty well, but it sure is indexical (the meaning is indexed to a highly specific context/group). She is explaining ninja'ing in party raids. This excerpt is about rolling for loot:

I explain that all pass to start with, and then manually /random for selling rights. I say this because I can disenchant, so the group has the option of me DE'ing it first, and all of us randoming for the gem. Or, alternatively, they could all roll, and then the winner has the option if they would like it DE'd, or just sell as is. Everyone says that makes sense, we pass and /random, the Druid wins. He takes as is.

But this one sent me running from the guy's website. Now, I do know the casts he's talking about, but I still can't make good sense out of this!

Against warriors, you can either wait or cheese the charge with pet attack, drop dots, death coil -> immolate. If you cheesed the charge that means his intercept is down and you can just kite him at this point, otherwise, renew your corruption and drain tank/conflag him till he’s dead. That will do the trick with just about any spec/warrior/pet. For soul link warlocks however, their procs (crusader/untamed blade) although they’re magic, they are not dispellable for some reason. Hopefully they fix it, and felhunters can live a little longer vs warriors.

So I'm thinking, this stuff is even more complex than Johnson and Gee are thinking and writing about. THis is layers of complexity...language is only a symptom of a deeper culture at work. I'm trying to think of comparable play that is this sustained and this complex and this collaborative. I can't think of anything...except my jorb. And that's not play; heck there are days when it's not fun either.

This gives me pause. No, not the 'not fun' part, but the fact taht the only comparably complex, sustained, collaborative activity I can think of is my work.

Monday, December 26, 2005

My first real Play Late experience

Ok, now I kinda get it. All of this grinding, in order to be able to run with the big dog (Balamor), finally paid off last night when I went on my first dungeon instance. And though we wiped four times before calling it an evening, it was illustrative of the power of the group.

I responded to a general tell recruiting for Blackfathom Deeps, which is located at the very north of Ashenvale, at the top end of the Zoram Strand. It's 21-26 Elite characters, and they're packed in tight. I went in with three others, all from another guild: Zyra, a 21ish warrior, Raeph, a 24 Hunter (and Fluffy, his pet), and Shadewalker, a 29 Rogue. Zyra was the leader - apparently this is an alt for her - primary is a priest, and she had lots of good hints for me as we went along.

We could have used another player - a tank, or a healer, take your pick. Either way, we ended up in a couple of situations where having another person to either protect me, or heal our Zyra, would have meant the difference between a wipe and a win. Playing with a full party in a dungeon seems to be a must.

I also learned that having a noob priest can be a death sentence for a group. My problems were really centered around dealing with the resultant aggro my healing generates in a fight, and knowing when to heal myself instead of someone else. I also failed to use my de-aggro psychic blasts effectively - too often I tried to run out of aggro, which only made it hard for the tanks to hit my attackers and take aggro back.

I also struggled to define when it was appropriate for me to attack, and when to heal. My wand/Pain combo does do consistently high DPS, but it also drags the mobs to me. I experimented with only hitting mobs with a Pain spell for the DOT, and then only healing. That seemed to work, but occasionally with single lower level opponents, I'd pitch in with wand work and let the tanks take damage until the kill was made, and then I'd heal afterward. More experimentation needed there.

That said, Zyra was complimentary of my work. She counselled me to think of myself as the most important player in the group - without the healing, (and I saw this too many times) it was just a matter of time as they dropped one by one to the enemy. I've seen the term "Squishy" for the healers, and they are wimps, but it's gratifying to see your contribution in the dungeons, where the group really relies on it.

Other things to remember:

Don't go unprepared into a dungeon without the potions already made. No alchemy ingredients in the down below, and especially if you wipe, everyone loses all the potion buffs they've got going. If it looks tough, hand out two or three copies of the most useful potion to the group members before starting, so that it's done. We spent a lot of time waiting for me to mana up, and generate potions, and ultimately, we quit the instance because areas we'd already cleared pre-wipe were beginning to repopulate.

There's an art to healing. Doing it too early wastes mana, but doing it too late brings down doom. I also need to explore the difference between a Flash Heal, that takes 2 seconds and 50 mana and regenerates 150 HP, and Heal that takes 4 seconds, 80 mana and regens 300 HP. I used Flash Heal predominently for the speed, but maybe that wasn't efficient.

Pausing for EVERYONE to loot is important. I was falling behind because I'd try to loot, and the others would be on to the next mob, which meant I'd come late, put on a Pain or two, and then try to heal. We wiped once because I wasn't paying attention that others had moved on. As a leader, communicating the "Move Out" is important for everyone.

Finally, gotta try playing a rogue at some point - all that sneaking and sapping looks dang cool.

Time spent in the dungeon - 3 hours. Bedtime at 12:30 a.m. Gracious.

Friday, December 23, 2005

About Last Night

Last night James and I were involved with our guild in two instance dungeons. So much happened in such a short period of time, I'm a bit overwhelmed with all there is to comment on. I'm counting on James to share too. When I finally logged off at a bit after 3:00 a.m., I was bursting with hunches and observations, like a good ethnographer I wanted to write them all down, but I was dog tired.

What follows is mostly a set of notes, hopefully I'll expand upon elements later.

Social Aspects:sociability, rules or code of conduct, social obligation/contract

wanted to log off earlier, but I'd joined the raid party and my departure might have had a crippling effect on the party (or so I like to think), and so felt obliged to hang around in order to fulfill my social obligation to team in the raid. This felt like an obligation from three sources: 1) guild - I joined the guild, this was mostly a guild run; I owed the guild. 2) friends - I don't really know Dimi and Brudie, but I feel like I do and they were especially nice to me when I was the n00b in the first instance dungeon (see prior post) a few days ago. 3) general rules of social obligation that dictate things like not bailing on a group effort. The interesting questions include: how did I aquire this in the game? Do others experience it that way?

Related to Social, but maybe more Leadershp

The non-guild member of the party (1 of 5 people) was instantly not liked by the GM. The GM's gut feeling on this turned out to be correct. The non-guildy was greedy, uncooperative, and not particularly engaged during parts of the experience. He demanded things from me: give me a healthstone, give me the axe. He took things for himself that he didn't need, without asking others. At one point Brudie asked me if I knew the guy, which I took to mean: can you explain his behavior. Then he asked me later did I want to play with this guy again, i.e., should he be allowed to join the guild. I was taken aback by the directness of his question, and hemmed and hawed. Brudie, as leader, did some public, in-party shaping remarks ;intended to help this guy get it. When it didn't seem to take effect, he took the guy aside and whispered with him; and then finally determined he would not let him in the guild and publicly (in-party) told him why. Is that strong leadership or what? It was all very clean and non-aggressive. I went to school on it. The remarks made aloud wihtin the party served the dual purpose of re-norming the guildies and reprimanding the outsider.

Identity and Learning

I had already started thinking about how my role should be played, as a warlock,, thinking about how to best function in a raiding party. Now that I am at a much higher level and have real services to offer a party, the lessons are more salient. The two different instance caves last night, and the repeated runs we tried on the second one, gave me a lot of time to try things out, to notice things, to modify things. I could go on and on, and I might in another blog. But the actually useful notion here is the one that focuses on how I learned those things in the game, and on how those things are wrapped up with my identity in the game. I'll toss out a few examples.

  1. Ask who wants a healthstone before we go in. can only make one at a time because of cool down time. who benefits most by having it? the tank or the healer, but the healer can usually heal himself.

  2. About the pets: succubus can be directed to participate with tank, as a tank, at no mana cost; voidwalker blocks my view and is best when soloing and not much use in dungeon; imp has to be controlled so he doesn't pull aggro. but he can be used to pull and unlike the others doesn't need a soul shard to summon.

I've also discovered that everyone hits on warlocks to open portals for easy transit. I was soloing and clearing out a quest, knee-deep in melee when some #$%^&*( from another region whispered to me to summon him cause he needed to get to Darkshire. So explained that: 1) I was kinda busy fighting some nasty folks, 2) didn't have the requisite quorum for summoning (it's really intended for use in a party), and 3) didn't appreciate the interruption. The guy should have at least been able to tell from the up and down green life line that I was enaged in battle. But apparently, warlocks get hit on for free transpo a lot.

There are things I still need to learn; in my proximal zone, if you will. That is, I have some beginning sense of what they might be/do, and thus a desire to master, but don't really know enough to do it alone yet: summoning, soulstones, rolling for loot and setting loot prefs in a party, eye of kilrogg. LOL.

