Weekly Response #8 – Apprenticeship in MMOs

I missed posting a couple of these weekly responses because some were overly complicated and difficult to understand if you weren’t in the class, some were extremely basic and pointless, and then last week we didn’t have one. So I am finally starting this again, this particular paper is a response to my teacher’s, Constance Steinkuehler, paper on apprenticeship in Virtual Worlds. It wasn’t actually that good of a paper, didn’t really say much of anything at all other than people teach each other about MMOs, but I didn’t concentrate on that in this response.

It has been my experience that apprenticeship does happen similar to Steinkuehler’s experiences. When I first started playing these games, we had about 12 servers in the game, each with anywhere from 40 to 120 players. One of these servers had the very simple name of Levels 1-20. In an instant, you knew where to go if you were new.

In reality, this server was not any different than the other servers (at this time you could move your characters from server to server at will just by joining the server) and there were no real level limits either. What separated this server was pretty much a name, and a Guide on duty almost all the time to help new players get accustomed to the game.

This offered an apprenticeship in the form of a game supported one. However, this separation of new players had another affect on the community. You usually found experienced members hanging out in this server for the purpose of just helping people, or trying to lure people into their guild. This tended to present an apprenticeship closer to what Steinkuehler wrote about as the experienced players would group up with newer ones and show them around with a few quests, and help them get to a new server where the guild resides.

Once on this new server, the sort of direct apprenticeship really disappears. This sort of apprenticeship is most often a recruitment tactic by guilds, once the guild has the person in their guild, direct apprenticeship dies. This is not to say that apprenticeship doesn’t continue to occur, it just changes. It goes back to a sort of way like it originally was in that 1-20 server with the guide. If a new player needs help, he can ask, and the guild will likely help out, but no one is taking the player through the dungeon like that original time. As an example of this continued apprenticeship, when I started I had made a conscious decision to write in all caps. I wanted to do this to distinguish myself from everyone else who was typing normally. After a few weeks, people had told me to stop typing in caps, but I generally answered by saying that I wanted to. Finally after a few weeks of this, someone finally told me that “You know that you are essentially yelling at everyone?” I hadn’t known this and as soon as someone actually informed me of it, I stopped typing in all caps. This emphasizes how other players train new players into how to act in the game. This person who helped me with the all caps was likely a stranger who I never even really talked to again, but that information that they imparted on me was invaluable to how I acted and was likely treated by the community.

All this isn’t to say that direct apprenticeship for long periods of time doesn’t occur. There have been many times when I have taken new players under my wing, and not only told them how to play the game but tricks of the game, how to play the big quests, and how to play their class to be as good as they can. This is something that I don’t do often, but every now and then I will take up. Last summer was the last time I did this with a player who had come to Everquest 2 (EQ2) from Final Fantasy XI (FFXI). This player I can still sit down and swear had never even heard of this style of game before as he had shown absolutely no competence or knowledge in the genre. Yet he persisted that he had a number of characters in FFXI that were maxed out (which in that game was a particularly big deal as you had to pay for each additional character past the first).

I quickly took him under my wing. He was playing a Warden class, which is extremely similar to the Fury class that I had previously played and I played nearly every day for months with my Guardian class. I taught him a lot of things from what MMORPG means, to how to heal, to where to hunt at various levels. At times it was arduous and he felt that he wasn’t doing anything right, but towards the end of his time in the game (before he returned to school) he became quite a decent healer and a source of pride for me. He had learned a lot about the game, and though he had left my guild a couple weeks after joining, I still grouped with him on a nearly daily basis.

Apprenticeship takes on a number of different forms: direct, group, and indirect guides. But all the styles are really just a means to the same end. They all help the player grow into a mature gamer in a genre that relies on each individual player being a quality player for the sake of their group and for the sake of their guild. It is a very social genre and thus, important that each individual acts accordingly and can keep up with a group. This is why I think that apprenticeship has become more important in an MMO setting than it seems to be in offline setting.