Raiding Research Online

Exploring and mapping the MMO raiding culture
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Re-activating the Blog

September 12, 2016 By: Ladan Category: Uncategorized

I’m in awe of the fact that this blog is now (almost) seven years old. Back then it was new territory for a doctoral research project to situate itself in the digital space and to use the ‘research blog’ model as a mechanism for participant engagement and the communicaton of ideas. If not for this blog, however, I would not have met quite a few of the amazing gamers who provided all the insight that informed my ethnography into group raiding play in World of Warcraft, nor would I have had a chance to be interviewed by the BBC among other outlets!

So where am I in 2016? I am still researching games and I’m still working in academia. In November 2015, I became a senior lecturer in computer games at Teesside University where I teach undergraduates and postgraduates (graduate students) on games design, research methods in creative subjects (like digital art, concept art, animation, games design), and contemporary studies in games. It’s been a real treat to actually teach ideas relating to games without having to contextualise them against other disciplines. (This happens a lot in universities that have no games-related courses.) I also hold a post in the Digital Futures Institute at Teesside, which allows me to explore new areas of research with computing colleagues in areas such as AI, digital storytelling, and gamification (yes, that old chestnut!).

In addition, I am proudly a Junior Research Fellow at Hatfield College at Durham University, which has allowed me to remain connected to my beloved Durham Uni whilst mentoring students and dabbling in some of my fringe-ier research interests, particularly in relation to the arts and humanities and games. I’d say my association with Hatfield has allowed me important headspace to reflect on being an academic without the modern pressures that exist in so many universities (REF, impact, student ratios, outputs, etc.). That’s not something many early career researchers like myself get to enjoy in the current higher education climate.

 

I’m currently undertaking research in the following areas:

  • games across the life course (the lived experience of gaming)
  • citizen science and games
  • creativity and the ‘creative process’ in modern life
  • the use of participatory research methods to inform gamification techniques
  • research methods in the digital space
  • games beyond strictly digital: room escapes, board games, Pokemon Go

 

I am also going to use my blog to communicate ideas and concepts to my final year student module at Teesside, Contemporary Studies in Games (hi guys!), to illustrate some ideas about research and concepts in games. So even though I’ve moved away–somewhat–from studying raiding in WoW exclusively. Knowing me, that topic will keep coming up as it forms so much of a foundation of ongoing games development and generations of gamers around the world.

 

And wow, I really need to update my photo…!

 

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.

 

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!)

New poll and a long-overdue raid-themed musical medley!

September 12, 2011 By: Ladan Category: Polls, raid-themed musical medley, raider, Uncategorized

So what do you eat while you raid? And what about drink? I’ve created two polls in anticipation of an even bigger–and fun–”research” project I’ve got in the works with the folks over at DREAM Paragon. Participate in the poll now and read up the results and participate in some other fun things starting in the next day or two! It promises to be appetising… or at least  I  hope it won’t give you a dodgy tummy…

And then I realised I’ve not done a raid-themed musical medley in ages. I’ve picked Elbow because I love them and there are some funny song titles that made me think about some of the quirky social outcomes and costs associated with the joys and perils of raiding.

First we have Grounds for Divorce. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told–when random non-gaming people discover I’m researching World of Warcraft–about a divorce or near-divorce caused by playing World of Warcraft. And the most frequent culprit is the “Oh he [sorry guys, it's usually a he] wouldn’t get up from the damn computer when she needed to get the kids to bed and she gave him an ultimatum:  it’s us or the game.” Luckily most will choose their families over the game, but there have been some cases where the game gets identified (whether fairly or not) as the cause of marital or relationship problems and, sadly, its demise. Saying that WoW is the sole cause of a relationship failing is a problematic notion, but I think one can easily see how it might have been a contributing factor.

Next we have Lippy Kids. Ahh, those know-it-all kids in a PUG or on vent or TS during a raid; the ones who seem prone to losing their cool or posturing a bit too much. They tend to be afflicted with a bad case of superiority. Of course sometimes it’s warranted and their gaming skill and ability far exceeds the more relaxed raiding group they’ve found themselves entrenched with–and due to their youthful impatience, sticking it out with less able groups tends to bring out the Lippy in them. But other times they may be infected by that misguided sense of self-assurance about their skills that is neither warranted or demonstrated. Either which way, these misguided Lippy Kids tend to have the least patience for failure and the lowest capacity for self-awareness of their own inability to perform. I’d say they often have a higher rate of /gkicks and vote kicks, too. Ahh to be young and Lippy…

And to round up our trio, here we have The Bones of You. Yes, your bones. Piles of them. You’ve wiped 62 times tonight, haven’t you? And your bones lay there as a stark reminder of your repeated failure. Maybe if you plan it carefully enough you can re-die in the exact same spot.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNbLvtgc1Is&feature=fvsr

And finally, because I just love this song so much, here is Great Expectations. :)

Personality test–was hidden but now fixed!

