A former student sent me a link to a game called Ginormo Sword: Phat Lewtz, which offers “a great meta-commentary on the whole MMO scene and the shallow and one-dimensional gameplay behind it.” The description of the game is worth reading alone. It seems that WoW has given rise to Anti-WoW.
Or Anti-WoWs, rather: my favorite thing about Overlord is that it’s taking a big jab at the fantasy genre by making its traditional heroes the villains. I haven’t gotten to the Dwarf level yet, but the evil halflings and melodramatic, effete elves have been cracking me up.
Has anyone seen similar games that critique the fantasy genres, MMOs, or WoW in particular?
A professor in my department is retiring in a couple of weeks, and he left a few hundred of his old books out for us students to take. Vulturing through this vast and dusty pile the other day, I was struck by a couple of things: 1) the large number of dated, obscure critical theory books, and 2) the fact that, at the end of his career, this guy had just decided to ditch them all.
It was kind of a sobering sight, and I’ve been weighing various responses to it. I’ve come up with three:
- Despair: this is where my work, if it ever gets published, will wind up in 30 years – on a table amidst other dusty relics, too old and obscure to sell or even interest grad students. This one’s an obvious trap. I shall avoid it.
- Ambition: this won’t be my fate! I’ll become a Big Name! My work will endure! There are two problems with this one: it’s arrogant (and who needs more arrogant academics), and it’s impossible (there’s no way to predict how your work will be received).
- Self-reliance: if this is the likely fate of my work as a critic, then I might as well produce stuff I really like and am proud of. Something I would want to read, at least. And the third bowl of porridge was just right!
This isn’t so much a revelation as a reminder, but I’ve found that writing my dissertation – which is largely a struggle to establish my voice – is making me appreciate aphorisms.
When people ask me what my dissertation is about, and their interest level warrants a more detailed answer than “World of Warcraft,” I’ll usually say, “the ways WoW frames individual identity.” As in, the ways the total sum of the game’s gameplay modes (all of the challenges it presents and the actions it allows) plus its user interface (the medium through which the game represents its gameplay, as well as its aesthetic elements) communicates to the player with regard to that player’s identity as an avatar in the game world. Man, that was hard to condense into a single sentence, even an unwieldy one. I’ll have to work on that.
Anyway, I sat down this morning to try to list off all of these ways. Not really to say anything about them (yet), but to make sure I named ’em all. And thus to consider whether I’m trying to bite off more than I can chew here. For lack of time to do a fancy Photoshop illustration, I’ve put them in a table. But don’t be fooled by the neat, rigid columns: this is really a continuum.
|Social, extra-game: having nothing to do with gameplay and existing outside of the game
||Social, intra-game: having little or nothing to do with gameplay modes, but still enabled by the game and existing within it
||Hybrid: Involved in gameplay modes and social relationships
||Gameplay only: Involved only with gameplay modes
- Ethos based on contributions to WoW-affiliated forums, wikis, blogs, etc.
- Appearance (face, hair, tattoos, skin color, etc.)
- Guild affiliation
- Rank within guild
- Ethos within guild
- Ethos within your server
- Small pet(s)
- Class talents (a.k.a. “spec”)
- Gear (appearance and abilities)
- Quest progression (where you are in certain quest chains, which grants you access to certain quests and/or instances)
- PvP rank (arenas and battlegrounds)
- Physical location in game world
- Combat pet(s)
- Economic identities:
- service provider
- Quest narratives (the narratives that frame the quests’ gameplay)
Let me know if I’ve missed anything. I’ll begin fleshing these out in later posts.
Here’s some more evidence for why The Daily Show is brilliant for lampooning the news media: an NBC Bay Area report on “The Secret Language of World of Warcraft.”
Okay, what it’s really evidence of is the ability of the mainstream media to take a topic that’s complex and interesting and boil it down into a grey glob of blandness. And manage to get a bunch of details wrong along the way.
But what’s even more interesting are the comments about the video after the stories on Kotaku and Worldofwar.net, which exemplify some of the ways the WoW community functions. My personal highlights:
- Players’ analysis of their own rhetorical norms. There are long debates over the popularity (or even existence) of the terms the guy in the video used, over the spelling of certain terms, over the way usage of those terms mark you as a player. There are a surprising number of grammar nudniks in here – people that abhor all abbreviations and leetspeak and popular misspellings. I used to be one of these, but I find myself typing “lol” more and more these days. Cultural usages work their way into you.
- Personal attacks on players who brag about themselves. There seems to be no quicker way to incur the wrath of WoW players than by bragging. Or, in this case, letting your girlfriend brag: the reporter claims that her boyfriend is “ranked in the top ten out of 12 million people who are playing World of Warcraft.” That’s asking for it. As a result, someone in the discussion forum posted a link to his avatar’s page on the WoW Armory. (For those of you who don’t know, the WoW Armory is a function in the game’s official website that lets you check out any avatar you want – their armor, talent spec, PvP ranks, achievements, etc. Basically, everything but the player’s account information. It’s a special kind of surveillance: the officially sanctioned, publicly available kind.)
- (Side note: Dan – notice his server? Do you know this guy?)
- Players’ deep scrutiny of the game. Most of the discussion on Worldofwar.net is about the validity of the guy’s claim that he “5 capped AB in under 2 minutes” – whether it’s physically possible, whether the Alliance can do it, the strategies for making it work, etc. It’s a good illustration not only of the enormous microscope the WoW community applies to individuals’ claims about their achievements but also of the enjoyment many players get from analyzing the living hell out of this game. If only I could get my students to practice that much attention to detail.
- Players’ defensiveness about their representation. Amongst various complaints about how the video makes them look, a few of the commentators psychoanalyzed the reporter herself, delving into her blog and concluding that her hidden agenda is hatred for WoW. I’ve noticed that WoW players (myself included) tend to be very defensive about depictions of themselves in the mainstream media. Which is understandable, given recent stories.
UPDATE: It seems that KNTV-TV NBC has removed the video from YouTube with a “copyright claim,” and there’s no evidence of its existence on their website. (I wonder if they got spammed with complaints?) If anyone can find this video, I’ll give them a dollar.