BEYOND NEWBIE: IMMERSION IN VIRTUAL GAME WORLDS A THESIS SUBMITTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE MASTER OF ARTS BY MICHELLE CALKA BALL STATE UNIVERSITY ADVISOR: DR. JOHN C. DAILEY MAY 2006 ABSTRACT THESIS: Beyond Newbie: Immersion in Virtual Game Worlds STUDENT: Michelle Calka DEGREE: Master of Arts DATE: May 2006 PAGES: 62 The purpose of this thesis is to explore the following research question: How does immersion occur in a virtual game environment? Specifically, this study will focus on the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft. Approaching the question using a grounded theory methodology, the study finds that immersion takes place in two primary areas: Environmental and Social. Environmental immersion concerns technical aspects of the game including aesthetic detail, sensory stimulation, and narratives. Social immersion evolves as a paradigmatic opposition of cooperation and intimidation. Players are not fully immersed in the world until they have accepted cooperation as their dominant paradigm for play. Acknowledgements Many thanks to my thesis committee: Dr. John C. Dailey, Chair, who helped me to bridge the gap between theory and technology, but allowed me the freedom to find my own road; Dr. Laura O’Hara, who guided me through the process of qualitative research at the graduate level; and Dr. James Chesebro, for asking challenging and inspiring questions. Thanks are also due to the entire Digital Storytelling graduate faculty and staff for their support, particularly Dr. Beth Messner, Dr. Dominic Caristi, Dr. Joe Misiewicz, Department Chair Nancy Carlson, and Administrative Assistant Kris Scott. I was fortunate to have amazing mentors at Juniata College who have inspired and shaped my academic success. I owe much to the Communication faculty at Juniata, particularly Dr. Donna Weimer, who sparked my interest in virtual worlds and my fascination with media studies and rhetoric. You opened my eyes to a new way of seeing the world and the impact of technology on identity, and continue to be a model for what I hope to be as an instructor. Thanks to John Ruiz for my introduction to World of Warcraft; T Campbell for editing assistance and feedback; the Grog Addicts guild for their enthusiastic participation; and my Digital Storytelling graduate colleagues for valuable insights, discussions, forwarded articles, and occasional distractions while I shaped my theory. Finally, I thank my participants for taking the time to share their experiences. Table of Contents I. Introduction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 a. Argument for Significance . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1 b. Game Details . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2 II. Literature Review . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7 III. Methodology . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 a. Data Collection . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 b. Methods of Analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20 IV. Findings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 a. Environmental . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24 b. Social . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 c. “Newbie/Newb/noob/n00b” Distinction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 V. Discussion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48 a. Implications . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48 b. Limitations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49 c. Directions for Further Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 51 VI. References . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53 VII. Appendix A: Glossary of Key Terms . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56 Appendix B: Interview Protocol . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58 Appendix C: Survey Results . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60 Chapter 1: Introduction Argument for Significance Once considered an adolescent pastime, the video game market has exploded into $27.5 billion dollar a year international industry (Wingfield, 2006). Simultaneously, video games have become progressively more complex and detailed with the advancement of computer graphics and technology. As video games continue to evolve and consume a large portion of the entertainment market, the study of games, or ludology, is gaining an increased amount of attention in academia. Journals such Games and Culture and The Journal of Game Studies examine the social significance of games, particularly video games, both from a cultural studies aspect and as an extension of computer-mediated communication. Games that utilize virtual real-time environments (or synthetic worlds, in the language of Castranova (2006)) have been increasing in popularity among game players, particularly Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs), a style of computer game where players use their avatars 1 to interact with other players from around the world. In this type of game, player success is dependent on cooperation, mutual understanding, and goal driven communication. Players form friendships, temporary and long-term alliances, and engage each other in battle. For the purposes of this study, the terms of virtual game worlds, MMORPGs, and synthetic worlds will be used interchangeably. 1 The three-dimensional visual representation of a player in the virtual world. 2 MMORPGs are significant cultures that warrant further study. Currently, there are over 10 million MMORPG players worldwide, and this number is growing steadily (Castranova, 2006, p. 2). These gamers are not just the stereotypical teenage males (although males in general do dominate); people of broad age, socio-economic, educational, and familial backgrounds engage in virtual game worlds with thousands (or even millions) of others (Yee, 2003). While play itself is significant, MMORPGs are much more than just games; they are active virtual communities that are heavily used by players. It would be semantically inappropriate to imply that interactions that happen in a virtual world are not “real.” In fact, roughly 45% of all players across both genders and all ages indicated that their in-game friendships are “comparable to or better than real-life friends” (Yee, 2003). Players are expected to learn acceptable codes of behavior and cooperate with others for their own success and the success of the community. While game masters are in place to enforce some rules, players generally create their own system of norms and sanctions. With the potential to hold thousands of players on one server interacting in one space, MMORPGs are cultural phenomena that could be useful for studying the diffusion of technology, organizational communication, computer-mediated communication, and cultural assimilation theories. The existing academic research on virtual game environments is only the beginning. The formal field of ludology may still be in its infancy, but games will undoubtedly begin to emerge as a serious topic worthy of study. Game Details The site of this study is the virtual world of World of Warcraft, an MMORPG from Blizzard Entertainment. Since its release in late 2004, World of Warcraft has won over 3 two dozen international awards. As of January 2006, the game boasts more than 5.5 million paying customers (http://www.blizzard.com), making it the most successful international MMORPG ever released. There is currently a monthly subscription fee of 15 USD for game play. Users may create multiple characters that interact within the three-dimensional world, but a player may play only one character at a time. Each character, or avatar, is limited to one realm or server, which is chosen upon character creation. The realms are geographically specific: Players in North America, Australia, and New Zealand must play on a North American server, European players must play on a European server, and so forth. Generally, this policy makes sense for linguistic reasons; the game is currently available in English, French, German, Korean, and Chinese. The narrative of the game focuses on a war between two factions, the Alliance and the Horde, who battle for control of the mythical world of Azeroth. The factions have settled on an uneasy stalemate that is escalating into war. Characters cannot change factions, and contact between the two factions often leads to battle on player-versus- player servers. Within their own factions, players may form or join guilds with other players for companionship, trading, or protection. The narrative behind World of Warcraft runs cross-platform with novels, previous games, tabletop RPGs, e-books, and hypertextual histories. The history is detailed enough that it extends over 10,000 years (http://www.worldofwarcraft.com/info/story). Players may choose from a number of styles of play that are dependent on the chosen server. “Player vs. Player” (PvP) environments are heavily competitive between the two factions. Any player may attack any player of the opposing faction at any time. However, playing on a PvP server often leads to “ganking,” or killing another player who cannot 4 possibly fight back without any apparent reason for the attack. Lower-level players frequently become targets for ganking, which makes leveling 2 difficult. One alternative is “Player vs. Environment” (PvE) servers, which focus on challenges built into the game. Players are not automatically flagged for PvP, although they may choose to engage in PvP battle by attacking the enemy faction. Since players cannot be attacked without declaring their intention to fight, there is less open combat and more focus on built-in monsters and the narrative. A third option is Role Playing (RP) servers, where players are expected to hold true to the fantasy/medieval narrative of Warcraft and role-play accordingly, staying in character. While all RP servers are default PvE, there are several PvPRP (player vs. player role playing) servers available. While almost all games include space (virtual or otherwise), a game should also provide place in order to be immersive. This is usually provided through interaction with others. This sense of place in World of Warcraft becomes apparent when a city or region is under attack from players of the opposing faction. Players will sacrifice their character’s lives for the purposes of “protecting” the area; players in other parts of the world will fly in to join in the defense. While place is a metaphorical term, in virtual worlds it is endowed with great significance. Maintaining the honor of the faction is of a high priority, lending cultural and social significance to a contested tract of digital land. Players have several options for communication. They may communicate to everyone in their area by utilizing the general chat channel, or they may look for groups, trade, or alert players to the presence of the opposing faction on separate channels. If a player 2 Leveling refers to an advancement of the player’s skill level and abilities. Players begin at level 1 and currently peak at level 60 in World of Warcraft. 