Raiding Research Online

Exploring and mapping the MMO raiding culture

Archive for the ‘subculture’

How we value our clothing and kit (AKA gear)

October 24, 2010 By: Ladan Category: class spec, clothing and kit, raiding gear

So I have closed the latest micro poll and the results are interesting. In response to the statement that  “Having the right clothing and kit (gear) are essential to my experience as a raider”, the majority (61%) either strongly agreed or agreed, with an additional 19% saying they somewhat agreed with the statement. This suggests that a significant majority of respondents (80%) feel that their gear has a role to play in their raiding experience. Twenty percent, however, are less convinced. They either somewhat disagreed (11%) or disagreed (9%) with gear being essential to their raiding experience. This could mean that they find other elements to be more essential (and thus diminishing the impact and importance of gear) to their raiding or find that the “right gear” does not make that much difference. The breakdown is below.

  • Strongly agree (5) (36%)
  • Agree (4) (25%)
  • Somewhat agree (3) (19%,)
  • Somewhat disagree (2) (11%)
  • Disagree (1) (9%)

I find myself not entirely surprised by this result. From my observation, we are often judged and viewed by the gear we have on. If someone is wearing all PVP gear and blues on a PUGged raid, for example, we tend to raise our eyebrows at the least and at the worst, we might try to kick the person out of the group. They can’t possibly be prepared, we might argue, if they haven’t even done the work of getting the basics of the right gear sorted.  So gear can often lead us to question a player’s ability to participate in the raid constructively. Is this fair? Perhaps not, but I think it’s one of our few ways of attempting to judge skill before we’ve seen the player perform. I would say this happens far more frequently in the PUG environment, but I know that a player’s inability to know what the right gear is for their class and spec can have an adverse impact on a new trial member in a raiding guild, as well. I’m going to comment on this more in my next post, but I’m also very amused by our passion for discussing gear. For a world that’s largely populated by guys, we sure do like to talk about our clothes a lot! :)

Reflecting on the raiding computer set up poll

October 11, 2010 By: Ladan Category: computer, play space, raiding, subculture

Thanks to all who voted in the poll!

I suppose I should not be surprised by the results here. We’re a demographically varied group, with all of us living in different situations and housing arrangements. The votes may reflect this. Topping the charts was the raiding computer set up in the bedroom (49%). This is probably the most logical one, particularly in light of who tends to raid regularly. Some of us may still be at home with our parents, thus we need to game in the bedroom. (This may also be preferred as it gives the raider a precious dose of privacy.) Some may be students or living in a shared accommodation and using their bedrooms as their offices/living spaces. We don’t all have that much in common with our housemates to do all that much together. It’s a rarer event to have the communal raiding set up, at least according to our poll with only 11% of respondents having their set up in such a public or group-oriented space. Again, I don’t think I’m surprised by this. The main reason I found Alex’s (see the blog entry below) living situation so interesting was the fact that it’s quite unusual.

I was particularly heartened by the living room vote (16%). Not because it’s an overwhelming winner amongst voters, but because it suggests to me that some of us like to do our raiding closer to the other action of the house. Now I know it’s possible that we live alone so gaming in the living room is no different from gaming in the bedroom; although I think there is a difference. The bedroom is an inherently private location, while a living room (even in a house with only 1 resident) is a place where we receive and entertain guests. Does that mean that we like to be engaged, not just in our raiding, but in the peripheral experiences around us?

One result that surprised me (but I would also consider it in relation to the living room result)  was the laptop vote. 18% of respondents use a laptop to raid. It’s usually frowned on by our community, so the somewhat high result was not what I would have expected. But, like the living room respondents, having a laptop does provide the potential for flexibility in where you raid and how you raid.

And, finally, the 6% of respondents having their raiding computer set up in a separate office may also not be surprising. While I have not seen research or researched it myself, I’m not sure if the majority of our raiding demographic would have the type of housing that allows for a separate dedicated office space. But perhaps another reason the result on this vote is low is that those who could have a separate office space have opted to use a laptop or raid in their living rooms.

Either way, I think this poll has confirmed my point of view: that we are not necessarily a subculture that fits neatly into the media-driven stereotype that they love to latch onto (the image of the computer gamer who is a spot-faced teenage boy who games alone in a dark room). And besides, while almost half of respondents do raid from their bedrooms, I’m quite certain that not all of them fit into that stereotype.

New poll

September 04, 2010 By: Ladan Category: clothing and kit, Polls, subculture

I’m interested in talking about clothing + kit (AKA gear) next in my gentle wander down the raider subculture map…

So in honour of that, here is a poll that lets you share a thought or two. As always, do feel free to comment if you’d like!

