Raiding Research Online

Exploring and mapping the MMO raiding culture
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When sadness grips you…

September 25, 2014 By: Ladan Category: Uncategorized

I don’t usually write about personal things on this blog. It originated as a supportive outlet for my doctoral research into online gaming and group play and in recent years–since completing that PhD–it’s morphed a bit to be more about gaming and gaming culture in general. I know it’s not read by many, but I keep it alive because it’s a kind of ‘living contribution’ to the great repository of ideas and opinions that makes up so much of our Internet. It’s a kind of permanent exhibit which supports and enhances my professional credentials and CV, I suppose. But something very personal happened to me this week which has an indelible link back to the world of gaming and my own situated experience within it. So I feel compelled to write about it here. Also, in some way this is my own meagre attempt to offer a tribute when I don’t know what else to do.

 

You see, a friend (and former colleague) of mine passed away last weekend. His death has come as a profound shock to all of us who knew him as he was only 28 and did not appear to have any health issues. He had been running a half-marathon and collapsed after he’d completed it. The response to his passing–as often happens in these cases–has been dramatic. There is already a memorial 5k run in the works, money has been raised in his name, and his family has begun plans for a long term memorial in the form of a vineyard and honey farm, so that his impact and contribution will long be felt. Losing anyone close to you is devastating, but in these cases it always seems particularly painful and ‘unfair’. Nothing to prepare you.. nothing to do but reflect on what should have been a long and fruitful life with the rest of us and to acutely feel the absence left behind.

 

Now in this case, there’s another detail that I should explain. You see, if not for online gaming, we’d have never even known each other. And while we knew each other for years, we had never even met each other in person. Before my foray into MMOs like WoW, I was a GM (and before that a player) of a fantastic MUD (multi-user dungeon) called DragonRealms. This is a US-based text-based roleplaying game which has been around for almost two decades now. I love that game. It’s not just an example of roleplaying at its best, but it’s one of the most creative outlets in gameplay you will find online. I worked on it as a GM in a number of capacities, but most of my time was spent as the member of staff responsible for hiring and training other new staff. That’s when I met this friend. He was still a university student at the time and really enthusiastic about coding for the game. I hired him up with a few other new GMs. He did a stellar job in training (despite falling asleep in class occasionally!) and became a productive GM himself, eventually being one of the top-ranked GMs in the game.

And even though I myself had to move on from working on DragonRealms (living back in the UK and doing my PhD did not mesh with the work obligations of a game which was largely situated on American time and needing a sufficient time commitment), we remained in a sporadic kind of contact. I even remember one conversation a couple years back where we had thought his company (the gaming subsidiary of a very large computing firm) might send him over to the UK for some meetings at one of their UK based studios and we had talked about him coming up to visit me. Sadly that fell through. Oddly enough, however, I found myself at this same game studio two weeks ago giving a daylong series of lectures around my own research into sociality in gaming… I even brought up DragonRealms as a case study of excellent sociality and gameplay narrative during those seminars. I thought to tell him but my own hectic schedule made me forget. After all, I never thought I’d run out of time to talk to him. He was 28 after all.

And this is where I come to my point here.. I have been on a rollercoaster of feelings this week. I’ve been sad at this loss, angry at myself for being so crappy at keeping in contact with people, worried for his family.. all the emotions I’ve gone through when I’ve lost other friends or relatives. and what struck me here is that this person wasn’t even someone I’d even met face to face before. But his life and his loss have hit me just as strongly. It really does not matter where you form your friendships–what matters is the quality and impact of those friendships.

The game we both worked on is doing something quite special this week for all of us ex- and current-staffers of DragonRealms. The producers are giving us all ‘in-game’ access to meet up and be with each other this weekend in the game’s space. Most of us live all over the place (both in the US and elsewhere in the world), so going to the actual memorial or funeral is not likely for most, but we will gather and memorialise this friend and colleague in the only way we know how–and it will likely feel as comforting and as painful as any memorial taking place in the corporeal world. But as the sadness of something like this grips you, the only thing you can do is gravitate toward those who share that feeling. And for all of us, it’s been this virtual, online space wherein we formed these friendships and I suppose on some level it’s the only place we all feel we can adequately remember him and what he meant to us.

 

Citizen science and livestreaming articles

September 07, 2014 By: Ladan Category: citizen science games, livestream, media, new media

I just started writing a few short pieces for the academic ‘zine’, The Conversation. It’s a nice online magazine and a good way to see what academics (primarily in Australia and Europe right now) are thinking about and working on.  I was surprised to see so little around gaming there (or maybe I shouldn’t have been), so was glad they accepted my pitches on:

 

 

I’ve got some other longer articles (for mainstream academic journals) underway right now and will post those as they move forward.