5 simply types something, all players in the immediate area will receive the message, and a speech bubble with the text will appear over the character’s head. Players may whisper to only one player, communicate within their guild on a separate channel, or talk to players in their group via another channel. The channels appear concurrently as lines of text in a scrolling window in the corner of the screen, and are differentiated by color so that several channels may be viewed at one time. In addition, players can use emotes to communicate with other players. Emotes (an abbreviation for emotions) are expressions of action typed in by players which causes the player’s avatar to perform an action. Some will cause the character to physically act or say something, while others will merely appear on text. For example, “/bow” or “/laugh” will cause a visible action or audible laugh, while a command such as “/hug” or “/grin” will cause the text to appear, but no physical action in the avatar. Many higher-level players choose to use third-party voice communication systems, which allow them to audibly speak to those they are grouped with to facilitate faster responses than typing during intensive raids and instances. The game is set in real-time, with appropriate day and night cycles set to the time zone where the servers are housed. Whenever and wherever the player chooses to exit the game and leave the world, it will not be the same upon return. There is no option to save, undo, or go back. The world will continue with or without the player. The purpose of this thesis is to explore the following research question: How does immersion occur in a virtual game environment? First, a review of previous literature is presented; next, the value and limitations of the process of grounded theory is explained, followed by the delineation of the theory; the study concludes with a discussion of the 6 findings, limitations of the study, and finally a discussion of implications and future directions. Chapter 2: Literature Review The key aspect of a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game is the ability for one to interact with thousands of others in the virtual world through customized avatars. It is this feature that has drawn the most attention from the research community, and for good reason. MMORPGs offer a unique opportunity to observe social behavior in an anonymous yet individualistic goal-driven space. MMORPGs have been explored from a wide variety of angles, including economical, anthropological, technical, cognitive, identity formation, and communicative. While this literature review is not exhaustive, it covers some relative studies dealing with the communicative aspects of online multiplayer gaming. Role-playing games have historically been overlooked in academic circles. With the 1979 development of Internet text-based virtual worlds known as MUDs (multi-user dungeons), researchers found a new opportunity to examine technologically-mediated social interaction (Mortenson, 2002). As an Internet-based version of tabletop role- playing games, MUD research has laid the groundwork for the analysis of graphic-based virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft. Mortenson’s (2002) examination of the role- playing genre through MUDs emphasizes the importance of participation with others and the difficulty of interpretation through a computer. Mortensen divides the experience of playing MUDs into three categories: the technical aspect, the culture within the game and 8 out of character, and the player’s notion of how to play the game. This framework could potentially be useful to apply to graphic-based virtual worlds. On the technical side, Brown and Cairns (2004) offer a useful study of game immersion in first-person, single player video games. Brown and Cairns utilized a grounded theory approach by interviewing seven gamers about their gaming experiences, and then open-coding the interviews for themes. The study found that immersion is time- based and controlled by barriers. The authors define immersion on three levels: engagement, engrossment, and total immersion. The amount of time, effort, and attention required from the gamer increases for more immersive experiences. The level of immersion perceived by the gamer correlates to the number and amount of attentional sources needed on a visual, auditory, and mental level. Brown and Cairns finally define immersion as presence, or the sense of “being cut off from reality and detachment to such an extent that the game was all that mattered” (p. 1299). While this definition is useful for understanding immersion in games, the authors focused on technical and environmental factors in immersion, and did not include any reference to social aspects. Any study of online communication and identity must acknowledge the groundbreaking work of Sherry Turkle in Life on the Screen (1995). Turkle argued that MUDs provide windows where players can project themselves into alternate roles that may be very different from their offline lives; not just in terms of fantasy role-play, but in leadership and social roles. Individuals can test personas in a social environment more receptive to such practices. “Traditional ideas about identity have been tied to the notion of authenticity that such virtual experiences actively subvert. When each player can create many characters and participate in many games, the self is not only decentered but 9 multiplied without limit” (Turkle, 1995, p. 185). This sense of “multiplicity, heterogeneity, flexibility, and fragmentation” (Turkle, 1995, p. 178) embraces a postmodern conceptualization of identity and the self. According to Turkle, these explorations can be made without many of the consequences that would accompany such changes in offline life. Turkle’s work continues to serve a valuable function in our understanding of online identity, influencing a new wave of scholars to continue research in the area over ten years after its publication. Another significant work in MUD research was Lori Kendall’s 2002 doctoral thesis, Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub: Masculinities and Relationships Online. Kendall conducted an ethnography of a close-knit social MUD, specifically examining relationships, identity, and masculinity. Kendall uses the metaphor of a pub to explain the social interactions among participants in the BlueSky MUD group, and establishes the MUD as a space-less place for the creation, enactment, and negotiation of identities (p. 4). In addition to becoming a member of the online community, Kendall also met and interviewed players face to face, offering unique insights into the online presentation of identity and the expectations of similar online and offline identities within this particular community. As the technological descendents of MUDs, MMORPGs are prime environments to explore the connections between relationships and identity online. Nicholas Yee’s (2002) quantitative study examines the prevalence of platonic and romantic relationships in MMORPGs. Yee finds that people are more likely to be forthcoming about personal issues through computer-mediated communication as opposed to a face-to-face encounter. In addition, the asynchronous communication style and lack of instant 10 judgment makes the speaker feel more comfortable with disclosing personal information. Anonymity helps remove the fear of repercussions (p. 4). While real-life identities may remain undisclosed, in-game identities become important. Yee (2002) finds that players develop great emotional attachment to their avatars during the course of play. Interestingly, almost half of teenage male and female players of Everquest say that they are “more themselves” in-game than in real life. This percentage goes down as the player age group increases, but as the age of players increases, so does their likelihood of meeting fellow players offline, up to 28.5% for female players over the age of 35. This suggests that the line between a player’s game life and real life is not distinct. MMORPGs create necessary interactions among players, and the frequency of trust building situations helps to cement relationships in-game. Jakobsson and Taylor (2003) argue that “social networks form a powerful component of the gameplay and the gaming experience, one that must be seriously considered to understand the nature of massively multiplayer online games” (p. 81). While the technical rules must be learned, social factors including connections and reputation are equally important to succeeding in the game. Jakobsson and Taylor draw comparisons between classic mafia concepts such as trust, responsibility, reputation, and “the family” and MMORPGs, specifically Everquest. Because enforcement of the rules from game masters is minimal, the issue of trust and concertive control become crucial. Guild interactions are especially relevant for this comparison. A comparative analysis using common knowledge of the mafia presents a fascinating lens through which to examine player interactions. 11 Ducheneaut and Moore (2004) examine interaction patterns in an MMORPG by delineating what makes a virtual world different from a single-player game: the promotion of interactions. MMORPGs are designed to be social; quests that are necessary for player advancement are often too difficult for a player to accomplish alone. Players need to form a well-balanced group of complementary professions to tackle dangerous missions; a group must have warriors, spell casters, and healers. Ducheneaut and Moore establish one major law of how social interaction occurs: Immersion requires downtime (p. 365). Essentially, players need time between quests to establish social contact. By focusing specifically on in-game locations that require downtime, the authors found that players are primarily engaging in short, infrequent interactions to satisfy their needs before leaving to pursue other goals. Seay, Jerome, Lee, and Kraut (2004) also lend support to this function of communication, noting that 77% of players use the communication or chat functions for in-game support and advice (p. 1422). Ducheneaut and Moore also make distinctions between “power gamers” who are focused on efficiency and leveling their character, and “socializers” who seek the company of others for its own sake. The same game can satisfy both types of players. By focusing on the context in which interaction occurs, Ducheneaut and Moore offer a significant glimpse into the motivations for socialization of MMORPG players. Papargyris and Poulymenakou’s (2004) qualitative study on communication and the learning of game-related knowledge in MMORPGs is also significant from an educational standpoint. They note that communities are important for learning and engagement, examining the phenomenon through the organizational lens of Communities of Practice. Communities build up when a group is actively engaged in similar behaviors 12 to accomplish similar goals. By actively participating in the community, players learn the codes of behavior and action. Players also learn about cooperation, negotiation, and basic economics. While participation is a key factor in a virtual world, other factors may also be significant. This study extends this idea to examine what other factors play into environmental immersion beyond participation. MMORPGs are unique in that there is no explicitly stated goal, no way to “win” the game. This is part of the longevity of the game. Kolo and Baur (2004) describe MMORPGs as “a subset of all online games for more than two players,” which includes text-based games. The games allow players to control their avatar through a variety of human-computer interface modes within an established social space, and the games have some form of formalized and sanctioned rules. Some rules are explicit, while others are coded norms within the community. The purpose of Kolo and Baur’s research is to understand the social dynamics of gaming. Through ethnographic experience, the authors break down the experience of MMORPGs into three categories: the offline world, the online world of characters, and the world of data (including interface commands and the code of the environment). However, these categories frequently overlap; even average players are immersed in the world so frequently and for so long that distinctions become blurred. Kolo and Baur also outline three means of acquiring knowledge about a game: studying the information given by game developers, observing others playing, and playing the game. These methods of learning may prove to be an important aspect of immersion. In addition, Kolo and Baur outline some useful demographics of MMORPG players: The average age is in the mid-twenties, and over half are employed full-time. Depending 13 on the game, the ratio of female players may be as low as three percent or as high as 20%. Generally, the more multiplayer online games provide a sense of community, the more women play. About 2/3 of players surveyed by Kolo and Baur mentioned the potential to interact with thousands of others as an essential motivation to play. The average gaming session lasted about four hours (but could go up to 12 hours), while the typical player immerses for an average of 5.7 sessions per week. At that rate, the average player is immersed for about 23 hours per week. Clearly, the significant amount of time spent by players in the game warrants a closer examination of its appeal. Also, because the social dynamics observed among the characters represent a “fairly good” model of social dynamics among real people, virtual worlds may offer the opportunity for generalized social research using unobtrusive observation. Kolo and Baur also propose a conclusion that seems true in my own research: knowing and meeting people in a virtual world triggers frequent playing, making social communication the impetus for gaming. Along similar lines, Peña and Hancock (2006) present a content analysis of text messages produced in online multiplayer video games using Social Information Processing Theory (SIP). Their study finds that players produce more socioemotional messages than task-oriented messages, despite the game objectives to complete tasks (p. 2). This was dependent on the purpose of the interaction, whether instrumental or recreational. Players with more experience were not more likely to engage in more socioemotional communication than less experienced players, although the communication among more experienced players was more positive (p. 101). Overall, players produced three times as many positive socioemotional messages than negative messages (103). Peña and Hancock’s study reveals the prevalence of social 14 communication in MMORPGs; even when the tasks of the game are designed to require cooperation among players, players will also engage in recreational communication aimed at forging positive relationships. MMORPGs, like many video games, have developed a reputation as “addictive,” allegedly leading to isolation from offline friends and family. Seay, Jerome, Lee, and Kraut (2004) found that 10% of MMORPG players reported “addiction” as their main reason for continuing to play. Chee and Smith’s (2003) ethnographic study specifically examines the MMORPG’s reputation as “addictive.” The authors find that it is not the game itself that is addictive, but the sense of community that the game gives. They define community as a social structure built around a common interest, and a “special closeness or bond which unites some persons and differentiates them from others” (p. 2). People who do not have a sense of community elsewhere often turn to virtual worlds to satisfy that need, and the significant amount of time and energy that is consequently invested in the community can seem strange to outsiders. Also, because the game is played in real- time, players are afraid to exit the world and miss something important; some creatures are so rare they will only appear once in the duration of the game. Chee and Smith also point out that basic social contact and information exchange are a necessity for game survival, which lays the foundation for deeper, more meaningful interactions that foster a sense of community. Accomplishments in the game are beneficial both for the individual and the group. Seay, Jerome, Lee, and Kraut (2004) also question the term “addiction,” noting that the term is loosely used in gameplay to describe the desire to continue playing, much the same way that a good book is a “page-turner” (p. 1422). 