So, pondering the HOW more than the actual content of these learning tasks and bits of identity/functional knowledge...


Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Not WoW, but fascinating nonetheless

Encountered a story about this event in another MMO, EVE Online, and was blown away by the level of organization it represents.

Monday, December 19, 2005

I #$@%&*! Can't Swim and It Feels Like Flunking

I had to open my big mouth and suggest to my guild buds who were online at the time that we go back to a quest that James and I tried to do alone. It was The Third Mate, arg, very piratey, arg, and involved looking for a flagon of meade (obviously a drop or a chest) in a sunken ship off the coast of Menethil harbor. When James and I tried it, we thought we were kicking some ass, and then we got pounded. LOL.

So I suggested we all go back and try it. I was thinking it would go better with more hands.


You experienced guys are so fast moving that it is hard for me to keep up. You dart like fish. I still find it difficult enough to locate folks on land sometimes, with just two dimensions of plane. But in the water, you have to add up and down, X, Y, and Z. Add to that the fact that I can't manage the swimming very well. I haven't mastered the mouse moves for up and down in water, i.e., the Z axis. I can shift my field of vision up or down, but not me.

So in the heat of battle, I can't get through the flippin' hole in the middle of the side of the ship. Damn, I looked like someone from the short bus, whacking my head on the side of the ship repeatedly. So Gib comes out and says, you should never run when you're in a party. Like I didn't know that. Like I was runnin'. Wow, that hurt. I wouldn't abandon buddies. I was just trying to get my avatar to the place I needed to be.

I felt like a chump, a loser with a big L on my forehead. =sigh= I haven't felt that way since freshman year in high school, in world geography. Hmm, maybe I have map/spatial issues. Actually there may be something here. I had trouble building with X, Y, and Z in Second Life, although I did master it finally.

So to all my guildies...someone needs to teach me to swim!

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Hello And A Little Bit About Me

Hey there, a little while ago Eric shared some the work he has been doing for his Doctoral classes and mentioned that he was going to have to play a MMO game to finish a project. Well, as soon as I found out I felt it was my duty to at least get him started on what I felt was the highest quality MMO I knew of. So... I gave him the free trial that Blizzard given me and that was that, well after installing it on his computer and patching it for him. It's still somewhat akward for me to see Eric refer to me as his mentor as that's the roll I have attributed to him at work, in real life (RL) Eric is my boss (PHB) and has been one of my best bosses ever.

Now about me. I've been gaming almost all of my life, thanks to father who had a love of all gadgets. We had various computers and gaming consoles in my household at all times. Not always the latest or greatest but what ever we could afford. Through it all I had normally felt that gaming was pretty much a solitary experience, with maybe one or two friends sharing it with you. I had tried Everquest, Earth and Beyond and Star Wars Galaxies before picking up World of Warcraft and ended up not playing any of those games after a few weeks. WoW is the first MMO that I've played to this extent.

Jorbs: Learning by Cooking...and Sewing, and Enchanting, and Making Bandages

I thought I was just playing, but James asked me how my cooking and first aid were coming along. A few days later, he offered me some wool to make wool bandages and rejoiced as to how he could do that now. Somewhere in there he told me to think of it as my job.

=bing, bing, bing= That was the sound of the alarm going off. Or maybe it should have sounded more like =doh! doh! doh!=

Yes, cooking, enchanting, tailoring, and first aid, are all my chosen professions. They are, indeed, my jobs. What does that mean? They are my responsibilities. When I am in a raiding party and people need me to heal them, I will need to have cooked food that replaces health and mana; I will need to have at the ready, bandages to heal health, preferrably the highest possible quality of bandages.

James explained a few things he's figured out. First of all, loot everything. I was beginning to value bag space over dropped items I couldn't use right away. So rather than pick up a hunk of boar meat, with which I might later cook, I would leave it so I'd have room to pick up the two-handed broad sword I could sell. Actually the broad sword should not always just be sold when it can be disenchanted, creating various reagents for use in enchanting. That's my jorb too.

Second, store food wares in the bank. When you're in IF you can get them out and have yourself a little cook fest. This also keeps these items out of your loot bags, accomplishing my goal of leaving space for other fine lootables.

Third, remember to see your profession trainer regularly. Actually, one of my guild party members reminded me of this lately. He asked how my enchanting was coming along and I said I seemed to be stuck at 75/75. He said, oh, you need to stop seeing the beginning trainer and start seeing the expert trainer. Another, DOH! moment. (And, btw, moving up in the community of enchanting practice.)

At first I was put off by having to be conscious of these professions and take care of business. It was starting to feel like homework and school. I had to learn this stuff. But actually, the feeling went away pretty quickly. I *did* want to be able to help my raiding party, and even myself (I have self-bandaged more than once on every quest). And besides, the way you learned was by doing it. Let me repeat that for Mr. Dewey's ghost to enjoy: the way you learned was by doing it. To learn more tailoring, use the tailoring opportunities available to you, and when you see your trainer, s/he will grant you new skills based on your experience. Same with cooking, with enchanting, and with first aid.

For a while I was a bit amused by the food and bandages I was producing. What should I do with all this crap? I kept relying on spells and rest to heal myself after battle, and then I saw some folks doing raids and realized they relied more on bandages and food to heal than on spells. Spells were precious cause they get used up and have to recharge sometimes. Spells were for in the heat of battle.

It took me longer to realize the value of tailoring. I mean, the clothes I was able to make were always offering armor or other protection and power that was well below what i was outfitted with already. I figured I could give this stuff to my lower ranked buddies, or at least the ones who wore cloth. =sigh= But suddenly I realized I had a home industry. I could sell this stuff and tradesmen would give me money. Now we're talking.

As for enchanting, I figured that one out myself. When I disenchant things I get some of the needed ingredients for enchanting objects. And, I need to use those enchanting opportunities in order to raise my ranks. Sometimes this means enchanting the same bracers over and over, as I had learned to do, and as one of my guild members joked.

You'll notice, I hope, that everything I've learned I've learned through two processes:
doing it ... with help from others.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Christmastime at Iron Forge

This is why we play in this world.

I wandered in to IF to do my jorbs (see next post on that). As I headed for the bank I was amused to see a string of Christmas lanterns across the top of the bank facade. Neat. Then I noticed a lot of action at the auction house, directly across. I was heading there eventually anyhow, so I went to check out the activities.

Imagine my surprised delight to discover a roped section for a line, and at the head of the line...Santa! So of course I got in line. Though I then realized how stupid that was. In a vr world there is no line; I merely crowded up around Santa and clicked on him. I thought he'd ask me what I wanted for Christmas, but he gave me a quest for milk and cookies.

All around Iron Forge there are decorations and interesting vendors and activities. For instance, I heard whizzing noises behind me and turned, expecting to find a duel in progress and spell being cast. Instead I saw a snowball fight. Now where would I find snowballs in Iron Forge, a hot metal-working center of activity. I asked on the general chat channel, and sure enough someone in the community said, folllow me. He invited me to his party, so I could find him, and then as I followed, he led me to a vendor.

So watch out! I have several snowballs melting in my traveler's bag and I'm not afraid to use them.

Btw, there's a holiday photo contest going on. If I could get some better snaps, I'd enter.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

My First Instance Dungeon: Deadmines

Just as I was about to log off, sleepyheaded and full up of WoW for the day, I was pinged by Brudie. We exchanged niceities and before I could say I was about to log, he invited me to a guild raid. Now, I really didn't want to do this. I was tired. It was already 11 p.m., but I hadn't ever done this, and I really wanted to see what it was like to run with a big party in a raid. I agreed to go along.

There were four of us: Brudie/Datta (his alter ego), Dimi, Felison, and myself. Felison was only a lvl 17, but he was a warrior, if I recall correctly. Datta was a lvl 51 druid, and Dimi was a mage, I think. I forget his level, somewhere in the 30s. They said they were going to do the Deadmines run.

Deadmines is a popular call out in the general chat channel. I am always seeing LFG for Deadmines or something similar. I thought I had been there before, with James/Balamor. Yeah, I thought, this will be a half hour run. No biggie. I logged in to Ventrilo on the Windows laptop, donned the headset, then swiveled around to face the Mac G4 laptop on which WoW was displayed on the second, 17" monitor. I looked like a rock band keyboard player with a couple of sets of keyboards, three to be exact. I use a bluetooth one. I had my brand new birthday present: a super gamer mouse! I was ready to rock, but a little nervous...perhaps like a soldier going in-country for the first time. I wanted to make it back, and I didn't want to let my buddies down by making a mistake under fire. I was hyper-focused. I could hear the Ride of the Valkyries playing in my head. God I love the smell of napalm in the morning!

