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Differences between online games and virtual worlds and how they come about

Differences between online games and virtual worlds and how they come about



Talk given to the "Deep Think" group, in Second Life, on April 16th, 2012

Talk given to the "Deep Think" group, in Second Life, on April 16th, 2012



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  • Juul, J. (2005) Half-Real: Video Games Between Real Rules and Fictional World. Mas.: MIT Press.
  • Carr, D., Burn, A., Schott, G. & Buckingham, D. (2003) Textuality in video games. http://www.digra.org/dl/db/05163.10260.pdf
  • Salen, K. & Zimmerman, E. (2003) This is not a game: play in cultural environments. http://www.digra.org/dl/db/05164.10000.pdf
  • Copier, M. (2005) Connecting Worlds. Fantasy Role-Playing Games, Ritual Acts and the Magic Circle. http://www.digrhttp://www.digra.org/dl/db/06278.50594.pdfa.org/dl/db/06278.50594.pdf
  • Image © Blizzard Entertainment (http://us.blizzard.com/en-us/company/about/legal-faq.html); their permission does not allow this to be further reused or adapted.
  • Oliver, M. & Carr, D. (2009) Learning in virtual worlds: using communities of practice to explain how people learn from play. British Journal of Educational Technology, 40 (3), 444-457.
  • Video at http://secondlife.com/whatis/?lang=en-US

Differences between online games and virtual worlds and how they come about Differences between online games and virtual worlds and how they come about Presentation Transcript

