Online Gaming

Introduction


With the gradual increase in the number of hours spent on gaming today it’s become more and more apparent that online gaming is something more than just an addiction, and many question the impact this has on identity and gamers’ personality in the real word. I myself have wondered at times whether to submit to the negative connotations I hear about gaming addiction in various documentaries I’ve watched without observing the potential long term positive benefits gaming might have on identity. In light of this, this article studies the elements of communication within two separate but highly popular online games of World of War-craft (WOW) and Second Life. It examines the aspects that give these games the ability to be interactive, the motives behind the gamers’ need to play, the interactive communities of networks formed, and the virtual identity or second life created by the gamer. This article also takes a look at the influence online gaming has on identity.

World of War Craft


World of Warcraft is one of the most widely played online games today. As a “massively multiplayer online role-playing game” (MMORPG), it currently holds the Guinness World record for the most users subscribed at about 11 million. Gamers typically spend many long hours playing in a real-time strategy setting amongst millions of online gamers. Players interact through the characters they create.

Interactive Ability

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In order to establish interactivity within in the game users are first required to create a characters or “avatars” for themselves. These characters are then selected to join one of three settings or “realms”. Each realm or setting acts as an individual duplicate of the game. One realm is called Player vs. Player (PVP) where users would be paying against other users on a one to one basis. In this realm players typically use Skype to communicate; they use any regular headset, and talk as if they were in a regular phone call with friends. [3] A second realm is called Player vs. Environment (PVE) where users would be playing in a more open and filled up battle area. In this realm players use an interactivity tool called Ventrillo, which work very much like a walki talki. [1] Users would be playing in teams and would need to communicate in a fast enough way to reach out to their team. [3] Finally, users can also enter a much less trivial realm call Roleplay (RP) which is the typical adventure mode of the game where users would be playing on their own and fighting enemies. Here players usually interact through a traditional in-game chat; players would constantly receive messages and requests from other players and would constantly chat with them throughout this realm. [3] According to the creators of the game, “in-game chat is text-based. You will see other people’s public conversations scrolling down in the game’s chat window, and if you feel like it, you can jump in anytime and either add something to an ongoing discussion or start a conversation about a new topic.” [4]
There are three notable types of chat you should be aware of: say, yell, and whisper.

Saying

Saying something is the most basic, fundamental in-game communication tool. When you say something, your message is only visible to players in your character’s immediate vicinity. Conversations between strangers, role-playing in public places, a funny joke to share at the mailbox – these types of interaction are frequently said. [4]

Yelling

Yelling is for when you need to reach out to players just outside of your immediate vicinity; things you yell can be read by players who are quite some distance away from you, but many consider it rude, especially if overused. Players often use yell to bark out warnings to friendly players that may otherwise be just outside of earshot. Say and yell are both forms of area chat, meant for communicating to nearby players. [4]

Whispering

Whispering is World of Warcraft’s private communication tool. Whispers can only be heard by the specific player you target with your whisper. Better yet, whispers are not restricted to your immediate surroundings, so you can whisper any player of your own faction on your own realm, no matter where they are. [4]

Motives for Game Play

Making Friends

The interactive style of the game makes it much easier for users to make friends with others online. The chat box is in the format of a news feed where any user could easily join a conversation or even start their own. This is usually the ice breaker from which more private conversations filters out from and relationship start to build. Sometimes friends made within the realms of the game build very strong relationships to the point where they even become friends outside the game (through social networks, and then in person later on). [3] Nevertheless, this aspect creates a need for users to escape the real world at times and join the relationships they’ve build with others in the game.

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Moreover, with the more modern and useful forms of communication ability, where the user could be voice chatting instead of typing, relationships have become much easier for users to build online.

Constantly Updated Content

The creators of WOW thought strategically when they developed this game. They considered how most games at the time were being developed in the form of a storyboard that had an end to it and designed a game that would never end but only be constantly updated with content. This very aspect then became one of the underlying reasons gamer’s develop the need to play more and more; they typically see no end to the game and just keep playing hour after hour after hour to find out what else they could discover. They are fascinated by the new worlds they encountered develop a need to work their way up through levels.