As we entered the mines, Datta gave advice. Let Dimi draw. Use your wand to gain points. Watch your health. I'll be focusing on keeping Dimi healthy. We stood for a second as a group. And then it began with Dimi creeping forward, finding a guy and pulling him out.

THe first section was fairly easily. Dimi drew and we all pounded. Sometimes creatures went aggro, and we had more of them pounding on us than we on them, but we managed. My DOTs let me hurt a lot of baddies at once, without requiring my continued attention on them. This left me free to pick out a guy to pound on with my wand. It doesn't do as much damage as my firebolt, but it is very fast at delivering hits: 38, 40, 32, 46, 31, 29, 40...boom, boom, boom. And thus it is actually fairly effective. The firebolt throws hits between 80 and a 100 each time, but takes three seconds to cast. Dude, you can die in three seconds.

The first section done, bodies scattered about, we stopped to take stock. Off in the distance a little thwacking noise meant someone was finishing off a last dude. But now it was Miller time. Felison mined the ore. We rolled for various looted objects. Datta explained need over greed, which, as represented in the game, I had understood exactly opposite of what it meant. Need meant you needed the object, and it was made clear to me that you only click need if it were something you could employ NOW, e.g., better armor. Greed meant you were passing on it. If everyone passed on it, sometimes you got it anyway, and you could sell it or disenchant it or whatever. The divvying done, everyone sat down and had something to eat or drink, to revive health or mana. Some folks buffed themselves. I recast my imp. Then it was time to move on. We stood. We collectively gathered ourselves. We moved forward.

We repeated this scenario three or four times. Each time, right before we entered the new section, Datta/Brudie would freak me out by saying, okay, now this is a tricky part. Let Dimi pull. Get ready. Okay, Hall, move up. ...Yeah, sure, you move up, bro!

And each section did become harder and harder. Sometimes the diffiuclty was in numbers of folks hurling themselves at us. Other times the difficulty was in the skill level of the NPCs we faced. Toward the end it was both, and a big boss. I got to watch Dimi use his sheep spell, with which he can turn a foe into a non-attacking sheep for a while whlst we destroy the others. Pretty funny to see. Another funny bit: Dimi has a pet rabbit he carried with him throughout the entire raid. So here we were slashing and casting and pounding, and this sweet little bunny was hopping alongside with us all the way. Very bizarre, but comforting.

At the last door Dimi said, Okay, this gets a little nasty. If you are about to die, jump into the water. And remember the birds attack too. And the big boss will reappear with a different weapon. And... and... and... I had a Richard Pryor moment in my head, shit, shut the f#$% up, mutha&*@#$%, don't be telling me that shit! We did well though. We reached the big ship, all the minions went aggro and we had a 45 second battle reminiscent of a Braveheart battle field scene. We knocked them down though, and Datta said all we had left was the big boss and his two henchmen.

We whacked the big boss, and no one died...until AFTER the very last blow was struck. I don't know what happened to Dimi and me, perhaps it was spell damage that we didn't notice was draining us. But the point is we made it through to the end. We got some amazing loot. No one screwed up, or at least no one said anyone screwed up. It was a lot of fun, too. Part of the fun was the tourism vibe I felt as Datta remarked on things in the dungeon...where guys were hidden, how cool the pirate ship looked, what sort of NPCs were attacking us, and so on. He was also very encouraging throughout, with call outs of nice wand work. great shot. Hall, did you bring that dude down with the firebolt!

At the end we sorted through the treasures, made some parting remarks, and ... I noticed it was 2 a.m.

Play Late, indeed!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Oh, THIS wand?

Okay. I decided to be brave and say hi when I saw Brudie online. He was the guy I hung out with a few days ago, and who invited me to join the guild he's in, Night Shift. I just didn't want to look like a dork, to look like an old person trying to figure out how to play a kid's game. LOL.

So he was running around with another guild dude, Dimi, and they decided to come up and get me. I was in Redridge; they were in Darkshore. Not a big run. So we got together and they spent about 20 mins trying to set me up on Ventrilo. I told them we Skype, but they didn't know what that was. They are not geeks, per se. VOIP had no meaning for them as a word.

Well, Vent, as they call it, is only in beta for the Mac, and it stinks as is. So, I pulled out the evil black fat HP Windows lappie and booted up. I downloaded Ventrilo onto the Win lappie and we got it going. I was thus configured to play WoW on the G4 shiny silver lappie and interact on Ventrilo on the evil black Win lappie.

We did a few runs. THey are very deadly and I quickly finished leveling up. I asked about the enchanting, saying I was stuck at 75. THe enchanter in the pair, I think it was Dimi, said you need to stop visiting the beginner enchanter and visit the journeyman enchanter to learn new spells. Damn! I bet I am owed a lot of spells. Gonna hafta spend some quality time with my trainer. =grin= I also asked about the wand. It doesn't seem to do much I said.

Well, it turns out that the wand is cast by pressing the hotkey once, in my case 1. It works in toggle mode: 1 is on, then 1 is off. So I press 1, and the wand just keeps going off. It's a DPS weapon. I'd been hitting the 1 key repeatedly. Not only that, but as with enchanting or first aid bandage making, each time it casts I gain a point in wand power. DUH! I feel like such a dork. So I will be doing a lot of wanding this week.

I'll try to grab some snaps on our next run. It has a marvelous air of barely controlled chaos.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

For the addictive personalities among us

New term I encountered while surfing the WoW-themed-net...

"Wife aggro"

What happens when you spend too much time on WoW.


Friday, December 09, 2005

An ethical question for us

So, what would be the ethical questions raised for academic researchers who wanted to study WoW at its highest levels, if they purchased a lvl 60 character off Ebay? If you're trying to evaluate social interaction among the most committed players, and they evaluate it strictly on your level as displayed in the game, is that deceptive?

I'm just thinking how to slide a $500 purchase of a player off Ebay past the accounting department....

A possible topic for a paper

Here's my thought for a possible direction for study.

At the highest levels of the game, group raids are the primary method of getting the greatest of the great unique items, and guilds form to "farm" the uniques by routinely running the toughest sections: Molten Core, Upper Blackrock Spire, Onyxia, and Zul'Gurub. Getting into guilds with these goals is a matter of serious application and interview - you're being evaluated for your committment to attending the raids and participating.

Looting the treasure found in these quests becomes a significant issue, and the guilds have to establish ground rules for how the spoils will be divided. One guild I'm part of has a pretty laidback, "we'll work it out" attitude about looting, but they're not running the elite quests. The guild my mentor Ken is a part of has very defined rules which factor in raid attendance, level, contribution, and class into a point system, which then allows players to bid for unique items. The rules allow players to spend more than they have (a credit card system), but there appears to be some credit limits set by guild leaders too.

My thought - develop a survey about looting rules, and how they were developed, and then approach a bunch of guild leaders to gather their input. I'm not sure what literature we tie it to outside of the game, but there's got to be some lit about how communities distribute benefits in shared ventures, academic or otherwise.

Here's an example of the looting system:

Thinking about virtual expertise

I've been thinking about some of the differences between expertise as it's displayed within WoW, and in the players of WoW.

Thinking about Bereiter and Scardamalia's Surpassing Ourselves, they've got a model of what the difference between an expert and a novice that isn't quite the same as what the theory behind WoW is. I'm going to mangle the B&S model, I'm sure, but at its simplest it seems that expertise is the ability to see patterns, and compose complex responses easily. In WoW, an avatar's experience is equivalent to expertise - more time bashing stuff inexorably advances the avatar's ability. That's routine expertise, though, not the expertise that facilitates the leap to new knowledge.

Controlling the avatar, however, does seem like a more valid study of expertise, and that, sadly, falls back into the realm of non-virtual, human expertise. Talking with my mentor, Ken, about this, his response is that he's met lvl 60 players who still don't understand how to control their avatar well. They don't function well in groups, and they don't understand the nuances of the different roles the classes play - the attempt to play a mage in the same fashion as a warrior, for example.

