Sunday, August 17, 2014

It's More Than a Game

Lately I've been doing a bit of thinking about my future including goals and what I'd like to achieve. One of these aims is to get a masters degree and then get into teaching at a higher level. While considering this possibility I had a long around online for some research papers on various topics including MUD's. Reading these papers I came across a research project titled "Ethnography of Online Role-Playing Games: The Role of Virtual and Real Contest in the Construction of the Field" written by Simona Isabella. It took me about five attempts at reading it before I could my head around it all. What I did find really interesting about this particular paper was that it made comparisons between the players of Realms of Despair and an Italian MUD called Extremelot. Here I am going to post my thoughts on Simona's conclusions - what I disagree with, agree with and parts I am still not sure about.

1 - Realms of Despair is a game.
I agree with this though there is more to it than just that. Getting the most experience, gold, equipment, glory, etc is a part of the game. This part of the game can be done to a large degree without much interaction with other players but it is required to interact with other players to get the best equipment either through working together as a team or finding someone to trade with. Adding this interaction and the relationships and friction between players adds another dimension that I believe makes more than a game.

2 - You can interact with people you wouldn't otherwise have anything in common with.
This is definitely true. One of my favourite quotes from the paper is:
"Lots of these people have good relationships through the text and we don't care if you are 150 tons … who cares!!!" (CA/13, F, 28).
This is completely true. A lot of the time I have no idea what other players look like, how old they are, education levels, wealth, race, religion or nationality. This is a good thing about the game and can occasionally result in some odd conversations with points of view I wouldn't otherwise see.

3. - A sense of belonging can occur.
This is a big point in the thesis. The idea is that people can feel as though they are connected to a community where they fit in and belong with others like themselves. Players can develop this feeling and I personally believe this is a big reason why a lot people keep playing this game. I think that this is the challenge to retaining players after they have levelled a couple of characters up to level 50. It also shows to me the importance of players being prepared to make new connections with other players as time goes on and some players leave.

4. MUDs are considered outdated games.
I don't fully agree with this statement. Especially when the writer says:
a very obsolete kind of game if we compare them with the modern graphic games (such as the famous War of the War Craft).
I think that a lot of the ideas behind the more modern games have been borrowed from MUDs. If you look at the money raised from some of these games (including the taxes raised and employment made) they certainly benefit the community. Without MUDs and research on them where would these games be? I certainly don't think they are obsolete.

5. Players are attached more some of their characters than others
I currently have 23 avatar characters and am working on a few more. I am only really attached to 3 of them. I doubt that many of the people who know me in the game can name any more of my alternate characters. I think most players feel a similar way about their characters.

6. Every player lives in Eastern Canada and is not welcoming of new comers
This is so not true. I accept that there are some cliques within the game and it is hard to break into them - but what do you expect from a game where some people have been friends for many years? I have met a handful of players and live about as far away from Eastern Canada as you can get. I know of several players from other parts of the world too - England, New Zealand, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa...

7. Mudders are geeky deviants
I laughed when I read this one. Very debatable. I was going to say this was definitely not true then I remembered I have a degree in mathematics... Maybe there is some truth in this.

The final conclusion of this thesis is:

Moreover, virtual communities like these created around MUDs can be considered as communities of practices: the participation is voluntary and the process of socialisation is more oriented to sharing experiences than to reaching common purposes. Members of these communities have in common the desire to take certain routes together, interpreting events as they come and create meaningful environments. They behave freely but always respecting some rules. The satisfaction that participants get from this union becomes a founding value of the community in itself.
It's an interesting thought and achievement to consider what has been done in the Realms of Despair over the last 20 years. The author has a PhD in part from her work in this. I like that the Realms of Despair is getting it's place in history and officially published in academic research. It also makes me think that perhaps Thoric deserves an honorary doctorate for his work and commitment over the years.

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