 

 

Ethics, sexism and incivility in gaming: Could 2014 be the year we implode?

September 05, 2014 By: Ladan Category: ethics, gender issues, media

I was reading a BBC article today where they mention Nicholas Boyle, a historian, who predicted that 2014 would be a year wherein a significant event could predict the outcome of the rest of the century. Apparently we’ve got a history with years ending in -14 or -15.

It’s hard not to feel like things are really wonky this year. Or maybe it’s always the year you’re in that you feel the most acutely.. either way, things like Ebola, Gaza, ISIS, 200 kidnappings of schoolgirls in Nigeria, the Ukraine, three terrible plane crashes, train crashes, ethnic cleansing, religious persecution, cyberattacks, riots, hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanos, the list goes on… the world’s suffering can be overwhelming sometimes.

And when looking at the online world, it’s hard not to worry about what feels like a growing and flagrant expression of misogyny and general nastiness. Sexism in gaming or online communities is not a new problem, however. It’s just been amplified in recent months by a few high profile situations. While my cynical side finds it sad that it takes photos of celebrities to get us to suddenly take notice of this heinous crime of the theft of personal digital photographs or a troll attacking a celebrity via Twitter for it to get the police’s attention, at least it draws attention and perhaps gets a debate going. Then we had the latest series of debates around ethics (or the lack thereof) in online journalism, particularly in relation to gaming Web sites/communities. This all exploded a few weeks ago when news burst on the scene about allegations of game designers being in bed (literally) with gaming journalists and the blurry lines between nepotism and big money driving what gets coverage and what does not.

I won’t say much more than that (you can read the whole ‘GamerGate’ story and its related links above [good article, btw]) about the topic, but the issues of sexism, ethics in reporting, and this upswing in nastiness online seems to be the order of the day. I don’t worry about the impact on people like myself who’ve been around the Internet long enough to know how to compartmentalise nastiness and only focus on those things I can trust and respect, but I do worry about the upcoming generations of Internet-savvy kids (12 and up) who live on social media, games, and the various other outlets that mean more to them than anything else: YouTube channels, gamer community sites, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram.. if they aren’t seeing good practice on these sites, are we putting them at risk of growing up without good examples of how fair debate, journalism and reporting and analysis is supposed to be done? Will they even know what ethics are like in practice? I’m not saying that the mainstream media sites are much better, not by a long shot, but at least there’s a pretence of responsibility embedded in these other industries. And at least there’s a framework we can turn to to police and monitor these behaviours.

Maybe this is because a lot of us have come to gaming from a place of personal interest. Most of the guys who livestream, cast or have huge YouTube channels are gamers themselves who happened to be in the right place at the right time (and have a Webcam) and happen to possess a good sense of humour. Most of the guys who started the big gaming sites did it as enthusiasts or bloggers who never expected such success. And the game industry is dotted with people who loved games so much that they did everything they could to get a job working on them.

I remember when I started my PhD. I thought I had little to learn as I was coming to my work from a place of knowledge–being a gamer. But while I understood the community I was going to study, the actual professional qualification of doing doctoral research required training and supervision from those far more experienced than myself: my professors and lecturers who could guide me on how to be an academic. Sure I was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about games, but I had to accept that I had a lot to learn about knowing how to conduct and write up research.

Things being borne out of enthusiasm do not mean that they are bereft of expertise or ability, of course. It’s this very passion and creativity that has made gaming the exquisite cultural artefact that it is today; but being enthusiastic, knowing your field and having an opinion will only get you so far. Perhaps this current debate around ethics, sexism and incivility is just telling us that we need to make sure that our house doesn’t just have a wickedly awesome design, but that it’s clean and well kept as well.

Right now, the mainstream world doesn’t seem to notice or care much about how infantile or disruptively we are behaving toward each other right now. If anything, they’ll just use it as confirmation of our backwardness and the negative impact that games and social media are having on the world. But I’m feeling a bit embarrassed about what’s happening as I know this is not the face of gaming I want to see or promote…

I wholeheartedly agree with Adam Thomas (his article linked above) when he writes, ‘if this issue never gets looked into, then someone isn’t doing their job. Further silence basically goes to prove the point … of the lack of skill shown by gaming journalists, if nothing else.’ This issue should be looked into and it should be looked into by competent researchers. I don’t think leaving this up to the media, games industry or gamers to resolve will be sufficient in this instance.  It’s almost like we need one of those good ol’ white papers that we love to write here in the UK. An official ‘Report’ into the state of Sexism, Ethics and Abuse in the Gaming Community (community including all of those who work in/around and play in/around the games industry).