Interviewing Paragon

August 02, 2010 By: Ladan Category: Icecrown Citadel, raiding, raiding culture, raiding guild, subculture

Before I get to my notes on chatting with Paragon, I wanted to respond to a comment from Chea asking me why I’m speaking to elite raiding guilds.

As I’ve written before, one of the main goals of my PhD research is to complete a detailed mapping of the raiding culture. I started my research last year doing all sorts of things, including working closely with a social raiding guild (for 9 months), doing interviews with a variety of raiders (mostly social, casual, or hard core on my own server), collecting data on PUGs and gamewide chatter about raiding, reading forums and articles, and downloading and taking screenshots and videos of raiding activity and interfaces. This has provided me with a lot of helpful information (my PhD supervisors say I have too much data—I say I can never get enough, but it is a lot!) about our culture.

One area I had not started working on yet was speaking with what we’d consider our “elite” raiders–the hardest of the hard core–the world’s top raiding guilds. Whether we like it or not, these are the guys who get there first and we (as a culture) watch them closely—and they watch each other. As you saw below, I spoke with Adept 2 weeks ago. And a few days after that I spoke with Paragon. Other interviews are also taking place. I am speaking with these guilds for one primary reason: to give us a more complete picture of what our raiding subculture is. Most subcultures have their layers of involvement, talent, and notoriety. And as we are a progress- and outcomes-oriented culture, it’s no surprise that we pay attention to those among us who get to the first accomplishments first. We check wowprogress regularly, we compare videos, we visit their sites. So my research did not feel complete without including the perspective and experience of players who successfully navigate the raiding content first.

I had a great time talking with members from Paragon. And their “fame” as the first guild worldwide (and widely considered–for now according to wowprogress–to be the World #1 and EU #1) to get the LK-25 heroic kill is not the reason that I found them so engaging. Of course on a personal level, as a raider I’m interested in talking to other raiders who exceed my skill (I’m just never going to be that good of a raider!), but as a researcher their perspective was compelling and their attitude refreshing and insightful. A few salient highlights (and these are just snippets so far… basic impressions) from our 4 hour interview (yes, 4 hours!) were:

  • They are a linguistically cohesive group. It’s common knowledge that they require competency in the Finnish language to be in the guild. (Incidentally that does not mean they require people to be Finnish culturally, just proficient in the language.) Now this is not because none of them speak English. (I did my entire interview with 4 of them in English, although I did learn a few words, including “kiitos” [guys, I hope that really does mean 'thank you' :P ]) They have just placed importance on the kind of language they use. The members I spoke with suggested that it was an “important resource” as it helped build guild cohesion by ensuring the raiders who might be reluctant to use English could speak freely. They also mentioned how it helped them socially, making it easier for the guild to do “stuff together out-of-game”.
  • They are socially connected. I just have to mention something that I found extraordinary about this group. I know quite a few raiding guilds that meet socially outside of the game or at least have pockets of strong social connection (pre-existing relationships, like friends or family members, for example) within the guild. But this guild seems to take their social interaction to a new level. During my interview, they made mention of a recent event where 17 out of their 33 members got together for a relaxing weekend. Now, I know that this is probably partly possible due to them all being located in the same country, but even so, I think it points to a strong connection and desire to spend time together beyond the confines of the game.
  • They are focused when they need to be. I suppose one assumption many might make about the elite raiding guilds is that they spend endless hours and days in the game. As Paragon members were explaining to me, it’s often true that they will spend more time in game during “new content” times or when there is significant progress to be made, but otherwise, the schedule is pretty light. So the time commitment appears based around the game’s content. Obviously being able to spend 3 days in a row working on new content requires raiders with pretty flexible schedules and my impression from Paragon was that they are mostly students or have flexible work arrangements.

Overall this guild doesn’t seem particularly fazed by “becoming famous”—if anything I just noticed that classic Nordic politeness and understated surprise (with some jokes woven in there, of course) about all the attention. To paraphrase Xaar, while they were extremely satisfied to have achieved these important world firsts (as it told them they could “do it”), the only big difference in their raiding and attitude since getting these world firsts was noticing there were more interview requests and that they seemed to get noticed more. More than anything it seemed like a group of people (granted, I only spoke to 4, so I realise that’s not a complete picture) who, much like Adept, enjoyed the game, each other, and the thrill of the hunt. I even mentioned during the interview that the word “precision” kept coming to my mind as they discussed their very intellectual approach to raiding and strategic planning.

