Thursday, 9 August 2007

The birth pains of The Kaminjosvig

Ok so the Corp started over 2 months ago (the first 3 weeks were spent on concept, website design and general faffing around).

It has not been plain sailing by any shot of the imagination. One of the guys I recruited 5 weeks ago (ucntkilme) wanted to run the corp in a different way. He wanted us down in CVA space fighting against Pirates. I am not totally sure what bit of Mercenary he didn't get but there you go. Coupled with this was the fact that I had trusted him way too soon and allowed him access to the corp wallet. I thought he was going to be really good at getting us started.

Over the next few weeks he would keep taking around 7-15million from the corp wallet. Not regular just now and then. I started to get a bit alarmed by this but had other things to worry about like recruitment. Then we got a really good PvP'er into the corp the kind of guy with huge balls who liked to talk about his exploits. He was really funny loads of character. This rubbed ucntkilme up the wrong way and one night he really went off at this other (very experienced PvPer) in corp. I revoked ucntkilme's roles and set him back to ordinary member.

This was a relief and initially ucntkilme took it very badly and was going to leave. After a mail suggesting that he had been a bit cookie and that he should give it another go maybe work his way back to the position he was in. He agreed to stay. At least I had him away from the corp wallet!

So we hold elections for Steersman and ucntkilme got voted in. This means that he is one of the political leaders of the corp with myself and the PvPer.

Steersmen get a budget to spend on the players buying them ships and modules. I only put a niminal fee into the wallet for I did not trust ucntkilme. Sure enough he took 7million within two days of getting access. This time I asked him to put it back. He was a bit bitchy about it in corp chat but the money went back over the next day or two.

Then I find out he is bitching about the direction of the corp and that some of the others are agreeing with him (he is a US player and we have a contingent of US players in the corporation). I took him to task about this on the forums and basically said get behind us or leave. He then resigned his roles and prepared to leave. I outlined in a Corp mail that anyone else who identified with Ucntkilme should go. We lost one other member.

Ucntkilme took the 20million isk from the steersman's budget when he left and a few days later declared war on us.

The war
The war is due to start 12.30am Sunday morning. Ucntkilme talked to some of our members like Hugg and Wellsy (old timers) saying this was my fault and that none of them had to engage and he would just kill me a couple of times and be done. He was trying to get people to leave but his war declaration got everyone behind the corp. People moved location to our home system and members started saying that they would fight even if they didn't have the skills. Which was really cool - in other words his war dec was counter productive.

The first engagement of the war was when he decided to engage our member Lord Warpy who was mining in Abagawa. The war dec was not operational and he lost his ship to concord. Sadly we were left without any serious engagement and simply had to go and loot his wreck. At least we got back some of the ISK back that he took (the total isk he took over time was 108million).

As the evening passed and he bitched at Warpy in a convo we discovered that we had sold a new Drake to guess who?

Then later that evening Ucntkilme is definitely sore and two of our industrial characters decide to have a bit of fun.

Nabaron and Warpy waited till the war went into effect, and as soon as the war became active Ucnt showed. The guys ganged up undocked and went to buisness, after 5-10 minutes of fighting, they got him down to 70% (tech one and two frigates versus a heavily tanked Drake). The two players were industrialists and just didn't have the training to break his tank. But they had great fun. They lost a couple of small ships and had real fun fighting someone for that long (which is exactly the point of the Corp!).

So Ucntkilme got two kills.

He then dissappeared for about 3-4 days and eventually arrived back in Abagawa last night. We waited all night until he undocked and warpy set a bait trap for him. LTLT (Raven) and I (Megathron) warped in and less than a minute later Ucntkilme's ship was in pieces and I got my first pod kill in The Kaminjosvig.

What you don't know is this guy set the killboard up - Ironic that he was the first kill on it. No? ;)

Tuesday, 7 August 2007

OK so now what?

Well I haven't finished telling you about Dark Age of Camelot. I will in time get back to that. What have I been doing since?

My last post spurred me on to putting into action some of the ideas and analysis I have had. Its been quite some time since I posted for a number of reasons. I have moved into Eve online mostly because my brother and other people I have known for a very long time are playing there. I am going to assume you know what eve is.

What did I do?
Ok the first thing was to start a new corporation. This time the idea was to do more than open a corp and just take people who fancied playing. Rather the idea I had was to follow the principles I have been outlining here because I think they are a good guide and they can help create a good framework with wich to enjoy the game and hopefully get back what I lost from Dark Age of Camelot. Essentially what I was seeking to do was set a framework for my 'intentionality'. To try and get a feeling for goals in the game and identify with a corporation ethos and see what it would mean for us to play to that pattern.

This took a lot of time. I felt the most flexible ethos was going to be a mercenary corporation and so I had a hunt around for information on historical Mercenary societies. I struck on the notion of the Jomsvikings and started to work out a few anagrams of the term. It was proving quite difficult because we only had one vowel, and then of course we found that Jomsvikinga which is another words for the same thing and which has a very useful 'a'. Having messed around (my wife helped me find the right term) we decided that the term with the best ring to is was Kaminjosvig. The next stage was to set out the rules and ethos to decide on some of the detail but not too much (the players should decide the real deatils in the end).