Either which way, whatever the outcome is from this summer of general nastiness in 2014, I’m hopeful that this only indicates that the gaming industry is just in its unpleasant teenager phase and will outgrow these outbursts of selfishness, moodiness and confusion so it can finally settle down into its true golden age where any and all gamer is welcome, people act like decent human beings toward each other while online, and the way the industry and media conducts itself is ethical and reasonable. Hey, anything is possible.. we’re talking about games, after all.

The Story About eSports and Sexism and How Gamers Can Change Things *Fast*!

July 03, 2014 By: Ladan Category: competition, eSports, gender issues, IeSF, SEUL

Anyone following news around gaming and the industry is likely to have seen the report that emerged from Finland’s Assembly event (their huge gaming convention which takes place each summer) that the Hearthstone competition was limited to male players only. This came up initially when a Reddit user posted the advertisement on the competition rules. This caused a lot of discussion and prompted criticism of the Finnish eSports Federation (SEUL), though the SEUL pointed out that they were restricted in this way due to standards set by the International eSports Federation (IeSF), of which they are a member nation. According to SEUL, they (along with other Nordic country members) had been actively lobbying to get rid of this segregated-gender approach without much success. But that all changed yesterday.

 

Until just recently (as in yesterday), and for quite a while evidently, the regulation had been in place to facilitate one competition pathway for female gamers and another for male gamers. And it wasn’t just that the pathways were gendered, the types of games available for males and females differed. Starcraft II could be played by both males and females; but Hearthstone (the trigger for all the forum and media coverage) was just for males. This was done, in part, to help eSports better mirror other types of sports (thus legitimising its place within the cannon of ‘sports’) and to promote and encourage eSports among female gamers, who are a largely underrepresented demographic on the competitive edge of the gaming sphere. This justification (on their Facebook page) did not satisfy the many readers/gamers out there who were suddenly tuned into the issue and as a result the IeSF called their Board together and made a decision (influenced by Blizzard, Hearthstone and SC2 producer, most likely) to change their approach, now having an ‘Open for all’ competition category (which all players can compete in regardless of gender) and another one for female players only (aimed at encouraging more women into eSports as they are so woefully underrepresented globally).

 

What I first found amazing in this sequence of events was how quickly this all happened.

1. The Reddit post was made on July 1.

2. A PC Gamer article (among others) was posted on July 2. There was a subsequent amount of negative backlash around this issue on Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and elsewhere over these two days.

3. Blizzard got in touch with IeSF on July 2.

4. The Board of IeSF met and changed its regulations on July 2 to allow for ‘Open to All’ competitions while also maintaining ‘Female Only’ competitions.

This seems to demonstrate that gamers/the games industry can work together to effect change very quickly. That’s not to say that the arrangement is perfect, of course, but at least now a game like Hearthstone can be played by both male and female gamers (I play Hearthstone, for goodness sake!) in a competitive, sanctioned event sponsored by the IeSF.

 

I understand why IeSF felt that in order to legitimise eSports within the larger canon of Sports they wanted to do something to stem the major gender gap. I also understand that as an international organisation it has to consider how games are played in different cultures and regions.  But as Phil Savage (PC Gamer) wrote (in his article linked just above), segregating games that were not designed to be played by one gender alone does not seem to be the way to do it. I also don’t think that games companies are going to want their games to appear to be sanctioned by something like the IeSF as being for one gender alone–that’s a PR nightmare in the making… Even though I know it would be naive to suggest that a lot of the games we’ve evolved into an eSport aren’t designed with males in mind (even if that’s just a subconscious thing), I don’t think any games company wants to suggest that they would deny a 35-year-old woman a chance to play that game if she so desired to. So yes, have a ‘ladies’ only’ event, but make sure it’s the same games as the ‘all can play’ event.

 

Also, I think there are a few key issues that need to be addressed to better balance the gender gap in eSports:

 

1. Are we including the right games to attract more female players? I feel like we’ve just barely skimmed the surface of what’s possible with competitive gaming and perhaps the ones we’ve started off with are just generally less appealing to female gamers or have fewer of them playing in the first place. I’m not saying we perpetuate stereotypes of the types of games females play (the issue won’t be solved by having a Candy Crush tournament) but more that we ensure we really explore what games can be developed into a competition and perhaps look at proactive development with women in mind rather than following the market.

