Tuesday, March 28, 2006

I Have Brought Ruin Upon the House of Ur

Last Saturday afternoon, with the NCAAs on the tube as background, Don, Sarah, and I (Clivenal, Akmalla, and Hallgrima) sat on the couch in the livingroom, barely a cushion a part, and ran a WoW stetch that lasted about four hours. To quote The Talking Heads: "My God, what have I done?" Three people hunched over laptops, intently, periodically calling out to each other, but mostly typing in chat as they killed, healed, looted, bought, sold, etc. No one moved except to hit the restroom or grab another soda.

Now we have also played long games of Catan together, and I have got to say, this was a bit easier. The presence of others (Bany, Felison, Sage, Nemi, Twinkleheal, and other guildies and friends) made the interaction broader. Instead of getting bored waiting for Don to figure out how to cast a spell, you could toss out a line in the guild ongoing repartee. In Catan, we just bitch and moan at each other: "Come on. Are you through with your turn yet? Are you gonna play that Development card or what?" My husband is a reflective, strategic, planner. Drives us nuts. Also, it's competitive, not collaborative.

We have done this about three times, usually on Fridays, where we grind for hours and then hit the local Mexican food place at 9 or 10 pm for dinner. Sick, huh? But fun. Not quite the same thing as a trip to the Long Beach Aquarium or biking along the beach or tide pooling. But, I'll take it. Three of us in one room, interacting, playing, all pleasant.

I should have grabbed a screenshot of us all doing /chicken after wiping a gnollpaw village.

Monday, March 27, 2006

I just love the WoW guild forum

Here's a post that takes Deming's QM and puts it with leading a guild. Great!

Horde speaking to Alliance, so to speak

There was a pretty fascinating thread over at Terra Nova this past weekend, centered around a question that I'm sure is ageold in the world of educational research - that is, how do you make research meaningful to practicioners? In this case, the discussion was around the fact that there's all the increasing interest in gaming as an entertainment and learning space, but the game designers look and listen to the researchers, and all they hear is "Yad ho grab fo tu pwe".

Here's the conclusion to the post:
I submit for your comments the idea that the reason many developers have a hard time finding anything of value not only from researchers, but often from their own players, is that they are, in effect, seeing a different world, all the time. An optimistic disposition -- a faith, even -- in technology and code-based problem solving runs deep in the technology and software development community (see, for example, Gary Lee Downey's ethnography of CAD/CAM engineering, The Machine in Me), and it hampers developers' ability to recognize the range of content and community creation (very broadly defined) by users as well as the fruits of the well-established but different methodologies and concepts of researchers.
And here, in part, was the return salvo:
In that sense, I understand exactly where Eric and Raph are coming from; for the most part, academia *is* irrelevant to commercial MMOs. Hell, we'd love it if you guys would study something that might actually have a benefit to the industry, such as Nick Yee's work or that of Julian Dibbel; much of what passes for research in this field is nothing more than trying to count how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. The data might be trivially interesting, but who really cares?
Hoo, boy. Needless to say, 64 comments later, this thread gives a very complete picture of the challenges we're facing. The designer perspective seemed to coalesce around "do research that answers questions I have in way that I understand," while the researcher perspective seemed to be "basic research and access to data leads to new questions that practitioners don't have the attention or inspiration to pursue."

I guess this caused me to think about how we, or researchers in general, will have to refine our requests for access when we're dealing with folks who have a very ROI-driven accounting for their time and thinking. A request I'd love to make, for instance, is an API to access Blizzard's forums, so that I could pull their contents into a relational database for future study. From my perspective, it's a simple enough request, and probably a simple technical problem for them, too. But the question is, why would it make sense for them to do it? What would a day or two of a developer's time cost - $2,000? $3,000? That seems like a small enough cost, but without a clear return, and with the knowledge that there are probably 50 or 60 researchers with similar $3,000 requests, I can see that Blizzard would need something more economically compelling.

So, I dunno. I'm still grappling with the formulation of a research question coming out of our foray into a virtual world, and truthfully, I'm struggling to see how my questions would be different from some that Nick Yee has posed on the Daedalus Project in one way or another. How many different ethnographic surveys do we need? I feel like I'm arguing that "all the good questions have been taken," which surely isn't true, but watching the Terra Nova discussion certainly added another question, one of relevance, and relevance to whom.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Waiting for Godot, or the Battleground Experience

I'm a level 47 now. I have trouble realizing what that means sometimes, and then I do something like run Stockades with just one other player, in this case, James (yep, he's baaaa-aaack). I thought of the experience as nice wool drops.

