Weekly Response #9

This week’s response is to Ducheneaut, Yee, Nickell, & Moore’s “Alone Together?” paper on social dynamics in MMOs using World of Warcraft. It was actually a fairly frustrating paper because these four seemed to have boughten a “Jump to Conclusions Pad” from the Office Space store. They kept on coming up with conclusions that were way off basis, and never made any attempt at reason why what they said was true. It was amazing, and I am sure my prof will make a bold claim that this paper is quite popular and make me cry in the process. The weird thing is that I don’t disagree with everything they say (though alot), however how they come up with their conclusions is just ridiculous and don’t really prove anything. It’s a waste of time to read.

I have been in many guilds in my years of MMO play. My first guild supposedly numbered around 150 people, my current guild realistically likely numbers around 15. Through these guilds, I have found that the amount that guildmates group together varies with the game. This is largely due to how the game is set up. If a game is built from the ground up for the player to play alone, like WoW is, people won’t group together. In fact, the standard “looking for group” feature was left out of WoW for nearly two years, showing how important a group actually was to the WoW designers. Likewise, games that truly encourage group play like Everquest 1, will likely have a far higher rate of players grouping together and thusly forming a stronger community.

Personally, I find that there is an alarming trend in the genre where, regardless of tools added to make grouping easier, the players are grouping with each other less and less. This is happening, I think, for a number of reasons. First, in older games, common practices like “twinking” and “power leveling” were common. In modern MMOs, these practices are no where near as easy to accomplish as they once were.

Twinking, or giving high level equipment to low level players, has been nearly obliterated due to level specific items and bound items.

Power leveling, or the grouping of a low level player with a high level player to allow a low level player to gain experiences at a much faster rate, has pretty much been eradicated as well by making it so that low level characters won’t gain experience if they are grouped with high level players, or get experience if they don’t do a certain amount of damage on a high level creature.

Both of these particular faults in the older MMOs actually helped bond community, especially guilds who often used these tools to help new players and thus created bonds between the high level and the low level, something that is sorely missing from modern games. Some games like City of Heroes and Everquest 2, have made strides to help fix this issue by allowing higher level players to group with lower level players under certain circumstances, and even giving bonuses to the lower level players. However, this hasn’t quite gotten to the point of replacing this old dynamic. I actually think both have come very close to it, but each has had other problems that have prohibited it from working.

For instance, EQ2 did not add the feature until about six months into the game’s life and by this time a culture of separation had already been born and only now I think is starting to break.

Another interesting feature that in many ways has decreased social interaction is ironically praised by Ducheneaut & Co: easy chat features. I admit to being very torn on this subject as I do agree that all the various chat channels and friends lists and such have been a nice addition to the game, and they are something that people would go elsewhere for anyway if the game didn’t provide it. However, I can’t help but notice that congregating has decreased dramatically, and this happened while chat complexity has increased. By looking at older games, you can see that there were places that people congregated at. The authors did note Ironforge as serving this purpose to some degree in WoW, and I do admit that having global auctions only available in large cities has fostered a smaller version of this. However, they do not compare to Britain in UO, the subway in AC, the spires of EQ1, or even the tavern in Shadows of Yserbius, my first game. Each of these places grew in popularity for different reasons, ease of travel was often one, but they all saw the same purpose. Large amounts of people made a point to go to these places at some point in their day to catch up with each other, to meet new faces, find groups, trade, or find a portal to another continent. These features have all been simplified for various reasons, one of the larger ones having to deal with server stress, and understandably so. But congregational location removal in online spaces has had a detriment to online society. The only way that this has actually become saved to any degree has been in the form of out of game message boards, usually from third parties, although sometimes the first-party developer provides boards that are free enough where people feel that they can be themselves.

While yes, on one side global and zonal chat channels have created the ability for people to get in touch with each other. The other side of it is that people often turn these channels off due to the large amounts of guild recruitment, trades, and other spam that is generally unwanted. At best, these channels turn out to be full of “flamers,” or people who do nothing but make fun of anyone who says anything on them, not unlike internet bulletin boards.