How can we study player expertise, and avoid the trap of "level awe"? My guess is that we evaluate party member's opinions of the subject player's contributions, but that's just a guess. And dang tricky to control for, too.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


I got the Luis Moll book, Funds of Knowledge. This is a terrific read for a lot of reasons:

  1. It describes and illustrates the funds of knowledge concept beautifully.

  2. It puts multicultural issues on the table, smething I've wanted to do in this program but haven't done well yet.

  3. It offers illustrations of good ethnographic note-taking, something which is difficult to explain well without examples.

  4. And, of course, it is my secret weapon in this analysis of gaming and learning.

I recommend it. Happy to buy copies for you. I have a small budget for my endowed chair, and I have a slush fund that uh, well, only I have access to. Heh heh. Let me know.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

I gotchyer guild right here...

So, there I was, jogging down the road outside of Dolanaar, buffing the passers-by with Holy Word as is my practice - you know, doing unto others and all that - when one of them whispered to me asking if I'd sign their guild petition, that they only needed one more signature. Well, that's servant leadership too, isn't it? So I made my priestly X on their parchment, and then jogged on, thinking nothing more of it.

Ha. Apparently, now I'm a founding member of the guild "The Angry Inch". And when Moonbranch, the guild "mother" asked if I was going to stick around in the guild or move on, I said, "well, heck, if you'll let me recruit for the guild, I think I've got some likely recruits. Some button twitching on her end, and bang, I'm now an Officer of the guild, with full recruitment rights.

So, a little about the guild. Right now it looks like it's guild of four: me, Moonbranch, Moontwig (her meatspace husband), and someone else. Moonbranch is a lvl 6 drood I think, while Moontwig is lvl 20ish something else. Moonbranch said she needed to start a guild because she doesn't play often enough to level quickly, so can't find others to play with consistently. I'm not sure I'll be of much help to her, but there it is - we're a guild.

So I'm thinking - I invite all y'all to be guild members, and then make you officers, and send you out to gather new recruits to us. Then we can turn on the Moonies, vote them off the island, and rule the world. Whaddya think?

BTW - the Moonies know I'm from Pepperdine and that they're under the academic microscope... but I didn't warn them about James... that they'll just have to figure out by themselves.

Setting Up the Transpo

James has realized that an important bit of business in WoW is to set up a rapid transit system. He knows the big cities have gryphon masters (or hippogryph masters, which would be the elves). He knows the fastest, most cost-effective mode of transport is the winged beast. Besides, you get to recon. the land below and it's a helluva nice ride.

So James hooked me up today with two new routes, one of which introduced me to the most bodacious avian, the hippogryph. See the SNAPS for another picture, but this is my favorite, with the moon in the background:Beauty and the Beast. You figure out which is which.

Hallgrima, Lvl 19.5

Monday, December 05, 2005

Gizmo for Trannies

Allegedly, Gizmo will do a capture of the audio conference, while Skype does not. Please take a look at Gizmo and download. I would like to be able to capture our convo. when we're in WoW.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

I am a Chum Bucket

I realized today that I am not a God, except in the Coldridge Valley and Dun Morogh. Up here in the northern territories, I am a chum bucket, dragging along behind James and luring in every possible monster we pass. THey don't bug him, but I apparently have the smell of fish heads emanating from my arse. I am getting good at dying and rezzing.

On the upside, we stumbled into a new place StoneTalon Something and found ourselves surrounded by...dinosaurs and flying lions (pridewings). Okay on the lions but the dinos are definitely disturbingly derivative and out of place. Lizards would have been cool, but I don't want to see a scaled down Stegasaurus. That's just not right.

Anyhow, today I have reached level 19! Yahoo.

- Hallgrima

I'll post some new snaps of the new land.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Doctoral Student's POV

From the POV of another identity, that of educational technology doctoral student, interested in MMORPG gaming environments as interfaces for learning environments, I find SL to be more promising for my interests. (I am not at all interested in games for a "spoonful of sugar" approach, btw.) For my interests in online communities and online communities of practice, WoW would be a rich focus of study. However, I find that the WoW story system – which Celia Pearce defines as “A rule-based story system or kit of generic narrative parts that allows the player to create their own narrative content,” (“Towards a Game Theory of Game,” chapter in “First Person,” 2004), and the WoW metastory (“A specific narrative ‘overlay’ that creates a context or framework for the game conflict”) (Pearce, 2004) are TOO constraining. Some have complained that there is a lack of imagination in the applications of SL – limited to consumerism and monuments to vanity.

Certainly, when I travel around in SL, it isn’t clear what it is for – there is a completely unstructured story system, and at this point, only a limited metastory that some find frustrating. When I travel in WoW, the story system and metastory are completely clear and structured, and I can immediately begin constructing a personal narrative with my quests. I have immediate gratification. But that same strength appears also to be a weakness for its use as a learning environment: any potential personal narrative is VERY constrained by the WoW story system and metastory. At this point, the SL environment, if leveraged skillfully and with imagination, seems to me to have more potential for a wider, almost unlimited range of learning experiences and emergent narratives – and so I continue to be intrigued with the use of the SL gaming environment as an interface for a learning environment.

NightElf Perrenelle's POV

k, now (in Wengerian terms), I can add to my list of identities that of Perrenelle, NightElf Druid (currently Level 6), member of the Alliance in the Realm Blackhand, carrying out quests in the World Teradissal, aspiring to be at least a Level 10 in a couple of days and an herbalist/alchemist (or herbalist/skinner – if that will make me more useful and attractive to a guild, because I want to be a guild member). Since I believe names are very important and powerful representations, I chose mine very carefully – she was an alchemist working in Paris in the 1300s with her partner, Nicholas, trying to turn mercury into silver and gold. Most of the time in the formal education environment, I feel like I share with Perrenelle a very similar fruitless task (starting with the wrong assumptions and working with the wrong ingredients).

I’ve been met in world and given very helpful first tour and guidance by two Pepperdine cadre members Eric (Twinkleheal) and James (Baramor), and I’ve teamed up on different occasions with two anonymous partners to kill spiders and raging furblogs (not possible as a solo quester). I’ve figured out some ways to powerlevel – collect all the related quests in a hall before starting out on any one (like, initiate all those darn spider quests before heading off for Shadowthread Cave, ‘cause you might as well multi-task while killing and being killed). And speaking of being killed, when I’m not wandering around halls in cities looking for a quest giver or a Druid trainer, I’ve spent more time as a ghost than any character on “Whispers.”

Friday, December 02, 2005

I am a God, er well...

Yeah babies, I'm a lvl 18 now! Watch out, the warlock is in da house.

I have acquired the ability to hold on to your soul, for your convenient rezzing pleasures, of course:

Create Soulstone (Minor)
85% of Base Mana
3 sec cast
Reagents: Soul Shard
Creates a Minor Soulstone. The Soulstone can be used to store one target's soul. If the target dies while his soul is stored, he will be able to resurrect with 400 health and 700 mana.

Conjured items disappear if logged out for more than 15 minutes.

Just ask, and I'm happy to stand in the back and cradle your spirituality whilst you whack a gnoll (pun on the arcade game: whack a mole).


Thursday, December 01, 2005

NPR's story on impact of virtual economies bleeding into meatspace economies

Nice story from All Things Considered last night. Draws heavily on the guest Edward Castronova's book Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games. Castronova is a prof at Indiana U.

What I've learned on WoW when I should have been doing real homework...

This is from my writings on my WoW play to date. It'll be posted elsewhere soon, but here it is, for the purpose of centralization.

