Journal of

Gaming &
Virtual Worlds
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Journal of
Gaming & Virtual Worlds
Volume 1 Number 1 – 2009
Articles
5–21 World of Maskcraft vs. World of Queercraft? Communication,
sex and gender in the online role-playing game World of Warcraft
Christian Schmieder
23–37 ‘Doing there’ vs. ‘being there’: performing presence
in interactive fiction
Alf Seegert
39–56 Power and nerves of steel or thrill of adventure and patience?
An empirical study on the use of different video game genres
Christina Schumann and Daniel Schultheiss
Interview
57–66 A discussion with game designers The Lord of the Rings: Shadows
of Angmar – LOTRO.com
Maggie Parke
67–79 Reviews
ISSN 1757-191X
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JGVW_1.1_cover.indd 1 11/25/08 8:28:35 PM
Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds
Volume 1 Number 1 2009
Associate Editors
Astrid Ensslin
National Institute for Excellence
in the Creative Industries
Bangor University
College Road
Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DG
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)1248 38 3619
E-mail: a.ensslin@bangor.ac.uk
Eben Muse
National Institute for Excellence
in the Creative Industries
Bangor University
College Road
Bangor, Gwynedd LL57 2DG
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)1248 38 8628
E-mail: e.muse@bangor.ac.uk
Reviews Editor
Matthew S. S. Johnson
Department of English Language
& Literature
Southern Illinois University
Edwardsville
Edwardsville, IL 62026
United States of America
Tel: +1 (0)618 650 3449
E-mail: matjohn@siue.edu
Editorial Assistants
Joshua Bradbury
Sonia Fizek
Bangor University
Printed and bound in Great Britain
by 4edge, UK.
ISSN 1750–3280
Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds is published twice per year by Intellect,
The Mill, Parnall Road, Bristol, BS16 3JG, UK. The current subscription rates
are £33 (personal) and £150 (institutional). Advertising enquiries should be
addressed to: journals@intellectbooks.com
© 2009 Intellect Ltd. Authorisation to photocopy items for internal or personal
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the UK or the Copyright Clearance Center (CCC) Transactional Reporting Service
in the USA provided that the base fee is paid directly to the relevant organisation.
The scope of Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds
(JGVW)
The Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds (JGVW) is a peer-refereed,
international journal that focuses on theoretical and applied, empirical,
critical, rhetorical, creative, economic, pedagogical and professional
approaches to the study of electronic games across platforms and genres,
as well as ludic and serious online environments such as massively
multiplayer online role-playing games and Second Life
TM
.
JGVWaims at researchers and professionals working in and research-
ing creative new media and entertainment software around the globe,
and seeks to document, harmonize, juxtapose and critically evaluate
cutting-edge market trends and technological developments, as well as
sociocultural, political, economic and psychological concerns. It informs
its readers about recent events such as conferences, and features long
articles, short papers, poster abstracts, interviews, reports and reviews
of relevant new publications, websites, virtual environments and elec-
tronic artefacts.
Prospective guest editors are invited to approach the Associate Editors
with a proposal for a themed issue or series. Prospective book reviewers
and publishers should approach the Reviews Editor directly.
Editorial Board
Erik Champion – Massey University Auckland, NZ
David Ciccoricco – University of Canterbury, NZ
Pawel Frelik – Maria Curie-Sklodowska University, Lublin, PL
Nigel John – Bangor University, UK
Helen Kennedy – University of the West of England, UK
Brian C. Ladd – State University of New York, Potsdam, USA
Xavier Laurent – Bangor University, UK
Esther MacCallum-Stewart – University of East London, UK
Michael Nitsche – Georgia Institute of Technology, USA
Justin Parsler – Brunel University, UK
Celia Pearce – Georgia Institute of Technology, USA
Jason Schklar – Amazon.com, USA
JGVW 1.1_00_FM.qxd 11/14/08 2:01 PM Page 1
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For example: Freeman, D. (2004), Creating
Emotion in Games, Berkeley: New Riders.
Beck, J. C. and Wade, M. (2004), Got Game:
How the Gamer Generation Is Reshaping
Business Forever, Boston, MA: Harvard
Business School Press.
Lyotard, J. F. (1979), The Postmodern
Condition: A Report on Knowledge (trans.
G. Bennington and B. Massumi),
Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota
Press.
Citing a chapter in a book
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and the video game’, in M. J. P. Wolf (ed.),
The Medium of the Video Game, Austin, TX:
University of Texas Press, pp. 113–34.
Corneliussen, H. (2008), ‘World of Warcraft
as a playground for feminism’, in H. G.
Corneliussen and J. W. Rettberg (eds),
Digital Culture, Play, and Identity. A World of
Warcraft
®
Reader, Cambridge, MA: MIT
Press, pp. 63–86.
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Notes for Contributors
JGVW’s remit
Contributions to JGVW are invited from all
fields of game and virtual world studies
research, design and development. We seek
to provide a platform for vivid information
interchange between academia and
industry, between scholarship and
professionalism, between theory, criticism
and practice. Typical subject areas include:
• Theory and criticism: e.g. narratology,
ludology, philosophy, gender, race,
identity, history (of and in games and
virtual worlds), rhetorical approaches,
discourse analysis and semiotics, genre
criticism and cultural studies
• Social and psychological concerns: e.g.
(online) communities, participation,
interaction, identity formation, networks,
violence and addiction, emotion,
children’s social behaviour, cognitive
effects, e-learning and education
• Design issues: e.g. developments in 3D
modelling, authenticity and realism,
mimesis, screenwriting, sound effects,
composition, static vs. moving image,
cut scenes, background vs foreground,
multimodality, simulation and game
engines
• Reception and production: e.g.
ethnography, customer research,
therapeutic and hazardous effects,
serialization, adaptation, franchising,
commercial vs. serious games,
transmediation, intermediality, artificial
intelligence and new literacy studies.
JGVWpublishes general and themed issues.
Themes for future issues are announced in
the journal. JGVW is published in British
English with –ize endings.
Manuscripts will be evaluated by double-
blind peer review.
Research articles including long and short
papers, poster abstracts and interviews
should:
• Contain original research or scholarship
• Not be under consideration by any other
publication
• Be written in a clear and concise style
• Conform to the instructions outlined
below.
Contributors are requested to adhere to
the following word limits:
Long articles: 4000–6000 words
Short articles: 3000–4000 words
Conference and other reports: 500–1000
words
Reviews (books, websites, games and other
relevant software), poster abstracts and
interviews: 1500–2000 words
Format of submitted articles
• Submissions to JGVWshould be sent as
an attachment to an e-mail message to
the Editor. The attached article should
be ‘anonymized’, and contain an
abstract and up to six keywords. This is
to maintain confidentiality during peer
review. You should delete the ‘file
properties’ or ‘summary info’ of your
document (see file menu) that reveal
your name and institution. Be sure to
add your full name and address in the
e-mail message to the Editor.
JGVW 1.1_00_FM.qxd 11/14/08 2:01 PM Page 2
Citing a game or similar software
Author/designer surname, Initial (year),
Title in Italics, Place of publication:
Publisher.
For example: Anderson, J., Boyarsky,
L. and Cain, T. (2004), Vampire: the
Masquerade – Bloodlines, Santa Monica,
CA: Activision/Troika.
Citing a virtual world and/or MMORPG
Typical examples: Blizzard Entertainment
(2003(8), World of Warcraft, Vivendi
Games.
Linden Research, Inc. (2003–8), Second
Life, http://secondlife.com/. Accessed
31 July 2008.
Citing a journal article
Author surname, Initial. (year), ‘Title in
single quotation marks’, Name of Journal in
Italics, volume number: issue number
(and/or month or quarter), page numbers
(first and last of entire article).
For example: Popat, S. and Palmer,
S. (2005), ‘Creating common ground:
dialogues between performances and
digital technologies’, International Journal
of Performance Arts and Digital Media, 1:1,
pp. 47–65.
Ducheneaut, N., Yee, N., Nickell, E. and
Moore, R. (2006a), ‘Building an MMO
with mass appeal: a look at gameplay in
World of Warcraft’, Games and Culture, 1:4,
pp. 281–317.
Citing a web publication or website item
Websites should be referenced as
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and the title of the information/
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Authors are advised to include the date
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authenticity of the source, especially if it
is contestable.
For example: Strain, J. (2007), ‘How to
create a successful MMO’, Guildwars.com,
www.guildwars.com/events/tradeshows/
gc2007/gcspeech. Accessed 3 May 2008.
DiGiuseppe, N. and Nardi, B. (2007), ‘Real
genders choose fantasy characters: class
choice in World of Warcraft’, First Monday,
12:5, www.firstmonday.org/issues/
issue12_5/digiuseppe/index.html.
Accessed 10 May 2008.
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‘Broken Sword: The Angel of Death:
unwitting hero George Stobbart
investigates yet more dark secrets’,
Personal Computer World, 1 April, p. 105.
If the page number is missing online,
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Citing personal communications
and interviews
(a) Personal communications are what
the informant said directly to the
author, e.g. ‘Bamber said TGC were
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This need have no citation in the
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16 February 2008 interview), and
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Miller, F. (2008), interview with
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(c) If the informant gave an interview to
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for Crookes 2008) in the text, and
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For further questions and examples, please
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JGVW 1.1_00_FM.qxd 11/14/08 2:01 PM Page 3
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Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds Volume 1 Number 1 © 2009 Intellect Ltd
Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/jgvw.1.1.5/1
World of Maskcraft vs. World
of Queercraft? Communication, sex
and gender in the online role-playing
game World of Warcraft
Christian Schmieder Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg
(Germany)
Abstract
This article examines the construction, representation and commingling of
gender identity in the online role-playing game (RPG) World of Warcraft. I
show how players on German-speaking non-RPG servers blend gender by using
linguistic markers of gender (like specific articles and suffixes) in an inter-
changeable way. Subsequent to this analysis, possible consequences for the online
world as an opposition to ‘offline reality’ and as a space for negotiation of gender
identity are discussed. Focusing on different modes of communication while
playing, I develop a more differentiated view on communication, sex and gender
in online communities – a view that goes beyond an assumption of simplistic,
one-dimensional gender bending.
Introduction
In this article, I first describe the stereotyped visual bipolarity of game
characters in World of Warcraft. Since communication via visual appear-
ance is only one among many modes of communication in the gaming
process, I then dwell on text-based and auditory channels of communica-
tion used while playing.
