Sunday, June 17, 2007

MMO In Tutaminis (l)

Ok I'm getting tired of all the "how come you play online games so much?" question now, thanks. Let me count the ways:
  • you don't listen to what I'm saying
  • you don't listen to what I'm saying
  • you don't listen to what I'm saying
  • you don't listen to what I'm saying
  • you don't listen to what I'm saying
That makes about 5 that I can think of right off the top of my head.
Let's take a slightly deeper look at it then, shall we? Starting with some easy comparisons.

Let me ask you a few questions like:
  • 'How many new people do you meet per day?'
  • 'How many conversations, with people you have only just met, do you have per day?'
  • 'How many conversations, with people outside of your work, age and social demographic, do you have per day?'
The answer is easy: Not as many as me.

An MMO is not *just* a game, it's a social interaction foremost, that optionally entertains you with a game story or action. It gives me the freedom to decide to be socially active, or to go solo and enjoy the 'game' itself, or both.
Think of it more like a glorified chat tool (an extremely basic analogy, but based upon the approaches I entertain, this is my best bet..) that allows me access to a virtual world created by 100's of talented artists, populated by REAL LIVING BREATHING HUMAN BEINGS. And it just so happens that I can go on fantastical adventures with these 1000's of others, whilst simultaneously holding 'normal' conversations with them.

When I log in, I get greeted by my friends - you know what that feeling is like, right? Where you (say) turn up at a club and before you've had time to order a drink you have people running up to you saying "hey good to see you!".
Its A Good Feeling™.

No, these aren't computer-generated characters that are glad to see me - they're real people, with real lives, and real stories to share and tell, and with real questions to ask; about anything from what's happening in the game, to their most recent relationship misadventure, to their issues at work.
And it happens whenever I log in.

My point isn't to 'rate' anyone's social choosings on an 'interactions-per-day' basis, as we all enjoy our caves at some stage (scroll down a few posts to witness my own invisible barrier around my sanity) but instead my point is aimed fairly and squarely at those who belligerently claim
- computer games are antisocial!
- it's not 'natural'!
- it's for nerds!
- get outside and kick a ball around and meet some people!

Hey you - the blinkered and misinformed person saying that:
GET FUCKED (I learned that off Teh Intehnets, alongside how to make a bomb of course..)

Because yes, Teh Intehnets is bad, right? And MMO's are Teh Intehnets, right?
(I'm not joking - some of you seem to think it's the case)

Let's break it down a little further then:
MMO = entertainment choice
TV = entertainment choice

Ask yourself this: How many hours a week do you spend watching TV?

Well, as it happens, I can tell you:
  • You watched television last year at an average 4.2 hours per day. This 'leisure activity/entertainment choice' was by far the largest percentage of your time spent amongst any other leisure activities.
  • Socializing, such as visiting with friends or attending or hosting social events, was the next most common leisure activity last year, accounting for about 40 minutes per day for both sexes.
  • The number of hours per day that the TV is on, in an average home: 6 hours, 47 minutes
  • Percentage of people that regularly watch television while eating dinner: 66%
  • Percentage of people who say they watch too much TV: 49%
Right.. and I spend "far too much time sitting on my ass inside" and its "not natural" and blah blah blah.. take a LOOK in the freaking MIRROR, couch potatoes.

YOU, are more than happy to sit in front of the tube, which serves you up mainly pre-scripted and non-interactive content (largely utter drivel, let's be honest) for the most part of your non-working days, excluding sleep. You, subscribe to a medium that looks like this:
  • Number of murders seen on TV by the time an average child finishes elementary school: 8,000
  • Number of violent acts seen on TV by age 18: 200,000
  • Number of minutes per week that parents spend in meaningful conversation with their children: 3.5
  • Number of minutes per week that the average child watches television: 1,680
  • Hours per year the average youth spends in school: 900 hours
  • Hours per year the average youth watches television: 1500
  • Number of 30-second TV commercials seen in a year by an average child: 20,000
  • Number of TV commercials seen by the average person by age 65: 2 million
  • Percentage of survey participants who said that TV commercials aimed at children make them too materialistic: 92%
  • Rank of food products/fast-food restaurants among TV advertisements to kids: #1
  • Percentage of households that possess at least one television: 99%

Wow - some really wholesome trends there.. and no, my point isn't to lay out all that is bad about television. (although this does go a long way to explaining why I feel like I am surrounded by morons) My point, is to put it into the same perspective that you stereotype MMOs into.
You, as the ultimate critique of MMO pastimes (despite not even trying one likely) are supporting a medium with the above 'benefits'. And to put it into even more simple terms:


So get the fuck off my case, freaks.