  1. At certain level, you can't play the game alone. Sure, you can whack on bad guys one by one, but sooner or later, there are two or three of them, and only one of you. What's really amazing, in that situation, is how easy it is with a friend.
  2. The kindness of strangers can be remarkable. I asked a higher level player a question about how to chat - I couldn't figure out the interface and the manual didn't help. The player not only answered the question, but then gave me 5 gold pieces. 15 levels later, I still have 4 of those gold - 1 gold goes a long way - but I have better equipment, and have been able to do so much more - it really was a huge gift. I've never seen them again. I can only pass the favor along some time in the future.
  3. I think we overlook a crucial point about human-computer interaction when we ignore the intrinsic desire to use the interface for some other purpose. The interface of WoW isn't badly done as game controls go - it follows some established conventions - but the reality is, it was easier to learn because I wanted to play the game for the enjoyment of the game. Not many people learn Microsoft Word's interface for the fun of it, and even when they want to write the Great American Novel, the word processor interface doesn't add much to the experience. I can't say that I'd learn the WoW interface without the game's goals, but mastering the interface deepens the pleasure of the game.
  4. The other thing about Blizzard's design decisions on WoW's interface was to recognize that no interface serves all needs, and so they actively promote the tools needed to change the interface. Granted, not everyone will want to tackle XML and some Java-based graphic tools to rearrange the game controls, but some will. For those people, Blizzard has established tutorials and forums for people to share ideas and examples of different interface designs. Thinking back to The Inmates Are Running The Asylum, this seems to run counter to the idea that interface or interaction designers are what we need to improve our experience. Instead, perhaps what we need is infinte flexibility in our interface design, someone to make a good first guess at the design, and then simply facilitate the modders with tools and a community.
  5. Part of what makes WoW "digital crack" (and other MMO games too, I'd guess) is how apparent they make the progress toward advanced ability. Now, I'm not sure I am that much more expert a player at level 20 as I was at level 10, but my avatar is definitely more expert. I know it by seeing the larger damage numbers showing up above my opponent's head when I whack them with my two-handed broadsword, and I know it by watching my experience bar gradually fill, marching across the screen from left to right, until I level up in a burst of golden sparks. Not to put too fine a point on it, but hey, it's kinda sexual, huh? And not to trot out orgasmic bliss and then drop it for another metaphor, but perhaps we're a bit too quick to hammer on learning products like Accelerated Reader and SRA - they might have had it right. I can remember pretty clearly the satisfaction of knocking off several SRA cards in a sitting as a third grader - gradually the colored tabs of the cards moved through the spectrum. I might have been missing the golden sparkles, but the levelling up of WoW feels pretty similar.
  6. WoW on dialup has its hazards. When you lose connection briefly to the server, you experience what's called "lag" - your display doesn't accurately display what your avatar is experiencing. If you're just jogging from one location to the next, no worries - but if you've just engaged the Dalaran Apprentice, and you can't see to whack him... well, you're just dead. But more disconcerting is when you lose connection from the server for a long time - 30 seconds or so. What's intriguing is that the world doesn't dissolve into digital dust. Instead, it just gets ... empty. I don't understand how the game is architected, but somehow, what's installed on the host computer are the landforms, but not the quests or NPCs or other players. Lose connection with the server, and you're all alone in what is a very desolate land. At its most basic, Blizzard's servers serve community at a monthly fee, and those of us that make the community pay to have it returned to us.
  7. The social hierarchy of WoW is not so subtly tilted toward those who support collaboration, and against those we'd traditionally call our leaders. Doubt it? Consider the case of the guild that recruited CharmingUrg, my Undead Warrior. Granted, Innate Malevolence is a small guild - not necessarily prominent, but there are about 100 players. They were happy to let my warrior join, but who do they really want? Priests. Shamans. Characters that can heal other players. Characters that can "buff" others' abilities. What they want, at its simplest, are players willing to set aside their own ego for the greater good of the team. Warriors and Hunters are great, charging around with their tank-like hit-point totals taking on the bad guys, but it's the individual players who have chosen an avatar with a goal of healing and support that are most in demand. Even after a quarter of Farzin trying to get through to me on leadership, I can't define it, but somewhere there's got to be a model of leadership that recognizes the Priests among us.
  8. On the other hand, when a level 30 player and a level 20 player team up, the level 30 player will receive a disproportionately high share of the XP earned by whomping an adversary. This strikes me as an interesting conundrum. On the one hand, the social nature of the game encourages teamwork to a point, but also dissuades mentorship. It'd be interesting to have the option to bind your character to another in an apprenticeship, and have the higher (more expert) player's actions reflect more disproportionately on the noob. Would Level 60 players brag about their ability to bring their mentees quickly to higher levels, or would they say, "ahh, teaching - there's just no gold in it..."?

Serious Play, Serious Papers

Okay, it's time to step back and think about the bigger picture (while I sit on hold waiting for the Apple store rep.)

The first paper should be an RER paper (Review of Educational Research journal) and a smaller version for JLS (Journal of Learning Sciences).

The paper begins with a call to study gaming as a resource for improving learning. That's a big claim with a mixed history that must be acknowledged.

We begin with some data of two sorts. One on game playing; one on where new technologies are taking gaming. Karen Billings might be able to get us some access to data we need. I'd love to have some visual representations of game sectors, users, demographics, etc. If not Karen, then the E3 conf in May will have info like that in the seminars. We can also talk about Mimi Ito's work on the connectivity/networking aspects of technology. [I am continually amused by the formal educational instituional effort to integrate technology into the curriculum because it is such an obsolete view of technology. There's an article there...for Educational Leadership magazine.

Now we've connected with the status quo. We must go back and acknowledge some bad history, going back to the early 70s stuff on games in schools, not computer games. There was a time when classes were doing "centers" or "activity centers" that kids rotated through during the day in groups, and ed'l games were a part of that. It died, largely with the death of activity centers, which teachers found too hard to manage.


The next part of the first paper has to answer the question about the current or continuing relevance or relationship of games > computer/video games > MMOGs to education or learning, especially given that history. That is a matter of working through the arguments put forth by others: James Gee, Kirt Squire, Dan Shaffer, among others. It is probably important to characterize their work in terms of learning theory, since we will be using that alignment later in the work. We should also characterize the nature of inquiry or points of view on games and learning. Without doing the homework I've yet to do, my sense of it is that there are two: 1) games as vehicles for curricular content (teach X using games), and 2) games as play, as phenomenon to study in order to improve traditional education. I was a member of the last group till this year. My take was that, as others have pointed out, gamers learn and do very complex things in games, and they tend to have a relatively easy time of it. (They don't get Ds, in all the referents of that.)

So now it's time to introduce the notion that there is a third point of view on the value of games, and thus a completely different additional research agenda for them. This value comes from the view of games as one of many other genres of technology innovation that have had/continue to have a profound cultural impact, especially on the young. Mimi Ito's work figures in here. As does some of the work by Steve Johnson, Henry Jenkins, Barry Wellman, and Manuel Castells, among others. These folks are looking as sociologists, anthropologists, and ethnographers, at the cultural dimensions of networked technologies, most of which are the new channels for gaming. Oh, we need to discuss MMOGs and social spaces like SL. There is a literature from the MOO/MUD/MUSE/MUSH days to pull in here too. These are the early networked games and communities.

Next we connect school with non-school culture. HIstorically that point of view has focused on the disconnect between school culture and home cultures of non-white, non-middle class populations. We are arguing that the same divide exists between youth culture and school, a new version of the digital divide. Now I have heard anecdotal evidence that low income and minority kids are in MMOGs or playing networked consoles games. We need hard data on that. Anyhow, this is where Luis Moll's funds of knowledge come in. I've elaborated on his point elsewhere in another entry. Now we're poised for the kill, which is represented in that entry.

After the big pop, we need to hint at a needed research agenda (which, of course, we intend to get funded and do ourselves). What sort of systematic inquiry needs to occur in order to back up our proposition that gaming culture offers a deep reservoir for educators to draw from, that isn't trivial.

Here's where I'm less well thought through: research issues. This we need to brainstorm as a gamex collective. Here are some early thoughts. I also want to think more about: communities of practice, situated learning as it relates to game culture. If we studied MMOG communities as we treat studies of Papua New Guinea, what might we choose to observe and validate?

  • language

  • representation of information

  • knowledge sharing and knowledge creation

  • eye candy/ear candy (i think classrooms are sterile compared to games)

I see several papers (and dead people).
Review of Research article that frames work to date in the field and steals the higher ground of agenda setting.
A formal propoposal to request funding...from EA or MS or Sony or another game maker looking for image improvement.
Essays/opinion pieces of various sorts for places like Educational Leadership (an ASCD journal)
Research articles, small, one at a time forays into our research agenda

Can you come down a day early or stay a day late at Jan/Feb f2f?

Saturday, November 26, 2005

When Words Fail: Finding my Inner Mime

No theory speak in this post. It's all about when pve becomes pvp.

Rollin' down the highway, I was doing several quests simultaneously in this new land. I had been here briefly before, but had no recollection of the folk that resided here or the dangers that lay behind the trees or in the streams. I was feeling quite masterful, with my blue demon minion and my growing caster talent. We are a great team, and e're long, all we encountered went down: humanoids, murlock fishfrogs, River Paw Scouts, Defias bandits, prowler wolves, young bears...any that you could name; we did smote it.