So what happened? It took ages - 3 weeks in fact to get the whole thing together we got a website together and started recruiting. One of the first people into the corporation was Commander Warpy he was delighted with the idea and loved the term and ethos. In fact I found that having worked out the details it was quite easy finding people who would sign up to it. All in all it started to work quite well. The problems of course come afterwords when you want people to actually play like that. The corporation numbers had swollen to 34 signed up and about 20 active members which is not bad in four to five weeks.

Whilst the story is only 5 weeks old already we have had some drama. I won't go into details but of all the players who were recruited one did not take any interest in the ethos of the corporation. He felt we should follow what he wanted, that we should settle in 0.0 space and become like any other corporation. He was quite forceful about this and it was not long (he was in four weeks) until he left and tried to take half the corporation with him. One person followed him so it was no big disaster for us. The point about this is that it demonstrates the issue of intentionality is crucial. It only take one person to not identify with the intention of a corporation or guild or whatever and then friction starts.

So on the one hand trying to frame players intentions is a good thing and clearly it works for me and others. A lot of us feel like our time spent in the game is for a higher purpose. That we are achieving something that is good and feels great even if it is very slow to develop. Not only this when someone comes along who does not identify with that ethos it is very clear that they are in the wrong place. I know this because the reaction of the corp members has been emphatic to fall behind the corp and work together. Two of them immediately went out and were happy to lose their ships just to prove that we are the Kaminjosvig and we do not back down! This is exactly what we intend to be like and we will not change.

In time as the corp develops I will let you know whats happening. For now I am already feeling like the corporation has started to take shape. We have a long way to go but the general sense of achievment is starting to take root for many of us and its a good feeling.


Tuesday, 19 June 2007

The Community in DaoC: first awareness

One of the first things that we are told about community is that in order for it to exist it has to construct its boundaries. In order to do that it has to define who is in the community and who is out side of it. Usually such definitions will follow a series of 'codes'. Codes are not a set of rules but are basic communication distinctions that are used to simply distinguish between those who are in the community and those who fall outside it.

By now you should see that in fact any one MMOPRG will have multiple lines for defining multiple communities and such groups will form and break on the codes they use to identify themselves. Its why the idea of a 'community manager' is in some senses an anathema. Communities don't by definition have manager's they form and collapse all the time depending on how they are able to maintain their boundaries. Their boundaries depend on the maintenance of codes that people identify with.

Now if the definition of codes holds true then strictly speaking everyone on any server is a member of a community because they are distinguished by the fact that they play there. So whilst in many respects 'community manager' can be an anthema and is a conflictual role it does have some grounding in the semantics of communication. Anyway the server versus other servers is the first distinction and therefore the first code you tend to encounter i.e. the name of the server (in this case Prydwen) versus all other 'undefined' servers. It is important - why for example does a community like persist long after the server has merged and changed name? Long after most people have moved away? Because they identify with the Prydwen code. It might seem odd but as you can see codes are persistent.

Now we have three kinds of codes:
Objects - where the other side of the distinction is not specified i.e. Prydwen versus all other servers.
Distinctions - where the other side is specified i.e. Prydwen versus Excalibur a well known distinction
Second order distinctions - this one is complicated. A second order distinction is a distinction that can re-enter itself. Such distinctions enable a high degree of social organisation i.e. government and opposition, there is the basic distinction government and the opposition but then there is also a more sophisticated aspect to this. You can be in government but within the government there will be an an opposition and a government. Most governments have a ruling elite and an opposition within you can see this in any political party.

Second order distinctions are really not seen in MMOPORGs or at least I haven't noticed any as yet - mostly because the codes that people use to communicate tend to either be objects or distinctions.

Now at the time I didn't really think of this but now when I reflect back I can see that in fact these distinctions were happening all the time in the game. They are used to demarcate groups. Communities within a community as it were. The rest of my story is about how I gradually became aware of the various distinctions being used to communicate group boundaries. I am a naturally curious person and you can bet I tried to experience all of these distinctions as best I could. Anyway back to the story - the distinctions at this stage are fairly basic.

When Aithne and I first started to go out into RvR in Molvik we had some memorable experiences. We acted on the basis of the distinction between us as a duo and them the opposition. We duoed for many days in both Molvik and Lervik. Back then we did not have a buff bot - you can guess that my degree of ignorance of anything to do with the game was pretty conclusive. Instead we would run out in both BG's and get chewed and zerged, but we were a duo and we won a fair proportion of fights as well.

RvR in battlegrounds is ok but going out into the old frontiers well that was what we were living for back then. The opportunity came when Hibernia announced an epic relic raid at the end of old frontiers. I had never been on one but as a level 42 Nightshade you can be sure I was going. The only distinction I was aware of was us versus them. Once more a very crude distinction but I was going to do my best.

Now I had to prepare for the fight. I printed out all the maps of the frontier in a state of fervour. I liked the maps that had the animals on them because you could look at the mobs around you and guess where you were. Back then old Emain as we are still told on the forums was apparently where men where men and boys were boys and sheep where very frightened. There was no online map and you had to pick your way through without any guidance.

