THE IMPACT OF THE VISUAL
Sophisticated theories about the importance of visual context not-withstanding, the visual cues in WoW aren’t nearly as important as they are in TSO or, I sense, in Second Life. In TSO, the house matters in a deep sense, and feels like it affects the way I see myself and others. In WoW, being inside vs. outside, being in the mountains vs. the forests – none of that really seems to matter much. Spatial context makes a structural difference in that in towns there are more other players around, there are no quests things to be done, chat can happen more readily, and one is generally focusing on coordination and congregation. But I don’t really sense a qualitative difference in norms.
That said, there are slightly different norms in the country-side. My meeting with Mores, for example, happened in part because we were “out in the world” rather than in town, but mostly because he helped me and was the only one around. Folks often wave at each other passing in the country-side, whereas this never happens in town. So the isolation changes things, but the specific metaphors of the visual landscape doesn’t seem to affect much.
Certainly the amazingly beautiful forest is very, very different than the empty and bland “Barrens”, but it feels more like a difference in decoration than meaning. No parallel of feeling awkward in the group toilet in this world, it seems. Of course, that also has to do with the fact that there are no intimate “bodily” actions in WoW – no eating, no kissing, no “using the toilet.”
But as important as I have to believe the visual is, it’s of a totally different character in WoW, putting some caveats into our work on such. I have no doubt about our theories as applied to TSO, but WoW essentially creates a single visual context that I think matters, rather than having internal variance.
Thus being in this specific world, with its fantastical creatures and buildings and the like, does establish a specific normative context – one of this swords and horses fantasy world, to be sure – but doesn’t really engender a range of social norms in quite the same way. Well, there are some differences between town and country, as noted above, but Dmitri’s point that avatar “touching” matters is well taken, now. In essence, interpersonal stuff in crowded towns (not all are crowded), become less important because, I think, avatars can simply walk through one another as though they aren’t there. You see them, but without any need to coordinate “physical” movements, the interaction is less present, or perhaps less required.