Based upon this analysis, I have structured the visual communica-
tion, the communication in in-game written chats, the communication
on players’ websites/guild forums and the voice chat communication
(e.g. via Teamspeak) into a schematic model of the interactional cosmos
in World of Warcraft. These channels offer different spaces for communi-
cating gender as well as providing different levels of anonymity. At the
same time, the visual communication and the voice chat communication
suggest, at first glance, unambiguous interpretations of gender through
stereotypically composed game characters and the audible voices of other
players.
What happens in a communicative space in which a tension pulsates
between communicative freedom and restrictive gender bipolarity provided
by exaggerated game graphics and unambiguously interpreted voice input?
Two viewpoints are finally discussed: can the category ‘gender’ dissolve in
this tension, can gender-free spaces for communication evolve, in the form
5 JGVW 1 (1) pp. 5–21 © Intellect Ltd 2009
Keywords
World of Warcraft
MMORPG
communication
gender
chat
avatar
JGVW_1.1_01_art_Schmieder 10/22/08 2:14 PM Page 5
of a World of QueerCraft? Or can players (especially male) only toy with gen-
der because they re-establish their masculinity while communicating? Are
hetero-normative spaces and ideas of normality reinforced behind a mas-
querade of genders? Is there in fact a World of MaskCraft arising in the
communicative cosmos of World of Warcraft?
1. State of research
Specific academic literature on World of Warcraft can be found starting
from 2006. Due to the game’s worldwide success, massively multiplayer
online role-playing games (MMORPGs) have become more interesting for
researchers in the last few years, resulting in the publication of a variety of
academic articles. In May 2008, the MIT Press published an anthology
dedicated to World of Warcraft: Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of
Warcraft Reader, edited by Hilde G. Corneliussen and Jill Walker Rettberg.
This anthology contains a broad variety of articles dedicated to essential
issues such as gaming culture, identity, gaming experience and the cre-
ation of online worlds.
Nicolas Ducheneaut et al. (2006a) provide a well-founded overview on
the gameplay in World of Warcraft; Dmitri Williams et al. (2006) and
Nicolas Ducheneaut et al. (2007) scrutinize guilds in World of Warcraft;
Ducheneaut et al. (2006b) and T.L. Taylor (2007) explore social dynamics
such as team play and the impact of surveillance modes. Marlin Bates dis-
cusses the origins of creature races and concepts of the monstrous in
World of Warcraft (Bates 2006). Valuable information on a variety of
MMORPG-related issues such as demographics, gender bending and com-
munication can be found in Nick Yee’s publications (Yee 2005; 2006a;
2006b; 2007; 2008a; 2008b).
With the anthology The Social Life of Avatars, Ralph Schroeder (2002)
has edited an extensive standard work on avatars; Taylor (2006) has
contributed an in-depth description of online gaming with Play Between
Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture. Andrea Rubenstein (2007) and
Nicholas DiGuiseppe and Bonnie Nardi (2007) have provided illustrative
notes and instructive comments on appearance and the impact of over-
sexualized game characters in World of Warcraft. Sheri Graner Ray
(2004) presents a history of female characters in video games as well as
an analysis of hyper-sexualized avatars. Appearance, sex and gender in
computer games are also especially discussed in Sherry Turkle’s early
key writings on virtual identity (1984, 1995) as well as in Taylor’s
(2002, 2003a, 2003b, 2006), Lucida.org’s (2007), Nina Huntemann’s
(2004, 2005) and most recently in Esther MacCallum-Stewart’s (2008)
publications.
Also, communication in massively multiplayer online games (MMOs)
has been analysed by a multitude of authors: an anthology on virtual
interaction of comprehensive range was edited by Lars Qvortrup in 2001;
Eva-Lotta Sallnäs (2002) compares different media of communication in
online worlds; Constance Steinkuehler (2003, 2004, 2006) mainly scruti-
nizes discursive communication in MMOs based on text; Constance
Steinkuehler and Dmtri Williams (2006) show how MMOs open new
spaces for informal sociability and Taylor (2007) discusses issues of chat
communication in World of Warcraft. Finally, Guido Heinecke (2007) has
6
Christian Schmieder
JGVW_1.1_01_art_Schmieder 10/22/08 4:24 PM Page 6
composed an excellent contribution, including a list of common vocabu-
lary, on chat communication on German-speaking World of Warcraft
servers.
My findings on sex/gender and communication in World of Warcraft are
not solely based on literature and collected data. Over the course of two
years, I played World of Warcraft (including the expansion Burning Crusade)
on a German non-RPG server (player versus environment) for approxi-
mately 2500 hours; during this time, I became closely acquainted with
the game environment as well as the gamer’s habits of organization and
communication on this and other servers.
1
2. World of Warcraft: the game
World of Warcraft, released in Europe in spring 2005, is a so-called online
role-playing game: a game in which the players are connected via the
Internet and populate a shared game environment. With approximately
ten million active licences at the beginning of 2008 (Woodcock 2008a),
World of Warcraft is by far the world’s most successful subscription-based
MMORPG. Bruce Woodcock (2008b) calculates that all subscription-based
MMORPGs (including World of Warcraft) accumulate 16 million active
licences.
The game itself, programmed and published by the company Blizzard
Entertainment, consists of enormous virtual worlds (‘realms’ or ‘servers’),
in which thousands of gamers play at the same time. The players control
humanoid characters, also called ‘avatars’. These characters possess clas-
sic features derived from the tradition of role-playing games. There are
classes of characters that heal others (‘healer’), classes that mainly deal in
damage (‘damage dealer’) and classes that endure a great deal in order to
block enemies from harming more vulnerable characters (‘tanks’).
First and foremost, World of Warcraft is a battle game – fighting computer-
controlled enemies is the preference of most players, but the game also
provides the option to battle against other human players. In most cases,
the players are not lone warriors. They generally play in small groups
(‘parties’) or in bigger formations (‘raids’), which can contain up to 40
players. An important motivation for most players lies in having the
chance to win valuable, sometimes rare equipment pieces for their charac-
ters. The majority of equipment is left behind by defeated foes. In many
cases, it is common to role the dice in order to distribute the loot in the
group – World of Warcraft involves an element of luck.
However, the game environment provides more possibilities for playing
than just fighting: players can accumulate money for better equipment by
selling goods to other players; the highly frequented ‘auction houses’ are
marketplaces where many players literally speculate with wares.
Furthermore, every character can master several crafts (‘professions’)
such as mining, tailoring or jewel crafting. In order to pursue these occu-
pations by crafting valuable equipment, players have to collect, eke out,
trade or buy resources and trade goods.
Large parts of the game require considerable coordination: in a raid, for
example, the character classes have to be represented in a balance and all
players have to know what to do while fighting. In order to accomplish the
necessary coordination, players establish guilds. In these collectives, the
7
World of Maskcraft vs. World of Queercraft?
1. Therefore the
presented findings
are derived from
the experience and
observations made in
a specific linguistic
and socio-cultural
setting dominated by
mainly German-
speaking gamers
in a mainly German-
speaking environment.
JGVW_1.1_01_art_Schmieder 10/22/08 2:14 PM Page 7
players form chains of command for raids, organize the distribution of the
loot, and hoard and share resources in the guild bank.
World of Warcraft offers different types of game environments, each
matching players’ different expectations of the gameplay: main emphases
are put on matches between human players, the search for valuable items
or on the masquerading as fantasy characters. On player versus player
(PvP) servers the main interest lies in fighting other players; on player
versus environment (PvE) servers the main interest is to fight computer-
controlled enemies that can be looted for valuable items. The PvP and PvE
servers also exist as special role-play gaming (‘RPG’) realms. In these
realms, the players can (and must!) assume a character in order to play,
and they must obey more restrictive roles of communication (see also
Heinecke 2007: 35–37): this includes both topics and ways of speaking. For
instance, players are not supposed to talk about the last soccer match in
the public text chats. Also, a certain ‘medieval’ way of talking is expected
(Blizzard 2008). Non-compliance with these rules is controlled and pun-
ished, for example, by temporary exclusion from the game. In total, there
are fewer RPG servers than non-RPG servers; the majority of players prefer
non-RPG worlds. Providing these options, the different game environ-
ments cover Roger Caillois’ classic game categories: agon (competition:
PvP), alea (luck: PvE) and mimicry (masquerade: role-play gaming worlds)
(Caillois 1960: 19–32, 46).
The playing experience on an RPG server differs strongly from the play-
ing experience on a non-RPG server, because players in role-playing
realms passionately and intentionally play their fantasy roles. In this
paper, however, I want to examine closely the relationship between game
character (or ‘avatar’) and player in a game environment, in which
mimicry does not stand in the foreground – but is part of a web of tension
and communication. When speaking of the game World of Warcraft in the
following, I intentionally speak of the game and the game experience on
non-RPG servers.
3. World of SexCraft: visual communication of sex
At first glance, sex seems to play an oppressive role in World of Warcraft.
Immediately, when choosing their characters, players have to decide
whether they want to play a male or a female character. Regardless if one
is playing a human, a dwarf, an undead or one of the cow-like taurens,
male characters are bigger and more strongly built, especially around
the torso – whereas female characters are more delicate and show articu-
late breast curves. Each race features two sexes, and gamers can choose
between some variations concerning the face and hairstyle. However, they
cannot change the bodies themselves. The statures are standardized, so
one cannot design a delicate male character or a massive female character.
This standardization of sexual representation has evolved from a
process of decision making; Taylor (2003b) elaborates processes like this in
her article dedicated to design decisions in virtual environments:
The underlying structure of virtual worlds as expressed in software does not
simply appear by magic, though it may at times certainly seem like such to
the user. …Code, graphics, systems architecture – all of these arise from
8
Christian Schmieder
JGVW_1.1_01_art_Schmieder 10/22/08 2:14 PM Page 8
somewhere, from human agents. In this regard, the role designers and pro-
grammers play in shaping these spaces is fundamental.
(Taylor 2003b: 25)
These processes are interlinked with a (potential) community of gamers
(Rubenstein 2007) and so sex and sexual representation are no coinci-
dences in games like World of Warcraft. Rubenstein published a very inter-
esting article on the graphical construction of gender in World of Warcraft;
she describes how sexual characteristics of the characters were radicalized
during the ‘alpha tests’ (‘alpha tests’ are the first tests before the release of
a game, where a selection of players may try the game on special servers,
helping the programmers and designers to adjust and balance the game
mechanics and content – the virtual world is tested under quasi-normal
conditions):
The dimorphism was not always so strong, however. In the Alpha version of
the game, races such as the Tauren and the trolls [sic] had more similarity
between genders than difference: facial structure, body shape, posture, and
even choice of accessories were more similar than not …. Apparently there
were many complaints about the women of both races being ‘ugly’ and so
the developers changed them into their current incarnations…
(Rubenstein 2007)
As with the alpha tests, developers seem to leave little to chance. The so-
called ‘beta tests’ are also a part of the constant procedure of releasing
new content through expanding the game.