As we finished off a wolf, a figure appeared on my right. He wore a colorful outfit, and he carried a mighty axe. He killed that wolf, and stood there looking at me. I looked him over, and then with great fear realized his name was writ in red. Yes, red. Red, as the devil, for he was Horde.

I looked him up and down. He stood but a level 20. At least I had a chance with him, or so I thought. I targetted him and cast a spell. In one fell swoop he smote me.

So it was. But, I ran back to finish my quests. I cared not a whit about beating him. T'was just a bit of fun. So back I ran, back from the dead that is. I looked around. None be near. I rezzed and meant to carry on. But it was not to be. I heard a thwack. Twas the sound of me own head splitting open like a mellon as the Horde weasel killed me. Back to the graveyard again, and then quickly back to my corpse. This time I actually looked around with greater care before I rezzed. No sign of him. I rezzed. He showed up immediately.

Now you're not supposed to corpse camp like that. T'is bad form. In fear I quickly cried out: "Don't kill me. I'm a wimp on a quest." But of course Horde and Alliance do not speak the same language. What I said was but gibberish to him, as his words to me. I knew I needed to act fast. After all, t'was I who'd whacked him in the first place. He certainly had a right to continue to pown me. So I looked for some respectful emotes. I went with a bow, which for me, as a lady, was actually a curtsy. He seemed amused. He bowed to me.

I tried a salute, to say "okay, ya' bastard, you win. Now leave me alone." He lol'ed.

Hoping to avoid a quick beheading, I reached deep and gave the bounder a kneel, and I have to say that it hurt to do that, to kneel before the Horde, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. Things seemed to be going well. I thought I might actually live through this.

There was an awkward pause as we stared at each other. We each called out something, that neither of us understood of course. Then, happily, he turned to go. As he turned to leave, I thought I'd throw a final thanks for sparing me life. I couldn't just let it go now, could I? Oh no, I thought I'd be clever and call myself a chicken. I saw the chicken emote and went with it. Alas, to me horror it ended up with me flapping like a chicken and making chicken noises...something you might do when you called someone a chicken!

He turned. I gulped.

Then he moo'ed, the same in Alliance and Horde language, for a cow is but a cow, no matter what field she stand in.
And we both laughed.

Now the amusing thing is that, I continued to fulfill my quests, I could listen on the chat channel to Alliance folks further down the road dealing with my Horde friend. Apparently he was slaying all, left and right, and folks were working up some ire about it. Hey, how did this Horde guy get in here! Someone said they thought they could take him down, since he was only a lvl 20. Wishing to save them from the same mistake I'd made, I jumped on the channel and said as how he'd owned me. Then I whispered to the braggart fool who claimed she could take him with her hunter, that I had to kiss his ring to get out alive, and I recommended it to her. For sometimes, you know, you gotta do what you gotta do.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Where's the party?

An amazing amount of money has been spent on education in the last generation. Billions and Billions as Carl Sagan might say. I don’t mean to be impolite, but has anyone noticed there isn’t exactly dearth of idiots? Money does not education children. Nor does technology. We can throw hardware and software at children till they bleed silicon, but it won’t make them any smarter then pouring money on them.

It is instead a question of engagement and interest. When children are interested they teach themselves amazingly complex systems. From the new card games they play to the World of Warcraft, these are extremely complex and dynamic environment that require a dedication to understanding the world, virtual or otherwise, around them.

I’ve been unusually shy in WOW. I’ve avoided any socialization and have almost no understanding of the communication systems. I don’t want to seem like an idiot so I school myself daily on the mechanics and economics of the world I live. I fight to ferret out meaning and sense and etc.

I know the day is coming quickly where I won’t be able to solo. That I’ll have to join a guild and a community, but like picking a college . . . these choices have voices. They are important and should not be made in ignorance. So, for now I watch and wait.

Much Death and Dying: Awesome Event, the Third

We were wandering the woods north of Goldshire when I noticed the call go out for local help. Apparently Sentinel Tower was under attack. I drew James's attention to it and off we rushed to participate. Having never been called to the aid of any one or any place before, we were most anxious to partake of this new experience.

When we arrived, barely a minute later, we spied a dozen or so Alliance citizens of every class and race standing about looking for the threat. And then, there it was, right in front of us. A magical looking fellow with a monstrous beast. The two of them unleashed powers that left us dumbstruck. Lvl 50s and 60s were dropping like felled rabbits. Not wanting to be left out of the abuse, we hurled ouselves into the fray and within a matter or seconds lay dead upon the ground.

We arose in the graveyard and headed quickly back to our waiting corpses in the dry fields before the tower, which lay not far off at all. I was struck by the number of ghostly souls runningn along side us back to the tower. This craziness continued until we reached the point where we needed to wait a minute before we could rez. because we had died so often. We kept at it though, and I know all those about me must have found it amusing to see my paltry casting efforts. Yet, I did participate.

Eventually we, like many others, gave up. There would be no killing this creature team, not by us all, not today. Eventually all began to flee. I found my way to the gryphon trainer and caught a ride out. Were those two members of the Horde, and had they really been able to steal in-country so easily? We do not know.

My sole regret is that I did not capture a picture. It was so much chaotic fun and yet so frustrating, but so funny, but so frustrating. Ah me.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

The Play is the thing . . .

Sitting at the family kitchen bar while the traditional activities of a supposed pilgrim holiday unfold around me . . . I’m not paying much attention to them as I’m being attacked by spiders. As the women of my family worked at their well- practiced craft I did the same. Target the first spider and ‘rend’ it and then target the second and ‘rend’ it and then target the first and call down the blue thunder. It was close, but I survived to eat pumpkin pie.

Sitting on my lap was the one woman not engaged in the cooking, my 8 year old niece. She watched with total fascination through the window onto the world whose landscape was dominated by cartoon violence. When I killed a bunny I got the same, “You’re mean” from the good Dr. Polin with the same laugh backing it.

She asks, “What is the point of this game?” I smile knowing she knows better than I.

“What game do you like”, I ask. She mentions some name that sounds like a mixture of Japanese and gibberish. I continue, “What is the point of that game?” I watched with fascination as her face contorted and she would start to speak and stop herself.

After a few moments she said, “I don’t know”

I responded, “Yes, you do.” Smiling at her I waiting.

Smiling back she said effortlessly, “Because it is fun”.

Minutes later I had my 14 year old nephew crowding me on my other side. Too big to sit on my knee, but not big enough to force me out of my chair so he could play himself. He waited patiently and asked me questions that were far from random. They were questions about the mechanics of the environment. What can you kill? What do you get when you kill it? Is that the health bar? What is the bar under it for? Etc. . .

Once he was satisfied he understood enough is when he asked if he could ‘play’. Oh, how I hated giving up my seat, but I did not give up my identity. I sat next to him and walked him through the creating of his own character which . . . in the end . . . he made look like his favorite uncles. I asked him why hoping for some nice flattery. Instead, he explained he had only seen one type of character play and would not be playing long and wanted to get the maximum enjoyment out of his experience.

I was forced to retreat to the non-interactive TV technology. Occasionally he would come in and ask a question. An hour later he had leveled up twice as fast as I had and was as proficient in the game dynamics as I. As I chatted with him he explained the goals he had set himself. Once he had accomplished them he surrendered the seat back to me and I returned to my own character and my own goals.

Multicultural Awareness: When FPS and RTS meet in MMORPG

Is there a gaming culture? Damn straight, but it's not a unicultural world. To speak of game culture is akin to speaking of "American culture." Yeah, sure there is such a thing, and it exists largely in contrast to other comparably sized units, e.g., "French culture." But we all know, boy do we, that America is not a homogeneous culture. So too, game culture is relevant as a concept largely in contrast to, say, book culture.

For my first, and as yet non-academic, bit of evidence, I offer two items. Today's LA Times Calendar Weekend rag (11/24/05) is dedicated to gaming, and as such, it covers the gammit, from FPS (first person shooters) like Quake and Grand Theft Auto, to RTS (real time strategy) like Age of Empires. In one of the articles these are grouped as: movies, fighting, sports, if those were salient divisions. But, we don't expect the LA Times to report on more than the generic, popular cultural level (commercial) of gaming.

