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.

Conclusions
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'.

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

3 comments:

Lieva said...

*pokes*

post please :)

Sharkith said...

ha - sorry will do been hectic in Eve and writing other stuff. Also a bit concerned about style here. Kind of reformulating the approach i.e. not sure that analysis in that format is useful, it doesn't fit the rest so good.

Zelda said...

Great work.