15 Castranova (2006) also addresses the relationship between immersion and addiction in his book Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games. He refers to “toxic immersion,” where people are lost “to a space that, by any standard of human worth, dignity, and well-being, is not good for them” (p. 238). Castranova warns of the possibility that humans might choose to move entirely to virtual worlds as replacements for reality. He also notes that in the current business model of MMORPGs, the game has financial cause to keep the player involved for as long as possible, causing game creators to structure games in ways that can be labeled as addictive (p. 238). On a structural level, Walther (2003) notes a progressive division between “playing” and “gaming.” Play and games are meta-communicative acts that frame patterns of behavior; according to Walther’s distinction, play and games both necessarily create a place within space. Play is an open-ended space where make-believe and world-building are essential factors. Role-playing would seem to fall into this category. Games are “confined areas that challenge the interpretation and optimizing of rules and tactics (p. 1). MMORPGs also seem to fit this classification. The difference between the two is the inclusion of structural rules. MMORPGs do consist of some rules, but there is also plenty of open space for interpretation and unstructured play. Players are free to do whatever they wish; many of the rules are really cultural norms established by the players themselves. The limitations and structural rules are imposed to create a greater sense of place that is similar to reality. All of these studies make significant contributions to the study of the MMORPGs, specifically concerning player interactions. Many take an ethnographic approach to studying interaction, and legitimize MMORPGs as worthy of study for possessing a 16 culture of their own. However, none of them address how immersion into virtual game environments actually develops for players. This leads me to my research question: How does immersion occur in a virtual world? Immersion will be defined here using the definition of Brown and Cairns (2004) as a sense of “presence,” but will look beyond immersion as a sense of detachment from the offline world to understand the virtual world as a culture worthy of its own examination. The answer to this research question may be useful for players entering new worlds, game designers wishing to make their games easier to play, and cultural theorists. Chapter 3: Methodology This thesis approaches the concept of integration in virtual game worlds using grounded theory, developed through multiple data sources: Participant observation, an online survey, email interviews, and asynchronous online chats through a guild forum. Data Collection Participant Observation. Initially, participant observation was used as a tool for ethnographic data collection. These observations included both my own actions and the actions of others. To understand integration in a virtual world, it was essential to immerse myself into the world and experience the process. According to Mortensen (2002), the study of game-based interactivity requires the researcher to play the game and interact with the players. To only observe would permit only description without understanding. Glaser and Strauss (1967) also support the cultivation of personal experiences as valid data in qualitative research: “A firsthand immersion in a sphere of life and action – a social world - different from one’s own yields important dividends” (p. 226). This has been supported by multiple authors who chose to do ethnographies in-game (see Ducheneaut and Moore (2004), Chee and Smith (2003), and Papargyris and Poulymenakou (2004) for examples of virtual ethnographies). Chesebro (1996) defines participant observation as distinct from outside observation in that the researcher is a participant as well as an observer, and that the data extracted is unique and unobtainable 18 to outside observers (p. 1). Chesebro also stresses that participant observation is an experimental approach which is useful for exploratory studies (p. 2). More recently, Boellstorff (2006) explored how anthropological approaches, including participant observation, can contribute significantly to game studies. Participant observation allows the researcher to study the gap between what people say they do and what they actually do in-game (p. 32). While I have played computer games in the past, I have never played structured role- playing games, either tabletop or virtually. This newness to the game gave me an opportunity to examine immersion on a first-hand basis. I was a “newbie” in every sense of the word, which required me to not only learn the rules of RPGs, but also the unique language and expectations of behavior. While my status as a new player limited my understanding of many of the rules and actions that govern high-level players and their groups, it allowed me to more easily find and communicate with newcomers to the game. As a more advanced player, I have retained the memories and recorded data from my initial experiences, but have gained a deeper understanding of the nuances of the game. This has allowed me to become sufficiently immersed in the world while retaining enough detachment to think theoretically about my observations and experiences. While I did not record the exact logs of the actions of others, I did record new observations, patterns, and unusual events. Generally, other players were unaware of my observation. The process of informing all of the potential participants in my research would have been unreasonable, because everyone could potentially be observed. However, I would not have felt ethically comfortable with covert observation. Because the space is paid for by each individual subscriber, it does not seem to qualify as “public 19 space.” In negotiating this aspect of observation, I chose to adopt an attitude similar to Steinkuehler (2004) in her MMO research: My general MO 3 to date has been to keep the lines between my professional identity and my [game] identity transparent to whoever is interested, treating in-game disclosure of information about my 'academic' life the same way I treat academic disclosure of details about my 'game' life, based on the notion that I am bound to both communities to be generally forthright about what I do. In essence, I played as I normally would if I were not doing research, with the possible exception that I spent more time within cities than many other players. Strangers who engaged me in conversation or invited me to join a group in-game were informed that I was conducting research centered on the game, and were asked to verify their willingness to participate. While some were interested in my work, most were unfazed by my disclosure. Surveys. To determine the general demographics of players and gather anecdotal information, an online survey was created and posted. The survey consisted of nine questions, and participants were recruited through forum postings on various World of Warcraft online communities. Boellstorff’s (2006) work supports the use of survey data as an ethnographic tool used to examine the relationship between the metaverse of the game and the physical world of the players. An understanding of how participants play (whether alone or in groups, playing another gender, and so forth) may yield insights into the culture of the game. 178 unique players took the survey, with a gender split of 48.6% male and 44.6% female (one participant chose not to answer the gender question). A full 3 Modus Operandi 20 summary of the survey findings is located in Appendix C. While this is certainly not an adequate number of participants to generalize about the entire World of Warcraft player population, it does offer some insight into the perspectives of individual players. Several of the questions were open-ended, allowing players to explain their experiences in their own words. Interviews. Lengthier email interviews were conducted with 18 regular players of World of Warcraft. The interview participants consisted of seven women and eleven men, with an average age of 28. Their lengths of time playing ranged from three weeks to 21 months. The participants were recruited through forum postings on the official World of Warcraft forums, as well as the forums of several large guild and player sites. The introductory posting explained my research in brief and requested participants over the age of 18 to contact me for an email interview. All participants were sent the same series of questions, with follow-up emails exchanged when clarification was necessary. Focus Group Chat. Finally, an asynchronous online chat session was held with a group of five players from a single guild on a web-based forum. Having multiple participants allowed the players to share their experiences with others and receive feedback, as well as test ideas on one another. Because the players were familiar with one another, they were comfortable responding to each other to explain their perspectives. Methods of Analysis The surveys, interviews, and forum posts were analyzed through the use of grounded theory as outlined by Glaser and Strauss (1967), who define grounded theory as “the discovery of theory from data systematically obtained from social research” (p. 2). According to Strauss and Corbin (1998), “Grounded theory is a general methodology for 21 developing theory that is grounded in data systematically gathered and analyzed” (p.158). The purpose of this type of qualitative research is to generate theory from the data. The job of the researcher in this case is not to be able to account for the entire population, but to develop a theory that accounts for much of the relevant behavior (Glaser and Strauss, 1967, p. 30). In this case, while the existing literature shed some light on issues of immersion and social interaction in video games, there was no existing theory that explains the process or meaning of immersion in MMORPG environments. An existing theory or framework could have been used to analyze the data, but doing so may have limited or deflected other interesting findings. Researchers who bring a preconceived formal theory into the field may not spend much time discovering substantive theory, but instead writing footnotes to the formal theory (Glaser and Strauss, 1967, p. 227).The breadth of research in multiplayer online games is still rather small, but growing rapidly. A heuristic study is ideal at this time to explore possible interpretations and generate new ideas. Therefore, grounded theory was used to generate theory applicable to real-time virtual worlds. In order to develop the themes, the interviews were first open-coded to look for significant events and indications that might suggest a category relating to the question of immersion. Once the codes from the interviews were recorded, the open-ended responses from the surveys and forum postings were coded to provide additional support and new categories of data. The data set collected from a year of participant observation was not coded directly, but was instead used to contextualize the experiences of the participants through a greater understanding of game mechanics. 