Anyhow, I finally worked up the nerve to try battlegrounds. I mean, Sarah, er Akmalla, was already a private at level 20. So I talked with Beowolf about it and he convinced me to try. Twice we lined up in the queue for Warsong Gulch in Stormwind Keep. Btw, I have discovered that other BGs are accessible there in that rotunda area in the keep. Tonight, James (I don't want to spoil his suprise by telling you his name etc), Beowolf, and I waited for about an hour before I called it quits.

I think the trick is to go sign up right when you first log on, then go about your business and see if they call your party. From the description of the BG experience, I am thinking this may be more like James's experience with Planetside and other team vs team MMOGs.

I have figured out that if I make clothing (tailoring) and then enchant the clothing (enchanting) and then sell the clothing... I can level up my profs and make money, in one fell swoop of production. I know. I know. DUH! Btw, I can sell the clothing in the AH instead of to vendors, because of the value added by enchantment. Ah, life is good.

Forty Ways to Love your Leaver

Via . . .

Alright, here I come. Has been a long difficult grind, but as Frank Sinatra sang [or was it Elvis?],

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!

So, I am almost there. If not for the routine maintenance, I’d be there now. I will look for my former friends on Friday . . . gladder to be back in their long missed company than I can describe.

Ala Baba had his forty thieves and Noah had his forty rainy days and Jesus his forty days in the wilderness. I had my forty levels alone and unaccompanied. I don’t owe any of you or anyone else anything for any single point of XP.

So, I’m ready to be taken back if you good folks are ready to have me back . . .


P.S. I have tales to tell . . .

Monday, March 20, 2006

Some thoughts from grinding 150K in a weekend

Ok, a weak ding for 44. I played hard this weekend knowing that there are several papers coming up in the next several weeks, and then AERA, so weekend play could be a little limited (or should be) until the end of the quarter. It was fun, but also had its drawbacks. These are some random thoughts from all that time.

  1. Just for the moment, let's assume there are 5.5 million players of WoW in the world, and maybe about 1.5 million in the U.S. (all of them playing on Khaz Modan, of course...). This is about 100,000 more than the population of Idaho. Idaho, through the grace of God and the Constitution, gets two U.S. senators and two U.S. Representatives. Granted, they're bozos, and Idaho only gets that much representations because of the machinations of some 18th century plantation owners, but the fact remains that Blizzard has managed to addict capture a population large enough to request funding from the federal budget if it chose. All joking aside, that's pretty amazing. Toss in all the players of SWG, DAoC, EQ/2, etc. and it begins to look like MMO players might have enough sway to be electorally relevant....

  2. Blizzard's patch cycle has some interesting small side effects. For those of you not playing priests, this might not make much sense, but I'm in the position of knowing that with the impending 1.10 patch, not only am I going to get a free respec on my talent points, but the rules of the game are going to change. Where before every level brought a bit of hesitation - how to spend the point - now I'm in the position of "WTF, I'll get it back in a month or so, so why not split my point evenly among the three trees." As a result, Twink currently has 20 in the Shadow tree, 5 in the Holy, and 10 in the Discipline. Among those that write the strategies, this is strictly a no-no - you pick two trees and go with it. For Priests, this usually means Shadow/Disc until 55, then Holy/Disc to become a "Healbot" for the end game - Lvl 60 Shadow priests are not nearly as effective within the endgame. If I weren't expecting the respec shortly, the 5 points I've put into Improved Renew in Holy would be premature, but as it is, it's just a temporary thing, almost a self-indulgence at the cost of those I might party with.

    Watching the commentary around the coming patch and update to the Priest talents, though, has been fascinating. Nowhere else have I encountered a situation where the participants in the game have had as significant an impact on rewriting the rules of a game as in the class reassessment process of WoW. I remember when the 3-point shot was introduced into basketball, but I wasn't a member of that community enough to know whether that was a bottom-up driven change. I can't imagine Parker Brothers soliciting changes to Monopoly rules, or the International Chess Foundation deciding that the two-up, one-right pattern of the Knight was too disruptive. In this case, though, it's a bit like watching a peasant rebellion - "we Priests want to be more effective in fights!" Not only are we seeing an emergent community, we're seeing one that wants and expects to be involved with changing, tweaking and improving the rules by which they play and interact. And we're seeing the game developer shift their own perception of their role, too, from a "we wrote it, you play it" model to something more inclusive - "we wrote it, but it's bigger than we could fully expect to comprehend, so we need your feedback to understand what needs to happen next." I don't know whether to say this suggests that the modern MMO is a new type of game, or that it's creating a new type player that's less willing to accept rules as an immutable structure to be accepted carte blanche.

