Saturday, November 26, 2005
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
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.
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
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.
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, adventure...as 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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
We loaded the discs and were getting kinda restless waiting for the patches to download. But we discussed characters and realms, races and classes while we waited. I really wanted to be a Tauren Shaman, but they're on the dark side of the game, and James was bent on joining the Alliance. Turns out he had a bud playing who was already a Level 60 something or other. So I agreed. James ended up being a dwarf; I went for the gnome, on the grounds that they are technology specialists. I imagined getting to the point where I could construct some useful, and therefore commercially valuable, offensive or defensive gadgetry. After much debate and consideration, I decided to be a female, and I decided to go with the warlock class. I'm a sucker for magic spells and charms and such. I wanted a suitable name and so Googled norse +names. Found a great page that even had them separated by gender. I kinda liked the sound of Hallgrima and went with that.
We logged in. James phoned his buddy, Luckbringer. We put him on speaker phone and he guided us in. He suggested we join him in the BlackHand realm, so we did. We stood there in what turned out to be a bit of an encampment in front of the big gates of IronSide. We stood waivering, vulnerable and clueless, until...
Luckbring rode up to us on a magnificent steed, though what creature this be I cannot yet say. Magnificent was its mane, and all many colored was the saddle and tack . We were but wee creatures it might have crushed underfoot. We stood but naught much higher than the fetlock of the beast. Luckbringer jumped down, and with much flourish proceeded to distribute many gifts to us. First was meade, which we drank till we was feeling not a bit of the damp cold around us. Then he brought forth gold. Five coins each we was given, and though it meant not much to his purse, for our Level 1 existence it was almost a king's ransom. Our last gift from this great warrior was a special backpack, which then gave us two backpacks each to fill with all manner of wonderous looted objects.
After some careful inspection of ourselves, Luckbringer set us off to fulfill a quest given by a strange fellow in the encampment, to bring him 16 hunks of wolfmeat. At last! We were eager to test our Lvl 1 might and weapons on the wandering wolves, rabbits, and trolls in the countryside. So off we did run, with Luckbringer guarding our backs and offering us much cleverness which we did then remember as our own.
In but a few minutes we had mastered targetting and attacking these creatures, and with some aid to each other, did accomplish the quest, for which we were handsomely rewarded with a new object and a level up.
But all this hunting left us hungry to taste some real meat of our own, and so we did log off and search our own environs for a bit of steak and meade.