1: Early thoughts 23 April 2008

Where to start? Okay, first of all, WoW is sooooo cool. I think of note is why it’s “addictive” (in quotes, because I am really suspicious of the whole “internet addiction” set of literature).

My early feelings about WoW were largely centered around the idea, “I can’t play that, too many people are too hard-core, and I’d drown in the upper level players.” Recalling my attempts to play things like Halo or other shoot-em-ups in groups or networked, I didn’t want to be pitifully standing around shaking in the shadows and totally unable to keep up. Finally, a female friend (that was key) urged me to join, saying she’d make a new first level character as well and we would play together. My friend (J.) could introduce me to her online pals and guild members, and I could use their voice chat system with them. I thought, well, I’ll play with you, but they still scare me – hard core = too much.

Boy was I wrong.

On my first day, I started out nervous and excited. I love swords and horses games, and making a character, getting armor, magic, etc. is simply way fun. I made my troll, Lan., a shaman (magic-user/fighter) before I had arranged to meet with J., and so I played around in the character screen for a while before I “could” enter (couldn’t go in alone!! Too scary!).

When I finally entered the game, I was so excited to “see” J. as her character that I really wanted some kind of acknowledgement or manifestation of my joy in-game. But, oh no! Avatars in WoW can’t touch each other at all! You can click on them and direct emotes at them (“Lan. waves at Zeenazeela” appears on the screen and my troll waves). But how unsatisfying was *that*?! I knew that hugging an avatar in the Sims was fun, but I hadn’t realized how important it was to my sense of presence *with* others – co-presence, of course – until now. I ended up standing basically *in* her character to imitate the sense of contact – totally unsatisfying. The best I could have done, I found out later, was select “duel” with her and interact that way. Blah. And anyway, your avatars can still walk through each other in a duel, you just have the capacity to hit them with your weapon or magic. Later this lack of contact would become even more a source of frustration – but I’ll save that for the next sections.

Once we started playing, I felt as though I had to cling to my friend – started out simply following her around and asking what were, really, pretty silly questions (if vital on some level). “Can I go in here?” or “How to I see my face?” (POV is 3rd person and from behind) “What are those words above people’s heads?” (uh, their names). What I did feel was that at least I knew the kinds of questions to ask (once I got over the nervous ones :). D&D, Morrowind and similar games had prepared me for the technical structure of the game: select a class and race, start weak, improve gear and powers and skills as you go, interact with NPCs to find out info and tasks, wander the country-side looking for the right beast or treasure.

The first day we played, one of her advanced-level friends made himself a first level character, as well, and joined us in the silly tasks assigned to low level characters. By around 10:30 p., they got me signed up on the voice chat system (Ventrilo, a service in which one person pays for the creation of a server space, and everyone using it logs in and can talk within specific chat rooms -more on that later), and we bopped around killing boars and scorpions. We were having a blast, laughing and wandering, and actually, it was tremendous fun.

One of the other veteran players who was on the voice chat – but doing things elsewhere in the WoW world – was astounded. “I’ve never heard anyone have so much fun at levels one to five in my life”, he said in voice chat, seeming almost jealous. I ended the evening at around 1:30 a.m. (I did – my friend stayed on another hour or two!).

It became suddenly clear to me why this was fun – our jokes, silliness and social interaction were light-hearted, low pressure and easy. In part, this was because we had plenty to do task-wise when conversation lagged. We could easily talk about where to go, what was needed, and I could ask technical questions when the more relational-type exchanges were slowing or limited. This kept conversation and interaction up while reducing personal social risk – it was easy to be interacting without being personal, but that non-personal was the very thing that allowed the personal to feel more comfortable.

This, of course, was like any work-type interaction on some level (albeit easier). When you have task stuff to do, it can cushion the personal pressures when things are going well, at any rate, which they were that night. Among other things, it was simple because:
a)      Social hierarchy was clear: I was on the bottom and perfectly happy there. My friend was able to help me from her knowledge of months of playing, but she still was not as expert as the veteran (P.). So she felt both useful and comfortable deferring to P. when necessary.
b)      It was easy for everyone to be supportive/appreciative: My newness made me constantly in need of help, and so I think that both P. and my friend J. felt good giving me things (like a bag for collecting more stuff, or gold) as well as helping me out. I had just enough knowledge of similar games to avoid being too much of a burden, but my very newness could also be a source of humor for all. I didn’t feel stupid because I “got” the underlying ideas (and got cool points for having played Morrowind), but my ignorance of the specifics was at times very funny, even my occasional, “*which* button do I click?!”
c)      Tasks were clear: low levels don’t bring lots of choices, so there was little discussion about what to do next or choices to be made. There were enough options to make things interesting, but not so many as to engender too much debate.

And of course, J. and P. already had a long acquaintance, so they didn’t have to work any of that out.
Pile of 5s
Our first day ended with my character at something like level 5 – woo hoo! – and the three of us piled our avatars together in a sleeping heap on a town’s Inn bed. We laughed hysterically and took screen shots (yes, that’s us), well satisfied. It did feel a bit better to have some imitation of contact by this act of lying down together – at least there was a sense of the bond reflected in our avatars.


One response to “1: Early thoughts 23 April 2008

  1. Pingback: WoW musings

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