2. Does the way we set up an eSports federation or standardisation of eSports rules necessarily have to follow what we do with other Sports? I don’t see why they have to. It’s a whole new way of competing. Yes, it’s a lot like a sport, but that does not mean it has to be exactly like other sports. No one would ask that how we approach Athletics (Track and Field) is identical to how we approach, say, Darts or even the Luge. And there are well-established sports that cross the gender barriers: Equestrian events, some Sailing, Chess, etc. Maybe this is a GameSport or a SportGame… or a whole new word.

3. Are we encouraging enough women/girls in the right way to get into and consider competitive eSports? There aren’t many opportunities for kids of either gender to get into competitive eSports (I saw a BBC piece recently where eSports organisers were lamenting how UK gamers don’t play enough computer based competitive sports–but I didn’t hear how they are setting up local leagues with younger players to encourage them to get involved and coach them to compete) but as boys tend to gravitate toward computer/console gaming at an earlier age than girls (if ever) perhaps it’s not surprising that for some teenaged/young adult males, it’s not such a huge leap to go from amateur PVPer to a pro-gamer as they’ve been doing that with their school mates for years already. Girls may need more structured encouragement or training to realise they can compete.

4. Is it helpful to lump all types of computer/videogames under one single eSports Federation or set of regulations? As with item 2, I don’t think we’d regulate Baseball in the same Federation as Rowing.. but at this point we seem to be doing that with eSports. I realise that’s because things are fledgling at this point and there may be ‘sub-federations’ or categories of eSports in the future, but this could be another reason why this gender divide is perpetuating itself.

 

The IeSF is located in South Korea and while it aims to represent the world and promote eSports as a legitimate sporting activity, it is just six years old and has only 42 member nations. Most notably, countries such as China, Germany, the UK and the US are not members, despite being what I’d term ‘gaming nations’. What is notable about IeSF, though, is that the federation does have a wide geographical range and a nice mix of emerging and developed economies. What is laudable about organisations like IeSF is that they are actively trying to make eSports part of the larger body of sporting.

 

And of course, ‘everyone’ out there (with the exception of the ‘pro-gamer’, the eSports fan, the eSports industry, games designers, and the very fledgling eSports regulators) is still coming to terms with the idea that little Joey who likes to play DOTA2 so much could a) be GOOD enough at it that he might win a world championship, b) actually win some prize money for his efforts, and that c) we’d actually call it a sport. But that’s how things emerge and become mainstream: slowly but with a growing body of understanding around how the ‘sport’ works and re-evaluating our own personal definitions of sport. I still remember being surprised that there’s a competitive sport that combines mountain climbing and ironing. Who wants to iron at altitude? Blech.

 

In my own research, I engaged–more on serendipitous terms than with any strong intentionality–with studying the emergence of eSports during my three-year study of raiding in WoW. In the final weeks of my thesis write up, in fact, top ranked raiding guilds had begun to engage in ‘boss fight’ raid races to see who would clear a dungeon the fastest. They were remarkably fun to watch, well cast and demonstrated how very large teams (up to 25) could compete against each other. It wasn’t just the rapid responses of two SC2 players competing against each other or the 5-player teams engaged in PVP.. eSports was emerging and growing in scope. I won’t deny that the majority of gamers I spoke with tended to be male. I noticed that while many female players were raiding in casual or more relaxed types of guilds, the higher up the competitive food chain I went the fewer female gamers there were. This was largely due to either an issue with time (many female gamers I spoke with just didn’t have time to raid as much as the competitive guilds required), a lack of confidence or experience (many doubted their abilities to ‘keep up’), or certain highly ranked guilds choosing to restrict membership to males only (it reduced the ‘drama’, they claimed).

 

Since its fledgling beginnings around the turn of the milennium (though there was a lot of such competition happening well before then), the activity of gamers engaging in organised competition began to be termed a kind of ‘electronic sport’ or eSport, though most conventional sports fans might (and still do) roll their eyes at the idea of people with computers or video consoles ‘playing a sport’. I still remember going to a Leisure Studies Association conference in Leeds some years back (early into my PhD) and going through the dynamic features of raiding and gaming in an MMO. I was still struggling with a kind of vocabulary around what mattered to serious raiders and how you could qualify their approach to play. As I showed other academics my screenshots of player-modified UIs and how ‘add-ons’ enabled and sustained competitive gameplay, one of them chimed in ‘Well, it looks like a sport to me.’ I was gobsmacked. I mean I’d been feeling this way myself, as many of us have within the world of game, but I felt really validated to hear from another person–one who researched conventional sports science and one I would have cynically predicted to critique or knock down my notion of raiding being a kind of sport–that this looked like a sport. This had a major impact on my approach to my research going forward.