I had loads of printed maps on my lap and was sitting in skype trying to find my way around. I got lost very quickly because my laptop could not cope with the lag of the raid. So I ended up trying to find where the main BG was all the time talking to Aithne who also managed to get lost. After dying loads of times to high level stealthers at the milegates we eventually got through to Midgard. It took ages to get to the keep.

The Hibbies got the relic then had to hold the keep from Midgard who to all intense purposes were ferocious. Jupiter was constantly talking in the BG telling people to calm down to hold their position to wait then to charge. To pull back to hold out of line of sight and wait then to charge. It was the raid where he screemed that infamous slogan "DON'T PANIC! WE'VE GOT SHROOMS!" These words are iconic to us.

I was lost out in Midgard - the closest I got to the relic keep was the slope outside where my screen went black and I died to lag and a Mid zerg.

It was an epic raid and in the end we lost the relic before the timer had gone but it was awesome. I was amazed and delighted to be part of such a group of people. Even now we remember those infamous words and they bring back fond memories of the night we shared. Virtually all of those people have gone from the server now. Its not even a shadow of what it once was.

The first meaningful distinction you come across in DaoC is your realm versus others. That is the point when you truly start to identify with 'the community'. Note that my point of reference was certainly not everyone else on the server. I could not communicate with them after all because of the way the game is designed. This point is deeply significant for the way in which people experience the game. It necessitates what some call 'the metagame' i.e. the forums.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

Pause for thought - the "Just a game" argument

Ok its been a while since the inital flurry of posts. After posting the analysis up I thought it didn't seem right. It doesn't fit the tone of the other posts and it feels like I am lecturing which is not good. I have been here before really. Many times on the forums in the so called 'metagame' I could see stuff happening that fitted work. I noticed others from a psychology or social science background noticing similar stuff. It was hard to stop commenting and making note at the time and often when comments about the social science of a particular situation where made it was counter productive.

I guess it was a bit like Nikos Kazantzakis and mates in their 'Friendly society' running around handing beggars a cup of tea (See Report to Greco). The beggar isn't too happy with their condescending attitude and tells them to get stuffed. That happened to me quite a few times in the 'metagame'. 'No-one likes a smart arse' (Douglas Adams).

The thing is it wasn't a game it was quite serious at the time. When you see people destroying each others game because they cannot agree on how to accommodate each other then you really have to try and do something surely? Especially if you can see what the issues are. You can tell that in this respect I have a lot to learn still!

I don't know why more often than not I could not help. It felt like it would help if people could see that things could be explained or that something about what was happening could be revealed so people could understand each other better. But it just didn't work. I am getting ahead of myself slightly but the point needs to be made now. The previous post here is a very rough comment on a couple of aspects of the game to show that in fact with time something could be done to understand community interaction better. It is merely a cursory glance and I didn't even get into distinctions (which is the best way to analyse forum interaction by a long shot).

Why is it important?

Ok well take Eve. Right now it is going through a series of crisies associated with bias and feelings that the playing field is not level. The sense that one Alliance is being favoured over others is destroying player trust. Now no matter how crazy the actions from time to time of players (and in some cases here this has been pretty bad). I have seen the "its just a game" argument cited in this respect several times. But is it "just a game"?

The point has been debated in many places other than Eve but it is not surprising to see it happening again at this time in there: Let take a few quotes:
SamuraiJack says People say its just a game. Eve is not. Years of work are buried in here. as a quick example ASCN had 13 outposts in feyth. put up wiht long hours of hauling logistics and group work. Now u can do it with a frieghter or two and a group of mates...
Someone has even started a thread with the title "People: Its just a game...."
Bannion Yes, I agree, "This is just a game.........but, when I pay to play a game I expect to be on the same level as everyone else, only skill and tactics should beat me and they have on many occasions, but it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I read in lots posts now that Dev's have been helping probably the best Alliance ingame get ahead.
Obviously Ashira Twilight on page two of that thread is upset because it takes time to replace things you lose in Eve.

Yeah, my pvp alt has gotten his butt handed to him every time he's taken them on. He in his harbinger/vengeance/arbitrator, against their pilgrim/curse/ishtar/eos/astart/etc...makes me wonder how they get all those nice toys...
I'm venting too. I lose a tech 1 ship fitted with tech 2 modules, and have to grind for a while to get a new one. I used to think that all bpo owners were just lucky, now I don't know what to think.
Further Nev Clavain says:
Now on many points I absolutely agree with OP. I don't think people should be offensive or really systematically set out to ruin other people's fun, because its just a game. But if they choose to do that it is really their choice how they play the game, and other players must learn not to be offended, or learn how to enforce their own style of play - it is a sandbox afterall.

The one thing that i consider my money is paying for in this game is a Level Playing Field. The game is not fun unless everyone is playing on the same terms. It seems that idea of equal terms has been a myth for quite some time. In which case I have been to a large extent wasting my money. I don't like to throw away money to dishonest crooks. It makes me irritated to say the least.

I have had fun playing the game in the last six months, but that fun was based on an assumption which has turned out to be untrue. Sure its just a game, but the money that paid for it was real, the time spent earning that money was mine, and it was real.
At the end of the day "its a game" idea is a paradox after all games are not to be taken seriously right? Right?

Yeah right...