Traditionally – and World of Warcraft is no exception – lots of role-
playing worlds are related to the construction of the fantasy world pre-
sented in The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien (see also Bates 2006: 10).
A creature race that has been adopted in many games and literal fantasy
tales is that of elves. Elves are, within this tradition of storytelling, slender,
thin, smoothly moving; they are creatures of androgynous elegance.
A noticeable dispute started in the gamer community in 2006, when
Blizzard Entertainment introduced the ‘blood elves’. Initially, the blood
elves had been conceptualized according to the Tolkienesque fantasy tradi-
tion. They had been designed as rather androgynous figures – especially in
comparison with other races in World of Warcraft, such as the testosterone-
oozing orcs. Because of the resonance in the beta tests, the designers
decided to shape the male blood elves in an explicitly more muscular man-
ner (GameStar.de 2006a):
2
this led to active and agitated discussion in
parts of the gamer community. In public forums and guild forums, players
fervently discussed whether elves should look graceful-androgynous or
muscular-manly.
3
An analysis of the controversial disputes surrounding this ‘blood elf
incident’ reveals two main streams of player expectations. First, stereotyp-
ically exaggerated characters seem to appeal better to male players, but
not exclusively. Non-‘male’ features were degraded with attributes such as
‘gay’ and ‘metrosexual’. This is not news and is an issue in gender studies
already – for example in the work of Huntemann or Graner Ray
(Huntemann 2004, 2005; Graner Ray 2004).
9
World of Maskcraft vs. World of Queercraft?
2. For more specific
information on the
discourse and
tensions between
designers and gamers
see Taylor (2003b).
3. To comprehend this
discussion in the
German gaming
community, I
recommend the
discussion forum of
the gaming magazine
GameStar (GameStar.de
2006b). In English
language, the
discussion can be
followed on the
important World of
Warcraft databases,
such as Allakhazam.
com. I also recommend
blogs of gamers,
addressing
homophobia in
World of Warcraft,
such as Brian
Crecente (2006).
See also Rubenstein
2007.
JGVW_1.1_01_art_Schmieder 10/22/08 2:14 PM Page 9
But, secondly, and this is easily overlooked, the fantasy tradition seems
to provide a strong counterweight against this tendency towards exagger-
ation. World of Warcraft is not a sequel to Tolkien’s books. But it is still a
sequel to a certain tradition, a narrated reality, that evokes specific expec-
tations in many gamers. Located within this tradition, certain characters
have to have a certain appearance and certain characteristics: such as the
elves, who should, according to many players, look graceful and androgy-
nous. Such expectations can be transverse to the expectations players have
in life ‘outside’ the game. Conversely, that some players accept androgyny
in the game does not mean that they necessarily accept androgyny ‘out-
side’ the game. Many gamers defend the blood elves’ androgyny by refer-
ring to a certain fantasy tradition. But these gamers also – like the players
who degrade androgynous characters – refer to the expectation of stereo-
typed, normalized appearance of a creature or a creature race. Hence,
androgyny seems to be accepted because it has a tradition in the fantasy
narrative – and not because androgyny or hermaphroditism are consid-
ered acceptable outside this tradition.
4
Analysing visual representations of sex in World of Warcraft shows a
strong dimorphism – a dimorphism that is partly a product of communi-
cation between gamers and designers. But a look at the different reactions
of gamers when scrutinizing sex in World of Warcraft shows a variety of
opinions on these representations. The visual appearance can be mea-
sured from many horizons of expectation, and these expectations can also
collide with expectations of other players as well as with expectations from
the ‘outside’ world.
5
4. World of TalkCraft: interaction between players
In this section, I introduce three more channels of communication usually
used by gamers when playing World of Warcraft: written chat, guild home-
pages/forums and voice chat communication.
Written chat
Amongst communication via social action (e.g. attacking, fleeing, being
passive), the game surface offers a text-based channel of communica-
tion: written chat. The chat window is part of the game interface’s stan-
dard appearance; it can be modified by switching private and public
channels off and on. Thus, each player can decide out of which channels
he or she wants to receive instant chat messages.
6
The game-rhythm in
World of Warcraft forces the players to take a break after every battle
phase. The phases of battle take between a few seconds and several min-
utes – after fighting for a while, the characters have to recover their life
points and spell points. Especially during this downtime, chats are used
to communicate.
7
The different chat channels are related to certain functions, for exam-
ple the trade of goods and items, the search for group members or (mainly
on PvP servers) the organization of the defence against hostile groups of
players. It is common that chat channels are ‘misused’ – this is called
‘flaming’ or ‘spamming’: the unsolicited sharing of personal opinion, the
results of sports games, touting, taunting and private conversations in
inadequate channels.
10
Christian Schmieder
4. It is important to
mention though that
players should not
be lumped together
blindly. The game
environment
reproduces the
hetero-normativity of
the ‘outside’ world
and carries it to
extremes. But this
does not keep gay,
lesbian, transgender
and queer gamers
from playing.
5. A more thorough
analysis of gamers’
horizons of
expectations seems
to be crucial when
discussing visual
sex/gender represen-
tation in computer
games. It is not only
important to see the
results of a process –
it is important to look
at the negotiation
within this process.
Since this is not the
main aim of this
paper, I restrict myself
to these outlining
remarks – though
I hope that my
comments point
towards a more
discourse-based
approach when
analysing visual
representations of sex
in games.
6. The only non-
synchronous form of
communication in the
game itself is the mail
system. Mailboxes are
located in many
towns in the game
environment. Players
can use these
mailboxes to send
messages, goods or
money to other
players.
7. Heinecke (2007)
focuses on written
chat language in
World of Warcraft. He
empirically bases his
analysis on the
complete recording
of the chat
communication
JGVW_1.1_01_art_Schmieder 10/22/08 2:14 PM Page 10
Voice chat communication
World of Warcraft is mainly based on cooperative play with other players. Most
secluded regions of the game (‘instances’) are designed for groups of five
players; there are also instances for up to 40 players. Ever since the expan-
sion, The Burning Crusade (first launched in January 2007), only instances
for up to 25 players have been released. The game characters – especially in
bigger groups – do specialist tasks. Healers and damage dealers tend to be
extremely vulnerable; at the same time the tanks are lost without getting
healed or if the enemies are not killed fast enough by the damage dealers.
Especially the so-called ‘aggro management’ – the concentration of hostile
attacks on less vulnerable troops – demands quick reactions and seamless
cooperation between players. Written communication is therefore unpracti-
cal, and real-time communication becomes essential for success.
A very common platform for this purpose is Teamspeak, a voice-over
IP chat program that allows players to talk to each other while playing.
The software is free and independent of the game developer Blizzard
Entertainment. Bigger guilds mostly provide their own Teamspeak servers,
which can be set up and used for free. The gamers speak into microphones
and can talk to each other while playing; the Teamspeak software runs in
the background. Teamspeak works like a chat room: by joining a (mostly
password-protected) server, the players can use several chat rooms (these
are also called ‘channels’) in which they can talk with one or several play-
ers. Usually a server consists of a multitude of chat rooms. The channels
are commonly separated by their communicative purpose: there are chan-
nels for ‘private’ conversations, channels for meetings of guild leaders and
character-class representatives, channels for raids, for dungeon battles, for
PvP and so on. In most guilds, joining and regular use of Teamspeak or
other voice chat programs are mandatory. Because real-time coordination
can make the difference between victory and defeat, many players decline
grouping up with players who do not use a voice chat program.
Guild forums and homepages
In guilds, a considerable amount of organization is located outside the game
environment provided by the game software (see also Ducheneaut et al.
2007: 847). A guild can be compared to a sports club. The players indeed
meet primarily on the field, where they also talk about the game, about orga-
nizational issues and the strategy for the next match. But the results of the
last meeting are posted in the club house. Here, the players sign up for tour-
naments and events; the complex systems of person rotation in raids and the
distribution of loot are organized on the guild homepages and forums.
Guild homepages form the communicative backbone of these gaming
associations. Discussions on raid morale, new strategies, changes in the
game software, the latest battle videos
8
and the newest jokes – all this
takes place independent of the actual game, on self-organized and self-
programmed websites. Here significant discussion is held and recorded.
One reason for this solution is the impermanence of the in-game options
for communication. The in-game chat cannot be saved and searched, with
the oral communication via Teamspeak being even more elusive. The web-
sites help the guild members to gather, organize and save information:
who learned which profession in the game? Who can craft which items?
11
World of Maskcraft vs. World of Queercraft?
during a complete
battle in a dungeon
(‘instance’).
8. Many gamers record
how they master
tough or suspenseful
battles and post these
videos on platforms
like YouTube or
Warcraftmovies.com.
Apart from this, a
movie-making
subculture has arisen
amongst gamers. An
outstanding example
of movie directing by
playing World of
Warcraft is the movie
Illegal Danish – Super
Snacks, produced by
the Dementia-
Myndflame-
Machinima-Team
around Clint and
D. W. Hackleman. The
movie is available on
www.warcraftmovies.
com (accessed 15 July
2008). For an
introductory article
on movie culture in
World of Warcraft, see
Lowood 2006.
JGVW_1.1_01_art_Schmieder 10/22/08 2:14 PM Page 11
Who gave his or her character which class skills? How can the boss XY
be defeated? How much money is in the guild bank and who did not pay
the weekly due? Private details are also exchanged: where the players live,
their age, their AIM, Skype, or e-mail addresses and so on. In this way, the
homepages tighten the community network more than it would have been
possible through the game software alone.
After my observations in the previous section, one might have thought
that the category of gender could be determined by the game graphics: all
game characters are cast into a graphic pattern of exaggerated masculinity
and femininity and the screen teems with gently hip-swivelling, full-bosomed
graces on one side and brawny muscle men on the other. In this section, it has
become clear though that the graphic surface is not the only important layer
of game experience and game reality; it is not even the main layer of commu-
nication for the organized gamer community. To illustrate this, I will develop a
model of communication in World of Warcraft in the following section.