22 As new interviews and surveys were conducted, the incidents were compared against previous codes. This process of simultaneous coding and analyzing is known as the “constant comparative method,” because theories are repeatedly checked and revised as new data are considered (Glaser and Strauss, 1967, p. 101). This method is not intended to test a hypothesis, but is concerned with many hypotheses synthesized at different levels of generality for the purpose of theory generation (p. 103). “In this methodology, theory may be generated initially from the data, or if existing (grounded) theories seem appropriate to the area of investigation, then these may be elaborated and modified as incoming data are meticulously played against them” (Strauss and Corbin, 1998, p. 159). The themes emerge from the data; the shape of the theory is dependent on the relationships between the coded data and the categories the data fall under (Lindlof and Taylor, 2002, p. 218). Because qualitative research is interpretative, the interpretations must include the perspectives of those studied; this is the reason for beginning the coding with the participants’ own words. The interpretations help us understand the actions of the actors (collective or individual) that are being studied (Lindlof and Taylor, 2002, p. 160). Glaser and Strauss (1967) break down the Constant Comparative Method into four stages: 1) comparing incidents applicable to each category; 2) integrating categories and their properties; 3) delimiting the theory; and 4) writing the theory. The method begins by coding incidents in the data into as many categories of analysis as possible. As each incident emerges, it is compared with previous incidents to determine if a new category is emerging. Notes on possible theoretical notions are recorded during the coding process. As the coding continues, similar themes and categories become apparent, and new data 23 are compared against these categories. As relationships between categories are sought and a theory begins to develop, the data can be reduced and extraneous categories outside the boundary of the theory can be eliminated. When a theory grounded in the data develops and becomes theoretically saturated, the researcher can release his or her theory in a form that others going into the same field could use (Glaser and Strauss, 1967, pp. 105-113). While qualitative inquiry has often been challenged on the basis of credibility, Glaser and Strauss (1967) emphasize that quantitative verification alone is not the proper criteria for judging theories based on flexible research. Instead, judgment should be based on the detailed elements of the strategies used for collecting, coding, analyzing, and presenting data (p. 224). As an inductive process, the interpretation of the researcher is not the only possible interpretation that could be based on the accumulated data (p. 225). However, this does not limit the value of the researcher’s grounded theory for explaining observed behavior. Chapter 4: Findings According to the findings of this study, immersion in virtual game environments is the result of both environmental and social factors. Environmental immersion includes three primary factors: the aesthetic detail of the world, the interface, and the narrative. Social factors include motivations for play, initial interactions with others, the need to play with others, and guilds. However, this study reveals that the immersion process can be explained through the lens of an oppositional paradigm between intimidation and cooperation. The two primary categories of environmental and social factors and their subcategories will be explored further. Environmental Immersion Aesthetic Detail. When players first begin the game, their first reactions and impressions are based on the sensual aesthetics of the game. While this could simply be seen as a response to eye candy (i.e., visual stimulation), these first impressions are far more significant. Players essentially experience a form of environmental shock when they begin the game. Most of these experiences are positive; reports of a state of amazement or awe appeared across almost every interview with first-time MMORPG players, as well as many advanced players. One survey participant 4 said, “I was literally in awe of the 4 While survey participants remained anonymous, interview subjects were asked to choose pseudonyms. 25 game’s beauty. WoW 5 is the first MMORPG to grab my attention and hold it, and it was this initial feeling that has kept me playing. Players often report feeling “sucked in” or “immersed” in the world based on the well-rendered, detailed visuals and audio. Justin, a 24-year-old interview participant who had been playing for over a year, reported, “the music and art in World of Warcraft are both so perfectly complementary that I wasn’t struck by anything in particular . . . it was just an overall punch in the face of immersion. For the first week I just walked around exploring things.” Another survey participant explained, At first I was blown away. I still am. Sometimes I find myself forgetting that until take a visit back to the “newbie” areas. I remember logging in and seeing this entire world to explore, all these new things to see. I couldn’t get enough; every new thing I discovered just pushed me to want to discover more. This level of aesthetic pull can affect some players more than others. Several players spoke about the world as being as real as their offline world, a point which supports Castranova’s concern about the potential dangers of toxic immersion (2006, p. 236-246). Perzephone, a 32-year-old female interview participant who had only been playing for a few months, described the reality of the landscape: The landscapes are absolutely gorgeous, the 3D rendering is so smooth and elaborately decorated. I love Mulgore and Durotar – I’m a big fan of the desert southwest and Great Plains of America, and seeing the cliffsides and mesas of those areas is just stunning. Watching the sun come up in Durotar is beautiful, especially for a city-dweller like myself. I love the run from the Crossroads to Bloodhoof village 5 A common acronym for World of Warcraft. 26 around 4am – the game gives you a sense of being the only one out there, of active desolation . . . you can watch the stars and almost hear the wind blowing through the grass. For Perzephone, the world of Azeroth allowed her to have experiences (such as seeing a desert sunrise) that she could not experience living in a large city. For others, the population of the world was most intriguing. Joe, a 23-year-old interview participant and guild master, immediately associated the aesthetic detail of the world with the appearance of other players: “I remember the world being really alive and populated when I started.” Maria, a 33-year-old interview participant from Russia, explained, “it was a world where you could LIVE, in the sense of developing a storyline and spending some holistic time without being thrown out mentally. I loved the first flight and the quests and the sounds, and the way my character moved.” Other participants expressed similar amazement at the interpersonal possibilities: “My very first day, I had a hard time grasping that the people running around with blue names were actually real live people sitting in front of their own computer at home. I just couldn’t get my mind around that.” Another survey participant referred to the game as “feeling like a second home.” Interface Factors. Not all players had initially positive experiences with the aesthetic and technical interface. Some players reported feeling overwhelmed by the size of the world, the interface, and general confusion. One survey participant complained, “The first couple hours were completely helpless. It’s like learning to walk again. Mashing the keyboard, searching fruitlessly for things, and a lot of wasted time.” Another survey participant said, “I simply remember being confused and annoyed.” Often, this sense of frustration seemed to be based on the game not meeting certain player expectations. 27 Players with previous MMORPG experience often reported comparing the World of Warcraft interface with previous games. Some say they adapted quickly because they were used to a similar style of game, while others found the interface differences annoying and difficult. “The fact that I played EverQuest 6 previously meant that I very quickly picked up how to use the interface and was familiar with MMOG 7 language.” Some of these players say it took several tries at the game before they adjusted to it. “It took three months to hook me . . . the graphic style was so different from City of Heroes 8 that it was jarring and bothered me.” Nathan a 33-year-old guild leader and interview participant, recalls, “It was confusing. I had played other Warcraft games, and I expected the interface to be similar. But it wasn’t. I was on the phone and I remember asking, ‘So all these other people are players?’ It was a different world, I didn’t expect it.” Narratives. The narratives of the game can also be a point of immersion for players. Some players feel an affinity to a particular race or class based on that race’s back story, which is introduced through a short cinematic clip when a player enters the world for the first time. These narratives are woven into the areas and quests of the game. Others choose their race or class based on pre-existing narratives, such Native American lore. Perzephone described her Tauren 9 character: I mostly chose him because I am a Pagan, and many of my practices stem from the ancient Mediterranean Greco-Roman cultures. One of my patron Goddesses is the serpent Mother of Minoan Crete, and Her consort is Dionysus as the Bull. From my studies, I have found that the myth involving Theseus and the Minotaur of the 6 Another popular MMORPG released in 1999. 7 MMOG: Massively Multiplayer Online Game. 8 Another MMORPG that was released in 2004 to moderate success (www.gamespot.com). 9 A half-human/half-bull race. 28 Labyrinth was possibly yet another example of patriarchy defeating a matriarchal culture, so in my heart I have a special place for the Taurens. Although I didn’t know it until I logged in the first time, I fell in love with the Taurens because even though their tribal leaders are male, their primary deity is the Earth Mother and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of patriarchal “B.S.” in their communities. Annie, a 25-year-old guild leader and interview participant who also plays a Tauren character, expressed a similar affinity to her character’s narrative: As I began to play Pasiphae, and WoW started to win me over (and as I eagerly absorbed all the lore about it that I could, both in and out of game), I grew more and more attached to her. I’d never really played any of the Warcraft titles, so I essentially discovered Azeroth through her eyes, so to speak. I neglected to make any alternate characters for months and months: I grew too attached to Pasiphae and her successes and discoveries that I didn’t want to split my attention. In fact, when the [game] release came out, I hadn’t been writing any fiction for a long time (a passion of mine), and offhandedly I decided to put together a “journal” for Pasiphae, in which I would write about her experiences as if from her perspective. Not only was it a great writing exercise, it was a lot of fun, and it helped me appreciate the depth and careful crafting that went into the game (that it could create such a rich world to write from). Whether a player initially experiences amazement, confusion, or both, the first experience creates a general feeling of environmental shock in the new virtual environment. In order to limit this sense of shock, new players begin their adventures in designated “newbie zones.” These spaces are designed for new players to get accustomed to the game. Players are given several quests designed to teach them the interface of the 29 game and introduce them to the narrative of the game and their race. The mobs (or NPC 10 opponents) are low-level, and quests can be completed easily as a solo player, although players always have the option of grouping. The areas are well protected from PvP combat. Players will stay within these newbie zones for several levels, moving on to other areas around level 10. Levels are attained quickly here, meaning instant rewards for the player. As one survey participant explained, I was stunned not only by how beautiful the game was, but by how intuitive the interface turned out to be, and how quickly I made progress. Even doing silly things, I honestly felt like I, as a character, was making a difference in the world. I got emotionally sucked into the unfolding lore.” Another player credits the newbie zones with keeping her frustration in check: “There was a lot to get used to and learn, but the game progression was slow enough and the very early stages easy enough to keep you hooked until you felt comfortable with the game.” Many of these examples coincide with Brown and Cairns’ (2004) findings that define total immersion as presence (p. 1299). A sense of presence is determined by the degree of detachment that players feel from reality. Players who express thoughts that the world “feels alive,” or that they “get lost in it,” or that they can live there “without getting thrown out mentally,” are describing the same sort of immersion that Brown and Cairns define. One survey participant said, “I was amazed at how I got ‘sucked’ into a world that 10 Non-player character. These characters are built into the game to provide structure and fulfill necessary roles, such as guards, trainers, merchants, and quest givers. 