VELKOMMEN: Hey, my name is Kristine Ask and I will be doing a presentation titled ”World of Scriptcraft? Gamers collective remaking of computergames”. Fully aware that its getting late and its been a long day, I have made sure to use many pictures and big fonts in my presentation. I will be looking at the player practices in the game World of Warcraft to see how users negotiate and create code.
So, to get on track with the session topic: How is code relevant for computergames? Or more importantly: is there something with computer games that can help in our understanding of code and coding? Well, playing computer games offers some intriguing points: there is an intimacy with the code, there is interactvity, interpretation – but that is also present during many other activities on a computer. You can have intimacy when hashing out a new idea on your word processer for the first time, you can have interactivity when in a chatroom and you certainly interpret when trying to figure out a new application. What makes computer games unique in terms of code, is that the interaction with the code is in it self the goal . The code is not a tool to f.ex create a paper, the interaction with the code is the goal. To understand that we need to think about what seperate games from other artefacts and playing from other activities. While the degree of fun, pleasure and escape from the real world is debatable, a commonality about games is to do with rules . Jesper Juul (2005), a game scholar, defines games as ”a rule-base system with a variable and quantifiable outcome”. In computer games its then tempting to see rules and code as two sides of the same coin. After all, playing games is about understanding, testing rules –to play with the limitations of whats possible, find out what is possible, what will happen and try to get a meaningful outcome. Computer games could be understood as playing with code. Using games as Tetris, shown on the slide here, this analogy of rules and code is strong. The same code that makes the game possible, the code that shows the blocks falling down on the screen, the code that allows you to move the blocks and try to fit them into neat lines – is the code that create the rules. In Tetris: the code is rules, or the code is law as Lessig would say. While code and rules at times will be the same thing in some games, using code in such absolute terms gets challenging when looking at more complex games and play.
To open up the idea of code I am following a semiotic approach and conceptualize code as scripts. Script proposes the idea of reading artefacts as text. The code is something that enables or constrain actions with the user, but its also a communicator. Through its design, its materiality, it tells the user how it should be used and what it should be used for. That is because the visions the designers have about what role the artefact should have, becomes embedded in the design. By looking to what actions we delegate to it, we can learn something about what the designers were thinking about when they made it (Akrich, 1992). In this paper I will not focus so much on the reading aspect that much, the de-scription of artefacts, but more on how these scripts communicates and are rewritten by users. The analysis is based on 9 in-depth-face to face interviews with players, either alone or in groups. In addition: A ongoing deep ethnographic work in a player community in the game in question: World of Warcraft. About 10 months worth. This means I have been playing, participating, observing and talking with players. Data in shape of personal journal, video capture of game sessions, online forums and chat logs.
The game I have choosen as part of my study is World of Warcraft. Also called WoW for shot. For those who do not know it: It was released in 2004 by the game company Blizzard it has become the most popular MMORPG, atleast in the western world. To explain the game I am going to explain the genre: The genre is MMORPG or Massive Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game. Breaking it down: 1) Massive Multiplayer Online : It’s a persistant virtual world, as in: a synchronous graphical representation of a place. Wo rld of W arcraft is a tounge-and-cheek version of more classical Tolkiens Lord of the Rings world: swords and magic, dragons and goblins. This game world is then duplicated across several server s, where as much as 30 000 players can be logged in at any time . In total several hundred servers, giving room to the approx 10-12 million players (been a while since player nubmers have been released). So, thats the massive multiplayer. Then there is the Online Roleplaying part. 2) Online Roleplaying: Y ou are represented through an avatar : which can be a dwarf, orc, troll, gnome, el f – going with the fantasy theme. But the avatar is very important as the overarching for the game is to develop this avatar. The last part of MMORPG is the G for Game and its in the gameplay that the avatar is developed. 3) Game: There are many ways to develop the avatar, which means that its better to think of WoW as a gaming platform rather then a single game. The primary game is that of using the avatar to kill virtual monsters. This granst the avatar points and magical items that will enhance it and make it better at (pause) killing monsters. There are other: Killing of other avatars in battlegrounds or arenas Completing of achievements, an achievementsystem that works as meta quests: Like eating 50 types of food, or visit every zone in the game. Ah: Making virtual money Emergent styles of play: Griefing, which is to destroy other peoples play experience. But the primary one is still: killing of monsters and this also can happen in several ways. In my analysis I am going to look at one subset of the killing of monster game:raiding