 

It will take a long time before we’ve worked through the nuances of what competitive gaming really is and if it’s truly a sport like other sports or if we even need to mirror it like everything else. Maybe it’s more like a GameSport or SportGame. Maybe that very hybridisation transforms the idea of play and gaming and sports in a way that we’ve not really considered yet. And we have a very long way to go before female gamers feel like they’ve got a place at the eSports table and that they are even welcome to take place. In those cases were women really were equally part of the gaming equation, I felt like the gamers had stopped focusing on ‘who’ was playing, but more about what they were doing. At the very least I don’t think we’ll get any closer to sorting these issues out any time soon–the gender divide is huge in many areas of modern society and seems to be taking a few steps backwards in some alarming ways. But the good news is that in a very short period of time a major issue that IeSF’s member nations had been debating about for quite a while was resolved–with some fan critiques, some belief in gender equality, a lot of social medial and a (very big) games company. Maybe we can teach the rest of the world a few things?

 

 

Musing on too much data: Steam and hours played

June 05, 2014 By: Ladan Category: Steam

So when I wear a researcher hat, it’s hard to find fault with the excess of information or data that seems to float around the online universe these days. After all, with a bit of digging around, some observation, or requests, I could potentially draw some interesting pieces of evidence around what I’m seeing or hearing.

But when I put my regular ‘Jane Doe’ hat on, I find it baffling at times. Here’s an example: Steam. Why is it, I asked myself the other day, that those on my friends list can not only see what games I play, but can also see how many hours I’ve played them. This partly happened when I was teased for playing one particular game for XXX hours (I’m too ashamed to admit it here). I was shocked by the amount when I realised that I have often loaded up the game but not logged in, switched screens from the game when I get distracted, or gone afk (but paused the game) and just left it running. That means that I’m likelier to have been playing for 50% of the XXX hours that Steam shows.

Screen Capture June 5

(My Steam game screen.. the hours played obscured to protect me from further teasing…)

Now before you tsk at me, I do *know* that you can disable that feature (well, I was recently told this), but that’s not my point. My question is *why* is it there in the first place? Particularly as a default setting? Keeping in mind that I’m still wearing my ‘regular Jane Doe consumer hat’, are we competing with each other to see who can play a game the longest? Are we tracking how many hours we’ve played a game to try and control too much gameplay? Are we just nosey about what our friends like to do or what they’re dead keen on?

Now I can fully appreciate that as a parent, it is critical and helpful to know (and track) how many hours your child may be playing a particular game, and for a reason like that I can definitely see the benefit for a ‘hours played’ option. If you can see that Bobby played <insert game here> for 45 hours in a given week, you might want to seriously curb their gameplay time and reassess their sleep pattern… but then again, wouldn’t that be preferable as a ‘parental setting/control’ that you could get access to rather than as a default setting on a game portal?

If I, as someone on Jane Doe’s (that’s me, just with a fake name) Steam friends list, am curious about what Jane (me) is playing so that I can make a decision about a game based on what my pals like to play, isn’t it enough to just see that she (that’s me, again) is playing it? But noooooo, you get to see that she’s been playing <cough cough game> 5 for a billion hours and tease her about it.

So… for all I can tell the only legitimate reason that the majority of Steam players can see hours played on a game via their friends’ lists is to tease them if they’ve been playing a game for XXX hours. Like me.

Back again..

May 09, 2014 By: Ladan Category: Uncategorized

And I’ve not let it go too long this time, but I am back!

Here are a few updates:

1. I started a post-doc research associate (PDRA) position here at Durham University (about a month ago). I’m working on a project for Professor David Wall in the School of Applied Social Sciences where we’re looking at cybercrime and cybersecurity. Absolutely fascinating stuff. We’ll be getting a blog/site going at some point so I can link things together. It’s not online games research, per se, but it’s the same digital world that games inhabit and as such it’s all highly applicable.  In addition, you can learn a lot about how people perceive cybersecurity risks by studying someone who actively uses the online environment such as a gamer.

2. I’m getting some time and space (as I’m back in research again) to focus on getting some of my own work published now as well. So finally, my thesis is going to get its much needed makeover and will get out there to the wider masses.

3. I’m also getting an article together around research methods–I have often had to apply some unusual methods in relation to research games in an online context across multiple geographical locations.

