Raiding Research Online

Exploring and mapping the MMO raiding culture
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Archive for the ‘play space’

The lengths we go to….

April 11, 2011 By: Ladan Category: computer, play space

So tomorrow I’m hopping on a few big planes to head over the Atlantic and spend a few weeks in the U.S. I’ll be at my parents’, who happen to live in one of the most exquisitely beautiful places on the planet. Come to think of it, the next expansion of WoW could do with an area that looks like northwestern Wyoming. Think bison, eagles, geothermal features, very big mountains, trees… you get the idea. Oh here’s a photo. Isn’t that what people do with blogs anyway? I’m horrible with my walls of text…

That’s the Tetons. Just imagine that but with way more snow.  Yes, it’s still snowing there. My dad reported a heavy snowstorm just a few days ago. Guess I’d better not bring my flip flops. :(

And then I always think… 20+ hours of travel translates to 20+ hours of no consistent internet… and no regular access to what I normally do each day. And as much as I hate to confess this, I am used to having my connection to the rest of the universe out there. My broadband is probably more important to me than a tv signal. And that’s probably why, when I’m stuck in airports I always check my phone and laptop. And I’ve gone to some pretty silly lengths in the past to get hooked up.

So this led me to think about the really crazy places and random ways I’ve played WoW. This is partly due to having a laptop and partly due to the amount of travel I’ve had to do in my life, including since starting to play WoW. As laptop owners know, if you can find a way to do what you normally do on your desktop with your laptop, you will do it. That includes playing WoW. We may not do important things like raiding or PVP on the laptop (or we might and not want to admit it), but we’ll do other things like grinding, dailies, pestering people on chat channels.

So where have I played WoW? I’ve played in bed, on a plane, at an airport, on the train, at a bus stop, in neighbours’ houses, in a hotel room, in a hotel lobby, in a cafe, at the beach, by the pool, in a park. And before you start to wonder if I’m logged in 24/7, I am not. Most of these quirky access points result in such frustrating internet access that I usually don’t stay logged in for more than 5 minutes… but I *had* to try… right?

One of my favourite places to engage in random play is in an airport. Airports are strange places–a kind of no man’s land as we all wait for flights. Killing time seems the operative notion. So what better place to kill some monsters than at an airport! Trouble is everyone is bored, everyone stares…. I remember being at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam (probably my favourite airport due to the sheer awesome range of amenities they have there) with several hours before my connection to the UK. So I loaded up WoW and played a bit. But people kept stopping and staring. Kinda not used to gaming with an audience.

I wonder if it can be a new extreme WoW sport: extreme playing. Like extreme ironing.

And I have already been questioned about whether extreme ironing actually exists, so here is a link. :P

Where is the most extreme place or the most extreme way you’ve ever gamed? I think it’s time I took my laptop up the Tetons.. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Call for papers, 2011 RGS Conference

January 31, 2011 By: Ladan Category: computer, conference papers, new media, play space

Just so you guys don’t think I sit around space-barring in WoW all the time, I thought I ought to cross-post the call for papers for the session I’m convening titled

“Getting lost on the way to Farmville” Virtual, mobile and online spaces of interaction: Exploring the emerging geography and culture of new media technologies

for the 2011 RGS (Royal Geographical Society) conference taking place in London, 31 August-2 September. The deadline to submit an abstract is February 11. The RGS is one of the major geography conferences and I’m thrilled to be able to convene an entire session dedicated to the “new media” agenda. I think it’s not always seen as a natural connection, geography and new media, but since I view geography in its more fundamental meaning as “writing the earth” (not just a specialty that reads and makes maps; very few of us actually do that!), I think it’s nonsensical not to see the impact that new media like MMOs, social networks, mobile technology, and so on are having on our geography and our perception of geography. If you’re an academic or student and interested in attending or presenting at this conference, please check it out! It’s a fantastic conference and in one of the nicest locations in London.

Back in the early 1990s, the new media of the time–the Internet–was viewed as this fascinating new phenomenon that seemed to function above and beyond “normal life”. That’s just not the case anymore. Many of us rely on new media to do everything we might otherwise consider mundane. Let me list a few things I did with my laptop yesterday that we might consider unremarkable and commonplace:

  • Check a news site, roam around reading for a  bit
  • Listen to the radio on my BBC iPlayer while making brunch; watch BBC iPlayer in the evening before bed
  • Double check my recipe (housed on my laptop) for banana bread (you’d think I’ve have it memorised by now, but I don’t)
  • Check my three email addresses
  • Log into WoW to space bar a bit (actually it was to herb, God I feel like a slave to the game sometimes) and check sign-ups for the raid
  • Check the hours that the bank is open on Monday, after checking bank balances
  • Check my blog and a few other WoW related sites

This is utterly unremarkable. I imagine many of us do things like this–the computer being these portals to information and functionality. And this is stuff most of us do without even thinking about it.

So does it even matter anymore? Or, shall I say, can we comfortably make it through a day now without the Internet and our related new media? Of course we can, but we prefer not to. And it’s not because we’re “addicted” to it. We’re just used to the way that it helps us get through the day.

Back from Venice

November 23, 2010 By: Ladan Category: computer, play space, raiding research

I have waited all my life to be able to say “I have just returned from Venice…” And here I am, just back from Venice. Of course I didn’t expect my first time* in Venice to be at an academic conference, but hey at least I got to do it in Venice! Venice is truly like no place on earth and it was a really nice conference.