Raiding starts when the character has reached its maximum level, and can only be further enhanced by gaining magical items – which incidentally is kept by these really large and hard-to-beat monsters. So, the idea behind raiding is that you get several players together in order to defeat a really big and tough monster, for a really big and phat reward. So, r aids are defined as groups of players banding together that are large then 5. What size such raidgroups are have varied depending on the content the game has put foward, but for the last few years its been groups of 10 or 25. Raiding as a playing phenomenon - first came about in the MMO Everquest where some players decided that if they just got enough people together in game, perhaps they could kill some of the allmighty dragons that were about. This was not intended from the designers, so it started out as an emergent type of play (Malaby 2009?). In WoW however, it has been been part of the design from day one – and as more and more content is added it has been modelled so that more and more players should have access to this – making it one of the games biggest selling points. While raiding and raiding communities initially was seen as an elite activity, it is now a commonplace activity. In the last 3 years it have gone from a primarily powergamer type of play, to something engaging a large amount of the playerbase. Thought it seems that the instrumental type of play that was promoted by powergamers, have been normative and is defining for all those involved (Taylor 2008)
Raiding is in many ways a different type of play. In several ways it questions the idea of play itself. P lay has been described in many different terms. Game studies have used the idea of the golden circle where play is without consequence, free and pleasurable (Malaby, 2007). And its how we speak about playing in our everyday lives, “we’re just playing”, “its just a game”. Its nothing important or serious and in such: Play is a dichotomy to work. We expect play to be free of responsibility, of productivity and chores. Yet, in raiding you find an array of worklike activities (Yee, 2006). Happens at set times - quite reminding of football or band practice, f.ex 3 times pr week from 7-11 About team effort - the individuals enjoyment is subservient to the collective achievement Little reward for much input - When a monster is killed it will grant maybe 2-3 magical items, to a group of 25 players. For everyone to get their share, it needs to be repeated again and again, for individual perhaps long after the incentive is gone. Organized: its not incidental, its planned. And to make it happen much effort, by both humans and non-humans, is put in to make it happen. This is the aspect I will be looking more into today. complicated - in order to defeat these monsters you need to employ intricate strategies that involve how to position, division of tasks and many many many attempts Want to point out the obvious here: That work can be fun. But also that even though this type of play is quite instrumental, that ideals such as effectiveness are upheld – doesnt mean its not passionate. After all, you need to be rather emotionally involved to spend a minimum of 20 hours pr week – killing the same monsters again and again.
I have chosen raiding as an exmple and it is during the killing of monsters the most direct interaction with the code happens, and in raiding you find the more involved and complex monster killing. So, to recap: In a raid your avatar (or in this case, my avatar which is pictured on the left) – will go together with 24 other avatars, in an attempt to kill a virtual monster. These big monsters with great rewards are called boss monsters, going to use the example here of a boss named Kologarn. First of all: The monsters are not AIs. Its actually programmed to execute a list of events and abilities at set intervals. Some times these can be prompted by certain actions or be randomized to a degree. But, as it is not an AI of any kind their reaction is predetermined, the challenge is in making the players deal with that predetermined set of events. To defeat such monsters you need coordination and attentiveness. Many challenges focuses on positioning of the avatars, and different groups of avatars doing specific tasks. This means that planning and strategies are needed in order to execute things correctly. There is a limited time to complete this. You have only one week before the place where these bossmonsters live, resets and you need to start again. While different guilds put different emphasis on skills and social interaction, it means that you cant just simply take your time. If you want progress you need a certain level of skill. There are other scripts present, but I will show how these are present in the fight Kologarn.
Focused Eyebeam : He actually shoots lazers from his eyes, targeting one player and following that player around. If the player and the surrounding avatars do not move away they will be killed by the damage it does. / Shockwave : An ability where the entire raid takes massive damage, loosing almost half their health. / Stone Grip : Chooses 3 random players in the raid, picks them up and keeps them effectively caged in his hand. Unless the hand is destroyed within 15 seconds, the 3 players will die. Deocding clues : Since he is saying “Oblivion” rather then “I will now damage the entire raid, be careful and provide extra healing” which is required and very difficult to deal with unless you know about in advance: its clear from the script – the expectation from the designers – that its not something that’s supposed to be defeated on the first try. If anything, it’s encouraging a trial and error approach. Going in, seeing what happens, linking clues like these sayings – to events in the fight. It requires coordination and attentiveness : When he grips players, attention needs to be redirected and abilities timed so that the hand is destroyed in time. If its not noticed that he grabs them, the raid will loose 3 players and will be on its way towards a defeat. The time limit neednt be something from the game , a want to not to waste time is general, but the fact that you only have 1 week of tries puts an emphasis on this: You cant go in “just playing around”. There is a need for instrumentality and professionalism. The eyebeam, is an ability sometimes referred to as a retard test. Since it is random, it will test the raid – a weak link might end up killing everyone. Now, these scripts are read and to a large degree met without much resistance. For example: Players gladly try again and again on the same encounters, week after week month after month. And the need for excellence is quite visible in the instrumental approach that raiders are known for. In this case its not as much about scripts beeing opposed – any anti-scripts – its about new scripts being added. So, lets look at how this encounter is being reinscribed.