On the other hand, in the WoW for dummies manual, aka Official Strategy Guide from BradyGames, there is a section at the beginning entitled: Migrating Players. Being somewhat of a noob, I supposed this would be about moving your character from one server/realm to another. But, no. It's an introduction/warning for gamers coming in to WoW from other game cultures. There's a pargraph on folks who are RTS players, and a para. on FPS types. You don't think there's subcultures in gaming? Check this out:


Where once you commanded your own armies and they listened without question, now you are one of the many and must work not only as a part of a team, but as one of the multitudes in a team. Most RTS players have experienced teamwork in the form of alliances vying against others and understand all too well how good teamwork can work in their favor. However, in this case you've been shrunk down and placed into the World of Warcraft as one of the peons until you work you way up in the ranks.

For the FPS players

Those that have played FPS' primarily understand the teamwork involved easily enough if you have ever participated in Capture the Flag or Team Deathmatch events. However, where everyone once had the same resources and character type, here everyone is different based on their class and race. Without knowledge of others capabilities, it is more difficult to work together as a team. Things work slower. There is more time for interaction with others beyond a simple macro.

This section of the manual ends with, "The interface will be both familiar and alien," just like "American" culture is for Latinos, Muslims, rural dwellers, and senior citizens, if you get my drift.

And these are but a few of the subclasses or genres that might be culled from the metatag "game culture."

No WoW part to this entry...stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Hallgrima's Great Gryphon Ride

Magical. The effect is magical. Like a Hogwarts for adults, this new land keeps offering both challenge and awe, sometimes at the same time, but often as separate dimensions of play. And what is magic but the willing suspension or perhaps the seduced suspension of belief, the capitulation to a fantastic reality, not of this world.

Barely a week into the game, I had what we 60s folks would call a mindblowing experience, my second one already, and it was very unlike the first. In the first, the muster at IronForge, the scale was overwhelming. The scale of collaborative effort and the visual representation of it. That was a lot of folks and creatures working together to get out the door as a killing unit. The immensity, yeah on a 12" screen, the immensity of it struck us dumb.

This time it was a different facet of awe. I was wandering around in a completely foreign land, having acquired the courage to do so the night before with James. But this time I was alone, still not afraid actually. I happened upon a fellow with a gryphon in a pen. Uh huh, that's a right, gyphon....

I passed the gryphon and his handler, not knowing what to make of that, and did a bit of scouting and mayhem in the hills nearby. When James appeared and sent word he was around, I realized I was too far from him. It would take me many minutes to get back to him.

I as headed back toward IronForge where he waited, I thought about the gyphon. When I asked the good man about it, he told me I could ride her back to IronForge for a pittance. Being still a weathly gnome, by virtue of our welcoming gift of coin that first night, I indulged myself in a gryphon ride.

I settled in on the back of the giant creature, and barely in time as it quickly took to the air. We soared high, and I could see below me the many territories I had trudged through on other journeys, and new landscapes I had not yet laid eyes upon. The gryphon soared high over the mountains and swooped lower in the flatlands. One or two mightly pulls of her wings gave her the loft to soar a long time, with nary a bit of extra flapping to be had.

She flew in through the topmost opening in the great IronForge entry, and soon enough I was settled back on my feet at the very center of the Forge itself, where I was greeted with a great belly laugh from Balamor.

I'm going to begin posting links to snaps from WoW. See links.

Accomplishing Fear in 12 Inches

What strikes me about this environment (MMORPG) is the powerful immersive effect it is able to wield. I'm playing largely on a small Mactintosh laptop screen. (Yeah, that's right Windows people; I have an nVidia card in my little Mac laptop.) Sometimes I move to my second, larger external monitor, but even that is only 17". Yes, the graphics are stunning (hopefully you checked out the screen shot on the muster entry) Yes, the background sound is evocative. But how immersive can an environment be on a 12" laptop screen? Plenty. Here's proof.

I logged in and checked the chat window for James. Sure enough, he was out and about, and at a new level already. On the map he appeared as a slowly moving circle, but in a land I did not know. Not too long thereafter he discovered me as well and invited me to join him as a marauding party member. Of course I did. He came to me, as I did not know how to get to wherever it was he had been wandering around. We hooked up (literally, I put myself on follow James, and let him tow me.)

Soon we were back in his newly discovered land, Stormwind. It was a human village, though of course, all manner of creature wandered there abouts. We rushed out to explore this virgin land, virgin to us anyway. Almost immediately a highwayman attacked us and we fought back in our now usual manner. James at the front, swinging his mighty axe (mightier than the last time we had forayed); me and Belpad behind him, tossing all manner of spell and charm.

The loot we stole from them we killed was new and different, as was the land around us as well. Gone were the snows of our old haunt. Instead we were in forest, with gentle hillocks and noisy creeks and steams. In addition to the usual rabbits, we now saw deer and cows...and things almost too terrible to be true: spiders larger than a man. These we were able to kill handily. Nevertheless we were feeling very jittery, not unlike a the lone wanderer traveling along on the deserted highway at night...which, you see, is exactly what we were. We did not know foe from friend in this new land, and we did not know from which direction attack and challenge might come. We did not know the manner of these creatures' pleasures: would they attack us as a gang, falling upon us in stealth? Would they come down from the tops of hillocks too tall for us to keep a watch?

We did make it through that long night. And we did learn the nature of the creatures and the land in this new place. But throughout our journey, we both did later confess, we felt afraid.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

The Ballad of Balamor, Day Five

Linda already discussed the Great Hall. That was amazing. You see things that make you stop, well . . . they should make you stop. Watching dozens of people is less rare in an online game than in real life. Still, it remains a thing of wonder. Linda and I literally [err . . . virtually] sat on the floor and watched the muster. It felt like Richard Dryfus from Close Encounters with the mashed potatoes . . . this means something!

Ironforge is huge in exactly the way a Dwarf city should be . . . dwarfing everything within. This is the first time the game came alive for me. The hustle and bustle of a busy city . . . knowing the majority of those folks are players and going about busy business. The auction house was packed and the forges were ringing and there was just a general sense of real life.

This is what a MMOG is for me. To this point, I’ve been running and mostly soloing. Occasionally, I would partner with Linda, but more often then not I was walking the world alone. Yet, here is the huddled masses with all their yearning. You can watch the text chat and it is no different then being in a busy mall and listening to someone’s conversation.

I still don’t know how to talk to others. Still not ready. Still scared a bit. My ignorance is thicker than my armor. I think it is like any activity. Some run out and challenge the experience. Others, like me, hold back and watch and listen and wait to gain some level of understanding.

Right now, I’m just wandering around trying to master the simple crafts. I can cook and I can do first aid. I can swing an axe. I can smelt and I can blacksmith. Where all this is going I am not sure, but I can see that there might be a place in this world for me.

It is a long day of exploring for me. I’m getting comfortable. I am in and out of Ironforge many times. I retrace some of my adventures and get them right. I explore other areas. I spend a lot of time learning how the professions work. By the end of the day, I get mining, blacksmithing, first aid and cooking. I start to realize al the mistakes I made early on . . . wishing I could correct them.

I wander to the lands to the north and east only to get my ass handed to me. I take the DRT to the human lands and find a place much more suitable for my current level. There is a human city every bit as impressive as Ironforge, though far more empty. Do less people play humans?

Linda and I team up for a mission to take out an ‘elite’ character. Next thing we know we’re dead and reminded of how far we still have to go. We’re level teens in a world that goes as high as 60. There are monsters out there that we probably couldn’t do enough damage to get their attention. And there is real sense of that. As Linda pointed out later, being in this strange land had a real sense of adventure. We didn’t know these creatures or this terrain or where we were. We had already made the ‘other’ land our home in our minds. This was a foreign land. I didn’t’ kill a cow for fear of offending the locals. I got mobbed by these frog things because I was too curious. We were strangers in a stranger land.

The Ballad of Balamor, Day Four: Dying 101

This is creepy. Very LORT when someone wears the ring. Everything is opaque and there is a wind sound and . . . jebus! .. a huge creepy specter! This is kind of cool. I’ve never enjoyed being dead as much as this. Though, in WOW . . like in life . . . death involves a lot of running.

Dying was a bit of shock. Was starting to feel a bit invulnerable. I had had a couple of close calls, but nothing that sitting wouldn’t cure. WOW follows the dad/son approach to damage . . . Walk it off, boy!

It was those damned evil gnomes. I got the first one, but the second chased me down and did me gangland style. Next thing I know I’m in the graveyard. The map showed my body’s location and it was time to run back and revive. I was shocked to see other “ghosts” searching for their bodies.

Note to readers . . . don’t’ bury me right away. Give me time to walk back to my body.