4. I’ve been working on a paper for the upcoming RGS (Royal Geographical Society) conference in August around the production of meaning and content through citizen science games. This is actually something that came out of my time working in the Sciences here at Durham. I can’t say how grateful I am for the opportunity to work with scientists for the 18 months that I did. You can find meaning everywhere, I firmly believe.

 

I’m sure there’s more to update on but those are the main ones… the bottom line is that it was a bit of a roundabout journey that got me back to research and studying digital culture/environments, but I think I’ve come away with even better knowledge and perceptions of people, practices and how things relate.

Ladan

 

A year? Surely you jest…!

September 26, 2013 By: Ladan Category: Uncategorized

So I sat down tonight and checked my blog. It’s been a year since I last posted. You know, I’ve seen blogs like this. And I always mutter to myself about them. Who could get *that* busy that they can’t be bothered to update their blog in almost a year, I ask, thinking I’d never do that myself. And now I’ve done it. A whole year. It’s almost gotten to the point that you’re too embarrassed to update it, but the reality is that I will never abandon the blog or the work we’ve put up here. I guess it just fell asleep for a while…

 

Well, for those who are wondering what on earth’s happened to me, here’s a very short update:

1. I had my PhD viva in late October 2012. I won’t get into too much about it (as I’ll probably write a separate blog post about vivas), but suffice it to say it was very rigorous and intense. Pretty much as I had wanted it to be and as I had feared it would be. You don’t want to breeze through the most important 2-3 hours of your academic life so far–you want it to feel like a rite of passage. Professor Mike Crang and Dr James Ash were my examiners and I can only thank them both for actually reading my thesis and drawing out such a wonderful series of observations and, thankfully, a small number of minor corrections for me to make. And all of the corrections improved the thesis. I don’t think I’d want to do a viva every day, but I can safely say that I really enjoyed it and felt both drained and empowered afterwards.

2. I started a strategic university position 3 days later. This has been quite a fascinating experience for me! It’s not exactly the post-doc I’ve had in mind (unfortunately Durham has not engaged with games research in a way that other universities are right now), but it’s been an amazing opportunity. I have been able to do some research, write a lot, get into some strategic/planning work, and conduct a lot of international outreach on behalf of the sciences here at Durham. I have learned the ins and outs of academic practice and function at a university, given guest lectures in Asia, and made a few really interesting contributions in my time. I have learned a lot from my boss, the pro-vice chancellor for science. The downside of the position is that it did start so suddenly and has not given me the time I would have liked to sort through the post-viva workload, but I did manage to get all of my corrections done in just a few days and…

3. I graduated with my PhD in January! That was extremely wonderful, I have to say. I got to wear a fabulously red gown and cap and had my whole family around me. We get to start our graduation in Durham Castle and finish the ceremony and presentation in the Cathedral itself. I know not everyone is into the rituals and traditions of times gone by, but I do think that’s something we do particularly well in the UK.

4. Now I’m Dr. Ladan. Which is cool. And still a bit strange. I’ve been told not to fly in planes as a Dr. since that might mean I get asked to help a passenger who’s having a heart attack… The ironic aspect of this is that now that I’m a Dr. rather than a Ms. some people just presume I’m male  (if they see my name in writing). That says something disappointing about society and the gender that people associated with the title ‘Dr’.

5. Then I went on four trips overseas: once to Norway; twice to Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore; and once to China. Quite the whirlwind! I did get to give some guest lectures around my research area (particularly when looking at digital technologies and games and at the history of computer/video games themselves) and see how international research and educational collaboration is taking place between universities around the world. A few personal highlights were getting to visit colleagues at Peking University in Beijing (China’s top university) and spend time with colleagues at the National Institutes of Education (at NTU in Singapore) observing how they use virtual world environments to help teachers educate more effectively in the classroom.

6. And then I realised to my horror that my blog was out of date… which has brought us up to today!

 

I haven’t stopped thinking about games research or what I’d like to do next. My thesis was finished and uploaded but we had it embargoed for a while. Meanwhile I have been working on an article about my research methods which is now ready for submission. One observation my examiners made during my viva was that I had been able to work through some innovative approaches to conducting research in an online environment. I did find that you can’t research a game environment like WoW and rely on the same methods that we might use if we were researching how people interact in an office setting.