Blizzard Entertainment Convention

It’s widely known in the WOW gaming community of the Annual Convention the creators of the game hold, the Blizzard Entertainment Convention. Some users gain much of the motive to play just become more and more recognized. Once a player reaches a certain level they are usually invited and flown out to attend the convention where they get a chance to enjoy, hands-on play time with the latest versions of Blizzard Entertainment games, discussion panels with the developers of Blizzard Entertainment, professional and casual tournaments for players to showcase their talents, community contests with great prizes, and commemorative merchandise. [5]

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Interactive Communities Formed

Users of all ages and genders play WOW, however, we notice a majority of male teenagers playing WOW more than any other age group or gender. [1] Unlike online social networks, in WOW it is more difficult to find people with similar interests. In Nicolas Ducheneaut’s article on “The Life and Death of Online Gaming Communities: A Look at Guilds in World of Warcraft,” he states that:

”WoW exacerbates the challenge of finding people with similar interests: no information is readily available about the makeup of a guild, its collective interests, its needs for new members of particular levels and classes, etc. Most of this information is traded out-of-game (if at all) on forums that are not visited by all players.” [6]

Virtual Identity

Similar to any other MMORPG, WOW gives its users the ability to create their own virtual identity or second life. From body size, skin and hair color to voice type, tattoos, and type of clothing users create their own original avatar that represents them in a fantasy world.

Influence on Identity

In interview conducted with Ahmed Ali, a current hard-core gamer, he points out that only about a year after his little brother had begun playing the game, he began to notice a great deal of change in his personality. Aside from the obvious growing number of hours spent playing, Ahmed said that he noticed a clear change in his brother’s language abilities, and was able to speak English much more fluently. Ahmed also noticed a clear difference in the speed his brother could typed on a keyboard.[1] Because of how frequently users have to type though out the game this net result is bound to come about. Moreover, similar to the outcome online social networks have had on reducing attention span and increasing ability to multitask, WOW has also rippled this effect on many of its players. Gamers are required to constantly be thinking about and monitoring multiple things during battles in order to stay alive. In each battle they play gamers need to be precise and react quickly in order to avoid damage and beat their opponents, which once again sharpens their senses in the real world. However, one of the most influences I’ve notice in many of gamer friends of mine has usually been a clear difference in vocabulary. Similar to how Ahmed and his little brother had noticed an improvement in their vocabulary many gamer friends I know have been able to top their classes in comprehension, and composition through this simple gamming addiction. It was usually the best writers I knew who’ve previously had a strong addiction to gamming. WOW requires its player to read tips and speech clouds for instructions and various pieces of information, and this, over the long term, gradually builds their vocabulary.

“A comprehensive 2009 review of studies published on the cognitive effects of video games found that gaming led to significant improvements in performance on various cognitive tasks, from visual perception to sustained attention. This surprising result led the scientists to propose that even simple computer games like Tetris can lead to “marked increases in the speed of information processing.” [2]

“One particularly influential study, published in Nature in 2003, demonstrated that after just 10 days of playing Medal of Honor, a violent first-person shooter game, subjects showed dramatic increases in ­visual attention and memory.” [2]

“Similarly, video games - the scourge of every parent of a teenager in the 1990s - have been found to have many positive benefits including on coordination and reaction times, says Piaras Kelly, an account director at PR firm Edelman and busy blogger who admits he is ‘online 24/7’.” [3]

In Britain, the psychologist Tanya Byron was commissioned by the government to conduct a review of the studies looking at the effect of technology and video games on children’s brain development and found ‘‘no clear evidence of desensitisation in children’’; ‘‘children actively involved in sport play on consoles for the same amount of time as those who are not’’ and concluded that there was much ‘‘technology specifically useful; for those with learning difficulties and disabilities.” [3]

