Visual spaces 28 May 08

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Well, back from WoW hiatus and ICA conference, where I went to a slew of panels on gaming, talking lots of gaming folks, and realized that THIS is my area.  Yes indeed.

On to the papers, then, and moving things ahead in my sense of what, how, who, where, etc.

One thing that is becoming clear is a definite difference in spatial influence between Sims-like worlds and WoW.

WoW environments are important, in that they create an atmosphere for play.  But, in my experience thus far, they serve more as a decoration than a set of powerful metaphors. Unfortunately.  I’m not sure how to deal with this in terms of our notions of space in online worlds, however.  First of all, tastes, gut responses, and desire to be in certain areas is definitely affected by the spaces designed there. From the monsters to the light, certain regions in WoW are preferred by many over others, e.g., Desolace is disliked by many guild-members and by me.

The indoor-outdoor issues, however, do not seem to apply, especially because so much WoW play takes place outdoors, or in secluded “dungeons” with slightly different contexts/rules. Being in a “store” is not particularly influential, although I imagine that if one were to duel, for example, plays would instinctively move outside to do so, rather than in a small hut. That may be largely pragmatic, of course, but also perhaps related to the notion of indoors and inappropriateness of fighting there. Not so in giant halls, so not much evidence for this interpretation, however.

This does not stop us from the requirement of entering the metaphor, though, and we still need to engage with the room or wall as such, rather than as code.  Why bother trying to engage with it as code, anyway? It would just get in the way of what folks are trying to achieve.

In terms of ordering experiences, on the other hand, these spaces are crucial.  The maps are key, dividers among regions and spaces serve a wide range of functional purposes, delimiting PvP areas, changing what actions are possible, and define the scope of quests and the instances. Spaces are the ordering mechanism of these worlds, and as such have a fundamental significance in how people interact and play. The notion of this ordering is, in fact, the primary link to the architectural theories, and holds true just as much in WoW as elsewhere.

It is the specific definition of places that changes in WoW.  Players care little that a cathedral is “sacred” versus a pub, in WoW. The pragmatics and mechanics of play are far more important.  If I am supposed to kill creatures in the church, I do so, regardless of its cultural meaning.

In this way, WoW is radically different than Sims or SL: it is designed by programmers for a complex set of game goals, while the latter are designed by players and serve largely as a form of communication. Perhaps this, then, is the distinction that our paper can draw on, noting the communicative properties – and our interest in such – as the reason for examining TSO and SL rather than games more generally.

Returning to WoW after a brief respite, thinking about and reflecting on J.’s interaction with me, and considering my actions and activities there, I’ve realized that I’m getting – suddenly? – bored. Without P., M., intercation with D., and lively vent chat, things are getting monotonous, and questing alone has really lost its appeal almost entirely. There are benefits to it, of course, it’s “chill” time, but what is fun about these games to me are the puzzles and the social interaction. J. has absolutely dropped out of the latter, and the former are so long-ago solved by my mentors that few things challenge anyone, really.

In particular, J.’s withdrawal from the social group – and sequestering with D. – have been making my place there rather lonely, in many ways.  From the beginning J. was apparently disinterested in questing with me, which was disappointing, and that trend – and its accompanied pairing off with D. – has begun to bug me.  Makes me feel a bit snubbed, in spire of her claims that it’s her preferred way to play the game. Her pairing with D. belies that claim in many ways. I think it would have been great fun to quest with her, although when I did after that first day or two she was so quiet – things were not like that first day.

So, after an incredibly illuminating conversation with Jon, I have decided to join several of our guild’s game defectors and check out Age of Conan (AoC), the newest big MMO to hit the market.  It’s generating a lot of attention from the hardcore set, and Jon explained that the first few months, when everyone is figuring out the puzzles, such as they are, are by fart the most fun.  It strikes me, furthermore, that participating in a new MMO might be a distinctly different social space with far more interaction than currently present in WoW, especially at lower levels. No one has maxed out the game levels and started on a 4th character there, to be sure.

Had an interesting text chat with M. last night, renewing our old flirtation, and reinvigorating much of the stimulation of such chat. He said he missed me, and enthusiastically urged me to join AoC.  I was both flattered by his attention and thrilled to have something new to explore. It was also so very nice to realise that our conversations of a month ago have not soured into something uncomfortable or odd.  I believe that rest we had from any interaction at all for I think it was nearly 2 weeks, all told, was critical in allowing us to return to those energies. I’m excited to venture into new territory.

M. is coming to my state this summer at some point, and I know he will want to meet me. I’m not sure I want that exposure, though. Given the intimacy of our conversations, I’m not sure I want to “out” myself as myself – all the phyisicalities that are surely different than he imagines. I am positive he has painted a far more flattering image of me, that, in spite of having seen my photos would be rather shattered upon meeting me in the flesh. I’m having too much fun playing the sex kitten with him to risk the spoiling of that image. What’s the point of meeting M. in the flesh, anyway? Better to keep the cyberfantasy alive and well. I’m enjoying it so much, that even absent disappointment from him, I would feel self-conscious in a way that online interaction and voice do not engender, and honestly, I don’t want to bother with those feelings.

A final set of thoughts for this morning. I received a friend request on Facebook from Car., D.’s cousin. So now, through that and his friend links, I have seen photos of him, and one terrible one of D. himself. Car. was exactly as I had pictured him: slightly dark, slim, cute in a boyish way, and a bit wild. D. seems similar, but it’s hard to tell from his photo in a hoodie. I sent a friend request to D., as well, although given how private he seems to be, I’m not sure he’ll approve it.  We’ll see. Now, of course, they also know what I look like. It doesn’t bother me in the least – I have lots of control over what kind of images go out there into cyberspace. And there’s something intimately pleasing about knowing what we all look like offline: it’s a special knowledge, and sharing it reinforces my relationship with D. in particular, but Car. a bit, as well.


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