One last thing… about gender: my experience with the more social/casual/regular hardcore (I need a better word for this!) guilds are that we tend to have an 80/20 male-female ratio. So far my observation with the elite guilds is about 90-95% are male. Paragon is a mostly male guild (they noted 2 women currently in the guild) but they had an interesting philosophy about women in the guild. It was clear that any girl who could raid at their level would be welcome and in fact, during the interview one of the raiders said this about Xenophics (one of the two women in the guild who participated in the interview):

Ande: about xeno being a girl playing with boys, i dont think anybody notices/cares during “serious gaming” that she is one

Xaar: exactly

Ande: during playing were just equal players sharing the same goal

So even though it may be rarer that a woman is raiding at these levels, women with equal skill seem to be more than welcome to join in. There is a suggested “problem” with those female gamers, however, who seem interested in connecting with elite raiders for status or items which has managed to propagate a perception of “girl gamers” as difficult to deal with. This leads to a whole new area of questions that could be interesting to explore some day. For me, the first image that came to mind was a rock band groupie. I guess it’s just something you get used to seeing in a subculture–the people on the fringes who want some affiliation with a subculture but who lack the skill to actually successfully perform in it and so use other forms of social capital to insert themselves into it.

I have a lot more to report about the interview, but I wanted list these few highlights. I look forward to doing some more work with Paragon, too! Thanks, guys, for being so gracious and open to my research questions. :)

Defining aspects of the raiding culture: starting with language

July 18, 2010 By: Ladan Category: raider lingo, raiding culture, subculture, World of Warcraft

Let’s look at language, as it’s used and exists in the raiding culture.

Language. Many subculture researchers (studying things like biker culture or the goth movement) often point out that subcultures have their own language–their own ‘lingo’. I’d say that we have one. We’ve partly created it for ease and efficiency (our love of acronyms [WoW, MMO, FTW, BRB, AFK....] for one!)  and we’ve partly created it from other influences (people using English as a second language, for example, or FPS videogamers bringing their lingo with them into an MMO).

The lingo of raiders permeates the game environment. This is primarily due to the nature of our in-game communication and game mechanics. I don’t think I’ve had a day in my life as a WoW player where, even before I became a raider in late 2006, raiding-influenced lingo wasn’t cropping up around me. This most often cropped up on the general chat and (before the in-game group search mechanics exist) the LFM channel. There, our first piece of lingo, LFM: “Looking for more.” For the unfamiliar, as WoW (like most MMOs) is often group-activity based, it’s often the case that MMO gamers will group up to perform certain tasks or activities. It’s often that pre-set social groups like guilds will do group activities together, but other times, people are trying to PUG–pick up group. Yes, I’ve turned an acronym, which is a noun, into a verb. This happens a lot in games like WoW. We live in acronyms. Here are some good examples:

[This excerpt is picked up directly from the passive collecting program that I use, called Elephant. I have X'ed out the players' names.]

5/9 10:23:17.138  [2. Trade] Zxxxx: war dps lfg ICC10 / heroes 2773

5/9 10:23:28.372  [2. Trade] Exxxx: WTS Primordial Saronite 2k

5/9 10:23:56.985  [2. Trade] Fxxxx: any Jcers

5/9 10:24:00.525  [2. Trade] Dxxxx: LFM 2 healers and ranged dps icc fresh run

These are trade comments and took place over a 43 second period. To the initiated this means nothing because it is intuitively understood. To the uninitiated it means nothing because it’s a jumble of abbreviations and acronyms and game words (like “primordial saronite”), combining to leave the reader wondering if they’ve left a game and opened up the pages of an obscure technical manual. And we don’t just have lingo in this culture. We have lingo within lingo. But let’s deconstruct them a bit.

DPS: damage per second. This is so familiar to the WoW raider culture that we use it to describe damage dealers in the game. A mage is not a “wizard-like caster of spells” anymore but is now a “ranged dps”. And DPS is not just a noun. It’s a verb. “I’m DPSing.” “You need more DPS.”

WTS: want to sell. This one has a mirror acronym: WTB (want to buy). I often find it humorous that we rarely see any actual selling and buying call outs on the trade channel. People just use it for universal announcements because it’s our only universal channel. Logical, really.

JCers: jewelcrafters. A profession in the game.

I think what we see here in the examples above is a tendency, in the raider culture lingo/language, toward the efficient. We don’t want to waste time typing out “want to sell” every time we want to sell something. Our orientation is toward making the most of our time to move us more efficiently toward the more important reasons for being in the game: raiding. Language and therefore communication are often a means to an end.