I also had a great chat with Dan Patterson of KoPoint, http://kopoint.com/2013/05/20/ready-check-world-of-warcraft-raiding-interview-ladan-cockshut/, who put up an interview from our chat in May. He’s doing some interesting work around a number of areas including gamic practices. Delightful person indeed and another example of the great people I’ve met on my ‘raiding research journey’…

And finally the work continues on turning my thesis into something more approachable for a general reading audience. So much needs to get out there as far as gaming goes and how groups play together.

 

So… want to peek at the thesis? Here’s a link: http://etheses.dur.ac.uk/5931/. Enjoy and be kind! :)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gamers embroiled in political debates–with a twist!

October 05, 2012 By: Ladan Category: Uncategorized

So some of you know that even though I am British and currently live in the U.K, I have also lived in the U.S. and I really love that country. I love its natural beauty and its many wonderful people. I love its breakfast food and its Twizzlers. What I don’t love is the political climate that tends to reach a boiling point every four years when there’s a presidential election. In fact I would say that most Americans agree with me there. If you’ve never lived or visited the U.S. during the weeks and days leading up to an election, then you are fortunate. It’s mayhem. And it’s not just about the presidential candidates and their pundits hurling insults at each other and trying to catch each other out on everything they say, it’s also the other elections that often run concurrently. State and national roles are often up for re-election during this time as well so depending on where you live, you might be graced with dozens of different political ads on the TV, phone calls, messages in the mailbox and lots of signs displayed on people’s front gardens telling you where they may fall on the political map. In comparison, it’s very sedate (at least as far as political elections go) here in the northeast of England at this moment.

I don’t want to get into a political discussion here (as I avoid such contentiousness as much as possible–it hardly solves the problem and only causes disunity, in my opinion), but I wanted to point out an interesting event that recently happened during a race for state senator in the U.S. state of Maine. Evidently the democratic challenger to the republican incumbent, Colleen Lachowicz, is not only a politician but also a <gasp> gamer. And she’s not just been ‘outed’ for her gaming tendencies, but specifically identified as a <gasps some more> WoW player. Of an Orc rogue no less! Assassin spec!

I’ll let you read the article yourself from the NBC news site: http://www.nbcnews.com/technology/ingame/republicans-out-democrat-world-warcraft-witch-hunt-6283586

And some follow-up coverage from the BBC: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-19842704.

Either which way, regardless of what may happen in this particularly bizarre case, it does seem that being a gamer has been deemed (by some at least) an unsuitable vocation for someone interested in public service. And apparently they are hoping that highlighting this predilection for gaming as a reason for voters to change their mind.

Anyways, I wanted add in the rest of my general comments on this issue that I shared with the BBC earlier (who very graciously added in my fairly strong opinion on the subject!).

I find this discussion interesting for a few reasons.

First, it points to how the practice of gaming can often be seen as a negative activity. The quotes attributed to Ms. Lachowicz seem to only heighten that perception as they suggest that a gamer who chats about her game activities with what I can only describe as over-the-top descriptive imagery would naturally be as violent in their day-to-day lives. It’s hard to comment on those specifically as I can’t read them in context, however. And considering how gaming is often the first culprit when trying to explain away a disturbing shooting, I’m hardly surprised by this attempt to link her gaming approach to how she’d be in the state senate.

Second, it seems to be overtly suggesting that anyone in public office should not play computer or video games. In my work, I have spoken with many people who in their regular lives have roles of significant responsibility (as doctors, managers, or educators) but who choose carefully with whom they disclose their gaming activity. And disclosing their gaming activity is often accompanied by a degree of apology or embarrassment. Evidently this caution is valid as political parties attempt to use gaming as a reason to not elect someone for office.

Finally, I think this is a very unusual development that is a little heartening, if you ask me (though I’m not sure Ms. Lachowicz would agree with me here). Here we have a gamer interested in running for political office and this would seem to run contrary to the other stereotypes that we love to assign to gamers: that they are lazy, antisocial people who don’t have a ‘real life’. Maybe this will trigger some dialogue about our perceptions of gamers and the role that games can and should play in modern society.

Ms. Lachowicz raises a few interesting points, however, that may bear consideration as more gamers who would be politicians are ‘outed’ (as that article described it): recent data suggest that the average age of the gamer is 30 (with the average age of game purchasers being 35) and the number of gamers is only growing as the market for casual play and more playing platforms continues to grow. I’m not entirely sure how much longer voters will take this attempt to weaken a candidate’s campaign seriously, and I would love to see if younger voters cared about it at all. (It’s a bit like ‘outing’ someone for having a Facebook account or watching YouTube videos of cats!)