CCP have a very large investment riding on it. The players have loads of time riding on it. It is simply stupidity to make that claim. An MMO is always more than just a game. Otherwise why would we see Eve cited in the Washington Post? Why do we see people paying real money to have in game money? Why is there a mini sweatshop industry of strip miners in the game?

People who cite that argument obviously don't believe it either. I guess they are trying to calm things down. Whenever people cited that to me in DaoC I would often see red - odd that I never thought that social science could be just as condescending isn't it?

OK summing up this one:
Trying to inject social science into any of these discussions through this medium doesn't really work its as condescending as 'its just a game' arguments.

I did not intend the last post to read like it does but it seems to sound all wrong. Doesn't fit the medium and besides this blog is not meant to be work. I am mindful of Susan Sontag, who is a legend in political essay writing in medical sociology often falling into lecturing in her essays when it doesn't really fit such a medium (the political essay). So time to leave that behind and try to work with the underlying ideas rather than lecturing. After all people are smart enough to get the point and smarter still to make better points.

Apart from this though the main reason why I haven't posted is because I have been working on a new Corporation concept for Eve, that and trying my hand at an Epic poem for that game. Rather than talk about the details you probably can guess where my gaming hobby energy is going to these days. Its not DaoC.

Ok back to the story....

Monday, 4 June 2007

Game Experience Analysis Part 1

Up to now I have been telling a story. My story as I remember it. Stories are not perfect by any means it is well known they are told from a certain perspective and usually have a lot of bias. Memory is not perfect and there is no doubt the memories here are distorted by my present views of the game and the purpose of this blog. So the account this far is imperfect, but it is as authentic as I can make it. Why do this?

A skilled narrative analysis would reveal a few things in the account so far, the way the accounts indicate a lot of innocence and stupidity. There are a lot of things in the first 6 posts already that a sociologist should see. One thing in stories is that the first few lines quite often hint at what is to follow. The very first lines of this blog are weary "Its late on Monday evening the kids have been put to bed and I am tired. Its been a strange day really." This indicates just how tired I am of the whole thing, but for some reason I cannot let it go, I am still wondering why I cannot do that. In the second entry you can see the new beginning of the narrator moving to a new town and taking in DaoC as a new experience. "I started him sitting in a rented house in Sheffield. We had just moved from London. I was delighted to finally start playing a game I had wanted to play for over six months." In many ways this line is setting the narrator up as the innocent victim. I know this but I am letting it happen for a very good reason, because I don't buy it even though thats how I want to tell it. The goal is to reach a reflexive awareness about how my perspective in the game led to a series of events that I am not wholly able to explain. I am still doing it right now. Now the story is that I am going to try and dig deeper and maybe 'explain' something.

The purpose behind this blog is to try and have a look at what happened and then point towards the kinds of things a social scientist would pick up on in trying to explain the experience. There is no claim here of anything superior in fact a psychologist would pick up on other aspects of the accounts given and make something else of them. Those kinds of analysis should be welcomed. Apart from this the analysis that follows is not exhaustive by any means. It simply seeks to demonstrate to those interested the kinds of social forces at work in MMO's.

The Symbolic meaning of DAOC: Introduction
In "Sharkith the Incompetent" and "Sharkith and I" there are a few things worth noting. The game only had meaning within a context and that context was a move to a new city and life. The game was new at the same time. Meanings like this have consonance and tend to combine to shape our relations to our bodies and the physical world around us (Douglas, 1970). You find for example that a Brethren preacher who does not value organised religion has an appearance that is shabby and 'disorganised'. Likewise DaoC was new and the in game experience mirrored the difficulties of settling into a new job. If the job had proved easier to get into perhaps I would have been able to cope with the game better?

Sharkith was disorganised and I was, it took a very long time to get going. A year ago for example I would not have been able to reflect and work like this on the hobby. The point then is that everyday life provides some of the meaning context that subsequently affects how players are playing. There quite literally is a lot going on in that relation alone. It would be worth looking for other examples where everyday life has had other kinds of effects. The in game content had very little to do with my experience of the game. It was more or less an empty phenomenon that had meaning poured into it from all directions.

Then there is the interactive dimension to the experience. This is something we are all familiar with in everyday life but something we rarely catch happening. The relationship between 'I' using the game and the 'me' as I reflect on how others see me in the game is fundamental to the experience. Understanding how others see 'me' begins the process of integrating me into a community. I start to learn rules of behaviour. I learn I am a 'noob' and I learn things like, who should 'pull' mobs and who should not pull them and I learn very quickly to not try and 'steal' another person's kill. All interactive rules and my orientation and acceptance of these were essential for me to become fully integrated to the community.

Now of course people react differently to norms and not everyone is of course willing to subscribe to them. Sometimes people do not have a strong sense of in game identity, others are well aware of the rules but decide because it is only a game to flaunt them. The point being that their reaction to these rules is based on the meaning those rules have for 'them'. We will come back to this again. Obviously norms of behaviour and the various meanings they can have for people are a big source of conflict in MMOs.

The Phenomena of DAOC: Introduction to intentionality
Phenomenological analysis begins by saying that knowledge is first and foremost intentional. From the outset the newness of the game left me in the dark. I did not know what to expect and in many respects my experience demonstrated this. Things improved dramatically when Aithne started to play on GOA's servers (he had been playing on the US before hand) and we renewed an old social bond and in some repsect re-created that bond in game. We would drink and chat and generally mess around in game. The number of times we had slight 'accidents' reflected how we always were before hand. The phenomenon of DAOC derived its meaning from our intentions as we logged in night after night. Playing with "The Numbnuts" was a similar thing.