New Metaphors for a New Age: Stop Herding Cats and Try to Herd the Zerg

Why am I playing World of Warcraft? Besides the fact that it's fun and compelling. Oh...wait...that's a big reason. We know computer-based games exist in the popular culture of American youth. And we see that whether on cell phones, networked computers, or networked consoles, interactive, group gaming is hot in youth culture today. Cause it's FUN.

Why does that matter? Game/play/media/culture researchers and theorists know that dimensions of popular culture are a widely used source of metaphors, analogies, exemplars, and perspectives for the people who are engaged or immersed in media culture. But uh, not in school, not by teachers.

That is exactly the point, in a Luis Moll funds of knowledge kind of way. Moll talks about the marginalization of Latino culture in school and how it represents not only a lost resource for the teacher to plumb, but also a lost opportunity for an expansive curriculum.

So let's consider this. If, as Jenkins, Gee, and others assert, there is a formal, stable, recognizable culture around computer gaming (online, console, handheld, etc), and if the 10-20 year olds are deeply immersed in it, doesn't that mean that there is also a funds of knowledge issue here to exploit as well? Certainly we saw at the first Games+Learning+Society conference that guild master skills learned in WoW were directly applicable in the corporate world. Surely this must also hold for the classroom.

Teachers need to connect with the game culture. Integrate technology into instruction has traditionally meant, shove some piece of software into the curriulum delivery. It's been a miserable failure. Teachers are not, as a whole, native learners via technology. Why would we expect them to be teachers via technology.

But I'm thinking now that the argument is better cast as a cultural argument, especially since I am aligned with a socio-cultural theory of learning. Learning is not better when the learner encounters it in the context of its use (well maybe it is, but that's an argument for another day. I do think it's deeper learning, actually). It's easier; it's more successful. Why? School culture is piss poor, thinly contextualized. I suppose if you grow up in a household of educators, as I did, it's much more comfortable. I helped my mom put up bulletin boards before school started each September. I'd been to the EMB (educational materials building) to help her select books for her classroom. I'd been been in the teachers lounge long before most kids even knew there was one. So for me, school was a very comfortable culture. It had a lot of handholds. For others, it was a slick granite wall.

What can we borrow from games? The same thing we old farts borrow and rely upon from our experience of modern culture: language, metaphors, analogies, examples, viewpoints. I have a colleague here who is using pieces of the tv show, The Apprentice, to teach ideas about leadership. For my daughter, who is also in a leadership class in middle school, references to leading a questing party or a guild would be considerably more proximal to her reach (and yeah, that was a reference to the zone of proximal development.)

A few nights ago, I met James at the Ironforge to visit the warlock trainer whilst he visited the blacksmith trainer, and we stumbled upon the most amazing thing.

We was walking toward the forge with great purpose. James needed to do some smithing work. Fashioning himself his own armaments, he was. And I needed to find the warlock trainer. They be hard to find sometimes as they are not particularly welcomed. Folks find their ways strange and dark, even when the very selfsame folks are needed the spells these warlocks can cast. As we entered the center of IronForge City, our pace slowed. A great gathering there was. Beasts of all kinds and all manner of person upon them: tigers, lizards, horses, bears, and creatures I know not what they be.

'Tis a muster, said James. These people be assembling to ride out against some poor fools' homeland. We stood and stared. The cries and howls and barks and growls of a hundred beasts held us in our spot. We stood there for nearly a minute, in a kind of reverie we were.

James remarked as how this was a very special treat for us, an event not often witnessed. And then, we heard the call and watched as ranks of riders headed out the main door. It was awesome. A sight I shall not soon forget, if ever. I was ready to mount up right behind them, but of course I had no mount. And these folks would have no use for a level 8 gnome. So off we went to get some training, that we might some day ride off with a wild cry to hunt the enemy on their own home grounds.

Monday, November 21, 2005

The Ballad of Balamor, Day Three

Welcome to the grind! Alright, so you got the basics. You know more or less how to ‘exist’ in the world. That’s the easy stuff. Now it is time to learn the subtle stuff . . . and that is a slow and steady process which also apparently involves a lot of running.

I spend most of my time looking at my own butt. This is occasionally punctuated by killing the odd bear or bunny. Dr. Polin NEVER thanks me for saving her from the bunnies. Oddly enough, she always says that I’m mean to kill them. Not sure why killing one configuration of pixels is different than any other. Maybe it is the squeal they make when they die.

The map is already forming in my head. Like Planetside, eventually I’ll know the terrain here better than any place in reality. Visually, you learn quickly to discern if this or that can be traversed. The real shock to me was when I fell into the water and discovered what my ‘toon’ already knew . . . I could swim!

Sunday, November 20, 2005

The Ballad of Balamor, Day Two

Slowly, I’m starting to learn my way . . . to have a sense of ‘self’ within these pixilated confines. Standing at the great door of a castle carved into the hills I face south. To the west are the areas I’ve explored. Wolves, warthogs and troggs have fallen before my axe. To the east are areas that are unknown to me.

And that is what the game is always about . . . the unknown balanced against the known. I’m expert in what I can do and especially what I cannot. Already, I know when it is time to run away. Takes almost no time to judge if I am overmatched. I know to the east I’ll be overmatched, but I know to the west . . . well . . . I’m bored.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

The Ballad of Balamor Redfist, Day One

It has been about a year since I’ve ventured into a gaming environment. The last online game I had played was Planetside [PS], a sci-fi based massive multiplayer online game [MMOG]. This was World of Warcraft [WOW], a fantasy based MMOG. Logging in, I felt a certain odd trepidation. Having two years in PS, it has been a very long time since I’ve had to be a N00b.

Logging into an existing MMOG is the normal hassle of downloading upgrades and patches. After that, it was choices of race and class. I decided to go with being a Dwarf and a warrior. My reasoning was that I wanted the simplest character possible for a game I did not understand. Typically, these characters are referred to as Tanks.

Entering the new realm, I had to adjust to the visual environment of the game. PS strove for a more realistic look while WOW has a fantasy look. Looking around, I was faced with a snow covered environment with ponderously large trees. Mountains in the distance added to the illusion of place.

Watching Dr. Polin caper about as a gnome had its own distinct pleasure. Others were about, but I had yet to figure out who was ‘real’ and who was NPCs. While waiting, I was contacted by one of my better friends outside the game inside the game.

Within minutes this large dwarf upon a larger steed which appeared to be a cross between a ram and a horse arrived with a huge wolf at his side . . . and impressive entrance even in reality. Handing out beverages, a shirt, bags as well as 5 gold pieces each. Each of these had more value then I was able to understand at the moment. Offering to help us learn to kill, he led us through our first quest. Soon, wolves and warthogs were falling before my axe.

The missions started off easy enough. Find X of these and kill them and return. I expect they’ll grow more complex as we progress, but for now . . . I feel like every fight I walk away from is a good fight. Wolves and Troggs are enough, though . . . I dream of Dragons at my feet.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Death and Feathers

I had about a half hour this morning before I had to hit the road so I hopped in to WoW, hoping to be able to kill some wolves and finish leveling up to a 3. Did just that.

Later in the afternoon, the chat window opened and it was James, saying he was going in. Of course, I was already there, having logged in about ten minutes before him.

While waiting for him I did another quest, leveled up to a 4, and went to get some warlock training. Then James appeared...

Balamor was hunting wolves, he was. Trying to slaughter a good many and thereby gain some leverage for himself. I thought I could help him, but he would have none of it, working his way in a steady and bloody path across the white snow. I tagged along for the amusement of it.

When he'd done his deadly best, we made a plan. He had a quest to find him some strange journal and I was in pursuit of three feather charms. Both of us needed to go southwest to the great caverns and meddle in the business of some n'er do well creatures what were laying about a campgrounds. Elvish humanish creatures they were, bent and gnarled, and strangely clothed.

We held up behind a stout tree trunk and made our plan. James offered as how he would go first, being the tank and all. I cannot take but a wee bit of direct damage before i drop, and yet I do have my imp and not a few distance and DOT charms of my own. James be a crafty dwarf, indeed. He lured out these creatures, one at a tim,e toward us. I lofted a charm at at 30 yards and the creature rushed us James swung his mighty axe. My imp, Belpad, hurled flaming balls of hellfire, every throw a hit. Together we took down about five of these sorry fellows and gathered the feather charms for my quest, that I might level up and grow additional talents for our future