  • Differences between online games and virtual worlds and how they come about Martin Oliver London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education, University of London m.oliver@ioe.ac.ukwww.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • What’s the problem?• What’s a game?• Ludology, narratology, etc.• ‘Magic circle’, permeability and cultural clashes• Roleplaying and social convention• Focus more on Warcraft than SLwww.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • What’s a game?A game is a rule-based formal system with avariable and quantifiable outcome, wheredifferent outcomes are assigned differentvalues, the player exerts effort in order toinfluence the outcome, the player feelsattached to the outcome, and theconsequences of the activity are optionaland negotiable. – Juul, 2005www.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • What’s a game?• Games can be looked at from various different perspectives – Ludic structures (rules) – Ludic economies (resources) – Narrative structures (textuality) – Diegetic experiences (representations) – Etc. (Carr et al, 2003)www.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • The magic circleWhat does it mean to enter the system of agame? How is it that play begins and ends?What makes up the boundary of a game andwhat occurs at that border? At stake inanswering these questions is understandingthe paradoxical artificiality of games and theway that games relate to the real-worldcontexts that they inhabit. (Salen & Zimmerman, 2003)www.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • There may be…• A physical component (setting, board, etc)• Specific symbolism (the meaning of pieces, moves, tokens, etc)• Agreement (declaration, adjudication, etc)• Convention …and so onwww.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • The magic circle is ambiguous and permeable• Killer, LARPS and other ‘augmented reality’ games• Cheating• Spectators• Biographies, relationships, etc• Evolving games (new content, rules, patches, etc)• Players as (re-)designers (modding, home rules, etc)www.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • Role-playing raises lots of issuesA distinction can be made between role-playing games andthe act of role-play. Role-playing, the activity of acting outor assuming a particular role, can be done in many formsand within many games, not only in role-playing games.RPGs just offer specific rules and settings which guide role-play. Within this context I would like to discuss whetherrole-playing games are a form of play or games. Accordingto their own definitions of games, Jesper Juul, Katie Salenand Eric Zimmerman consider RPGs as “borderline” or“limit” cases of games. – Copier, 2005www.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • Conventional role-playing• Negotiable, extensible rules• Many lack quantifiable outcomes• A focus on constructing spaces and identities – …particularly when contrasted with adventure games (“offline” games in a role-playing style, lacking opportunities for construction)www.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • Permeability of the magic circle• Salen & Zimmerman discuss games in terms of: – Rules (formal, distinct) – Play (permeable) – Culture (extremely open, fuzzy/blurred)• Role-playing as: – Rules (game mechanics) – Play (negotiable interactions) – Culture (…and interactions with other cultures)www.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • An example: World of Warcraft• A highly developed and extensive set of rules – 85 levels, 10 classes, 12 races, 12 professions and huge numbers of skills, abilities, talents etc – Questing, instances, battlegrounds, role- playing – Various ‘flavours’ of server: PvE, PvP, PvE RP, PvP RPwww.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • • What Warcraft is can depend on… – What server you’re on – What combination of class, spec, gear, etc you’re playing with – Whether you’re questing, raiding, PvPing, etc – Who you’re playing with – What’s happening in your chat channel – What’s happening in your room…www.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • Studying couples who play WoW 13
  • • Interviews with couples – Five, chosen for diversity – Interviewed in-game – Semi-structured interviews, chat logged, lasted 60-90 minutes – Thematic analysis (Oliver & Carr, 2009)www.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • • Permeable in all sorts of directionsThe 1st online RPG I played was Guild Wars which a friend had a spare account for. When I met [my partner] she introduced me to WoW. [Interviewer: So your partner was playing first?] Yes, I believe a friend or ex-partner of hers introduced her to it. [...] She described it to me, telling me what it was like ie the Auction House set-up, quests etc etc. Then she let me have a go on her account at creating a new character so I could see for myself what it was like.www.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • • With me liking PvP, it stems from playing games such as Counterstrike and the like, where as [my partner] has never really played them and is unused to PvP so therefore tends to only enter it when I’m here as backup• I did a few raids where i sat in the kitchen, because the sofa wasn’t very comfortable. That was a bit weird because i’d have to shout for [my partner] to be able to hear me [Partner:] There’s only one desk in here which means someone gets the sofa [Participant:] usually me :) that’s where i am nowwww.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • • When we were both playing a LOT of WoW, I don’t think it was particularly healthy for our real relationship, as although we were playing together a lot of the time, we weren’t actually talking all that much in real life [Partner] [emote, smiles] sat typing to each other ...• I can get touchy about the RP side that some players extend to eg ‘flirting to a degree of explict- ness’ [Flirting with you, with your partner, or just in general?] Mainly when it involves [my partner], I dont like it in real life and that, as stupid as it may sound, also extends to the game world. I understand the ethics and styles of RP but somehow when people are flirtatious with [my partner] I panic and get defensive/protective.www.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • Relating identity and character• Gee’s notion of three identities• Real: the “me” playing the game – Recognised as problematic in contemporary sociology• Virtual: the character in the game – A ludic, mechanical construct; not something ‘learnable’, but ‘out there’• Projective: the ‘project’ of playing that character – Something with narrative, enacted qualities 18
  • Communities of Practice• “The nexus of multimembership” – Always a member of multiple communities – Demands of each can be in conflict – Identity work involves negotiating how to deal with such conflicts (endure, change convention, hide, leave…) – An unavoidable issuewww.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • From another study:“Whilst in Razorfen Kraul, one of my companionsstarted asking if I was a girl in real life. I ignoredthem. They asked again, and I said I wasn’t goingto say. They asked again, and I said that it reallywasn’t relevant. They insisted – so I asked if theywere trying to hit on me in some clumsy way. Andthey said that yes, they were, and they were justtrying to make sure what I was because if I was aguy they’d have to be gay to hit on me.Needless to say, that’s as far as it went.” 20
  • Some simple analysis• An example of negotiating two identities – Three identities present (self, character, team member) – Two in conflict (sexuality of player and character)• Unresolved for this character – Didn’t stand a chance either way – They got fed up and left 21
  • Today, Emma’s player introduced some story elements that(without going into detail) explained why Emma has bothdesires and problems. It was all very interesting and workedto add depth and potential to the romance, but it was fairlypersonal and very sensitive.Just as the player was logging off, however, they revealedthat this background was, essentially, what had happened intheir own life. I didn’t have time to respond, as I knew theplayer was heading off to work, but I did put down a markerthat we need to have another out-of-character chat.To be honest, I feel rather shocked. I’m concerned that thisisn’t just story background, but might be the player workingthrough personal issues within the game. I’m not sure I’mparticularly well placed to deal with these. 22
  • Analysis• The concern: play as play, or play as therapy? – Roleplaying often draws on personal experience – What’s an appropriate way to incorporate this?• Potential issue for shared enterprise – Play/therapy could be in tension; what are we working towards (together)? – Particularly an accountability issue: who should say whether something oversteps the mark?• Issue for shared repertoire – Does this shift our interaction beyond my ability to respond?• Resolved through out-of-character negotiation – Reassured that my concerns weren’t justified; this was play 23
  • What about Second Life?• Is it a game? – No universal rules (although there are economics) – No universal play – Interactions with other cultures also variable…but that’s also true of WoW…www.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • • Not marketed as a game – From introduction video: “A place to connect… a place to shop… a place to work… a place to love… a place to explore… a place to be”• Not marketed as a place to play, but implied playfulness• Marketed as distinct from but connected to other cultureswww.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • A place of subcultures• Destination guide suggests lots of role- playing – 129 role-playing communities – Prevalence of Vampire avatars and islands – “Adult” areas• Some games, too – Bowling, capture the flag, etc• However, games & playing are arguably not the ‘default’www.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • Summing up• ‘Play’ invariably relates to other things we do, even if it’s marked out in important ways• ‘Games’ are usually marked out in quite obvious ways (rules, artefacts) but ‘play’ is more nebulouswww.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • • Warcraft has ways of handling this (e.g. RP servers) but even then, there is ambiguity and complexity• Second Life clearly isn’ t positioned as a game, but there’s mixed messages about play – Is the whole environment ‘playful’? Does ‘playfulness’ imply distinction? – If this isn’t a ‘play’ island, do conventions of play apply?www.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk
  • • How explicit can you be? – “While on this Island, it’s assumed that…”• Even if you want to stay ‘in character’, ‘meta’ discussions are needed from time to time; can you (at the least) mark out “magic circles” where you don’ t play?www.londonknowledgelab.ac.uk