We liked the thought of playing without healers and generally timing our pulls and damage control to perfection. Those sessions were imbued with the meaning we brought to it because our intention each night was to relax - slightly bored but getting to know each other. Later as we all hit level 50 many of us drifted in different directions. Aithne and I went to RvR and we gradually lost touch with Briannon and Wyst. Our intentions were different. I had always wanted to play the game for RvR and finally I was there.

Both Aithne and I were soon to realise that to survive in this game we had to go and complete the content in Trials of Atlantis. I will pick up the story there later.

The analysis here is deliberately 'light' but the point is a salient one. There is much to be done to unpack these games and what they are doing in the everyday lives of customers. We haven't even got to forum posting and what some call the 'Meta-Game'.

Douglas, M., (1970) "Natural symbols: essays in cosmology." London: Routledge

Forum life - the early days

I cannot really remember when I first started reading and posting on forums. I know for a fact I knew nothing about them nor did I care much about them until relatively late into my levelling Sharkith. It was close to around a major relic raid at the end of Old Frontiers. I had registered on the guild forums but I just assumed thats all the guild used to communicate with each other. We would often chat about in game events and try and arrange raids and things like that. Eventually the guild told us to all register on I am not even sure it was called and I don't even know why.

At the end of the day prydwen was where most of the Hibernian players seemed to hang out. I registered and suddenly a whole community opened up to me. I didn't know half of the posters, after all I was limited to relatively low level in game interaction. Finding suddenly got me a whole other perspective on the game. I began to see the politics of the server and the great community that Pyrdwen was back then. They were the underdogs but seemed to stick together. There were arguments and debates but these always seemed constructive.

I started to post on the forums asking questions about the community and why it was so hard to find people to group with. I think back then I was a right pain in the ass to forum goers. I would post all sorts of crap that didn't really fit the context. Like asking when they had stopped to level with people coming through the games. I think any accusation that Prydwenites were not the friendly seemed to grate with them at the time because unbeknown to me they took real pride in their togetherness.

I really don't know. My memory is very fuzzy about what exactly got me started on the game forums. It is not that I didn't know what forums were. I am an old hand at forum debate I was a founding member of Frothersunite after all - a forum that makes Freddys house look like kinder garden. I knew how online communities could start around the oddest of things such as Colonel Marbles Miniatures Masterworks so I don't think it was a surprise that there were forums. I think the main reason was that I was starting to anticipate RvR at level 50 and I needed to get to know my realm mates, but I really am not too sure why I signed up and started posting (apart from the fact that I am as curious as hell!).

The one thing the forums do is that they get you in touch with people beyond your immediate guild and group. They help you start to develop an awareness of the views of different groups in game. You start to learn that the game is played with very different intentions.

At that time there was a divide between RvR guilds and the rest of the realm it seemed. Not a destructive one but there was a palpabile difference in opinion and views about the game. In the end the one thing I was certain about was that my game had opened up even more. It was solidified when it was through the Prydwen forums that the first relic raid I would attend was arranged. It was the last relic raid the Hibbies ever had on Prydwen before New Frontiers was launched. The one where a certain quotation became immortalised. More of that later...

Wednesday, 30 May 2007

The Numbnuts

Its time to introduce another part of the experience. With Aithne and I messing around so much we really started to get on well with the guild. Around about this time the first Master Level Raids were being run on Prydwen. I didn't pay any attention to that because I was having enough trouble figuring out how to level my Shade.

Aithne and I were busy running around finding the best hunting spots in Hibernia. We found some peachy places like the hill to the west of Howth where Deamhan Aeirs hang out. Most of the time we would just sit and chat renewing that old familiar bond. It was around this time that Wyst, the current GM of the Marsh Horde, and Briannon started to level new characters. Now and then we would also be joined by another decent bloke - Sky and his alts. We called the group "The Numbnuts" because well we had no healers and basically relied on doing as much damage as possible to mobs in order to survive. It worked quite well even if it was slightly unconventional.

We spent long periods of time sitting down and chatting on Skype. One of the major bonuses of this group was that we got to know two more people very well indeed. Both Wyst and Briannon had a solid knowledge of Hybrasil the Shrouded Isles expansion. This expansion did have some really nice content and so there was something to be said for the game design. In particular we spent a long time 'farming' on the beach at Necht and in the woods west of Necht.

These were long sessions and in time we all got to know each other well. I really feel like we bedded in. This group took us all the way to out first level 50 characters. So was the pixel that empty? At this stage no. The pixel was imbued with an old and new bonds all of which were developing and keeping me in the game. Behind such social bonds are emotions and of course old memories. At that time the game was imbued with meaning associated with all of these things. I agree with Ambera these bonds are the building blocks of community they are the starting point around which groups form and maintain themselves.

The game acts a medium for these bonds. The content of the game well it was more or less a sideline that did not really impact that much on the dynamics of why I was playing. I am not sure I would ever have got to level 50 without the company of these friends. I was paying to meet my firends and to experience something together. That was a wonderful thing.