  3. I had my first really bad PUG experience on Saturday in Uldaman, and I was surprised at how much it irritated me. So far, I've really only had pretty positive experiences in groups - some better than others, but still pleasureable. (I hear JBR saying, "Oh yeah, except you called me out about being a bad player...", but really, that was just for theatric effect.) But this group - ugh, it was just horrible.

    I'd run Uldaman for the first time on Friday with Hallgrima, Felison and Brudie, so I knew a little about the instance, knew that it was tough at the end and that it required people to really know how to roll in order to complete it. We wiped once, but took down the boss on the second try. Satisfying, and was a small confirmation of the skills of this set of players.

    Saturday, I got pinged by a guildie asking if I wanted to run it again, and instead of asking who was in the group, just agreed. Generally this is my practice - I assume people grouping know what they're up to. Big mistake. As it turned out, there were two guildies (one I'd run with, one I hadn't), and two from outside. I was the fifth member, added by one of the guildies when the LFG tells didn't turn up a healer.

    The trouble began just as we entered the instance and I began to run my pre-instance checklist: let everyone know I'm on dialup and the chance exists I'll drop and return, buff Fortitude on all the party members, mana up, buff the pets, mana up, drink my Intelligence and Defense potions, and then I'm ready. (high maintenance, priests are.) Most players have something similar - Brudie poisons his blades, Hallgrima creates soulstones, etc. In fact, in light of what followed, I'll know now that if I don't see party members running a checklist, they may be trouble - it's another mark of a player who knows how to play. These jokers, however - I typed "hey, I need to buff..." and two of them are already into the first mobs. Okay, I think, maybe the mobs were a little too close for comfort - we'll knock them off and then stop and regroup.

    Didn't happen, though. I did manage to get them stopped after a couple of mob groups, but it was like they'd never played with a healer before, or I'd been sheltered in my life up to then, because they were continually running off out of sight to pull new aggro, and then only returning into sight when there were overmatched. Dude, don't come crying to me when you're at 20% and pulling three Lvl 43s. Meanwhile I'm getting whacked and wasting mana on fighting mobs in self-defense. All the while I'm getting whispers from the leader (not in the guild) asking me why the tanks are running like headless chickens. I kept trying to politely slow us down, to force a regroup, but ultimately had to start typing in ALL CAPS. I explained that they were OUTRUNNING MY ABILITY TO HEAL THEM and if they didn't pull their heads out, we WERE GOING TO WIPE. I could almost hear the sound of the words bonking off their stone heads; it wasn't encouraging.

    And then the server crashed, and we all got booted, and I didn't log back in that evening, which nominally solved my problems...

    But it wasn't fun, and I was surprised that it set me back that much. I generally think I manage to communicate fairly well in party chat, and also generally expect that folks playing lvl 40+ toons have had enough chances to figure out how things work. This experience shook my faith in both beliefs, and that wasn't pleasant.

  4. Finally, James tells me that he'll be rejoining us Friday with his spiffy new tank. He's been coy about who this character is - he told me Monday that he's near his goal - but he's also let on that maybe he's played with us anonymously. So, in the spirit of guessing games, here's my guess - That's you, isn't it, Aries?

179 XP into lvl 44, until next weekend

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Economics Proves Reality

I just spent about 45 mins reading most of the forum thread on the AH entitled: Everyone Has a Moral Duty to Be AH Savvy.

Wow, what a great education; even the disputes were fascinating. This is grown up thread. No drama queens or flames, just pure intelligent discussion of the dynamics of in and out of game economic systems. THe discussion pulled in the WoW in-game Auction House, the out-of-game user-developed third party Addon called Auctioneer, and the oft disparaged 'gold farmer' operations which gather and sell virtual gold outside the game via the web.

The quality of the discussion, the involvement of real world money and time, suggest to me that this might stand as further proof of the reality of this alternate world.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

And now for something obvious

So I've been trying to find a profound way to talk about this, but couldn't, so here it is. Part of the attraction of WoW is the way that it allows folks to share milestones, in a way that's satisfying and also relatively quick. My example for this is the ceremonial nature of lvl 40, and the obtaining of one's mount.

I got my 40 a couple of Fridays ago in a raid with Hallgrima and Brudie in a Scarlet Monestary run, and it was gratifying and pleasureable to know that both of them had come on the run specifically to be there when the little gold sparkles went off. I was especially happy when it became clear that it was a bit more of a grind that evening than we'd expected - I started the run about 30K short of 40, and even on rest points, 30K takes a while in SM. We ran the library and the armory - about 4 hours of play - and I still needed 5k to level. It was clear that folks in the party were getting tired - I was tired - but even the other two in the group didn't seem to hesitate to stay when it was clear I only needed a few more kills to "get the mount". 30 minutes later, the task was achieved, and then almost instantly, we all hearthed and called it a night. I didn't actually get the mount until the next day, and I did that alone.