Where was I - oh yes.
I, on the other hand, subscribe to something that's a little different to the above.
Read this: (if you're attention span is long enough, that is.. I know you're used to sitting on the couch and having it spoon fed to you so I apologise for actually having to *read* something, you big fat brainless and blinkered LUMP)

MMOs are interesting social spaces in several ways. First of all, there are almost no other social spaces in the physical world where people from such different demographic backgrounds and life experiences collaborate on a regular basis. The age range in most MMOs goes from 10 to 70. In a typical 5-person pick-up group, you may have a high-school student, a war veteran, a professional home-maker, a law professor, and a retired bank manager. In our education and work systems, we typically only get to talk and work with people who are incredibly similar to ourselves. This is actually seldom the case in MMOs. Another thing that bears pointing out that there are almost no social spaces in the physical world where teenagers routinely get to work with adults as equals. But not only does collaboration occur, teenagers routinely lead groups of adults, give them orders, and partly schedule their leisure time in MMOs. Learning how to work with and lead a diverse group of people is an important social skill, especially for teenagers.

Beyond the demographic landscape, MMOs also expose us to stressful group conflicts, leadership opportunities, and moral dilemmas, among other scenarios, that we may be less often exposed to in our day to day lives. Another interesting part of MMOs is the compressed time in several domains. While it may take decades to rise to the top of your profession in the real world, it is possible to reach max-level in some MMOs with just several months of casual playing. The rate at which guilds form, fragment, and dissolve may also allow some players to try out and understand how to lead and manage teams in ways that may take much much longer in an actual office. In short, MMOs may offer players experiences in roles and positions that they may not have access to in the physical world.

Goodness - it just sounds terrible doesn't it! Teaching us to get along, to learn to lead, to learn to adapt to others.. shocking stuff.

But wait there's more: (from another formal research project)

After examining the form and function of what's known in the trade as MMOs -- massively multiplayer online video games -- an interdisciplinary team of researchers concludes that these games "promote sociability and new worldviews."

The researchers, Constance Steinkuehler and Dmitri Williams, claim that MMOs function not like solitary dungeon cells, but more like virtual coffee shops or pubs where something called "social bridging" takes place. They even liken playing such games to dropping in at "Cheers," the fictional TV bar "where everybody knows your name."
"By providing places for social interaction and relationships beyond the workplace and home, MMOs have the capacity to function much like the hangouts of old," they said. And they take it one step further by suggesting that the lack of real-world hangouts "is what is driving the MMO phenomenon" in the first place. The new conceptual study was published in early August in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication under the title, "Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as 'Third Places.' "

Steinkuehler is a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Williams is a professor of speech communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The term "third places" was coined in 1999 by sociologist Ray Oldenburg to describe the physical places outside the home and workplace that people use for informal social interaction. Steinkuehler and Williams argue that online spaces, such as those found in MMOs, should also count as third places for informal sociability, "albeit new and virtual places." MMOs are graphical 2- or 3-D videogames that allow players, through their self-created digital characters or avatars, to interact with the gaming software and with other players, to build "relationships of status and solidarity." While still in-game, players can hold multiple real-time conversations with fellow players through text or voice.

The games the researchers studied represent "a fairly mainstream portion of the fantasy-based MMO market," the authors wrote, where rewarding players for cooperation and the formation of long-term player groups or "guilds" is part of the game. Game play in MMOs is not a "single solitary interaction between an individual and a technology," the researchers wrote, "but rather, is more akin to playing five-person poker in a neighborhood tavern that is accessible from your own living room." Steinkuehler and Williams also found that participation in such virtual third places "appears particularly well suited to the formation of bridging social capital -- social relationships that, while not usually providing deep emotional support, typically function to expose the individual to a diversity of worldviews," they wrote. "In other words," Williams said, "spending time in these social games helps people meet others not like them, even if it doesn't always lead to strong friendships. That kind of social horizon-broadening has been sorely lacking in American society for decades."