Tuesday, 29 May 2007


The day that Aithne appeared on screen in sky blue coloured personal message, was the day I got hooked on DaoC. Up to now I was just getting going and making a right pigs ear of the whole thing. With a friend there it became easy to ask questions and I knew if he took the piss it was all good natured banter. It was more than that though. Aithne and I had been mates in Belfast when I was studying for my PhD. He was always around and ready to mess about at something.

When we lived in Belfast all we ever seemed to do was smoke and drink. Aithne was there when I finished my PhD. He was there when I went through a messed up relationship and he was there after I left Belfast to go work in London. We did a lot of cool stuff together and got into more than a few scrapes usually as a result of having a bit too much to drink and my big mouth (two rucksacks full of beer and a few hundred angry Orange men is not a good combination). Most of all it was just cool messing around. You know how you live as a student or in your first real job? That kind of couldn't care less communal living where you would drink all night and end up watching Teletubbies because you spent too long playing Ice Hockey on the Sega? Did you ever get the jokes they were telling each other? Sometimes the old games are the best.

To see him again night after night after 5 years of living in London was just so cool. Initially he was not sure about GOA the company and asked me why I hadn't started the account in the US. As usual I had no clue there were servers in the US. I am an optimistic sort and said it seemed decent enough. He started his ranger Aithne and was level 7 pretty quickly. I was around level 16 and had to move house from the rented accommodation to where I am living now. Moving house sucks but this is a pattern I have got used to. I have a very busy real life and it frequently takes me away from the game. This break was productive though because when I got back online Aithne was almost the same level.

The next time we met online we got Skype setup so we could smoke and get pissed together and mess about just like the old days. If you look cloesly in DaoC they have something akin to Orange men they are called Curmudgeons . The only difference is that the Curmudgeons are slightly brighter and a bit less predictible. I had just got my computer set up in the new house and between moving crap around and settling in we managed to squeeze a few sessions together. I was almost level 19 when Aithne and I were messing around with the Curmudgeons and suddenly he disappeared.

Sharkith "Fuck, where did you go?"

Aithne "Thats stealth."

Sharkith "No way! How do you do that?"

Aithne flashes in and out of stealth for a bit.

Sharkith "Seriously how do you do that?"

Aithne flashes in and out of stealth for a bit.

Sharkith "Stop it you fucker how do you do it?"

Aithne laughing. "You mean to tell me your a nightshade and you don't know how to stealth?"

Sharkith "I suppose your going to tell me this is important right?"

We start to laugh and it takes him 5 minutes to explain how I can stealth.

Sharkith "You do realise I spent days trying to creep past the Mummy Hags in Muire tomb and kept getting cained right? I thought this stealth skill is pretty useless..."

More sniggering down Skype.

If you know anything about Nightshades you will know that all their high damage combinations start when they attack from being stealthed. No wonder Sharkith was a right gimp! This doesn't mean of course that he was much better attacking from his newly discovered stealth skill. You had to have the right specification for that. I didn't 'ave a scooby' as they say in South London.

So finally the pixels had some meaning behind them. Don't get me wrong the Marsh Horde were brilliant. But having someone you know and know so well messing around with you really brings the game into its own. We largely ignored the content of the game unless we really needed an item then we would grind out the mission to get it. Otherwise we behaved very much like we had done in Belfast. Getting pissed and getting chased by huge mobs of well 'mobs'. It was through this friendship that I really grew to like the game and what it could do. A game that can bring people together who would otherwise never see each other has to be a good thing.

The problem with this of course was the fact that the game is nevertheless a flawed medium. We will come to that in time.

Monday, 28 May 2007

Sharkith and me

Ok so whilst there is a link between Sharkith and I. When I interact through Sharkith with others in the gaming world I get a sense of a different relationship that is between Sharkith and me. It is also between those other players and me. All of these things are interlinked and its hard to keep track of them at once 1. Social interaction is quite good at handling it even if I personally cannot process all the information at once.

Lets keep it basic. Being Sharkith was also to be me this relationship developed as I interacted with others in the game. The problem was of course that he was only as good as my knowledge of the game and his abilities reflected on me. This I know because in those initial months when I was getting to know the game. He was not very good, in fact he was awful. We were awful. He had become the victim of my indecision. Should I use blades or piercing weapons? Should I go for maximum stealth? I developed him in several directions at once and his progress slowed down. I am no expert on these kinds of games that’s for sure and poor Sharkith was not doing too good in those heady days because of me. I was an right 'noob'. I was often called that by some of the more honest players that I met in the game. Being called a noob at the start of ones MMO career is normal though and not something to be too worried about. Some people could be vicious about it others were just messing around.

Sharkith was not mine though. My memories of playing through Sharkith are mine. The company don't own those, they enabled me to have those memories, that's true, but its not the whole story by a long shot. Every memory I have of Sharkith I have subtly exchanged for other memories that could have been of different things, more tangible things. Things that I owned and that were indisputably mine. Memories that could have filled this time instead. My memories with Sharkith are entangled with the world in which he existed they are embedded in that game. That game is not my game it is owned by a company.