5. World of CommuniCraft: the four layers of communication
in World of Warcraft
As laid out above, the gamer can be simultaneously located on multiple
layers of communication: he/she steers a visually represented game
character while writing to group members or friends who play on a dif-
ferent location – or are not even logged into the game. Additionally, the
player can chat with other gamers on the game surface or communicate
through posts on the guild homepage. Four basic layers of communica-
tion can therefore be identified: visual communication, written chat
communication, written communication on guild webpages/forums and
voice chat communication. The visual communication is based on the
game’s software itself. On this foundation the gamers see the characters
of other players and non-verbally interact with them (for non-verbal
social norms in online worlds see Yee et al. 2007). Still, the design of the
game environment lies in the hands of the developers. The written chat is
also part of the game software and is used for rudimentary communica-
tion – but not in battle situations, which form the centre of game activity
in World of Warcraft. The forums and guild homepages – on the level of
‘written communication’ – are provided by the gamers themselves and
serve the purpose of self-organization. But it is hard to visit a forum while
playing – so the use is not simultaneous with playing the game (although
the forum can be opened in a window running in the background, with
players switching from the game to the forum). The voice chat is run by
external programs and is also organized by the players themselves.
Thus, the last two layers of communication are directly organized by
the gamers, the first and second layers mainly by the game software.
Layer by layer, the players evade the restrictions of the game more and
more, especially from the default graphics of the game environment. The
written chat is still provided by the software, but it can be switched off
and modified. The content in the written chat is set by the players even
though the game design intends the functional differentiation among the
channels. At the same time the ‘chatiquette’ (the norms of behaviour) is
controlled and enforced both by representatives of the game’s developers
and by players. On the other hand, the forums and guild homepages are
12
Christian Schmieder
JGVW_1.1_01_art_Schmieder 10/22/08 2:14 PM Page 12
private websites, with no control or censorship by Blizzard and usually no
financial connection to the enterprise.
9
But still, this layer is based on
visual signs. The gamers evade the power of the ‘masters of the game
environment’, but they do not evade the restrictions of non-simultaneous
written and quasi-non-simultaneous written communication, such as the
time differences between expressions and the prediction on icons.
However, the synchronic voice chat is freed from these constraints.
At the same time, by stepping through the layers, the players’ anonymity
decreases. The graphic game surface offers the highest level of anonymity:
the players steer their characters without sounds – or signs. Even a com-
puter could do that.
10
By using the written chat, players potentially reveal
information on what their first language is (or is not). For gaining access
to forums and guild homepages, a more solid form of identity is necessary:
the forums and homepages are usually only fully accessible to approved
guild members. Players have to sign up and enter an e-mail address; fur-
thermore, guilds often accept only players who are known by other guild
members. In many cases the players have to hand in an application; based
on the application the guild leaders decide whether or not to accept the
new player (see also Taylor 2007: 7).
The voice chat, finally, provides the lowest level of anonymity. The
players’ voices can be identified, providing information on age, sex, social
background, provenance and – especially in German – the dialectal region
they come from. But, even more, the players open a window into their
lives. Their microphones not only record their own voices, but also the
parent calling them to dinner, the three-year-old son on the player’s lap or
the drunk housemates barging into the room after midnight.
11
6. World of MaskCraft or World of QueerCraft?
In everyday life, sex and gender are typically identified through visual and
acoustic signals: appearance and voice. In the statistic ‘normal case’, these
signals are compatible. But as soon as someone looks ‘like a woman’ but
has a voice ‘like a man’, many people are disturbed. In World of Warcraft,
13
World of Maskcraft vs. World of Queercraft?
9. This does not mean
that these websites
are power-free spaces:
there is indeed
censorship by the
owners of the websites
and the guild/forum
members.
10. This happens from
time to time: players
program (and
sometimes sell) so-
called ‘bots’ that
move independently
through the game
environment.
However, this is
prohibited by the
game rules.
11. Or, as Bartle (2003)
points out: ‘Voice is
reality’. Yee (2007)
even suggests that
the use of voice chat
might change the
immersion into a
game. This might be
true for RPG servers,
but it is debateable for
non-RPG servers,
which are specially
designed for
players with lower
expectations
regarding role
playing.
Figure 1: The four layers of communication in World of Warcraft.
JGVW_1.1_01_art_Schmieder 10/22/08 2:14 PM Page 13
the visual and acoustic layers of communication also frame the percep-
tion of sex and gender. The visual stimulus shows a player whether other
game characters are female or male. The acoustic stimulus reveals
whether the other player is female or male. Thus, these two forms of
communication are crucial for the construction and attribution of sex
and gender. Of course, sex and gender can be communicated on every
layer of communication described above. In German, sex and gender can
be conveyed grammatically by word endings signifying, for example,
cases (e.g. nominative, accusative) and by personal pronouns. Obviously,
sex and gender are also conducted phonetically in voice chat communi-
cation, as in every form of language-based communication. But since
the impact of the voice is absent in the case of written language, gram-
matical tokens for sex and gender become far more influential than in
spoken language.
In World of Warcraft, not everybody looks ‘like a woman’ while talking
‘like a woman’. Visual and aural interpretations of sex and gender often do
not coincide.
12
As a result, the allocations of gender and sex can be spun
around in written communication. The following example is part of a dis-
cussion on a closed German guild forum.
13
Hello!
First of all, I agree with all the prior statements relating to [female name of a
female avatar A (female player)] and [neutral name of a female avatar B
(male player)]! They are good friends whatever people may say about them.
Yet there are situations in life when one has to leave the game behind in
order to evolve and find oneself !
As for you [neutral name of a female avatar C (male player)] You are a
really good [female] guild leader! I don't think there could be a better
[male/female] one than you at this point. I would also like to thank you for
leading us so well this far and hope that everything will continue so well.
This text is a reaction to the departure of two core team players, who quit
the game completely. Thereupon, the guild suffered personnel shortages in
raids, and the raids were less successful with two important players miss-
ing. Consequently, many players in the guild were dissatisfied with the
new situation. The guild leader (male, who played a female character)
advocated searching for new guild members, thereby re-establishing peace
within the guild. In this post, the author of the text thanks him for his
reaction.
Here, a commingling of the game character – the avatar – and the
gamer becomes grammatically obvious: the author mentions the com-
rade players, who to him are ‘good friends’. But he addresses them with
the names of their avatars. One could assume that the names of the
avatars become players’ nicknames. But more than that happens. Not
only are the names of the avatars used in the post, but so are their sexes.
References to sex, as well as the border between gamer and game, start to
blur. As shown above, the organizing of the guild is not part of the game
software itself – nonetheless the visually determined in-game sex is repre-
sented (because of the grammar) in the post: ‘You are a really good
14
Christian Schmieder
12. At this point it is not
my aim to answer the
question of why and
how players choose
their characters and
the gender; I am
primarily interested
in the communicative
results. For more
information on
reasons behind
character choice, see
Yee (2005, 2008a)
and MacCallum-
Stewart (2008: esp.
34–8).
13. The original text:
‘Hallo! Erstmal
schliesse ich mich den
ganzen Aussagen in
Sachen [Weiblicher
Name eines
weiblichen Avatars A
(weiblicher Spieler)]
und
[Geschlechtsneutraler
Name eines
weiblichen Avatars B
(männlicher Spieler)]
an! Sie sind gute
Freunde egal was
man ihnen anhängen
will. Jedoch gibt es
auch Phasen in einem
Menschen wo man
ein Spiel hinter sich
lassen muss damit
man weiter kommt
und zu sich selbst
finden kann!’ Zu dir
[Geschlechtsneutraler
Name eines
weiblichen Avatars C
(männlicher Spieler)]
Du bist einfach eine
sehr gute
Gildenleaderin! Ich
glaube es kann zur
Zeit keine/n besseren
geben! Möchte mich
auch noch bei dir
bedanken, dass du
uns bisher so gut
geleitet hast und hoffe
dass alles noch weiter
so gut laufen wird!’
(Grammar errors in
original post; the
translation has been
normalized;
translation: CS).
JGVW_1.1_01_art_Schmieder 10/22/08 4:25 PM Page 14
[female] guild leader!’ The male, who is the guild leader, is first addressed
as a female. But in the next proposition it becomes obvious that the author
addresses the guild leader as a hybrid of gamer and avatar, a hybrid of
male and female components: ‘I don’t think there could be a better
[male/female] one than you at this point.’ And yet, it is not the game char-
acter who leads the guild – it is the person behind this avatar. The game
character primarily exists in the game environment, manifested graphi-
cally. German grammar, in this case, seems to open a possibility of flexibly
handling gender allocations in a way that might look contradictory at first
glance. But a second look shows that an amalgamation, not a contradic-
tion, is the result of the described use of language.
This amalgamation makes the use of the term ‘player-avatar-hybrid’
apt in this context. As a player, I often noted amalgamations like these
myself. For instance, I might see a female avatar, but whenever I speak to
the player behind the avatar, I hear the answer in a male voice. Similarly, I
might address the male player with the female avatar’s name and that
player answers as a ‘real’ person, not as a game character. For example, I
might ask the male player of the avatar ‘Emelie’ how ‘her’ girlfriend is.
This also works the other way around. If I ask this player to heal my game
character (or even ‘me’), addressing him with his ‘real’ male name, this
results in an action by the female avatar.
This amalgamation itself stands behind an ever bigger context: the
amalgamation of virtual and non-virtual worlds. As Taylor (2007: 9–17)
shows, something is added to the online worlds in World of Warcraft: quan-
tification and effectiveness. As a mage, for example, I don’t convince my
guild members by playing my role persuasively – I convince by the damage
per second I can deal in a raid or by the equipment I wear (see also Taylor
2007: 14). Quantified game performance forcefully pushes into the quali-
tative, language-based fantasy world. Also the ‘blood elf incident’ suggests
that two horizons of expectations (hetero-normativity from outside the
game context vs. fantasy tradition from within the game context) are
openly clashing and being negotiated in World of Warcraft.
As I have shown above, the different layers of communication offer
different degrees of anonymity – with voice chat resulting in the lowest
levels of anonymity. Richard Bartle (2003) analyses sharply: ‘Adding real-
ity [by adding voice chat (cs)] to a virtual world robs it of what makes it
compelling – it takes away that which is different between virtual worlds
and the real world: the fact that they are not the real world’ (emphasis
in original). The gap between ‘offline’ and ‘online’ reality becomes narrower,
because the different communication modes make them blur. Consequently,
especially on non-RPG servers, the distinction between ‘virtual’ and ‘non-
virtual’ begins to melt.
14
This suggests, as a further consequence, that
players are not only constructing their ‘identities on the other side of
the looking glass’ (Turkle 1995: 177). They are simultaneously (re-)
constructing their identity in the ‘real’ world.
In such a setting, the relation between avatar and player – and between
the sexes – is not as simple as it might seem at first glance, and it goes
beyond the idea of simply ‘swapping’ or ‘bending’ gender while playing. A
male player does not just change his sex or gender by playing a female
game character; there might even be a constant change, a simultaneity
15
World of Maskcraft vs. World of Queercraft?
14. As the text analysed
above shows: not only
grammatically, but
also through its
content. It is not
made clear in the post
if the player leads the
guild, or the avatar, or
both.