In game rescription The most prominent in game rescription is that of addons. Addons are small additional software that is made by players for other players, Blizzard the producer allow this, that can be downloaded and added to the game. It can mean changing the look of the interface to make information to tools to help analyze the virtual marked. In regards to raid encounters there is one type of addons that are central: These are called bossmods. The bossmods uses the fact that most evenst are predetermined and important for players to know about – and create timers and warnings to help the player understand when these things happen.
This is a screenshot from Kologarn showing a bossmod (as well as various other mods) in play. Here the bossmod tells me that I am being targetd by a lazor beam and needs to move away. It also shows timers for when events will occur: like grabbing people. Taylor (2009) recently wrote about this, and how the use of bossmods effectively becomes the another member of the raid. The 26th player of a 25 man raid as we have delegated the task of warning other players of occurring events, to a script. We have delegated several important tasks to this non-human raid member. It becomes both a translator, timekeeper and commander. It is bringing up information that might be more hidden – f.ex him saying “oblivion” can be hard to read between all the other chatter going on, keeping time of 30 second intervals is quite hard to do. Bossmods seem to also hold a special position as addon. Speaking to players about addons several said that they did not use them: for idealistic reasons that they wanted to keep the game pure, cause they didn’t want to update them all the time, or had technical problems – but that story was always a variation of “I don’t use addons, but I have bossmods ofcourse”. Bossmods have almost lost its status as addon and have been blackboxed as part of the raiding situation. Just like you need an avatar on max level to raid, you need bossmods. Its taken for granted to have this 26th member arounod to remind and to warn about whats going to happen. Here, there is an actual extention of the code in literal terms. 0s and 1s are added through player programs and added onto the game. However, there are other forms of extending the code – of re-scribing the game – that doesn’t take place in the game itself, yet is vital to how the game is played.
The most central arena for doing this is guild forums. Guilds are the playergroups organizing the raids, and it seems that more or less regardless of what level these guilds play at: they have a forum. My informants represented a range of raiders from quite successful to very casual. While the more progress oriented players highlighted how it was used to discuss game information, the more socially oriented told about how it was used to share pictures of children and weddings. But, regardless of level it was a place where strategies and current in game challenges were discussed. What I am showing here is the forum from the guild I am playing in and studying. During our attempts on Kologarn we also used the forum to prepare ourselves between attempts.
Our first meeting with Kologarn spawned a 3 page thread on our forum in the Raiding section. It was started by me who at the time was one of the people leading the raids, where I had written a short summary of what needed to be done based on what I had read on various strategy sites online such as bosskillers.com and wowwiki.com. After our fist attempt several people jumped in to get clarification. Like what would happen if we didn’t target the hand that had people trapped and just let them die? How long did we actually have? What were really our problem and the reason we coulnd’t defeat him? After all, we had gotten the answers from strategies and bossmods on how to do it right – but we needed to find out which parts we were not succeeding. In the thread suggestions like this were made: “ If you're melee and being targetted, just stripe left and follow the left edge of the room to the back. The beams should end before you run into the main raid. 1 time last night someone stripe to the right leading the beams right through the MT * spot. Not cool. ” *MT is a player with a specific task: ensuring the monster only target the most resilient
Some players even posted some maps to explain how they wanted the positioning to happen. Some more serious then others
Links to other webpages were also common. A link to a video of another guild doing the same boss to see how they coped with it, so linking database that gives detailed info on what certain abilities does. In this case granting a clarification that it takes exactly 15 seconds to kill someone who have been gripped in kologarns hand.