But that didn't matter. What mattered to me, and I think to the others, was to share the process of crossing the threshold. Brudie was almost fierce in his whispers that "I told you I'd get you your mount," and he was clear I had to take the 30 gold he offered to me - "I farmed it for you earlier today." For someone I've never "met", it was an act of kindness that meant a great deal to me. I was equally happy that Hallgrima was nuking folks next to me as the bar inched to the right - frankly, it felt motherly, and I appreciated it very much.

In the part of the world I live in, the quinceanera is a fairly frequent celebration - and though I'm sure I'm culturally insensitive to all of the undertones of that celebration, Level 40 feels like how I imagine the quinceanera to be. It's a very public thing to share, and it's not something I expected to find in an MMO.

(since Ding'd to lvl 42. And riding a Striped Frostsaber I call "Swiftheal" - 'cept that Blizzard won't let you name your mount. What's up with that? Hunters can name their pet, and I can't name my ride? Crazy.)

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Nonverbal Communication, Part Deux: Fraternizing with the Enemy

Hey there. Well, I was poking around looking for something to do to fill in two bars to my lvl 46 DING and I remembered I had a couple of green quests up in Arathi. I headed into the courtyard at Stromgarde and began killing, realizing at once that though the program thought they were green based on my level, as a clothie caster they were not going to be green for me.

I noticed a large Tauren -- I know, redundant -- also solo killing in the courtyard. I gave him a hand on one kill, then he did for me. Then I got a brainstorm. Well, WTF, why can't we partner. Can't we all just get along?

Now of course I realized that we both weren't going to make it up to the top of the castle, but I had the sense we were both just whacking moles for fun and profit. And besides, how could we communicate? No language commonanlity. I couldn't even offer to party with him to indicate my desire to work together. So we stared at each other. He headed off to kill and I decided to follow him and help, as a way of saying, "Yo. Here's an idea: two is better than one." We killed two things together. After each kill I jumped up and down and cheered. Then he started jumping too. I turned and pointed to the castle. He turned and looked, but seemed unsure of what the point of looking was. I walked toward the castle and pointed again. Then I jumped up and down and cheered. He got it.

Yep, that's right, I partnered with a Tauren today. LMAO.

Oh, and btw DING LVL 46! I got this cool mask in the ZF instance in Gadgetzan (Tanaris)

Friday, March 10, 2006

Pokemon & WoW: The Role of Forums in Knowledge Creation and Knowledge Sharing

Sounds like a great paper, eh?

One of my billion interests in studying gaming is studying the knowledge creation and sharing that goes on so seemlessly and successfully in game communities...and that is highly prized and rarely possessed in the business world, and off the radar in the education world (K-12 and higher ed.).

THis came to me in discussion with Holly this morning (OMG collaborative knowledge creation, LMAO). I was telling her how deeply I'd gotten into the Warlock forum thread on talents The discussion there, now a persistent thread, began when a lvl 60 warlock posted about six different configurations of talent points and the sort of warlock identity they each best support. This was clearly intended as an education piece, as indicated by the title Warlock Talents 101 (a call out to college culture, eg psych 101, art history 101), the postings have links to the talent calculator (yes, a tool for arraying different configurations of your talent points, and which generates a link for use in your postings).

I was reminded of my Pokemon community identity. In various Pokemon community sites, a common thread is something like Deck Talk or Deck Garage where you can post your favorite card deck for discussion, problem solving, or simply to display a real kick ass set of cards. In both communities' practices there is no one right answer or right way to play, and so the discussions get quite lively as folks not only take issue with other folks' propositions, but also argue their rationales fairly eloquently, thus providing insight to expert thinking of various sorts, in a kind of L&W access to practice way.

Then I realized that the same thing happens elsewhere. When I got my new Macbook Pro and had trouble with the wifi connection dropping out, I joined the forum hosted by Apple to discuss the issue. After I posted my entry, I watched as within the space of an hour 35 new messages went up around it. THat got me thinking again about the Pokemon and WoW forums and the vitality that is there and that makes the forums worth repeat visits rather than turning them into static, dare I say reified, FAQs. What I am saying is that there are 'Net savvy folks who simply understand and rely upon (assume) the existence of vital ongoing practice communities to create, exchange, and grab knowledge...practical knowledge. They understand how to join in, what to expect, how to behave, etc etc. Where is the analogous tool in school?

