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					    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


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                                                                                            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 mcalka@gmail.com or mcalka@bsu.edu 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, irb@bsu.edu.



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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