Vegemite jar, open, containing letters reading MMORPGs

My notes on:

Session 1: MMORPGs: At the Boundaries of the Virtual

No matter how technical the crowd, no panel is complete without a huge problem trying to get a laptop connected via DVD player to a TV, etc. etc. - most of us have had this happen, and combined with a conversation with presenter Chris Cruz-Boone about why she was eschewing PowerPoint, the scene put me in mind of the The Gettysburg Powerpoint Presentation. Moderator Beth Ptalis kicked things off by asking how one should pronounce or spell out the acronyme MMORPG (spell it) which put me in mind of the witicism by Relic’s Morgan Jaffit in his guest column “City of Lost Game Designers“:

MMORPGs or as I will be referring to them from here on in, Vegemite. Why Vegemite, you ask? Mainly due to the fact that MMORPG is a right bastard of a term to wrap your lips around while Vegemite is not only easy to wrap your lips around but tasty to boot. So, with my Australian prejudices well and truly established lets roll.

Vegemite jar

Paper 1: “City of Actors: Performing Identity in On-Line Gaming”
Joshua Call, University of Nebraska, Lincoln
Joshua studies identity politics in writing and playing video games, and his focus was how players in MMORPGs represent themselves to others. His approach is interesting: he first frames MMORPGs as a mixed genre - half group paper rpgs, half single player console rpgs - then describes online players as participating in two cultures - role players and gamers.

Saying that console players generally assume a role precrafted by game designers, while MMORPG players are invited to self-represent, Joshua gestures to the complexities of crafting custom avatars (in for example City of Heroes) but then largely brackets graphical representations of identity like avatars and emotes as insufficiently distinguishing. Instead, he focuses on the chat text that is “the commonplace of the MMORPG.” Obviously, interactive text is our focus here at WRT, so I perked up at his brief argument that the “personality” happening within the text is much more distinctive than the range of available visual representations - the moreso I would think when one includes the rapid changes in appearence that are often the result of ‘leveling.’

For Joshua, an avatar “indicates the present at-hand-ness of an interlocutor,” but identities “become manifest in textual interactions between characters.” He points out that most etiquette in the chatbox is based on online boards and groups - no shouting, no spamming, etc. - but that interestingly, many people enter MMORPGs not from the world of online discussion but rather from console gaming, and thus are unsocialized in these modes of interaction. Consoles instead represent “an era of isolation,” in which identity was pre-scripted and a player explored details in accordance with the “play-to-perfection mentality.” *

When this previously isolated console gamer begins to use the chatbox and encounters a socialized role player / bboard member, culture clash occurs. Joshua describes Console Gamer text as characterized by utilitarian minimalization - acronyms and IM-style chatspeak. “The identity they have constructed is nothing other than an extension of their identity as a gamer.” HOWEVER, for the Role Player (coming out of the paper game tradition), “The role player (takes) the MMORPG as an opportunity to create and disseminate a narrative - they are a culture of storytellers.” This leads to text characterized by complete sentences and the reproduction of the discourse patterns of the imagined world. Further, the Role Player may suspend the knowledge of the player - which is particularly noteworthy when an experienced player showcases the lack of experience of their new avatar.

Joshua ends with three observations:

That the community division can be so evident that some game companies design for it, designating servers as game- or roleplay-oriented.

That a new breed of player has emerged to accomodate the tension, describing themselves as “RP-Friendly.”

That more contemporary worlds (City of Heros) makes the difference between role-player and gamers harder to tell in some contexts, also servers aren’t differentiated in that way.

So who are we talking to - normal person, or person roleplaying normal person? “The text, albiet unclear, is the only (method) for deciding.”

*[At this point Joshua cited Mark Wolf’s - “dichotomy between interactivity and narrative” and related how the Ultima franchise included the choosing of outcomes before going on to launch the modern MMORPG as we know it. I wasn’t completely clear on the point - some kind of reconciliation?]

3 Responses to “Conference Notes: (dis)junctions 2005: MMORPGs (1/3)”

  1. 1 Christy Dena

    Vegemite! LOL.

  2. 2 CorvusE

    *trons* Vegemite. That’s better than my pronunciation which is “more pig”.

  3. 3 mark ja

    just lol.

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