JGVW_1.1_01_art_Schmieder 10/22/08 2:14 PM Page 15
between the ‘virtual’ and the ‘non-virtual’: constant gender flexing. This
amplifies the tendency of the category bundle sex/gender to logically dis-
solve: it is possible to communicate, using different and variable (tempo-
rary) grammatical markers for sex/gender at the same time. As a result, it
no longer matters which grammatical markers one uses, because the same
goal (e.g. to prompt an action by a game character) can be achieved with
each act of communication. While playing, the category bundle sex/gender
is no longer of communicative concern, because its markers can be
exchanged equivalently.
Being male and female at the same time does not imply (at least not in
the situation of playing) sexual preferences, nor does it suggest either
trans-sexuality or androgyny. It does not provoke questioning or the prob-
lematization of sex and gender. It is simply unproblematic that someone has
a female name and appearance, but speaks with a male voice. It is also
unproblematic to give a female avatar a male or neutral name (cf.
MacCallum-Stewart 2008: 35).
Attribution of sex/gender, as I have shown above, is exchangeable in
World of Warcraft – at least on certain layers of communication. The ques-
tion now is: what is the relation of this rather open acceptance of fuzzy or
non-existent genders to the everyday construction of sex and gender in the
‘real’ world? Does the ‘virtual’ world affect the ‘real’ world? If the border
between avatar and player can become indistinct, is there a possibility that
the ‘definite’ sex/gender of a gamer in the ‘normal’ world can also start to
blur? Or is the permanent switching of sex/gender markers only a mas-
querade? Put bluntly: does a communicational space for masquerade – a
‘World of MaskCraft’ – open up while playing? Or does a space open up in
which fixed attributions – formerly provided by the categories gender and
sex – become obsolete: a ‘World of QueerCraft’?
It is plausible that some players can toy with markers for sex and
gender more unreservedly (especially on the two middle layers of com-
munication); the more unambiguously mask-like representations of the
sexes are secured on the outer layers of communication. The exagger-
ated dimorphism on the visual layer of communication, and – even
more – the unambiguous assignment to a certain sex through the voice
recognition in voice chats could be used by players to constantly reas-
sure themselves and others about their ‘true’ sex/gender. This could
explain some of the homophobic reactions during the ‘blood elf inci-
dent’: the more androgynous blood elves had the potential to destabilize
the visual unambiguity. It could be possible that the practice of (visual
and acoustic) reassuring sex/gender identity is the very basis for being
able to engage with unreserved attributions of sex/gender. Taking
female or undefined roles could be compared with a temporary mas-
querade, comparable, for example, with male ballet performances in
German regional carnival events: the ‘guys’ from the soccer team can
wear make-up and tutus because they demonstrate their masculinity
through their ‘masculine’ hobby and the appearance as a male sports
group.
Do markers for sex/gender (like voice and appearance) have to be defi-
nite and secured on some layers of communication to initially allow play-
ers to toy with them on other layers of communication? Can players only
16
Christian Schmieder
JGVW_1.1_01_art_Schmieder 10/22/08 2:14 PM Page 16
toy with attributions of sex and gender because they know what they
know about sex/gender – and not because they forget what they knew?
The web consisting of communication, game and players is not woven
that simply. It became apparent earlier that the visualization of the sexes is
very bipolar; I have addressed the fact that players judge this exaggeration
with different concepts of normality. They can hold similar views on the
appearance of the characters – although arriving at these views through
different reasons and expectations as well as with different arguments.
Alongside expectations of variance with the mainstream fantasy tradition,
an acceptance seems to develop – and, as seen in the example of the ‘blood
elf incident’, a certain expectation of androgyny and variable sexes beyond
strict bipolarity can emerge. As I have mentioned above, this openness
does not automatically have to come with an openness towards variations
of sex in the ‘real’ world. But this, in my opinion, is not the point at issue.
The bottom line is that within the game a space emerges, in which sex and
gender can be variable. Players can explore this space and participate in
forming it; this can be experienced in Teamspeak chats, on guild forums
and on websites. As I have mentioned before, my analysis is based on the
communication in non-RPG worlds, so these explorations mainly affect
communication between players – and not social actions like in-game rela-
tionships, that are built up more frequently on RPG servers. However, it
would be most interesting to examine whether the shown use of language
changes virtual gender on RPG servers.
15
The genesis of this space is tightly connected to the features of the dif-
ferent layers of communication – and the fact of their simultaneous co-
existence. Gamers use different channels of communication that offer
them different degrees of communicative freedom and anonymity. By
doing so, they open up different possibilities of communicating sex/gender
and of portraying themselves as player-avatar hybrids. Consequently,
players are confronted with a great deal of inconsistency and variability.
Being undefined, therefore, is, as well as the hyper-definition of the game
characters, part of the everyday game experience – and becomes normal.
In this context, in particular, the following questions should be answered
in further research, based on focused observance and recordings of
gamers’ conversations: is masculine demeanour constructed in certain
contexts of communication? How is this done? Is masculine (or feminine)
demeanour constructed differently when toying with flexible concepts of
sex/gender? How and when exactly can markers for sex/gender become
obsolete? Which communicative and technical framework requirements
have to exist? When and why can this fail?
It is important to mention that not all players use gender-indifferent
speech, and also that it cannot be found in all game situations. But this is
exactly what makes the communication interesting: (grammatical) markers
for sex/gender in communication in World of Warcraft are in most cases not
mixed up or flexible. But if they happen to be fuzzy, no problems arise in
the communication between the players.
This is precisely the reason why the dissolving of gender is no masquer-
ade. When wearing the mask of a different sex – for example in certain
forms of transvestitism – certain concepts of sex are ruptured in order to
make them visible, to challenge them, to discuss them. In World of
17
World of Maskcraft vs. World of Queercraft?
15. In addition to that it
would be worth
scrutinizing if and
how interaction with
non-player characters
(NPCs) changes. This
facet is left out
because my article
concentrates on com-
munication between
players.
JGVW_1.1_01_art_Schmieder 10/22/08 2:14 PM Page 17
Warcraft, however, the diversity of concepts of sex/gender can be inte-
grated without disruption. The virtual ‘gender troubling’ goes without
saying, it happens invisibly and without being questioned. Therefore, the
‘queerness’ in the playing of World of Warcraft is not a conscious, intellec-
tually and theoretically supported process – like the deconstruction of
sex/gender in the academic queer school of thought. It is more of a side
effect of the game, which evolves from the co-existence of the different lay-
ers of communication.
16
The category bundle sex/gender is dissolved by
the friction generated by the constantly moving borders between player
and avatar – and between acoustically, visually and grammatically derived
information on sex/gender.
Because the dissolution of gender categories is a side effect of the game,
no space free from connotations for queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual or trans-
gender gamers is automatically created. Still, queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual
or transgender players can be confronted with prejudices, hatred and
taunts when playing. But still a space opens, in which otherwise discrimi-
nated against constructions of self are less questioned. The variable spaces
for playing and communicating in online games like World of Warcraft can,
therefore, habituate the hetero-normative parts of society to diversity and
variation. Online worlds might, in the long run, even provide support in
reducing prejudices and in living in and with variable concepts of sex/
gender in the offline world.
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Christian Schmieder
16. An additional
catalysing factor for
linguistic change
could be the
functional
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the sexes in the game.
Put bluntly: it might
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to exist a certain
amount of inequality
constantly within the
game environment.
And if the game
mechanics equalizes
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19
World of Maskcraft vs. World of Queercraft?
the sexes, then the
inequality has to be
restored by exaggerat-
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be interesting to
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abilities of the
characters, games
that do not provide
functional equality
like World of Warcraft.
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World of Warcraft see
also Corneliussen
2008).
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Suggested citation
Schmieder, C. (2009), ‘World of Maskcraft vs. World of Queercraft? Communication,
sex and gender in the online role-playing game World of Warcraft’, Journal of
Gaming and Virtual Worlds 1: 1, pp. 5–21, doi: 10.1386/jgvw.1.1.5/1
20
Christian Schmieder
JGVW_1.1_01_art_Schmieder 10/22/08 2:14 PM Page 20
Contributor details
Before starting to write his Magister thesis, Christian Schmieder spent many nights
exploring Azeroth – the universe of World of Warcraft. Currently, he is a graduate stu-
dent (Sociology and Linguistics) at Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg (Germany).
He worked as a native speaker/teaching assistant in the German Department at
Colgate University, NY (2006–7) and is at present a teaching/research assistant at
Freiburg University’s Department of Sociology.
Contact: Am Kirchacker 18; 79115 Freiburg.
E-mail: ChristianSchmieder@gmx.de
21
World of Maskcraft vs. World of Queercraft?
JGVW_1.1_01_art_Schmieder 10/22/08 2:14 PM Page 21
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o]d[ge]lgafl]dd][l
JGVW_1.1_01_art_Schmieder 11/25/08 6:33 PM Page 22
Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds Volume 1 Number 1 © 2009 Intellect Ltd
Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/jgvw.1.1.23/1
‘Doing there’ vs. ‘being there’:
performing presence in interactive
fiction
Alf Seegert University of Utah (USA)
1
Abstract
The ability of computers to produce ‘presence’ – the visceral feeling of actually
‘being there’ – is typically associated with the presentation of intensive graphical
effects. But studies on presence indicate that what players are able to ‘do’ in fact
contributes more to their sense of presence than graphical realism. Keeping this in
mind, I explore possibilities for ‘performing’ presence in digital narratives, partic-
ularly through the non-graphical digital medium of interactive fiction. I draw
from critical theorists (Barthes, Iser and especially Gumbrecht) as well as theo-
rists of new media (Aarseth, Ryan, Montfort) to frame an investigation into two
major aspects of presence production in interactive fiction, namely: 1) how inter-
active fiction generates presence through the exclusive use of verbal signifiers
rather than graphical images, and 2) how it allows users to generate presence
themselves through their own actions. I conclude by examining three works of
interactive fiction: Adventure, All Roads and Luminous Horizon (Crowther
and Woods 1975–6; Ingold 2006; O’Brian 2004).
Introduction
On East Bank of Fissure
You are on the east bank of a fissure slicing clear across the hall. The mist is
quite thick here, and the fissure is too wide to jump.
>WAVE ROD
A crystal bridge now spans the fissure.