In the discussion there was also used logs. Logs in this case refer to combat logs. During all combat a log of all combat events is being made, usually its hidden as its not really that easy to read. It looks something like this: However, several websites have appeared that let you upload such a combatlog and get it presented in a more accessible format. My guild did this on a regular basis, and use it to check up on details. In the case of Kologarn it was used by a member trying to determine exactly how many people died from the beams. Since this site makes combatlogs searchable, it help translate the code into something more usable. Here is an example of a log from kolgarn (not my guild, that log was lost as someone suddenly stopped paying for our prevous log host service):
So,time for some concluding remarks. I have been talking abit about extending the code. This is a bit inspired by the idea of indexicality. Like when you take a photograph (not a digital one) its an actual light imprint of what was seen through the lense. Initially one of the reasons photographs were such good evidence before, and possibly why now with digital photos this status is not so absolute. Anyways, in the case of logs, videos, databases used – we are also talking about a indexicality. They are imprints of the game code, or the game code in different format. You could also say it has been translated, but that it’s a direct correlation to the existing code I want to highlight. They become extentions as they happen outside the game as well as inside it, and because what happens outside the game when interpreting, discussing and tranlsating the code affects what happens inside it. In such it blurs the distinction of what is in game code and what is out of game code. These code imprints can be understood as reactions to the script: That a need for knowledge and precision breeds websites and databases with information is perhaps not the most surprising. Timed events during encounters However, in the creation of private and public forums, videos, discussions, logs – something more is created. Playing the game is not just interacting with the code of WoW its interacting with a range of technologies.
Script and negotiation of scripts: not just between a person and code. This is a collective re-scription. The tools used by players to translate ends up reinscribing the game with new content and ideas for how the game should be played . Have seen this collective resctiption become a natural, and black boxed part of the game: Bossmods changes how players meet encounters Forums become collective memorybanks, they The translation of scripts happens by assembly: Constant delegation and redelegation of tasks between different technologies
World of scriptcraft. The collective remaking of computergames
World of Scriptcraft? Gamers’ collective remaking of computer games Kristine Ask www.kristineask.com
Computergames as code <ul><li>How can computer games help us understand code and coding? </li></ul><ul><li>Negotiating the code is a goal in it self </li></ul>
From code to script <ul><li>A semiotic approach to user/technology relationships </li></ul><ul><li>“ A large part of the work of innovators is that of “inscribing ” this vision of a the world in the technical object. ” </li></ul><ul><li>Akrich 1992: 208 </li></ul><ul><li>Data: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>9 Qualitative interviews with players </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Ongoing deep ethnographic work in player community: playing, participating, observing, talking </li></ul></ul>
The Game in question: <ul><li>MMO RP G </li></ul>Virtual world Up to 30 000 players Avatars used to interact with the world A game platform of many subgames Primary game: Killing monsters
Raiding <ul><li>Large groups of players fighting challenging monsters </li></ul><ul><li>From emergence to mainstream </li></ul>
Raiding = play or work? <ul><li>Raiding: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Set times </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Team effort </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Complicated </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Little reward for much input </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Organized </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Work can still be fun </li></ul><ul><li>Raiding is instrumental, yet passionate </li></ul>
De-scripting a virtual monster <ul><li>Decoding the clues of the encounter is part of the challenge </li></ul><ul><li>Requires coordination and attentiveness </li></ul><ul><li>Limited time to complete </li></ul>+ 24 other avatars VS Me Boss monster: Kologarn
Example: Kologarn <ul><li>Kologarns abilities are: </li></ul><ul><li>Shockwave: Damages all </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Says “Oblivion!” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Stone Grip: Targets 3 and locks them in his hand </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Says: “I will squeeze the life from you!” </li></ul></ul><ul><li>Focused eyebeam: Targets and follows players </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Visual: Blue streams across the floor </li></ul></ul>
Extending the code: In game re-scription <ul><li>Addons: Usermade software </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Bossmods </li></ul></ul>
<ul><li>Translator, timekeeper and commander </li></ul><ul><li>Bossmods – The raids 26th member </li></ul>
Extending the code: Out of game re-scription <ul><li>Code extends outside the game </li></ul><ul><li>Forums as the arena for continuation </li></ul>
The extended code of Kologarn <ul><li>3 page thread </li></ul><ul><li>Suggestions regarding problems and solutions: </li></ul><ul><li>“ If you're melee and being targetted, just stripe left and follow the left edge of the room to the back. The beams should end before you run into the main raid. 1 time last night someone stripe to the right leading the beams right through the MT * spot. Not cool. ” </li></ul><ul><li>*MT is a player with a specific task: ensuring the monster only target the most resilient </li></ul>
<ul><li>Maps to explain positioning </li></ul>
<ul><li>Links to relevant webpages: </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Movies, Strategies, Databases </li></ul></ul>
From extending code to re-scription <ul><li>Indexicality </li></ul><ul><li>Reaction to the script, re-scripted as more </li></ul>
Collective re-scription <ul><li>The re-scription is done by the community </li></ul><ul><ul><li>Bossmods are taken for granted </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Forums used to recount, interpret and plan </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><li>Assembly of tools/technologies: </li></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Films </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Guides </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Logs </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Forums </li></ul></ul></ul><ul><ul><ul><li>Game </li></ul></ul></ul>