[And BTW we shall return to active Pokemon play. Sarah has been needling me. We lost our local gym (club group that does f2f meetings) and need to find another.]

Log as Mediational Tool: My ZPDometer

Okay. I thought I had written on this but I guess not.

I was having a ball clearing the quests in STV, anticipating outgrowing the place, when I realized that the quests in my log for Arathi Highlands had dropped from yellow and red to green.
OMG! The Quest Log was my growth meter. It not only showed me, in color-coded subtlety, the quality of my development/learning, but it also nudged me toward more challenging (ZPD) places. After all, green means I can do it alone. Yellow means I can do it alone if I'm really careful and maybe I can't do it alone. Red means...seek assistance young grasshopper or die trying.

And the game really pushes. If I do a white or grey colored quest, there is no payoff for me. No drops; no XP; nothing, zilch, zero, nada, nada3. Okay, WoW, okay, I'll move along. LOL.

The use of color for meaning-making in this game is fabulous for its omnipresence and consistency in meaning. And that is one of the toolsets I was thinking about when I spoke about the mediational divide between school learning and game learning.


Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Differentiating Virtual Reality and Alternate Reality

There was a discussion this week on XMCA about fantasy and reality, whether and how people differentiated, and whether or not virtual reality gaming was a place where those lines got blurred. The discussion can be accessed at their archive site, linked here.

Here is my post and my proposition. Life in WoW is real. It may not be material, but it is real.
And, btw, DING lvl 44.

Re: [xmca] Experience: material, ideal, real, imagined in MMOGs
From: Polin, Linda (Linda.Polin@pepperdine.edu)
Date: Sun Mar 05 2006 - 22:29:32 PST

Hi Mike and X'ers,

I am both playing in and writing about an MMOG at the moment, with a group of doctoral students who are no doubt lurking on this list.

I'm playing in World of Warcraft (or World of Warcrack, as it is often called for good reason). I am very interested in the way in which the designers have shaped interaction and play, with regard to both the client interface for playing, and the sociocultural structures around tasks and interactions in the game play. [I'm also playing in Second Life, but that is a very different creature.]

In WoW, I've played alongside 12 year olds and old farts like myself; college kids complaining about the bandwidth in the dorms, and mommies who periodically have to go AFK BRB (away from keyboard; be right back) to change a diaper. So far none offers any evidence of confusing what you are calling reality and fantasy, although almost all have remarked on one occasion or another about the immersive power of the world to 'wow' them (pun intended) and engage them deeply. Everyone who plays has a story about losing track of time in significant ways. That is immersion. And I think Michelle's remarks with regard to "flow" come the closest to describing what is going on.

Is it material? Because there is an economic system in play, and objects of desire, there is real work happening, and I am NOT referencing only the "gold farmers" in China using game characters to gather game gold to be sold for real money to players who want an easy way to get ahead in the game but lack the time or tenacity to do the grind work. There are also in-game activities analogous to real work and real world life.

Real work: For instance, the guildmaster of my guild is a day trader who spends a lot of time working the Auction House (in-game EBay kind of thing) to make the game money he needs to support his character's needs (e.g., trick out his ride, in this case a white tiger). There are guilds that players belong to, which function as both family and school in a way reminiscent of the Brazilian "Samba schools" Seymour Papert described. Here though, instead of preparing for Mardi Gras competitions with other Samba Schools and having fun, it's about preparing for competitions with other players and having fun.

Real play (within play): For instance, at the recent Winter Veil Festival I got to drink strong ale, and after two drinks, my screen was a bit blurry. After three drinks, it was significantly worse and my mouse actions were less accurate. I was drunk, albeit virtually so, and my game play was impaired.

I would propose that, within the game world, these analogous elements make it a KIND of real world, rather than a fantasy world. There is a very real, game-specific culture that players rely upon to make their way in that world. There are real relationships, real traditions and ways of being in the world, real identity markers, divisions of labor and opportunities for collaboration, sub-cultures, mediational objects with embedded histories that support new learners, etc etc
etc. WoW is fascinating to me because it is NOT a blurring of reality; it is an ALTERNATE (not alternative) reality, an alternate
real culture. By virtue of having a discernible culture, is it not real?

There is an immense amount of material to talk about here, but this is an interesting turn on XMCA and I'm hoping we'll have some 'time' to discuss more. I'd point you to our blog on this, but it's not yet ready for prime time consumption.

Why must we refer to reality as if there were only one possible? =grin=

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