Thursday, April 29, 2010

Some Distinctions

Before this all starts getting too far out of hand, I think I'd better start making some distinctions. An objective within a game and the game itself are not the same thing. A game and a game world are not the same thing. A virtual game world is different from a non virtual game world. A virtual (game) world can be entirely fantasy or have connections of some kind with the real world. And products, such as football jerseys that exist and have value because of the game, are not part of the game but are clearly dependent on it.

Let's take the first of these distinctions. I will use foot ball in these examples because more people are familiar with football than are familiar with, say, World of Warcraft. In football, there are any number of objectives within the game itself. An objective, in football, may be to advance the ball ten yards to get a first down or to prevent the other team from doing so. Another objective may be to score a touchdown. Clearly, the first of those is a a sub-objective to the second one. One could see the touchdown as a sub-objective to winning the game; winning the game as a sub-objective to making the play-offs; and making the play-offs as a sub-objective to winning the Superbowl. So analysis of objectives can get quite complicated. However, my unit of analysis is the game and I can't see (at least at the moment) how developing a structure for objectives within or beyond the game itself advances my understanding of games. It may advance my understanding of football, but not of games.

In football, we have a clear unit of analysis that we call 'the game'. At the risk of being simplistic, it is four fifteen minute play intervals at the end of which there is a score indicating a winner or a tie. I understand all that business about overtime, elapsed time and so on. But, as I said, we are not analyzing football here and I think most people understand what a 'game' of football entails.

In World of Warcraft this is not nearly as clear. Exactly what is 'the game' in WoW? This could get complicated; but I will keep chipping away at it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Is It a Game?

William Sims Bainbridge, who I mentioned in the last post, says that World of Warcraft is not game. In his words, "World of Warcraft is far more than a game" [pg. 9] Based on a discussion preceeding that remark, one might speculate that he sees it as a virtual world. I would certainly agree with that observation but would also point out that while the term 'game' is limiting, the term 'virtual world' is limiting as well. Second Life, for example, is a virtual world, but it would be a stretch to call it a game. Bainbridge says that WoW is a virtual world that contains games and I would agree with that observation. However, we need a term specifically for virual worlds that contain games to distinguish them from virtual worlds that do not contain games. The term 'game world' comes to mind but is entirely unsatisfying.

This may seem nit picky and it probably is. However, for the purposes of research, it is necessary to define things correctly. There are things that are true of games that are not true of game worlds. There are things that are true of game worlds that are not true of games. There are things that are true of virtual worlds (e.g. Second Life) that are not true of game worlds (e.g. World of Warcraft).

World of Warcraft has features that are not part of other game worlds. For example, there is body of literature (well paperback books) that provide an elaborate backstory and narrative for World of Warcraft. And WoW contains endless symbols, archetypes, and hidden meanings that make it a target of critical study unlike most other examples of the game world genre.

To get back to basics here for a second, when we are doing research on games, video games, game worlds, or whatever, we need precised defined terms that refer to similar objects with similar attributes. Thus far the explosion of possibilities in video games seems to be frustrating all efforts. However, we shall just have to try to stay on top of it.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

World of Warcraft as a Social Science Lab

I have just started reading a delightful new book about World of Warcraft entitled The Warcraft Civilization: Social Science in a Virtual World by William Sims Bainbridge. Since I am only about 20 pages into it, it is too early to say much other than what I have read so far is terrific. However, I wanted to point to a comment made by the author.

"WoW is a very conducive environment for quantitative research because it encourages individuals to write "mod" or "add-on" programs, and scientists can use some existing software as research tools or write their own. These range all the way from very simple sequences of character behaviors constructed using macros built into the WoW user interface, to long programs written in the Lua language. For example, one widely used program called Auctioneer analyzes prices on the WoW virtual item auction system [the Auction House], and CensusPlus tallies all the players currently online by several characteristics. With census data on more than 200,000 WoW characters, a team centered at the Palo Alto Research Center analyzed the factors associated with the upward status mobility of individuals and the dynamics of social groups" [pg 12]

I found this interesting because I have been looking at video games as an object of study in this blog and hadn't really considered them as a laboratory for study. One of my goals in keeping this blog was to get to the essence of video games for the purposes of research. As more and more comes out, I seem to be getting further and further away from that initial goal.