* Technically it was my second time; I was there when I was 1 and apparently the waiters cooed over me and fed me pasta. I can’t say I remember this, though…. but my mother loves to tell that story.

Some of you know I was going there to participate in a conference and present some of my findings about WoW and raiding. I think it went pretty well. I wanted to just highlight how some of it went while it’s still fresh in my mind.

Most of the participants at the conferences I’ve spoken at seem to have generally have little understanding of gaming, especially online games. This is partly because I don’t generally go to “games research” conferences. That’s not really a conscious thing on my part. I tend to go to conferences that are more about concepts than ones that have similar types of researchers. Like in July I went to a sports and leisure studies conference as a lot of sports theory actually relates to raiding; and in September I was in London at the Royal Geographical Society because I’m doing my PhD research in geography and a lot of my work relates to space and how populations (our gaming culture) interact and work together–big geographical concepts so no huge shock there–but as usual, I’m one of maybe 2 people out of 500 doing something with games. Not that I don’t get a little tired sometimes of having to spend the majority of my speaking time explaining what an MMO is or what the difference is between a videogame and a computer game.

Anyway, this conference was all about the constructed environment. And, as you can imagine, it attracted architects, designers, artists, civil engineers, urban planners, and a few oddballs like me and others who are looking at the social impacts of constructed environments and virtual environments. I actually found myself talking about the PHYSICAL constructed environment and the VIRTUAL environment for gamers, as I strongly believe they both have a big impact on how raiders manage their spaces of play. Our interest in sharing and analysing our UIs and our desktop gaming set up is evidence of that, I believe.

As with most academic conferences, I had a 30-minute time slot where I was supposed to present some findings and then entertain questions (I’m going to actually record my comments over my powerpoint and post it soon) but actually ended up speaking for over an hour due to questions, comments, and the interest from participants. I showed examples of how our desktop spaces of play are often very functional and laid out to play communally. I also showed how we modify our game portal (UI) for function, performance, and aesthetics. I think the idea of altering the environment we have for our own purposes is something quite unique in gaming. You can’t do too much user modification in a videogame, for example.

I did get to share one important factor that I think designers and architects need to consider when thinking about future design work: we need better spaces for play.  We need communal spaces, we need consideration of the technological requirements, we want to play together, we want to play effectively, and studies are now showing that even as we ‘grow up’ we are not going to stop playing. I think this was both surprising and eye-opening for a lot of them. I think the assumptions formed from what the media says has informed their perceptions of how we game and what our playing needs are. If I can get this message across among the disciplines that are responsible for designing our homes and public spaces then perhaps we can look forward to more innovative and interesting spaces to play in.

Post your raiding computer space set up!

October 13, 2010 By: Ladan Category: computer, play space, screenshots, user interface, World of Warcraft

So if you have a chance, go and peek over at the forums. You can post a screen shot of your interface, describe which addons you use, and link any photos of the game space you’ve set up. Less frequented are the discussions on raiding culture and raiding experiences. I’d love to encourage anyone to participate if you’d like. It expands the quality of the research I’ve been collecting this year.

Our latest discussion is about our raiding space set up, more of a way for us to share examples of how we’ve set up our own space for raiding. Feel like showing off?

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.

Raiding computer set up

October 01, 2010 By: Ladan Category: computer, play space, Polls, raiding

So I was mulling over what to put up as our next poll topic… and Alex saved me. She and I have chatted quite a bit in the past about spaces for gaming (and she even allowed me to interview her and her partner, Andy, about this). It’s been mostly focused on where we play, how we set up our spaces of play, and ways in which people play communally. There are two points of interest in relation to Alex and her partner’s playing set up:

1. They are avid LAN gamers. That’s local area network gaming to you uninitiated–where people gather in huge spaces to play together or share files over local networks for a whole weekend (or longer) . It’s a phenomenal spectacle and, according to my friends who keep encouraging me to go to one, an awesome gaming experience as well.

2. They happen to utilise a communal space to set up their computers and play. It’s not unheard of for a couple who raids together to literally set their computers up in the same space together. In fact I know quite a few cohabiting couples (married or living together) who generally prefer this mode of game play. The interesting feature with Alex is that it’s not just her and her boyfriend who have their computers set up next to each other, but their housemate has his computer set up next to them too!

So today, Alex sent me a photo of her, Andy, and their housemate all sitting together, side by side, playing computer games. And this triggered a question.

Do we really always game alone in those dark, isolated rooms, hiding from the world?

I think that’s the general perception of what a computer gamer is like. I definitely have personal experience being asked questions along these lines.

I firmly believe that in every stereotype there are some kernels of truth–meaning that in this case there are individuals who probably do isolate themselves socially and geographically in order to game–but I also believe that in general, stereotypes never hold up.

I tend to run into more and more cases of people who prefer to be near each other while they raid–or at least near other people. One person I interviewed, Mark, explained that because he has a family and wants to interact with them, he would actually not raid at all if it meant he had to be removed (aka in a separate office) from where his family hangs out in the evenings. In the case of Mark’s family, that’s in the living room. In order to bring together his desire to still raid (it’s way better, he says, than watching the reality tv his wife likes to watch) while still seeing and interacting with his family, he has set up a computer in the living room.

This need for social interaction and connection–within and without the game–does not resonate with this stereotypical image of the spot-faced, antisocial, reclusive young male who hides in a dark room in order to game.

So where do we like to set up our computers to raid? In our bedrooms? In a communal setting? Do we use laptops and float about? Add your input to the poll!