30 seemed real. It’s amazing how addicting it is, I think mostly because you can escape from your real life into a fun, exciting, ‘fake’ life.” Brown and Cairns also found that the level of immersion experienced by gamers correlates to the number of attentional sources needed, such as visual, auditory, and mental. Obviously, MMORPGs combine strong visual and auditory elements in terms of detailed 3-D rendering, music, and sound effects. Immersion is also indicated by the emotional impact of the game (p. 1299); whether this manifests itself as a close, empathetic relationship to an avatar or the sense of being “lost” in the virtual world, the results of Brown and Cairns’ study indicate that technical aspects of the game are a strong factor in immersion. Social In addition to environmental factors, the social aspects of online multiplayer games bears equal weight in defining and measuring immersion. Players were asked to describe memories of their initial experiences with others in the game, and then compare them to their current interactions with others. The findings of this section can be best explained through the lens of oppositional paradigms of cooperation and intimidation. The use of paradigms in cultural studies can aid understandings of the communication and conflict among participants. Semiotic devices, including paradigmatic tropes, “suggest, indicate, imply, or allude to correspondences and parallels across or within domains. The constructor of tropes uses them to expand, concretize, and emphasize meanings” (Spiggle, 1994, p. 498). Paradigmatic tropes are a set of attributes of a single type, often revealing the contrasting elements of a cultural domain (Lindlof and Taylor, 2002, p. 234). 31 In the realm of MMORPGs, players view the game through distinct paradigms of cooperation or intimidation; new players who do not know others in the game will often experience the game through a lens of intimidation, while players with positive social experiences will orient themselves toward the paradigm of cooperation. These paradigms work against each other; they represent a fear of communication or an embracing of social relationships online. Given the importance of the social dimension of online multiplayer games (both as motivation to play and a requirement for advancement) a player cannot be truly immersed into the virtual game world until they have accepted the paradigm of cooperation. Intimidation. While not all players begin their enculturation within a paradigm of intimidation, it seems to be a common enough occurrence to warrant further examination. Many new players to the game, as well as older players recalling their first experiences, report feeling intimidated by other players, experiencing name-calling such as “noob, 11 ” and often report feeling “unworthy” or “scared.” This is primarily seen in those players who did not group with other players that they knew personally in the game or did not immediately join a guild. The collected survey data showed that none of the players of less than one month preferred to group with others, while a full 40% of this group preferred to play solo (the remaining 60% would play either solo or grouped, depending on the situation). This was the highest ratio of any group of players who expressed a preference for solo play (see Appendix C). The reasons for this became clear in the interviews: what drives players to 11 A common insult based on the root slang term “newbie.” Further information can be found on p. 44. 32 play alone is a sense of fear and intimidation. One survey participant explained this sense of pressure: You see veterans being merciless in the forums with n00bs, 12 so you do not want to make any mistakes when you’re actually out there with them in person. You’re nervous and you’re begging for direction, but most people just want to get on with it and rush right in. Hopefully you learn fast, so your potential danger to the group is lessened, but really . . . you’re a menace and there’s pressure on you not to screw it up for anyone else. Players who lack knowledge and experience have several means of acquiring this information. Some choose to ask their fellow players on the general chat: “I just couldn't believe how much there was to do and to remember. I started out on the Horde side, and when I asked a question on the general channel, I was given all sorts of nasty remarks, which really turned me off.” Others rely on external sources of information: “I find myself googling a lot of things as to not look like a noob.” Whichever method a new player chooses, most are aware of their own inexperience and the possible consequences. Players accept this as a necessary “initiation period” that comes with being a member of the game’s culture. One survey participant explained, “the worst part of being a newb to the game or game play is that players there more experienced than you have no problems mocking you for it. But you learn, and then you're not a noob.” 12 Another variation on “newbie” or “noob.” 33 Some players prefer a more experiential approach to acquiring information, which they sometimes were not even aware that they lacked. Nathan described his first few experiences running instances 13 with others: I didn’t know my job in an instance, no one told me. I stood there and did damage. I didn’t know what they were saying when they said I had to hold 'aggro.’ I didn’t know anything. My education consisted of people yelling at me and getting kicked from groups. I was level 30 before I realized my real job in an instance. I’m not sure if it scarred me, but now that’s all I do. Learning what is deemed “appropriate” behavior requires experience, but acquiring this experience can be stressful for the new player. Maria had a similar experience before she learned the social etiquette of the game: I remember my first instance, the Deadmines. I was clueless. I even rolled on staff (with paladin) that dropped from the boss, 14 and won, and then the priest was yelling at me for good half an hour, until I finally convinced her I am really a noob. These negative first experiences can have an impact on the rest of the player’s gameplay. Players who feel this sense of intimidation often prefer to play solo for as long as possible. One survey participant remembered, “My most memorable experiences were doing quests and having terrible groups. I soloed every character to 60 after those experiences and avoided all instances until I was 60.” Another player expressed a similar 13 Instances are a special type of group quest which take place in a dungeon, where a group of players are transported together to complete a series of quests. Instances cannot be completed alone and require cooperation among the group. 14 “Rolling” refers to an electronic version of dice rolling to determine who receives the dropped item. This was a problem because paladins cannot use staves in World of Warcraft; staves are primarily used by priests. “Dropped by the boss” means that the item was discovered by defeating the head NPC enemy in the instance. While rolling is controlled by the game, the mechanics of the game do not determine who is eligible to roll for the item; it only determines who is eligible to use it. 34 hesitancy to group: “I find I spend most of my time playing by myself with only grouping on the extremely difficult quests. I only formed groups when it was required because they were elite quests.” Leveling a character to level 60 is an extremely time-consuming process that requires a significant amount of skill; even after players obtain enough skill and experience to no longer be considered a “newbie,” these initial experiences can remain with a player until they find positive social relationships with which to replace them. My first month or two was pretty lonely. I [went through 52 levels] before I made any friends. I ran an instance as a rogue with a group that became my longtime friends. I joined their guild, grew to 60 with them, and a lot of where I am today has to do with joining that group nearly a year ago. When this player finally found a group that he was comfortable with, he was able to move from the mindset of intimidation towards the paradigm of cooperation. However, the initial negative experiences prevented him from seeking positive social relationships earlier. This intimidation can be heightened by the intense sense of competition between players, not just in player vs. player combat, but also between players of the same faction. As one player observed, “everyone tries to get the edge they need to be superior to others.” The opportunity to collect limited rewards, gold, or experience breeds an atmosphere of conflict. Avoidance of conflict was a recurring theme; some players choose to play solo to avoid conflict with others over limited resources, while some players utilize built-in interface functions such as ignoring players who intimidate them. While the interface of the game allows grouped players to share quests and thus rewards, 35 some players refuse to participate altogether. One player admitted that this was because of her lack of knowledge of the social rules: I’m not much of a group player, often because if I’m working on a collection-type quest, I don’t want to have to fight over the item in question or have to kill several times the necessary amount of monsters in order to complete the quest. I’m also unfamiliar with the standard group etiquette as far as looting and ‘class roles,’ and I prefer to avoid interpersonal drama when I’m gaming. Another player also reported avoiding grouping with others to prevent conflict: “I will group with the occasional person if we are trying to do the same quest but mostly I avoid it. This way I don’t have to worry about rude behavior or looting rules.” While most conflict occurred in situations with a specific group of players, some participants preferred to avoid conflict altogether by turning off the general chat channels that allow players in the same area to communicate via text messages visible to everyone in the area. Christian, a 29-year-old guild member, was one of these players. As a personal rule, I turn off the General chat channel; it is usually full of insults or useless statements . . . Mature conversations are among some of the best in the game but there is always someone wanting to disrupt them in these channels. I feel that the best form of moderation in-game is self moderation; the ignore list is my friend. One of the more alarming forms of conflict and intimidation occurs in the form of sexual harassment. Several female players reported sexual harassment that caused them discomfort; while the incidents were reported to the moderators, the players felt frustrated at their lack of control over the situation. Melissa, a 25-year-old female player, explained the problems that a younger female she introduced to game encountered: 36 After I introduced the game to a younger friend of mine, she started a Night Elf character (she is 15 years old). While questing in Shadowglen she was harassed by two male characters via /say 15 and emotes that were very vulgar – our solution to this was to ignore them, and to turn off emotes and /say chat. Since then she has not had a problem (emotes and /say were restored once she left the area). Another female player reported intimidation in the form of sexual harassment as a new player: “I used to get harassed a lot as a female character, but that happens less now that my main is a higher level. It still happens to my low-level alts 16 .” Considering that nearly half of the players surveyed indicated that they currently or previously had played a character whose gender was different from their own (see Appendix C), this sexual harassment is especially surprising; players who believe they are communicating with a female player are likely to be wrong. Regardless of the gender of the player, this inappropriate behavior is yet another way that some players are forced to view the game through the lens of intimidation. Cooperation. While negative social experiences can cause some players to see the world within a paradigm of intimidation, most players eventually adopt the paradigm of cooperation. The process can begin even before a player purchases the game. The majority of participants began playing because of the influence of others, including offline friends, romantic partners, or colleagues. This supports Kolo and Baur’s (2004) findings, and indicates that the social aspect is immediately important for many players, and may even be their primary reason for playing. Sometimes new players will begin the 15 “/say” is game code used to chat with all players in an immediate area. 16 An abbreviation for “alternate character.” 