Anyway the point is a simple one the relationship between Sharkith and I/me cannot be explained by physical keystrokes alone. Neither had it anything to do with content, don't over rate your importance. The content was basically task driven and was basically a chore. At one level the relationships were normal social relationships and can be explained in normal interaction terms between the "I" wanting to achieve in the gaming world and the "me" emerging in interaction between Sharkith, other players and my knowledge of the game. I was learning a lot about the rules of play at that time. There is however another relationship here that is not quite apparent, that relationship is an exchange relationship. Something that becomes crucial to the long term story, something that can from time to time become nefarious.

I was not simply trading money I was trading time and memories to be Sharkith and to meet my new friends. There I was interacting on all those levels at that time I became more and more focused on the relationships and forgot about the company. They were my friend after all weren't they?

1. If you know symbolic interaction you will know the configuration being used here.

Sharkith and I

One of the odd things about the pixels that are Sharkith is their relationship to I/me. First of all we have the relationships with I.

Sharkith is a figure, a body in a digital world. Not my body of course not even like my body. He is an Elf after all and I am human. He has odd coloured hair and I have none. Sharkith has a large shock of hair - I thought thats what an elf should look like. If I had hair it would not look like his. In fact the only connection between Sharkith and I are the colour of his eyes (mine are green too) and the keystrokes I use to control his movements. There is no real physical feeling other than keystrokes. Sharkith is not physically alive he leads a digital existence, yet every time I press a key he moves. His movements are connected to mine.

His being is derived from periodic impulses directed through my fingers into a world that is presented to me from a third person perspective. I am not really him I am at once the world and him combined. Through Sharkith I can do stuff, stuff I would not normally do in a place that I would not normally inhabit. He can vanish from view. I can't. He can jump off a bridge, the side of a keep and only hurt himself momentarily. I practically injure myself if I hop more than six steps to the floor below. Sharkith can get stuck inside trees, he can get stuck in walls. I can't. At least I haven't annoyed anyone that much yet for this to happen.

Sharkith is around a foot tall if I zoom in enough to try and measure his real height. His movements are restricted and repetitive and he runs like he has a stick up his arse and has 'snakey hips'. He can swim underwater for very long periods of time. I can push a key that enables him to run without any tactile connection to the keystroke. Thats risky though. Everyone who has played a MMO has probably been through an accident where the character they were controlling was allowed to run along as they went for a coffee or tea only to find on their return to the keyboard the character far out at sea or being eaten alive by the various denzins of the world their character inhabits.

I possess Sharkith's body and wander around the game environment. Thats not totally accurate I control his body but posess the immediate environment around him. He dies but is 'ressurrected' feeling slightly worse for wear. A quick visit to a healer and he is better. A small fee and his statistics are restored from his 'ressurrection illness'. Sharkith can die and it doesn't affect me because there is no physical connection to me. But thats not all.

As my time developed in the game I noticed that I have become switched off at home. I am not fully aware of whats happening around me and anything that disturbs the connection between Sharkith and I is a source of irritation. My wife needing something done, the children playing around my feet. I am engrossed. This is not the first time I have become so preoccupied with a game of course so its not that different. Well actually it is. Sharkith is not mine, he is not stored on my hard drive and I have to pay to access him and the world he lives in. I am investing time in him but he remains a company's property. I pay to use Sharkith as an instrument for exploration. He is not mine though.

Not mine. Yet I continue to build him up. He improves and gets stronger as I explore. Its frustrating but rewarding. He is a nightshade. Its mostly frustrating. I feel I have put too much into things by now though and so I won't give up I will continue. I am tied to Sharkith through this developing bond. Sharkith is not mine though I pay to be through Sharkith, I am paying to be something I am not and I am paying to become something I can never be.

Sharkith the incompetent

Who is Sharkith?

The simple answer is that Sharkith is a character who exists in a game called Dark Age of Camelot on a server called Prydwen (renamed Dyvet). In short he is composed of pixels, a digital fragment, a database entry. He is an Elf Nightshade of the realm of Hibernia. He is mine. Actually he isn't mine. His skinny ass belongs to GOA the company I was payed to play the game. At the end of the day he is a digital signal located in a server somewhere in Paris (I didn’t really know any of this at the time). He is just pixels right?

I started him sitting in a rented house in Sheffield. We had just moved from London. I was delighted to finally start playing a game I had wanted to play for over six months. I had first seen the game at a friends house in Belfast. I was amazed that people could play together from all over the world and I liked the format of the game. It looked like it was more than just pixels. More than just beating the game and playing against a predictable AI.

I bought it along with the most recent expansion Trials of Atlantis. From the outset was I going to choose Albion or Hibernia. Hibernia was underpopulated. I liked the thought of the underdog and so I went for Hibernia. The problem was not many of the classes really caught my eye. In the end I went for the Nightshade. I suspected I might be playing alone and well a Nightshade seemed to be a good choice. I could not have been more wrong.

Sharkith and I got to know each other over the next few weeks as I played the game. The move to Sheffield was not easy, I found myself in the house alone frequently. We had to travel to London every other week. When I went to work I felt alone, I was given things to do that I didn’t like and work had little direction. Gradually I spent more and more time with Sharkith. Our relationship was not at all amorous (in case you get any ideas) after all he was just pixels.