Not to say that that’s the only reason we use this kind of abbreviated language; it’s also influenced by mobile texting (GTG, U, etc) and–on the EU servers at least–restricted language abilities.

While the language and its use has many functions in the raiding culture, I would say that there is enough distinctiveness that we can see it comprising an important role. A few commonly used terms and expressions are also distinctive and unique to the raiding culture (even unique to WoW, I’d dare say):

  • Grind. Ahh the grind. We have a concept of this is in English already (the daily grind, etc), but in WoW lingo terms it gets a broader meaning. We use it to refer to something we have to do repeatedly in order to get something. Maybe for reputation points, for gear, for money. Generally we do this unwillingly but we do it with purpose. The Grind is an important aspect in the life of a raider–particularly at key junctures in game development (like when we have a patch or new release).
  • Achievements. This is an interesting one. We–the raider culture–did not make this word, but it permeates us. The very word seems to suggest our identity and sense of meaning in the game. And even though quite a few achievements have nothing to do with raiding itself, many raiders (particularly those looking to form PUG raids) will demand certain raid-related “achievements” in order to let strangers join them in groups. We can be identified by this word and its placement in the culture. Often having a low achievement score–or the lack of particular achievements–can dictate how someone views us. This word is also an example of how the raiding culture changes. Before the introduction of achievements around the release of WotLK (yes, another acronym! :) ) we had no overt way of judging someone. How we formed groups and the language we used for it was somewhat different. So, again, we have adopted a more efficient way (thanks to the game designers at least!) of assessing each other and defining value in each other–achievements.

And then we have gamer-speak that’s been integrated into raider-speak: n00b, l33t, boss, etc.

So, this is an extremely brief and very limited discussion (much more to come on this one as I go back through my year’s worth of collected notes) that suggests that language and its unique features definitely play a role in the raiding culture.

What other words/phrases/acronyms stand out for you in the raiding culture?

Taking time to look at…

July 13, 2010 By: Ladan Category: raiding culture, raiding research, subculture

I’ve been so busy lately that my poor site has been neglected. A sad thing considering all the work that Alex and I put into setting it up in the first place….

I believe we’re encountering a problem with the forums right now too, which I’m endeavouring to sort out. But things will pick up again shortly! I’m going to begin posting a series of reflections–drawn largely from my preliminary research findings–on aspects of our raiding subculture over the next few weeks. Basically, this is my feeble attempt to delineate what the distinguishing features are that make us our own sort of gaming culture–what I like to call the raiding subculture. I’ve been looking at a few key areas:

1. Aims and objectives. This–you might say–is what our subculture is all about. I realise that’s a pretty obvious one, but it’s still important to delineate it. What is our subculture trying to do? What is the objective of being a raider? Believe it or not, this question may have a few different answers. What focus do we place on achieving our culture’s objectives?

2. Values and norms. Again, an important one because it often dictates how we behave and relate in our social grouping. What do we value the most in our subculture? What do we believe is the most important value or norm of our subculture? What will we tolerate; what do we expect; what will we reject?

3. Language. Many subculture researchers (studying things like biker culture or the goth movement) often point out that subcultures have their own language–their own ‘lingo’. I’d say that we have one. We’ve partly created it for ease and efficiency (our love of acronyms [WoW, MMO, FTW, BRB, AFK....] for one!)  and we’ve partly created it from other influences (people using English as a second language, for example, or FPS videogamers bringing their lingo with them into an MMO).

4. Clothing and kit. Here I’m not talking about the player behind the computer. I’m talking about our in-game accumulation and attachment to what we’re wearing. How well we’re ‘geared’ is a crucial aspect of being part of this culture. In fact, I’d say it’s got an almost unique place in this culture–unlike a person who dresses a certain way to identify him or herself with a culture (heavy metal fan wearing t-shirts from his favourite bands, for example), we use clothing and kit as a way to improve performance. The closest thing I can find is an elite competitive swimmer wearing streamlined swimming suits and caps to improve their performance.

5. Attitudes. This is probably a closely linked one with #2 above, but I think the general attitude and perception of a raider is important to consider in this subculture. What do we think about what we do? Why do we do it? What do we think of other raiders?

6. Group structure and organisation. Since raiding is so heavily dependent on group structure and dynamics, I think this deserves its own category. How do we like to organise ourselves? What influences those decisions? What group structure and organisation is the most successful? What values do we place in leadership? And what about group values?

I’ll take time to focus on each of these and hopefully, you will join in the discussion as well! :)

I hope you’re having a beautiful summer.