37 game together; one woman and her husband started the game together, and would bounce ideas off of each other about how to play, while a group of college friends began the game together after graduation as a way to keep in touch. For some players, the social aspect emerges as the primary reason for play, even when the technical or environmental factors fail. One player said, “I must admit I didn’t like the game at first, but my friends kept drawing me back in.” Another female player explained, I found it very difficult to get into the stories and excited to play. I even stopped playing for a month. I came back when I found a guild of girls and I used them to keep my interest in the game. I’ve moved onto a different guild but I relied on them to keep me wanting to play. Players who know others in the game before they begin tend to have more positive social experiences initially because they have a dependable group of people with whom to play. When I first started playing the game, I was guilded with real-life friends who had been playing for some time already. Because of that I had positive experiences with my first group-play, but I also tend not to group with random people in game. Rather my interaction with strangers is mostly limited to role-play. Another player was able to explore the world with the avatars of offline friends, using them as guides: “I had friends who were playing long before me who shepherded me through some tough areas.” This framing of other offline friends as guides was quite common for new players: My experiences as a newbie were helped along by the fact that I had friends already playing and getting me into the game, and so they helped with either money or 38 grouping. They were there to answer questions quickly and showed me how to get answers through the public channel when no one I knew was online. If players begin the game without the help of offline friends, their initial experiences with others can set the tone for the rest of the game, as demonstrated in the explanation of the intimidation paradigm. However, this impact is equally strong when the interactions are positive, as one player explains: I had some very positive group experiences early on, which set the tone for what I expect from a group. Now, if a group doesn’t provide a minimal level of organization and discussion about tactics, approach, loot rules, objectives, etc., I find that I don’t want to play with that group. Players who collaborate early on with other low-level players they do not know and have positive experiences report long-term friendships with these people, even if they are not in the same guild: After one particular quest I fell in with a group of really cool players, and we always seemed to be on at the same time and at the same level so we were always doing instances together, and we had a really close bond with each other. Another player remembered a similar first experience: “I remember some of the quests being very difficult for a solo player and having some people who I now consider good friends coming along and ‘showing me the ropes’ of the game.” Players also value the opportunity to ask questions about mechanics and etiquette in a non-threatening and non- intimidating environment. One player recalls: “my first group experience was very positive; several other players invited me along on one of the very earliest starting quests 39 for my race, and they were friendly and helpful when I asked questions about the game's mechanics.” Players are generally aware that such positive first experiences are rare, especially when they lead to such long-lasting relationships: I grouped with a priest a few days after the game came out, we just happened to be doing the same quest. We then grouped with a few friends of his, and got invited to sign the guild charter, and I’m still in that guild to this day. Definitely a wonderfully lucky experience. Other first experiences may not even be with groups, but a singular interaction with a player. Questing is not the only reason for interaction in a game; some players communicate for trading, duels, or simply social chat. My first experience interacting with anyone in-game was a person in the general chat channel who asked if anyone had a spare bag 17 . I offered up one of mine and mailed it to him – and from that point on we chatted whenever he was online.” Since interaction is necessary to complete quests at higher levels, more experienced players are much more likely to view the world from the cooperative paradigm. High level players report greater tendencies toward group questing; the focus tends to be on cooperation rather than individual gain. This is especially important in guilds, where players will frequently give up their time to help lower-level players with quests; this sense of cooperation is seen as beneficial for the group. Players will also help out of a sense of sympathy with new players, because they remember their own perception of 17 Bags are used to carry items within the game, and are available for purchase or through the auction house in sizes ranging from 4 item slots to 12 item slots. 40 intimidation. One guild leader explained, “I remember that the world seemed very large to me, and everything was very difficult. Lately I have dedicated my character to helping other players in my guild level up. These days I’m like a veteran in the game.” Some players limit this sympathy to new players in their own guild, expressing sentiments like Nathan’s: “I’m okay with newbies, as long as they’re newbies in my guild.” New players who immediately join guilds credit the guilds with providing a supportive social environment; many said things similar to “I remember I didn’t know much of anything but the guild helped me get a hang of it.” Players need this sort of support in order to fully immerse themselves in the game. Phil, a 20-year-old new player who entered a guild early on, said, “the biggest advantage of being at a guild early on is having a group of folks who are glad to answer questions for newbies.” Another player expresses a similar need for support without intimidation: Having joined a guild early on, when I needed help running some lowbie instances a higher level friend would help. Learning from said friend also helped improve my game, instead of maybe picking up bad habits from other players . . . it helped that I had friends who played the game who gave me as many tips as they could and answered my questions without criticism. Overall, the theme of trust appears across both new and high level players; new players express the need for a close social group that they can go to for questions or help, without a sense of intimidation. Higher-level players often resist “pick up groups 18 ” with strangers, claiming that they do not know if they are trustworthy. This is especially 18 Pick up Groups (PUGs) are ad hoc groups comprised of players with no previous relationship or interactions. 41 important in instances, where a player might “ninja-loot 19 ” someone else’s winnings. For this reason, players far prefer to play with guildmates or real-life friends. This need for a close social group can cause a division between the “in-group” and “out-group” of players, where players who are members of guilds may perceive unknown players as untrustworthy. The Newbie/Newb/Noob/N00b Distinction When discussing immersion for new players in virtual game environments, it is important to define specifically what a “newbie” is. Communication on the Internet has spawned a unique typed dialect knows as “leet.” Originating in the word “elite,” the language relies on the substitution of numbers for letters, and was meant to be decipherable for an advanced group of Internet users. In addition to morphing existing words, leetspeak has created several new terms and changed the definitions of existing ones. One of these words is “newbie.” Through the course of the research, it was found that “newbie” had multiple forms and definitions. One interesting distinction that emerged was linguistic; while asking players about what constituted a “newbie,” confusion emerged as to which sort of “newb” was referenced. While some players used the terms interchangeably, many higher-level players noted a distinction between a “newb,” a “noob,” and a “n00b.” These linguistic distinctions are closely tied to the frame of intimidation and cooperation, and not just in the sense that they are terms new players are expected to learn. In a forum discussion with several high-level players, 19 “Ninja-looting” refers to a player unfairly claiming dropped items from group kills without giving other members of the group an opportunity to roll for the item. 42 Nevin emphasized that while their meanings could be similar, the difference in spelling implied a different attitude. Newb (pronounced new-be by some) is a term meaning someone who is new or unfamiliar to an experience. Noob is usually intended as a jibe. I think “noob” came from “newb” when people just started pronouncing the word like it looked. When I got to tease someone for having a brain fart or a temporary lapse of memory, or just not knowing something simple, I’ll call them a noob. In response, Plaster pointed to his own name using the “<” key, and said “such a noob he didn’t know the difference.” While players will often refer to themselves in the third person online, what is interesting here is Plaster’s use of self-humiliation for not knowing the difference. Rather than call himself a “newb,” which would have been fitting as someone who is unfamiliar to the term, he chose the more negative connotation for himself. Nevin further clarified his explanation by saying, “I think it is part of the human experience to always have something new to you come around. Therefore being human = newb for life.” Eldarin agreed with Nevin, explaining that “newb” means “someone who is new to something” and is used to explain the behavior of low levels. Noob has a different meaning, and is “used to call someone stupid or dumb or inexperienced with their class or just a plain insult.” At this point, Nathan, the guild master, noted simply that “noob > n00b.” After further prompting, he clarified that n00b is shorthand for “really, really a noob. If you’re joking around, n00b is funnier because it makes fun of the word and the person at the same time.” 43 Both Nathan and Nevin use noob or n00b both as an insult and as a joke. Amiru explains, “newbie was the original term used to refer to someone who was new to computers or the internet. It has obviously taken on a different meaning . . . Noob or n00b refers to people that ‘suck’ even if they are not new to something, although my guess is both are often the case.” Amiru then elaborates with a personal example: “I’m not a newb to WoW, I’ve been playing for a year, but I’m definitely a “noob” when it comes to many of the game’s finer points, but in reality that “noobness” relates to a lack of information and experience with certain game elements, hence being a newbie.” While Amiru views “noobness” as behavioral and “newbness” as experiential, he is acknowledging that behavior is closely tied to experience. Other higher level players also articulated this difference in interviews. Kira, a 23-year- old interview participant who plays with her husband, explained: Newbie is someone new to the game who honestly wants to learn and play this game not really the “right” way but in a corporative way. Noobs are generally idiots and the first to call someone a noob. A noob is someone I’d also consider an ass. They can be full of themselves, verbally abusive, etc. Clint, a 32-year-old interview participant, explained it similarly: A newbie is someone who is new and legitimately trying to learn the game. A n00b is generally someone who either is making stupid mistakes they shouldn’t or who believes they know everything about the game because they have a level 60 “whatever,” but know absolutely nothing about how to play the class they’re currently leveling up and refuse to learn. As long as they’re generally trying to learn, I have no problems helping them and treating them fairly. It’s the ones who start 44 begging or assuming that because I’m