Over the last few years, Williams has published a number of studies that have challenged the common and mostly negative beliefs about game playing. For his work on online games as third places, Williams drew on an earlier study of "Asheron's Call," for which he combined survey research and experimental design and focused on "issues of social capital and real-life community," he said. He even played the game and conducted random interviews, asking players about their motivations for playing, their in-game social networks and their life outside the game. "There were both positive and negative outcomes," he said.

In her earlier study of cognition and learning in MMOs, Steinkuehler conducted a two-year ethnography of the "Lineage" games, her goal being to explore the kinds of social and intellectual activities in which gamers routinely participate, including individual and collaborative problem solving, identity construction, apprenticeship and literary practices. She conducted repeated interviews of key informants throughout the study. Their overall conclusion in this newest study: "Virtual worlds appear to function best as bridging mechanisms, rather than as bonding ones, although they do not entirely preclude social ties of the latter type."

While they continue to draw fire from many critics, MMOs attract tens of millions of subscribers worldwide, who spend on average 20 hours a week "in-game."

"To argue that their MMO game play is isolated and passive media consumption that takes the place of informal social engagement is to ignore the nature of what participants actually do behind the computer screen," the authors wrote. Online spaces are not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon that can simply be labeled 'good' or 'bad.' " The authors suggest that now may be a good time to reconsider how new media are affecting people. "Perhaps it is not that contemporary media use has led to a decline in civic and social engagement, as many have argued, but rather, that a decline in civic and social engagement has led to a 'retribalization' through contemporary media."

The Daedalus Project
The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication

So there you have it. And to repeat a quote from the study:
"To argue that their MMO game play is isolated and passive media consumption that takes the place of informal social engagement is to ignore the nature of what participants actually do behind the computer screen."

y single day, my mind, and therefore my life, is enriched and expanded with the interaction and opinion that comes from socialising with people (yes, actual PEOPLE) from all walks of life, all over the world. Every day, I learn something new about myself, or something new to apply to myself, or something that I didn't know previously. Importantly, I learn something about someone else, or I learn to look at something I already knew from a totally different perspective.

How about you?

Let me wrap this up now:
MMOs are full of REAL PEOPLE, not television scripts. Okay?
No, really, are you listening this time? Adventures and storylines require real living breathing human beings in order to operate, meaning it's never the same twice (for a start).

The medium I choose for relaxation and socialising isn't filled with beautiful people and 'perfect lines' - the drama is real. The humour is real and unplanned. And I prefer it that way.

But hey, if you choose to watch movies and TV (I do the same sometimes) as a primary source of leisure that's fine. It's your choice. I'm not suggesting one is better than the other.
However, I am quick to be judged and pigeonholed based on the % of time I spend online vs watching TV or kicking a footy or going out drinking - based on the stats above, and all things being equal - shouldn't you also be judged therefore?

Face it - you're just the same as me. You spend lots of hours performing a leisure activity in front of a screen.
Only, mine is 100% interactive - yours is not.
Mine, I get to speak to maybe 100 people a day sometimes, other days maybe I spend with a tight group of friends - you sit there and get spoonfed distorted and censored content that somebody else has decided they will 'think' through for you.

Don't knock what you have no fucking idea about, until you have tried it yourself at least.

And stop trying to 'help' me. I don't want your 'help' - in fact you are downright annoying (you wonder why I'm constantly turning off phones and locking my front door?). Your 'help' is nothing more than your narrow-mindedness, and you moronic small poppyism. I have no desire whatsoever to be bland and belong to the colony.
For the unforeseeable future, get over the fact that I would rather come home and get online than go with you to a club, or stay at work for a function, or any other raft of crappy excuses you all seem to have for a good time.

I prefer my online acquaintances to you. Simple.

**The figurative 'you' in this post is for each and every person that has either approached me, or spoken about me behind my back. Knowing my 'acquaintances' and online adversaries, I felt I needed to explain that. Yes that's an insult to your field of vision and intelligence.
**That's Latin in the title, by the way.



At 2:16 am, June 18, 2007, Blogger Zarres said...

Quite coincidentally, this article just appeared on Gamasutra:


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