The most important thing to remember at this point is that Sharkith was a Nightshade. He was not a very competent Nightshade in fact the adventure into the new world for Sharkith and myself was going decidedly poorly. Mythic describe the Nightshade as a “..sneaky assassin that has the ability to move about unseen, attack using deadly backstab combat styles, as well as limited magical ability.“ Thats the most recent description. Back then they had words like 'devastating' attacks and 'dispatching foes quickly whilst slinking away unseen'. Sharkith could do none of these things. He was more or less limited to a small blue spell to 'pull' monsters and kill them.

I was also having trouble with the content of the game. Apart from not really seeing the point of it. It was a source of constant frustration. After realising that most of the characters standing about looking bored were not really people but 'Non-player Characters' (NPC's ). I noticed that I could get the odd quest from them. For the first few weeks this involved running up and down along side a place called Lough Derg. Killing the odd monster and running away from many more. Water beetles became a constant plague on Sharkith and 'Clik' their evil boss was the cource of many beatings for the inept Nightshade. The quests did not really involve interaction just simply running through a script and following instructions in Sharkith's journal.

The instructions in the Journal were often opaque in the extreme. "Go to the west of x and kill the wandering wolf". Where was X? Often I would have a good idea but then when I got there there was no stupid wolf. Then to make matters worse night time would come and a bunch of evil looking monsters (mobs) would appear all around the poor gimp and he would get destroyed. Often finding himself miles away from the place where the quest was supposed to be. It was like someone had decided to single Sharkith out for some wicked joke almost everytime he was forced to do something. I often closed the game down in those first few weeks only to find myself logging back in because at the end of the day I don't quit anything. I never give up.

Other sources of frustration were learning how the world behaved around Sharkith. Some Mobs just destroyed him instantaneously others he could destroy instantaneously. Forced to log off after one particularly frustrating session I looked closer at the manual and discovered that the mobs had a colour code. 'Purple' = instant death, 'red' = death, 'orange' virually always = death, Yellow = frequently death and blue I could just about manage. That helped.

Gradually though through those first few weeks I began to learn more and more of the game. I conducted some searches on the internet and found a few sites where I could get information on quests and rewards. Through the use of these sites and a print out of zone maps with the locations of all the 'Mobs' I gradually figured out the 'content'. It was still a chore though and I was still frequently banging the table in frustration. I was often asking what it was about the game I actually liked.

It was after a few weeks into the game that I bumped into the first player controlled character by the name of Sky he was from a guild called the Marsh Horde. He invited me to a place called Muire Tomb where we grouped and things went superbly. I learned more about the game (after figuring out how to group properly) in a few hours than I had done in over a week. It was a lot of fun and I started to go to Muire tomb a lot more over the next few weeks. It wasn't long until I was in the Marsh Horde and people were explaining to me how to send a message to the guild. My first message was 'Hi'. That was my shortest ever message in Dark Age of Camelot.

Going back to Muire Tomb brought me in contact with quite a few different people. Some nice some not so nice. I began to realise that I should avoid some people and just stick with those who where nice. The new guild were brilliant in many respects and they helped me figure out the game world. The frustration of the game was still there but a large part of that was from incompetence and learning how to adapt to a completely different game format.

Then something happened that transformed my experience. My friend from Belfast joined the game in the form of Aithne a ranger.

Who is Sharkith?

At this stage of the story the simple answer is he was initially a series of empty pixels. A source of frustration and anger.

Yet the pixels only existed in relation to me, my life and what was happening to me. They only had meaning for me initally and then slowly as I got to know others in the growing world around me they developed a meaning for others. I realised that how I behaved in Murie Tomb when some people were rude had an affect on how Sharkith was seen by those people. I was frequently called 'noob' sometimes as a joke sometimes with venom. Finally, it was a very proud moment when I was invited to the Marsh Horde, even though at that time they would have taken anybody. Sharkith had a new identity now he was the member of a guild and a very nice guild at that!

With Aithne entering the game things where about to take on new meaning....

Sunday, 27 May 2007

A beginning after the end?

Its late on Monday evening the kids have been put to bed and I am tired. Its been a strange day really.

Earlier I had gone back to Freddy's House the community board of the UK Servers for Dark Age of Camelot where I once spent so much time arguing and discussing, writing essays (infuriating most there in the process), defining, redefining and generally struggling to understand what was happening. There where times when I got it wrong, times when I lost it and times when I felt we nailed it. Ultimately though in end there was nothing.

It seemed so empty. I suppose that was no surprise it had been around two months since I had even looked at the forum. Three since I had said I was never posting there again, old habits die hard. This time however I noticed something had happened and things changed once more.

Sometimes you know when you see something and a wheel turns in your head and your perspective changes slightly? You see possibilities and things open up that were once closed. and you feel a shift in something and your not sure what? That happened.

Not being too sure what I start to browse again. I read the thread and it does not shock me. The news was unsurprising, in fact a good few of us had discussed the possibility of its content four months previously. To see it in pixels though brought back those memories and I was once more gut wrenchingly sad angry and furious. Assailed at a computer screen by the emotions I do something totally contradictory. I renew my subs.

This Blog is a story about how I got to know Dark Age of Camelot, fall in love with it and then watch it all disintegrate.

This is the story of Sharkith.