a higher level that I have to help them that bug me and I tend to ignore them. While most players draw a distinction between “newb” and “noob/n00b,” some players hold even more detailed definitions. Phil, a relatively new player, defines an additional distinction between “newbie” and “newb”: There are a few different degrees of newbieness. The standard “newb” has no idea what’s going on, but is actively trying to learn in a positive way. The “newbie” to me, is the person who’s played previous MMOs, but is new to the individual game. The “n00b” is the player who is utterly hopeless both in manner and in skill. I treat them with the amount of respect they deserve based on the way they behave. If they’re polite and courteous, I’ll be very helpful to them. If they are obnoxious and otherwise annoying, I’m less inclined to assist them. While some players chose to ignore the questions of newbies, no higher level player admitted to outwardly harassing or intimidating “newbs,” and many claimed to be helpful, provided that the newbie “had the right attitude” or was “willing to learn.” Perhaps this is a limitation of the study, because the people who answer calls for research interviews are probably people who are less likely to harass others. However, there does seem to be a disconnection between what higher-level players say and what newbies report they do. Also, while none of the interviewed players admitted to harassing new players directly, some communicated insults about players they considered “noobs” amongst other higher-level players. This frames the communicative situation in an “us against them” perspective where the “noob” is delegated to the “other.” Nathan admitted: One time I was in a semi-pick up group in a raid. There were about five guildies 45 talking on Teamspeak 20 , then 10 random people not on Teamspeak. One guy was a total noob. He tried to dominate and lead the raid, but he didn’t know what he was doing (and no one really needed his help, at least my guildies didn’t). So we laughed and joked on Teamspeak about everything he was doing. We even made a funny way to say his name. In addition to being called “stupid,” “idiots,” and “ignorant,” there is an underlying element of choice in the term “noob;” Nathan said, “being a noob has nothing to do with level or individual ability. It’s about how you act and what you say.” Annie seemed to feel very strongly about the distinction: “a noob is someone who should know what they’re doing, but do not: someone careless, pigheaded, and inattentive, who often causes ruin to others via their actions.” This implies that simple lack of experience does not make one a noob; however, if one has the opportunity to learn and refuses to take it, they will be labeled a noob. To summarize, the newbie/newb/noob/n00b distinction is an important one: 1) A “newbie” is one who has played other similar games, but is new to this particular game; 2) A “newb” is not a derogatory term, and simply acknowledges a player who is new to the style of gameplay; 3) A “noob” is considered an insult, but can be directed at friends in a joking manner; 4) A “n00b” is similar to a “noob,” but can be considered a worse insult. Ginger, a 23-year-old high level player, put it succinctly: “A newbie is a new player. A noob is someone who has been playing for a while, but chooses not to learn how to play on his/her own.” 20 Teamspeak is a third-party voice chat system used by many players to communicate more easily during quests. 46 If a new player who is willing to learn is a “newbie,” at what point is the player no longer considered a newbie? The factor of self-sufficiency raised by Ginger appeared frequently in players’ answers. Others explained it as “taking initiative to start learning things on their own” while some thought the turning point was “answering the questions of others.” This raises an interesting paradox: At higher levels, cooperating with others is necessary to complete quests, but a player is no longer considered a newbie when they can play or learn on their own. In a sense, this would define all higher-level players as newbies. While the “newbie/noob” difference might seem inconsequential, the subtle definitional differences and the flexible, limited use of the distinction could create confusion for players. Beyond the sense of presence that Brown and Cairns (2004) define as immersion, MMORPG players understand the social aspects of the game as being crucial to the total experience of the game, and thus complete immersion. Adapting to the social norms of the virtual world (or any new culture) takes time, the amount of which varies according to the individual. Most players expressed that newbies and noobs can exist at any level. In fact, the newbie/noob distinction is just one of the culture-specific practices to which a player must adjust. There are many other examples of cultural practices players must adopt in order to be successful, including etiquette, player vs. player combat rules, and looting rules. In summary, immersion is the result of both environmental and social factors. While the initial aesthetic qualities, the interface, and game narratives might pull a player into the game, it is the social bonds and relationships that keep players invested in the game. If players do not have positive social experiences, they slow their advancement and are 47 less likely to feel immersed. At some point, a player must either adopt the paradigmatic view of cooperation or quit. Chapter 5: Discussion Implications Immersion is the result of both environmental and social factors in virtual game environments. Factors of aesthetics, interface, and narrative can affect a player’s ability to feel immersed in the world, particularly early in their playing experience. On the social end, the opposing paradigms of intimidation and cooperation that players use to orient themselves to the world create a viable theory to explain how and why players engage in and communicate in online multiplayer games. While this study is primarily heuristic in nature and examines a rather specific definition of immersion, parts of this theory can also be generalized to some task-oriented situations offline. Glaser and Strauss (1967) refer to the ability of a theory to be generalized beyond the scope of the study as the creation of formal theory. While the intimidation/cooperation paradigm theory used to frame the social aspects of immersion is built from a grounded study of in-game communication, it may have applications in other situations. To generalize to a corporate setting, a new employee for a company might attempt to form bonds with others senior employees quickly for fear of being “out there” alone. If the employee has negative first experiences with others in the workplace, he or she may prefer to keep to him/herself for as long as possible, unless the work requires him/her to work with others, in which case s/he may remain socially reserved until positive interactions occur. The employee enters the work environment viewing it through the lens of intimidation, but cannot be not fully immersed in the workplace until others in the 49 organization extend a cooperative “hand” and s/he accepts the cooperation paradigm. These paradigms shape the person’s worldview and can profoundly affect a person’s success and opportunities for advancement. Admittedly, not all companies are oriented towards employee cooperation in the same way as World of Warcraft. Some companies focus more on individual output and are less inclined to be cooperative. However, in online multiplayer games and many organizations, cooperation is an imperative; one cannot advance without the help of others. Possible solutions to the problems that the intimidation paradigm creates can be found in the literature of organizational communication, specifically the work of Michael Kramer (1994). Kramer examines uncertainty reduction in the workplace, particularly for new employees, and advocates increased organizational assistance for newcomers. Perhaps game designers could take a similar approach and explore ways to offer increased support for new players, which may facilitate their immersion and keep them immersed for longer. This thesis does not attempt to offer solutions so much as explore the nuances of the situation, although this is also a possible direction for further research. Limitations One limitation to this study concerns the demographics of the respondents. Previous research has found that regardless of the type of administration of the survey or interview (online or paper-based), women are more likely to respond than men (Sax, Gilmartin, & Bryant, 2003). In this study, nearly half of the participants were female, although the percentage of females playing MMORPGs is thought to be much smaller (Yee, 2003). The likelihood of female respondents makes determining the actual demographics of players difficult, and reduces the ability to generalize about the World of Warcraft 50 population as a whole. This study is also limited to participants over the age of 18, which eliminates a large portion of the player population. Furthermore, as previously noted, the personality of players who are willing to respond to an online survey or interview request may not be representative of the population. In short, this is not a true random or stratified sample. Another potential limitation is reliability. The study is intended to be heuristic, and so additional coders were not used for data analysis. Lindlof and Taylor (2002) note that because the categories that emerge from grounded theory are interdependent, they are unique to the study and the analyst. Traditional standards of validity do not hold much relevance to qualitative research (pp. 239-240). The categories emerge from the data, and so external labels are not applied. The theory presented here is certainly not the only way this data set may be interpreted. While additional coders may have yielded interesting insights, it was beyond the scope of this project. To overcome the limitation of reliability, qualitative research employs methods of triangulation and member validation. For the purposes of this study, triangulation refers to multiple methods of data gathering (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002, pp. 240-241). By using participant observation, surveys, interviews, and chat sessions, a large amount of data was gathered and compared to support the emerging theory. Member validation is a process of returning to the field with the results for assessment by the participants (Lindlof & Taylor, 2002, p. 242). Several interview participants volunteered to continue to give feedback, and their responses proved valuable for interpreting player actions and motivations. While not everyone felt that everything presented here was exactly relevant to their individual situations, they agreed that immersion was a result of both the 51 technical and social factors, and all said that the intimidation/cooperation paradigms made sense in their own experiences and observations. In addition, the participants have been presented in their own words whenever possible; readers may judge their words for themselves and make their own conclusions. Future Research Virtual worlds are developing into prime locations for social and economic research, but the research base is still rather thin. This study presents one possible interpretation of immersion in virtual game worlds, but its scope is relatively small; the theory of immersion presented here needs to be taken to other virtual worlds to test its validity. Varying requirements and technical complexities may hinder the applicability of the theory. One potential way to expand this research would be to examine other player terms that fit into the intimidation/cooperation paradigm. The newbie/newb/noob/n00b distinction was explored here as an indicator of a unique cultural situation, but it clearly also demonstrates how players subtly (and not-so-subtly) use language to define in- groups and out-groups. Another avenue for research would be the specific study of gender experience. Beyond being a smaller percentage of the demographic, the experiences of women in MMORPGs are often different from men. While it is beyond the scope of this study, an examination of women’s experiences in-game is one direction for future research. In fact, the recurrence of sexual harassment incidents in the game should be a cause of concern for players, game administrators, law enforcement, and scholars. Further study is needed to determine the causes and influences of these attitudes and behaviors, and develop ways to monitor their prevalence in virtual environments 52 While this study is not intended to account for all player behavior, it hopefully sheds some light on how and why players choose to engage in multiplayer online games. Either the technical or the social aspects could be examined in more detail, and the communicative atmosphere of these games is especially rich for studies relating to conflict management, organizational communication, small group communication, identity formation, and socialization. This study has attempted to touch on all of these components, and in doing so develop a theory of immersion for players in virtual game environments. 