Mists of Pandaria

September 23, 2012 By: Ladan Category: Mists of Pandaria

So it’s happening again. An expansion. Since I first launched this blog, there’s been another expansion–Cataclysm–and since I started my research, there’s been one more–Wrath of the Lich King. We like our expansions–it keeps us coming back; even those players who seem to cynically ‘quit’ WoW to play other games seem to come back to check out the expansions. Maybe it’s because despite things getting stale or frustrating once we’ve played a while, the allure of something new just keeps us returning back. These expansions, to some extent, re-create WoW anew.

So we’ve been on alien lands, frozen, fiery hot… and now we’re about to be bamboo loving, chi-channeling, fur-wearing pandas. Well at least I am. I love pandas. What can I say? I’m not sure how I’ll feel dressed as a panda, but I’m certainly going to give it a go. I’ll also be levelling up my main characters, which is going to be a peculiar experience to say the least. I’ve spent almost 4 years researching this game and its players, which has meant the ‘playing’ part has often had to take a backseat or a shared-role at least with my researcher side. Now as a player foremost (and researcher secondmost) I am eager to see how it will feel the play a game without having to necessarily document it. I honestly can’t wait. :)

But let’s talk about raiding and MoP. It’s hard to dispute the Asian feel of the new area. And it’s hard to ignore the fact that with Chinese players getting access to the new expansion only a week after other parts of the world, this may be the game and raiding expansion that belongs to Asia. What I mean by this is that with the growing interest in WoW from Asia, the earlier access to the expansion for Asian guilds and the increased success of Asian guilds during the Tier 13, we may be seeing a shift in raiding dominance. At least when it comes to the 25-man raiding. As far as the 10-man scene, Korean guilds typically dominate these rankings, but with guilds like Paragon deciding to downsize to 10-man, it could prove to be an extremely exciting race there, with a wider number of guilds and geographical regions represented.

As a researcher interested in how we engage with competition while gaming, I’m particularly interested to see how, if at all, these new ‘Challenge’ dungeons and the ‘pet battles’ might infuse the formalised competitive spirit into other parts of the game. Will they expand the competition among guilds and players or just be self-contained parts of competing against the game?

But either which way I’ve got over a day to get myself sorted and ready to check out the expansion late tomorrow night… I’m really looking forward to it and considering all of the changes to the game in the 18 months or so since I was regularly playing it feels a bit like a whole new game to me. Hopefully I’ll get to see some of you around the game. Tally-ho!

Dipping the toe back in…

September 22, 2012 By: Ladan Category: raiding, raiding research

Hello!

I just looked at the last date on my blog and cringed. I can’t believe it’s been over 2 months since I last posted! So let me update you (in case you were wondering if I’d been abducted by aliens or something):

1. I submitted my PhD thesis about 6 weeks ago.

2. I collapsed.

3. I spent wayyyy too much time watching the Olympics, including actually getting to attend an event! I love the Olympics and particularly loved it being in London this year. Wow.

3. I went on a bit of a holiday. I’d just like to point out that not having been on a holiday in a few years had led me to forget what holidays were like.. now I realise that going on a holiday is a good idea and I’m eagerly anticipating the next time I get to go. I hope it won’t take so long a wait before the next one.

4. I started trying to tidy up my life post-PhD submission. I’m months behind on many things. The world did not wait for me to catch up, it seems. Oh and I did get to go to some Paralympics events too in London. That gets a wow x 10–I love love loved it!

5. I am now getting very nervous about the viva that will take place at the end of October. A viva is the oral defense of your PhD with a panel of examiners. Going to a course to prepare me for the viva made me even more nervous. But others who have been through this keep reminding me to look at it as an opportunity to discuss your work in detail with two respected academics, an opportunity that doesn’t often come in academia. I realise that’s a big part of it, but I can’t help but focus on the ‘oh my goodness, two people who are far smarter, more capable, and accomplished than me will be spending a lot of time reading my thesis and are bound to wish they had those hours of their life back…’ Yes, that inner demon speaks to all of us! I’m sure I’ll have more to say once that process is done.

Some people have asked me when they can see my thesis. I wanted to just note that while my plan is to make this available as soon as is feasible, sharing the thesis on a largescale requires a more robust process to secure permission and that the thesis will have passed this examination process. So at this point it may be some months before it’s out there.

What I will probably do in the meantime is post things like my introduction, table of contents and my acknowledgements. The acknowledgements include a lot of the raiders and guilds who contributed to the research, so it’s particularly important that this be shared at the very least. I can, for those students out there, also share my bibliography as it’s a helpful reading list of some of the good games research that’s going on out there.