– Computer narration and typed player response from
Adventure (Crowther and Woods 1975–6)
If one considers digital methods used for producing presence – that is, for
generating the visceral sense of ‘being there’ – then visual imagery and
aural effects are likely to top the list: temporally warped bullet-time battles
in The Matrix trilogy; the THX-powered crash of lightsabers; the empathy-
evoking CGI images of WALL·E or the ping of bullets ricocheting down
smoothly scrolling three-dimensional corridors in the latest first person
shooter. Such computer-generated graphics and sound effects confront
our immediate awareness by directly impinging upon – or overloading –
our faculties of sight and hearing, sensually inducing awe and wonder by
23 JGVW 1 (1) pp. 23–37 © Intellect Ltd 2009
1. The author would like
to thank Professors
Joe Metz, Lance Olsen
and Cassandra Van
Buren at the
University of Utah
for their feedback
on this topic and
contributions to this
paper. Thanks also
go to Natasha Seegert,
Paul Hartzog,
Jason Cook, and Trent
Levesque for their
comments.
Keywords
presence
interactive fiction
hyperfiction
digital narrative
JGVW_1.1_02_art_Seegert 11/10/08 1:36 PM Page 23
shoving us face first toward the brink of a newfound technological sub-
lime. Because digital effects are so good at producing presence, for many
virtual reality (VR) researchers, the explicit goal of VR simulation is to
evoke presence by immersing participants in visual imagery and sound,
usually provided through a graphical heads-up display and headphones in
a helmet worn by the participant.
2
But this one-directional ‘transmitter/
receiver’ characterization of presence – like the attempt at realistic repre-
sentation in the examples above – is only part of the story. Despite ever
increasing computer power and the ability to generate real-time graphical
images with greater and greater verisimilitude, there has been a recent
trend in VR research towards not just improving the realism of virtual
simulations, but in exploring the degree to which users are in fact respon-
sible for generating presence through their interactions in simulated
worlds. For instance, note the active presence-producing role of the partic-
ipant in this excerpt from ‘Elements of a multi-level theory of presence’
from the proceedings of Presence 2002:
Although some authors argue strongly for a realism-based conception of
presence (e.g. Solomon 2002), this limits presence (at least with the current
state of technology) to a mainly passive perception. The approach taken in
VR is clearly based on interaction, yet with a usually low level of perceptual
realism (high-end flight simulation systems perhaps being the exception). It
is interesting to note that both non-interactive, photorealistic displays, as
well as interactive, nonrealistic displays are able to engender substantial
levels of presence, where interactivity appears to be the more important fac-
tor of the two.
(IJsselsteijn 2002: 247)
The author (citing Heidegger) goes so far as to conclude at the end of the
article that ‘presence is tantamount to successfully supported action in the
environment. Being there thus becomes the ability to do there’ (IJsselsteijn
2002: 251). In virtual spaces, presence is thus performed and not just pas-
sively experienced – and probably not just in virtual spaces.
3
Interaction is
thus a mode of revealing, a way of allowing the world to ‘present’ itself.
Although VR researchers still focus on the use of headsets, data-gloves and
motion-trackers to improve capacities for physically driven action in a
graphical virtual medium, their striking conclusions about the immersive
power of interaction and agency make me question to what degree graph-
ical realism is needed (if it is needed at all) in order to generate presence in
digital media. As a result, I want to explore how presence might be pro-
duced in a particular mode of computer-mediated simulation that is highly
interactive but which does literally nothing to attempt graphical realism,
namely interactive fiction (IF).
4
Interactive fiction, presence and performance
‘IF’ is a fitting acronym for interactive fiction, for IF is ideally all about
possibility – the realm of ‘what if ?’ Embodying such possibility, however,
the very term ‘interactive fiction’ is only one of many possible names for
(or versions of) the recent hybridization of textuality with computer tech-
nology. ‘Interactive narrative’ and ‘digital narrative’ exist alongside the
24
Alf Seegert
2. I should note that
some theorists make
a crucial distinction
between the terms
immersion and
presence, citing the
fact that immersion
denotes ‘being in’
whereas presence
suggests ‘being
before’. Because
immersion and
presence are both
senses of ‘being there’
and my primary
concern here is
with the connection
between ‘doing there’
and the sense of
‘being there’, I do
not find it necessary
to make sharp
distinctions between
immersion and
presence in this
discussion.
3. As Montessori
suggests in The
Discovery of the Child,
for a child, an object
only comes
alive when it is
encountered and
actively engaged – or
played with. ‘A very
beautiful toy, an
attractive picture, a
wonderful story, can,
without doubt, rouse
a child’s interest, but
if he may simply look
at, or listen to, or
touch an object, but
dares not move it, his
interest will be super-
ficial and will pass
from object to object’
(Montessori 1962).
Wittgenstein similarly
points out that
children learn about
books and chairs not
by being told about
them but by reading
books and sitting in
chairs (1972: par.
476).
4. My performance-
based approach to
VR in this paper finds
parallels in Hansen’s
Bodies in Code:
Interfaces With Digital
Media (2006). Hansen
argues that ‘motor
JGVW_1.1_02_art_Seegert 11/10/08 1:36 PM Page 24
more canonical ‘hypertext fiction’ or ‘hyperfiction.’ Whereas hyperfiction
requires that users click on links to connect to discrete chunks of texts in
a seemingly endless, multi-linear narrative, IF in contrast accepts typed,
natural language input, which is analysed and responded to by a com-
puterized narrator. But even with these distinctions in place, defining IF
remains problematic because so many possible approaches to the medium
exist.
5
In any case, the incunabular nature of IF and its unsettling fusion
of program, potential narrative, world and game (Montfort 2003a) has resulted
in plenty of debate over how to classify it and too little discussion about
what powers IF might still possess, however hard it might be to classify.
6
For this reason, I will forego the apologetics and polemics that tend to
characterize discussions of IF by focusing not on what IF is (or what it
‘might be’), but rather on what it does, specifically its generation of
presence effects.
As Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht points out in Production of Presence: What
Meaning Cannot Convey (2004), the word ‘presence’ refers primarily to a
‘spatial relationship to the world and its objects’, a relationship in which
the ‘present’ is what is ‘tangible’ to bodies (Gumbrecht 2004: xiii). For
Gumbrecht, the ‘production of presence’ is a corporeal phenomenon
involving ‘all kinds of events and processes in which the impact that “pre-
sent” objects have on human bodies is being initiated or intensified’
(Gumbrecht 2004: xiii). Throughout his book, Gumbrecht provides exam-
ples of how, especially in the academy, ‘meaning’ – the domain of interpre-
tation and conceptualization – has very nearly displaced presence, both as
a mode for approaching texts and as an object of study in itself. His aim is
not to destroy meaning but to dethrone it, to return presence to equal
status with meaning as its counterpart in an ongoing oscillation between
‘meaning effects’ and ‘presence effects’ in an individual’s experience
(Gumbrecht 2004: 116). Gumbrecht focuses on the sensory impressions
that impinge on one’s body from the ‘materialities of communication’
(Gumbrecht 2004: 8) found in all modes of signification, e.g. the sonic
‘substance’ of a poem or the visual impression created by the particular
shape and flow of script on a page. When considering the possibilities for
producing presence through new media, Gumbrecht emphasizes how the
‘special effects’ that such media provide can generate presence effects
through their visceral power. However, his attention to such ‘materialities
of communication’ privileges media as the exclusive source of presence
effects in mediated interactions, making the production of presence a one-
directional affair. As a result, Gumbrecht fails to articulate how a meaning-
based response to a literary text, for example, might itself generate presence
effects through a reader’s emotive response to that text.
7
Presence effects
might likewise be produced when an interactor responds to a text by mak-
ing textual impressions of his or her own.
8
Even in the absence of visual
stimulation – other than that of deliberately arranged traces of ink on
paper (or alphabetic characters on a screen) – a reader can, through imag-
ination, conjure up worlds potentially as vivid and as body affecting as the
visual and aural effects presented through a multi-media entertainment
system.
The potential of the imagination for producing presence is precisely
how IF made its first claim to fame. When the personal computer first
25
‘Doing there’ vs. ‘being there’
activity – not
representationalist
verisimilitude – holds
the key to fluid and
functional crossings
between virtual and
physical realms’
(Hansen 2006: 2).
Although I agree that
an interactor’s perfor-
mance is crucial to
presence production
in VR, to constrain
‘performance’ to
embodied motor
activity seems
needlessly narrow to
me. Interactive fiction
might consequently
make a useful test
case in exploring
broader possibilities
for what counts as
‘performance’ (or,
indeed, embodiment)
in the first place.
5. Wikipedia’s computer
programming-
informed entry
describes IF as
‘Software containing
simulated
environments in
which players use text
commands to control
characters and
perform actions’
(Wikipedia, the Free
Encyclopedia 2008).
Game design theorists
in contrast character-
ize IF in terms of its
ludic qualities and
identify it with the
‘text adventure game’
in which players type
in commands to
manipulate objects
and solve logical
puzzles. A definition
of IF from the
standpoint of literary
theory (my own
attempt) might in
turn be, ‘a potential
narrative in which
text contributed by
an interactor triggers
the output of text
by a narrator in a
simulated story-space
represented by text on
a computer screen’.
As one can see, the
combination of
multiple elements in a
JGVW_1.1_02_art_Seegert 11/10/08 1:36 PM Page 25
became popular in the early 1980s, video game graphics remained
blocky and slow to render – especially in three dimensions – offering little
potential in the way of realistic representation. The software company
Infocom, however, decided to spin this processor-based liability into a
veritable asset with advertisements like this one, which argued for an
almost alchemical potency in combining words, imagination and com-
puter power:
26
Alf Seegert
single medium –
simulation, narrative,
gameplay and text
acceptance/genera-
tion – makes IF hard
to pin down (Montfort
2003a).
6. In defiance of these
multiform attempts to
define the medium of
IF, cyber critics such
as Aarseth refuse
to accept IF as a cate-
gory at all, putting
their own nuanced
terms in its place. (In
his book, Cybertext,
Aarseth uses the term
‘ergodic literature’ to
designate interactive,
mechanized works
that require ‘non-
trivial labor’ [Aarseth
1997: 1] to traverse.)
Such dismissals of IF
are actually often the
norm rather than
the exception. For
example, in The End
of Books – Or Books
Without End? (Douglas
2000) hypermedia
critic Douglas
dispenses with IF
(for her, ‘digital narra-
tives’) in a single
sentence without any
further discussion:
‘Digital narratives
primarily follow the
trajectory of Adventure,
a work considered
venerable only by
the techies who first
played it in the
1970s, cybergaming
geeks, and the
writers, theorists, and
practitioners who deal
with interactivity’
(Douglas 2000: 6).
She contends that, in
contrast, hypertext
fiction ‘follows
and furthers the
trajectory of hallowed
touchstones of print
culture, especially the
avant-garde novel’
(Douglas 2000: 7).