December 10, 2010 By: Ladan Category: Uncategorized

Hey guys,

With Paragon launching their new site, my blog there has managed to go into accidental hibernation. I’m working with them to find it and regain access to it, but as you can imagine they are pretty busy right now! :) I’ll post here as soon as it’s up again but for now the Personality test results are temporarily inaccessible.

Also I expect to have Part 2 finished and posted within the week.

UPDATE: Here’s the corrected link to Part 1 of the personality test results.

Personality test results are in!

December 04, 2010 By: Ladan Category: Uncategorized

So I have two amazing raiders (Nils and Freddy) to thank for why I can post the results so quickly-they helped me design, enter the data, and crunch the numbers in record time. This is a two part report which I am posting on my Paragon blog. Part 1 is up there now. This is the overview and data results. Part 2 will include my analysis and discussion.

Read and enjoy!

Although fair warning, thinking about letters, numbers, and percentages this much may make you look like this:

Quickie poll about Cataclysm and changing your spec/class

November 24, 2010 By: Ladan Category: Uncategorized

So I’ve started a new poll, this one’s about Cataclysm. For some guilds out there a lot of pre-planning goes into what their raid make-up may need to be for success in progress raiding when a major new expansion (with new raid content) comes out. This probably happens in more of the hard core and elite guilds, but nonetheless, even if we haven’t been asked (or instructed) directly to change our spec or class, many of us may be wondering ‘Will my raiding performance be better if I change?’ At the very least we’ve all had to think about our specs and if they will need modifying once we get to 85 and encounter the new content. After all, raiding doesn’t seem as much fun if we don’t seem to be able to max our performance.

So! Let me know–have you had this discussion yet? Have you been asked to change? Have you offered? Are you planning to anyway (some of us can get sick of playing a certain spec for all eternity)? Or is it not an issue.

Vote on!

New poll up: UI modification

November 12, 2010 By: Ladan Category: addons, Uncategorized, user interface

Dear all,

While we’re all still considering, completing, and posting the personality test, I’d like to draw your attention to a new poll that I’ve put up, about our user interfaces (UIs). We’ve discussed this before and goodness knows everyone loves to talk about it (all of our favourite sites have a ‘post your UI!’ forum thread), but I think it’s such a prevalent issue amongst raiders that it bears revisiting. So please add your vote to the poll!

Do we like to modify our UIs? How often do we do it? Does it correlate to raiding performance? What addons do we use when we modify our UIs? Do we get addicted to tweaking it or do we only change when we have to? And, if you do modify your UI, how do you feel if your UI breaks down (especially if it happens 12 minutes before raid start time)?

I have empirical evidence of a lot of variation in answers to those questions. Some of us are almost crippled if our UI is not set up as we’re accustomed (imagine playing on someone else’s computer–egads!); some of us have an add-on addiction (with some having 50+ addons in use at any given time); and some of us take pride in playing with as little ‘help’ as possible. Yes, some of us feel like modifying the UI and using more than the absolute essential addons (boss mod, threat metres) makes the raiding experience less ‘genuine’. As a raider, I say, to each his/her own, as long as it doesn’t screw up the quality of your raiding. As a researcher, I believe, our varied approach to our UIs might be saying a lot about how we like to raid and what we value in the raiding culture.

So if we do modify our UIs, how do we tend to do it?

I  have found a veritable cornucopia of UI variation. In fact, in conferences where I’m sharing my research with academics (keeping mind they tend to have no idea about raiders or WoW), it’s one of the first things I like to show them–as a representation of our adaptability and flexibility. We are not just playing a game, we are creating a unique player-determined visual experience. By modifying the view, experience, and usefulness of the game we make it our own, we want to control the outcome better by modifying the process by which we achieve that outcome.

Some recent video footage from guilds of various fights can give us a nice palette of variation:

And that’s just the start. For every raider there seems to be a different UI.

So why do we like to modify? What makes this seem to integral to the raiding experience? Feel free to comment and vote in the poll!