Chat basics

WoW chat is the mainstay of social interaction in the game. In particular, multi-channel chat is a topic I have been thinking and musing about for a long time, but there’s a lot to sort through. This post covers the basics of how it works.

WoW, like many other online social spaces, allows users to communicate with each other in a range of ways. Where Facebook provides synchronous (e.g., its IM) and many asynchronous (messages, wall postings, notes, status updates, etc.) channels, WoW provides almost exclusively synchronous channels, its chat system.

Text entered in the chat pane. Trade, guild, and whispers are color-coded.

Text entered in the chat pane. Trade, guild, and whispers are color-coded.

In WoW, players can text chat in one interface (distinct from The Sims Online, for example, where chat interface changed depending on chat type). The chat pane in WoW is located in the lower left corner of the screen, and is accessed by first hitting the Enter key.

Chat in WoW occurs in various channels viewable by different groups of people. Guild chat is viewable by guild members only and is displayed in bright green text. Party chat, a pale blue, is viewable by party members while grouped, and whispers are one-to-one chat messages. Regional chats are also accessible and are loosely divided by function: Trade (for buying and selling as well as finding groups), General (region-specific miscellaneous), and LocalDefense (for when opposing faction players raid/attack cities).

Players can move among chat channels with commands (e.g., /w to whisper, /g for guild chat) and frequently have several conversations going in various channels at once. Extensive chatting generally requires taking a break from playing, and thus competes with players’ other activities.

Chat messages sent into the wrong channel – guild rather than party, party rather than whisper – are “mistells”, generally acknowledged by “mt”.  Because the nature of chat comments can range from the bland – “loot this one” – to the intimate – “I am so sorry I hurt you” – mt’s can be dangerous (and at times humorous).

Social limits
Chat in WoW is not nearly as public as it was in TSO (see earlier posts on this). With a few exceptions, players chat only with people they know or they group with in pugs. Thus public conversation of the sort one could overhear in a bar is almost non-existent. Instead, lively chat conversations only occur when players I know are signed on and available.

Guild chat in my guild can be silly, salacious, and lively. At times, J. and I will have long exchanges about almost anything, from her thesis to stilly games of naming every possible word for “pants.” Our guild is small, and when people are interested in talking, chat is personal, light, and a true bonding experience. Guild chat comes with its own norms, of course, and deserves quite an analysis of its own. For now, suffice it to say that I am frequently chatting in guild when I’m in a social mood, and that way of connecting to my guildies is important and rich for me.

Party chat is separate from guild chat, although in my case, parties are often made up of guild members. Thus when we are in a party, we sometimes move from party chat – generally reserved for party-specific activities and information – to guild chat and back again.

Whispers are private conversation between two players and feel quite intimate to me now. I have had long, very personal conversations in whisper chat with C. and J., especially about things not appropriate for more group contexts. Whispers are also frequently used instead of guild or party chat for exchanges that are simply irrelevant to others, such as a question I don’t want to bother the group with, or setting up a coffee date with Iscah.

Chat, therefore, is almost always simultaneously multi-channel. A whispered conversation will be punctuated with comments in guild chat or with conducting business in party chat.

Intimacy and meaning
Chat channels develop meanings of their own in WoW. The purplish pink of whispers now feels very intimate to me, while the green of guild chat is associated with lively group fun. Comments said in guild change implication when said in whispers. For example, playfully flirtatious comments like, “you can earth shock me anytime, baby!” are common in guild chat and are not considered all that suggestive; in a whisper, though, such a comment would be very suggestive and would imply far more intimate relations.

I whisper frequently with C., in part because he is less comfortable having conversation in groups, and in part because they are a vital aspect of our personal relationship in this space. Sometimes we group into our own party simply to facilitate conversation, but will still occasionally move between whispers and party chat, even though both are private between the two of us. Such shifts can signal two separate conversations occurring at once, sometimes are divided into pragmatic talk (party) and personal talk (whisper), or are used to change the meaning of comments from more general to more intimate.

Whispers, for me, are sometimes better for conversation that makes me feel more vulnerable, such as talking about insecurities or fears. The associated privacy and intimacy of whispers makes them feel safer for self-disclosure at times.

Next up, moving among channels.

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