More oddly, in the
otherwise insightful
article ‘How
interactive can fiction
be?’, Chaouli (2005)
neglects to address IF
Figure 1: 1983 Analog magazine advertisement from Infocom, the dominant
producer of software text adventure games in the 1980s (Infocom).
WE STICK OUR GRAPHICS WHERE THE SUN DON’T SHINE.
You’ll never see Infocom’s graphics on any computer screen. Because
there’s never been a computer built by man that could handle the images
we produce. And, there never will be. We draw our graphics from the limitless
imagery of your imagination – a technology so powerful, it makes any
picture that’s ever come out of a screen look like graffiti by comparison. …
Through our prose, your imagination makes you part of our stories, in
control of what you do and where you go – yet unable to predict or control
the course of events. …[Y]ou’re immersed in rich environments alive with
personalities as real as any you’ll meet in the flesh – yet all the more vivid
because they’re perceived directly by your mind’s eye, not through your
external senses.
(Infocom n.d.)
However overblown Infocom’s estimation of IF’s powers might be here,
their claims that ‘we draw our graphics from the limitless imagery of your
imagination’ and ‘your imagination makes you part of our stories’ are
worth noting because they emphasize the receiver’s role in producing
presence. Simply put, their claim is that even though presence in IF is
JGVW_1.1_02_art_Seegert 11/10/08 1:36 PM Page 26
mediated by the computer, it is only actively evoked through the reader’s
imaginative response to a text – instead of being stimulated directly
through sensation with graphical imagery, as we typically expect from
high-powered computers today.
9
In contrast (and however clichéd the
term might have become), Infocom’s use of the metaphor ‘the mind’s eye’
is revealing for it implies a mode of seeing (sense perception) that depends
on cognitive faculties (conception and imagination) – a mingling of pres-
ence with meaning. In fact, presence effects in IF depend entirely on
meaning effects because the reader’s imaginative response is triggered by
signs and not just percepts.
If IF’s stress on the role of the reader in producing presence sounds
suspiciously similar to literary theories of reader-response (or reception
theory), that’s because IF adopts precisely the same premises (consciously
or not). Note the similarities in Infocom’s sales pitch, above, to this passage
from reception theorist Wolfgang Iser:
…in considering a literary work, one must take into account not only the
actual text but also, and in equal measure, the actions involved in respond-
ing to that text. …The convergence of text and reader brings the literary
work into existence.
(Iser 1980: 50)
Equally important to IF and to Iser is not just the active role of the recipi-
ent, but the specifically relational manner in which literary worlds (or
‘works’) are brought into being. For Iser, the literary work is neither (as
the New Critics would have it) an object consisting of marks on a page, nor
is it (as Stanley Fish argues [1980: 70]) ‘in the reader’. Instead, the work
manifests itself in a virtual space between text and reader, dependent upon
both but localizable in neither. Iser’s sense of ‘virtual space’ is one actively
evoked through the reader’s imagination rather than one stimulated
merely through the senses, a creative ‘picturing’ rather than a passive
‘seeing’. Upon encountering the linear, written text through time, the
reader oscillates between retrospection and anticipation, all the while ‘fill-
ing in the gaps’ to make the work coherent. The author, by carefully ‘pre-
structuring’ potential meanings in the text, can evoke effects of surprise or
exasperation with skilful omissions (and commissions), either confirming
a reader’s expectations or subverting them. This active ‘filling-in’ by the
reader (usually performed unconsciously) engages the reader creatively,
and for Iser such engagement is critical to literature’s appeal because
‘reading is only a pleasure when it is active and creative’ (Iser 1980: 51).
According to Iser, if the reader were ‘given the full story’ (presuming that
to be possible), imagination would need never enter into play, and the
reader would lose interest, being left with nothing to do (Iser 1980: 51).
The reader consequently finds herself in a ‘field of play’, bounded on one
side by the potential for boredom (the result of too little creative engage-
ment being required) and overstrain on the other (which results from a
demand for too much creative work).
In this view, even if a ‘text’ might be granted objective existence, the lit-
erary work is always already ‘virtual’ and the reader ‘interactive’ – two
major buzzwords in digital media. Keeping the production of presence
27
‘Doing there’ vs. ‘being there’
at all, even though his
criticisms of hypertext
fiction focus on the
(ironic) narrative
limitations of having
to ‘follow links’
predetermined by
the author – when IF
offers a far more
‘writerly’ alternative
by allowing full-
sentence, typed input
by an interactor. The
only academic, book-
length discussion
of IF so far in print,
Montfort’s Twisty
Little Passages: An
Approach to Interactive
Fiction (2003b), is
(for obvious reasons)
apologetic in tone,
and spends a great
deal of time justifying
the worth of IF by
linking it to the vener-
able literary heritage
of the Anglo-Saxon
riddle. Thus Douglas
and Montfort, though
in opposed camps,
both appear to
invoke the alleged
inheritance of ‘legiti-
mate’ historical forms
to evaluate the worth
of new media, which
risks constraining
new media to old
paradigms, a path
that Aarseth neatly
sidesteps by proposing
entirely new criteria.
7. In a few passages
from Production of
Presence, Gumbrecht
does seem to suggest
that a reader plays
some role as producer
of presence effects
(e.g., in one passage
he mentions mental
‘investment’ made
by the recipient of
aesthetic experience
[Gumbrecht 2004:
101] and in another
how a particular text
‘makes the reader
intuit’ particular
emotional experiences
of a character
[Gumbrecht 2004:
97]) but the precise
role that the recipient
plays in presence
JGVW_1.1_02_art_Seegert 11/10/08 1:36 PM Page 27
foremost in mind, one is then led to ask what, if anything, distinguishes
the virtual worlds of interactive fiction from the virtual worlds presented
by ‘traditional’ texts.
10
Most IF theorists are aware, however, that even
‘traditional texts’ require interaction in order to be made ‘present’. Instead
of characterizing a traditional reader as one who ‘dutifully trudges the linear
track prescribed by the author’, Nick Montfort in Toward a Theory of
Interactive Fiction (2003a), for example, recognizes that
a reading of a book may involve browsing it in a bookstore, reading in short
bursts in different places, skipping ahead to see if it gets any better at the
end, looking through bits in the middle to then figure out what happened,
and giving up without actually reading everything…readings may not be in
sequence and may not be total.
(Montfort 2003a)
That being said, there is a crucial difference between the kind of interac-
tivity that occurs in IF and the reader-interactivity encountered in tradi-
tional texts. When Roland Barthes (like Iser) argues that the reader is an
active participant in the construction of the literary work (1974: 4) –
namely, as the ‘writerly reader’ – he is not speaking literally. To be sure,
the engaged reader leaves his/her mark on the text, but such inscription
occurs only in the imagination: the term ‘writerly’ is a metaphor. But in IF,
the reader responds to a given text by literally leaving his or her mark on
the screen in typed strings of alphabetic text: the computer screen becomes
a digital palimpsest.
This ‘writerly’ mode of interactivity in IF creates distinctive possibilities
for producing presence.
11
Crucially, IF replies to an interactor’s typed input
by disclosing a new string of signifiers that are unveiled only after a specific
contribution is made by the interactor. The latent, multiple potentialities of
the text in interactive fiction therefore exist not just on the level of the sig-
nified, but in the visible signifier as well. Marie-Laure Ryan clarifies this
important distinction in Narrative as Virtual Reality: ‘Whereas the reader of
a standard print text constructs personalized interpretations out of an
invariant semiotic base, the reader of an interactive text …participates in
the construction of the text as a visible display of signs’ (Ryan 2001: 6).
This method of text construction itself generates a presence effect. As
Espen Aarseth explains in Cybertext, interactive narratives differ critically
from traditional narratives because they constantly remind the reader of
‘inaccessible strategies and paths not taken, voices not heard. Each deci-
sion will make some parts of the text more, and others less, accessible, and
you may never know the exact results of your choices; that is, exactly
what you missed’ (Aarseth 1997: 3). The typed response of the reader
reveals both a new visible text and a new evoked work of the imagination
along with it; at the same time, the reader’s typed response closes off other
possible alternative texts, which – unless the game is re-played from the
beginning – will never be uncovered. By taking one path, you abandon
another, and an interesting effect of these choices is the nagging sense of
‘what if ?’ – What if I had made another decision? What would have happened?
The very absence of signification (the text that remains undisclosed to the
interactor because of his or her choices) thus creates a presence effect of
28
Alf Seegert
production is not
clearly articulated.
The overall tenor of
the book emphasizes
a ‘transmitter/
receiver’ model of
presence production
in which presence
is produced by a
medium of transmis-
sion (one of the
‘materialities of com-
munication’) rather
than by the receiver.
Note, for example, the
language Gumbrecht
uses to characterize
his classroom
teaching: ‘My first
more personal
concern for this class
was to be a good
enough teacher to
evoke for my students
and to make them
feel specific moments
of intensity that
I remember with
nostalgia’ (Gumbrecht
2004: 97). The
phrases ‘evoke for my
students’, ‘make them
feel’ and ‘intensity
that I remember’
all emphasize how
presence is produced
by the teacher, not
the student.
8. Gumbrecht might at
first seem to embrace
the idea of generating
presence through
one’s actions when
he cites Gadamer’s
notion of ‘truth in
performance’
(Gumbrecht 2004:
64). However, he uses
Gadamer’s example
to emphasize not
interaction, but what
he calls ‘materialities
of communication’,
the sound of words in
a poem, for instance,
that can only be
experienced by
hearing the poem
performed aloud.
Through performance,
the sonic ‘substance’
of the poem impinges
on the senses with
presence effects and
not just meaning
effects, but this is still
JGVW_1.1_02_art_Seegert 11/10/08 1:36 PM Page 28
felt uncertainty, curiosity and possibly anxiety. A traditional text may
indeed be, as Barthes argues in S/Z, a ‘galaxy of signifiers’ (Barthes 1974:
5), but in IF these signifiers are not pre-revealed or determinately bounded
by the covers of a book. They reveal themselves only through active explo-
ration by contributing signifiers of one’s own (i.e. typed input).
Performing presence in Adventure, All Roads
and Luminous Horizon
So far, this discussion of IF has remained highly theoretical. To make IF
more ‘present’, we need to look at some concrete examples of IF and exam-
ine how it actually works on the screen and at the keyboard. The earliest
example of IF, Adventure, was a text adventure game designed in 1975 by
Will Crowther and later expanded by Don Woods.