Second Life


Throughout the course we’ve been discussing the aspects of virtual identity, but Second Life offers users actual virtual identities with shocking applications. To explain, Second Life is computer software developed by Linden Labs in 1999, the software was a breakthrough in social networking, it’s like a game where users can create their own avatars and live in a virtual world. Signing up is free, resulting to huge numbers of users on the network. What is special about Second Life is its ability to offer users a surreal virtual life. The choices that this world offers are more than ‘real’ life. The issue of identity and virtuality is perfectly clear while analyzing the rhetoric of the game. Why are users on Second life and what this virtual identify offers? Analyzing need and convenience to belong to this social network, and how it reflects on identity. First, to illustrate, I used the software for two months the lost intersest, but I found many interesting aspects of virtuality that didn’t believe existed. After creating my avatar, I found out the teleport option, where you can fly all over the world from Hyde Park to India, meeting different people from actual different countries. Then, also there is another translation feature which automatically translates conversations between avatars. Back to my story, I found a job at a drug store, where they offered me 200 Linden dollars, the games currency. And linden dollars are real money, there’s a huge economy in the software.
“Not only can people “interact” via their avatars, currency is exchanged via a free-market system that enables business models to be tested for a fraction of their real life cost. Given the microcosm of society that virtual worlds provide, it is an ideal space for studying behaviors as well as business “(Wise)
There are different reasons why people live in Second life, first it offers a wide exposure not offered in real life. Second life is a virtual life but it is also real life, at least to me. Although I lost interest in the game, but I found it really informative. In a research paper by Deborah L. Wise, mentions Richard Barter an expert on Virtual worlds, where he identifies the motives or needs of virtual world users:

Explorers: people who are curious and see the space as an empty canvas, ready to be unlocked through persistence and creativity.
Socializers: looking for a social structure with shared activities and experiences. They come to be with others.
Achievers: want the ability to increase the power of their avatar and attain social respect.
Controllers: want to intervene in and dominate the lives of others.

These categories mainly depict the characteristics of the users, but they are all affect by their virtual presence. To explain, identity is partially a process but developed by time, exposure and mentality. In the same research the researcher created two avatars for herself. interestingly, the two characters outgrew each others. The first avatar was supposed to reflect the researcher’s identity, meaning same appearance, job and interests. While the other avatar reflected the virtual researcher. In simpler words, the second avatar Debe Wise was exploring different aspect of the researchers identify.

“Over time it became clear that while Debe and Flameheart were both initially created by the same individual with a singular value system, moral compass and set of social conventions, each of these avatars was developing a distinct “identity” based on the interactions in the communities they chose to affiliate with. In essence, they were the focus of their own activity.” Wise

Here, the relation between identity and virtuality is clear. The user’s real life identity is affected by virtual existence or experience. This relation plays a huge role in the process of identify developing. To conclude, I find that Second life or similar software, truly build up a person’s identity in many ways, at least changes it. Whether the relation between humans and technology is positive or negative, I think Second life offers the user a journey of self exploration, which might not exist in life.

Conclusion


Although online gaming does bring out a negative habit of creating addiction in the gamers who play them there should be no doubt that these effects still do have any positive effects or influences on identity in the long term. It may not be presented in the traditional way of how people would learn to communication effectively, but when faced with the option of learn something and learning something and enjoying the process, I think most today would go for the latter.

Bibliography
1. Ali, Ahmed. “Your World of Warcraft Experince.” Houssam Said. May 2011. Interview
2. Lehrer, Jonah. “Our Cluttered Minds.” The New York Times. June 3, 2010.
3. O'Connell, Jennifer. “It’s the technology stupid!” 14 February 2010.
4. “Playing together.” World of Warcraft. <http://us.battle.net/wow/en/game/guide/playing-together>
5. “Event Info.” BlizzCon. < http://eu.blizzard.com/blizzcon/en/event-info/>
6. Ducheneaut, Nicolas, Nicholas Yee, Eric Nickell, Robert J. Moore. "The Life and Death of Online Gaming Communities: A Look at Guilds in World of Warcraft." CHI 2007 Proceedings 3 May 2007: 839-848.
7. Wise, Deborah L. "Virtual Identity: How Virtual Worlds Affect Identity." University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center. Web.