53 References Boellstorff, Tom. (2006, January). A Ludicrous Discipline? Ethnography and Game Studies. Games and Culture 1(1), 29-35. Retrieved January 26, 2006 from the World Wide Web: http://games.sagepub.com. Brown, E., & Cairns, Paul. (2004). A Grounded Investigation of Immersion. Proceedings of CHI 2004. Vienna, Austria: CHI 2004; 1297-1300. Chee, F., & Smith, R. (2003, October). Is Electronic Community an Addictive Substance? Everquest and its Implications for Addiction Policy. Association of Internet Researchers, Toronto, Canada. Chesebro, James W. (1996). A History of the Methodology of Participant Observation. Ducheneaut, N., & Moore, R.J. (2004, November).The Social Side of Gaming: A Study of Interaction Patterns in a Massively Multiplayer Online Game. Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2004), USA. NY: ACM, 2004; 360-369. Glaser, B.G., & Strauss, A.L. (1967). The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research. Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company. Harrison, S., & Dourish, P. (1996).Re-placing Space: The Roles of Space and Place in Collaborative Systems. Proceedings from the Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (CSW). Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work Related Values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage Publications. Jakobsson, M., & Taylor, T.L. (2003, May). The Sopranos Meets EverQuest: Social Networking in Massively Multiplayer Online Games. Proceedings of the Design Automation Conference, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, 81-90. Kolo, C. & Baur, T. (2004, November). Living a Virtual Life: Social Dynamics of Online Gaming. Game Studies 4(1). Retrieved February 2, 2005 from http://www.gamestudies.org/0401/kolo Kramer, M.W. (1994, May). Uncertainty Reduction during Job Transitions: An Exploratory Study of the Communication Experiences of Newcomers and Transferees. Management Communication Quarterly 7(4), 384-412. Lindlof, T.R., & Corbin, B.C. (2002). Qualitative Communication Research Methods (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. 54 Mortensen, T. (2002, July). Playing With Players: Potential Methodologies for MUDs. Game Studies 2(1). Retrieved February 2, 2005 from http://www.gamestudies.org/0102/mortensen/ Papargyris, A., & Poulymenakou, A. (2004, April). “Learning Opportunities in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games Player Communities.” In CHI ‘04 Workshop: Social Learning Through Gaming. 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Toward a Theory-Based Measurement of Culture. Journal of Global Information Management 10(1), 13-23. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1998). Grounded Theory Methodology: An Overview. In N.K. Denzin & Y.S. Lincoln (Eds.), Strategies of qualitative inquiry (pp.158-183). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Turkle, Sherry. (1995). Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. New York: Simon & Schuster. Uren, L. (2003). Computer and Video game Design Issues. In John Vince (Ed.), Handbook of Computer Animation (1-27). New York: Springer. Van Manen, M. (1990). Researching Lived Experience: Human Science for Action Sensitive Pedagogy. Ontario, Canada: State University of New York Press. Walther, B.K. (May 2003). Playing and Gaming: Reflections and Classifications. Game 55 Studies 3(1). Retrieved February 2, 2005 from http://www.gamestudies.org/0301/walther Wingfield, Nick. (2006, February 18). Faces of the New Hollywood: The Power Players. The Wall Street Journal, pp. P1, P4. Yee, N. (2002). Befriending Ogres and Wood-Elves: Understanding Relationship Formation in MMORPGs. Retrieved March 1, 2005 from http://www.nickyee.com/hub/relationships/home.html Yee, N. (2001). The Norrathian Scrolls: A Study of EverQuest (version 2.5). Retrieved April 19, 2005 from http://www.nickyee.com/eqt/report.html 56 Appendix A Glossary of Terms Avatar: The three-dimensional visual representation of a player in the virtual world. Players have significant control over the appearance of their avatars, and are able to decide the race, skin tone, hair color, eye shape, eye color, hairstyle, facial piercings, facial expression, and markings of their avatar. During the course of the game, players will gain armor and clothing that will allow them to further customize the appearance of their avatars, making two identical avatars highly unlikely. Azeroth: The mythical name for the “world” embodied by World of Warcraft. Azeroth is divided into two continents and one main island. Emote: An expression of emotion online. World of Warcraft has a database of built-in emotes, which cause the player’s avatar to perform an action. This may range from spitting at another player to smiling, waving, bowing, dancing, telling a joke, flirting, hugging, crying, etc. Some emotes produce a visible action, while others will announce themselves to other players in the chat window. Ganking: The practice on PvP servers of higher-level players killing low-level players of the opposing faction who have no chance of success, with no gains for the attacker. This is generally considered a dishonorable action by other players. Guild: A group of players who voluntarily join together as an established group to complete high-level quests, share trade skills, help out low-level players, and maintain in- game friendships and camaraderie. Guilds may contain as few as ten people or as many as several hundred. Guilds mark themselves through the use of wearable tabards with unique designs and visible titles, and many have guild websites separate from the game. Each guild is run by the members or elected or designated leaders. Instance: A series of group quests which take place in a dungeon, where a group of players are transported to and must play as a unit to finish the quest. Instances cannot be completed alone. Leetspeak (“leet” or “1337”): An internet “dialect” based on the corruption of written English, where letters are replaced with numbers. The word “leet” is a derivative of “elite,” as the style of writing was considered to be a sign of advanced skill or a higher social standing. Over time, “leet” has become part of accepted Internet vernacular that is decipherable to more than just the “elite” users. MMORPG: Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game; a class of computer games characterized by real time play on remote servers, complex graphical interfaces, and the ability to interact with many players simultaneously in both cooperative and combat fashions. 57 MUDs: Multi-User Dungeon; text-based online multiplayer games that served as a precursor to MMORPGs. Newbie: A person who is new to a game, genre, or class. NPC: Non-player character. These characters are built into the game to provide structure and fulfill necessary roles, such as guards, trainers, merchants, and quest givers. PUG: Pick-up group. Unlike a group of guild members, a pick-up group is ad hoc, usually strangers, and intended for only the completion of a single quest, at which point the group disbands. PvE: Player versus Environment; a type of server where players are more focused on battling monsters and completing quests than engaging in battles with other players. PvP: Player versus Player; a type of server where players engage in frequent and open combat with one another to test skills and gain honor. Quest: A task of varying complexity given to a player or group of players by an NPC character that involves completing the task, either alone or with others. Quests allow players to build experience that increases levels. Many quests are too difficult to complete alone, and so require the player to cooperate with others. Raid: A pre-planned group attack on the opposing faction, where players coordinate roles and travel together to ambush a city and kill other players and NPCs. RP: Role Play; refers to a type of server where players are expected to communicate in and maintain a fantasy/medieval role fitting to their character and the world. WoW: A common acronym for World of Warcraft. 58 Appendix B Interview Protocol World of Warcraft players: Thank you for choosing to be a part of my research on social integration into virtual game communities. Please answer the following questions as specifically as possible. Your identity will not be revealed, although you may choose a pseudonym for yourself to be used in my findings. If you do not choose one, a pseudonym will be chosen for you. By taking part in this online interview, you consent to releasing this information for my use, which may end up in publication. Additionally, please be aware that I may contact you via email for clarification on answers if needed. You may type as much as you want; the more thorough the answers, the more helpful it will be. When you are finished, simply send the document back to me. You may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com with any questions or concerns. For questions about your rights as a research participant, please contact Melanie L. Morris, Coordinator of Research Compliance, (765) 285-5070, firstname.lastname@example.org. 1. How old are you, and what is your offline gender? 2. How long have you been playing World of Warcraft? 3. Why did you decide to start playing? 4. Did you know someone that brought you into the game, or showed you the game before you bought it? 5. Had you played other MMORPGs before World of Warcraft? What about tabletop RPGs? For how long? 6. Tell me about your primary character (including level), and why you chose it. Describe it to me. Do you feel a connection with your avatar? 7. How long would you say it took you to get used to the interface of the game? 8. What were your initial impressions of the game? (Landscape, interface, music, etc). Be as specific as you can remember. 9. Do you often form groups with others to complete quests? With real-life friends, guild members, or random players? Which do you do most often? 59 10. If you are now a high-level player, did you form quests with other players when you were new to the game? Were these experiences different than grouping for high-level raids? 11. Do you ever form groups for any reason other than quests? 12. Do you remember your first group quest? Did you know the other players in the group? Describe the experience, as much as you can remember. 13. What are your feelings about how interaction is moderated between players in the game? 14. Do you primarily communicate through chat or a voice service such as Ventrillo? If you use a voice service, how long have you been using it? 15. Are you a member of a guild? Why or why not? 16. If you are a member of a guild, how did you become a part of the guild? At approximately what level did you join the guild? Was there a process? 17. What are the advantages of being a member of a guild? 18. In your own opinion, what defines a “newbie?” Is there a general level or amount of time spent in the game that determines when a player is no longer a newbie? 19. How do you treat players that you consider to be “newbies” to the game? 20. Is there a difference between a “newbie” and a “noob”? 21. What makes you continue to want to play the game? 60 Appendix C Survey Results Note: Not all participants chose to respond to all questions. Ge nde r Bre ak dow n 200 174 150 86 79 Please verif y that you 100 are over the age of 18 50 0 and indicate your 0 gender (as a player not I am over Male Female Other your character) the age of 18. Time Played 80 57 61 60 How long have you 24 28 40 been playing World of 20 8 Warcraf t? 0 Since Over 1 6-12 3-6 Less the beta year months months than 1 version month Highest Level 111 120 100 80 60 32 25 40 20 6 0 60 (highest 40-59 20-39 1-19 possible) 61 Gender Sw apping 100 88 80 60 Do you play a 60 character of a 30 40 dif f erent gender than 20 your ow n? 0 Yes, Yes. I used No currently to Guild Membership 200 151 150 Are you now or have 100 you ever been a member of a guild? 50 5 0 Yes No Guild Advantages 131 150 110 91 75 100 38 37 50 0 Camaraderie All my friends Help w ith Protection in Access to Other (please are in the quests PvP high-level specify) guild items and equipment PvP Combat Participation 120 108 100 80 Do you participate in PvP 60 39 combat? Why or w hy not? 40 20 8 0 Yes Only in defense No, Not interested 62 Play Preferences 109 120 100 80 Do you prefer to play solo or 60 23 22 40 group w ith others? 20 0 I prefer to play I prefer to group I do both solo w henever w ith others depending on possible. w henever the situation possible.
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