12
Adventure was a land-
mark in computer simulation because it allowed users to navigate and
interact with a textually represented world for the first time using natural
language. The interactor was addressed in the second person and given a
description of his or her current location in the game world, along with a
list of objects available for picking up or manipulating. The interactor was
then given a cursor prompt (‘>’) allowing him to interact by typing in sim-
ple commands in English. The parser (the ‘decoding’ algorithm that analy-
ses a string of text entered by the interactor) was extremely simple, and
only allowed up to two-word inputs in the format of VERB NOUN, for
instance, ‘GET BOTTLE’, ‘OPEN GRATE’ or ‘GO NORTH’ (which could be
abbreviated to ‘N’). By typing in appropriate, context-dependent com-
mands, players could solve puzzles and thereby overcome obstacles to their
progress. For example, in one section of a colossal cave the nameless
adventurer encounters a fissure ‘too wide to jump’ – no further progress
can be made in that direction. In another room he discovers a ‘three foot
black rod with a rusty star on one end’. Although the purpose of the rod is
initially unclear, the predicament of the fissure suggests particular uses
that might be made of it:
>W
On East Bank of Fissure
You are on the east bank of a fissure slicing clear across the hall. The mist is
quite thick here, and the fissure is too wide to jump.
>W
The fissure is too wide.
>WAVE ROD
A crystal bridge now spans the fissure.
>W
West Side of Fissure
You are on the west side of the fissure in the hall of mists.
A crystal bridge now spans the fissure.
There are diamonds here!
(Crowther and Woods 1975–6)
29
‘Doing there’ vs. ‘being there’
a one-directional
phenomenon.
9. Although theorists
like Douglas dismiss
IF as technologically
out of date and hence
of little interest,
defenders of IF like
Nelson contend that it
makes little sense to
argue that text-based
games are outmoded
just because comput-
ers twenty years later
have graphical effects
capable of producing
near-realism in high
resolution 3D. Such a
stance would be like
saying that because
of the advent of televi-
sion and film nobody
should read books
anymore.
10. For a detailed
discussion of how all
narratives function as
virtual and potentially
immersive spaces, see
Ryan 2001.
11. A collaborative
gesture towards devel-
oping ‘writer response
theory’ (WRT) can be
explored at
http://writerresponset
heory.org (accessed
20 August 2008).
The WRT website
characterizes itself as
‘a blogging collective
dedicated to the
discussion and
exploration of digital
character art –
any art involving
electrons and making
use of letters,
alphanumerics, or
other characters in an
interesting way. Our
primary focus is on
active and interactive
works, in which users
input text and receive
textual responses as
output.’
12. For detailed accounts
of the origin and
development of
Adventure, see Nelson
(1995), Montfort
(2003b: 85-93), and
JGVW_1.1_02_art_Seegert 11/10/08 1:36 PM Page 29
Even in a game as simple as Adventure, the responsiveness of the world to
one’s own actions is satisfying because the ratio of known to unknown
information is (generally) well-balanced. In a fantasy world, a discovered
black rod with a rusty star at the top suggests magical power, but it isn’t
until one tries to use it at the chasm that it does anything; the combina-
tion of the mysterious object with an impassible gorge itself provides the
clue of what to do. The fact that waving the rod creates a magical bridge
that remains in place for the rest of the game provides the interactor with
a sense of achievement, of successfully ‘leaving his/her mark’ on the tex-
tual landscape. The text has been both altered and opened up to further
enquiry by the player’s actions. More important, however, is the presence
effect achieved by what VR researchers call ‘supported action in the envi-
ronment’ (quoted in IJsselsteijn 2002: 251). In this example from
Adventure, rather than depending on aural or visual ‘special effects’, the
impression of tangibility is achieved solely through an object’s textually
represented responsiveness to player input. Because one of Gumbrecht’s
major concerns is how alternative worlds (for him, ‘worlds of the past’)
can be made ‘tangible’ (Gumbrecht 2004: 94), an example like this one is
crucial because of its purely performative character. The actions of the
user here are as critical as the materiality of communication for produc-
ing presence. When the text registers a player’s interactions by unveiling
new signifiers representing an altered landscape, a sense of immersion
can be produced.
But in the case of Adventure, just barely. Adventure is now notable as
much for its limitations as for its breakthroughs. As a text adventure it
succeeds in offering spatial exploration and puzzle solving galore, but little
else.
13
And despite the primitive presence effects Adventure generates by
responding to player input, its use of text is not exactly literary. The ‘plot’
(if one is willing to call it that) is narratively static, with no development
apart from the fulfilment of a treasure hunt (a simplistic ‘quest narrative’
at best) – or the adventurer’s dying or giving up in the process. In any case,
puzzle solving does not serve to develop any sort of ‘story’. Characterization
is similarly thin: the adventurer himself is just a cipher, a conflation of
player character with human interactor, not a legitimate fictional persona
in its own right. In contrast, most current works of IF clearly distinguish
three different parties (at least) that allow for the ‘fiction’ in IF to maintain
a genuinely narrative frame. This triad of relations involves the interactor
(you at the keyboard), the player character(s) in the story (the narrative
persona[e] you control, referred to as the second person ‘you’) and the nar-
rator. In paradigmatic IF, the computer-controlled narrator discloses a
string of text to the human interactor providing a description about the sit-
uation of the fictional player character. You, the interactor at the keyboard,
are called to respond at the cursor prompt.
14
In many ways, Adventure is a lesson in how IF can fail as fiction, and
how it can consequently be unsuccessful at generating narrative presence
effects – particularly those of affect. But more recent works have changed
the narrative terrain of IF radically. Ever since Infocom crashed in the late
1980s with several dozen high-quality titles under its belt including the
Zork series and the critically acclaimed Trinity and A Mind Forever Voyaging,
IF has been commercially unviable (and looks to remain that way). But
30
Alf Seegert
The Colossal Cave
Adventure (n.d.).
13. A major problem was
Adventure’s interface.
The limited two-word
parser and the
common ‘I don’t
understand that verb’
responses often
resulted more in frus-
tration than epiphany.
Strains on interaction
spell certain death for
immersion, and a
clunky interface can
take attention away
from the story and
place it instead on
the interface. For
IF to succeed as a
believable fiction, it
must not feel like
one is ‘controlling’ a
character from the
outside, by proxy
(Chaouli [2005] simi-
larly points out that
violation of fictive
space in hypertext
makes the fiction
begin to ‘come
apart’). Instead,
through habit, the
interface should
ideally disappear as
‘equipment’ – to
use Heidegger’s
expression (1977:
164) – and one will
readily identify with
the player character
and inhabit the story
vicariously through
that persona.
14. Hyperfiction, in
contrast, characteris-
tically invokes only
two parties: the
narrator and the
interactor. Although
hyperfictions are fully
capable of represent-
ing multiple points of
view (for example,
see 10:01 by Olsen
and Guthrie) they
typically do not have
the interactor inhabit
such narrative
personae ‘within the
story’. This is the
main reason why, in a
paper focused on
producing presence
through interaction
JGVW_1.1_02_art_Seegert 11/10/08 1:36 PM Page 30
from the mid 1990s to the present, a cadre of computer programmers,
hobbyists and creative writers have continued to design works of IF –
almost all available for free online – motivated in some part by several
design competitions held yearly. The winner of the 2001 interactive fiction
competition was All Roads by Jon Ingold (2006). Described by one reviewer
as a ‘supernatural espionage thriller set in a quasi-medieval Venice’ (Baf ’s
Guide to the IF Archive n.d.), All Roads is worth looking at closely because
it provides examples of the potential presence effects IF might evoke as
fiction – how IF can transcend Graham Nelson’s half-serious characteriza-
tion of it as ‘a narrative at war with a crossword’ (Nelson 1995).
15
Like Adventure, All Roads permits spatial navigation through the entry of
simple compass directions and requires the solving of certain puzzles to
advance the narration. But that’s where the similarities end.
16
On the inter-
actor side of things, the parser is extremely versatile and well developed,
and can accept full-sentence input – reducing frustration and conserving
immersive momentum. The narration has equally improved, with much
richer descriptions like this example from near the beginning of the story:
You stumble.
Empty Room
The light is dimmer here, the stones are cold. You are in a wide room, Gothic arches
rising rib-like to the buttressed roof. Pigeons flit between crevices in the stone, their
wing-flaps echo like sharp thunder. Dust spirals in the two slices of light from the
crack windows by the roof. Perhaps this room is mainly underground, with the slots
at earth-level.
There is but one door north from this vast space, of solid tarred wood, with a
heavy lock set into the wood. It is secured.
A small mound of dust and cobwebs has accumulated in one corner.
Now to sort out your hands, which are still bound behind your back.
The call of a pigeon echoes sorrowful [sic] around the stone.
(Ingold 2006)
Suggestive room descriptions like this one provide just enough detail to
allow the interactor to fill in the gaps and bring forth a setting. The differ-
ent items brought to the player’s attention are particularly tantalizing.
How well is the door secured? Is there anyone behind it? What might the
small mound of dust and cobwebs reveal if you get a closer look?
>EXAMINE DOOR
The door is heavy, of wide oak planks riveted together with black rivets.
You hear a noise, from behind the door. Footsteps. Followed by a scraping in the
lock, of a key being removed.
>LISTEN TO DOOR
There are footsteps beyond the door, receding.
You hear voices from the street above; a woman says: ‘I will look after this. Now
why don’t you just check the door is secure, there, Antonio?’
‘Certainly,’ comes a man’s reply. ‘I wouldn’t want any of those cursed birds
flying out.’
31
‘Doing there’ vs. ‘being there’
in digital narratives,
I address IF instead.
(I should mention that
hyperfictions would
seem to offer unique
presence effects of
their own, including
the effects of disorien-
tation from
multi-linearity and
lack of closure.)
15. In The Craft of
Adventure, Nelson
explains that new
works of IF have
largely overcome the
sorry narrative state
of the medium after
Adventure: ‘The days
of wandering around
doing unrelated
things to get
treasures are long
passed…Even
Adventure went to
some effort to avoid
this. Its many
imitators, in the early
years of small
computers, often took
no such trouble. The
effect was quite
surreal. One would
walk across the draw-
bridge of a medieval
castle and find a pot
plant, a vat of acid, a
copy of Playboy maga-
zine and an electric
drill. There were puz-
zles without rhyme or
reason. The player
was a characterless
magpie always on the
lookout for something
cute to do. The
crossword had won
without a fight’
(Nelson 1995).
16. Ingold’s All Roads
recently demonstrated
its significance in the
new wave of literary
IF by its inclusion in
the online Electronic
Literature Collection
(Hayles et al. 2006).
The collection is ALSO
included on the CD
(under a Creative
Commons License)
with Hayles’ new
book Electronic
Literature: New
JGVW_1.1_02_art_Seegert 11/11/08 7:03 PM Page 31
>EXAMINE COBWEBS
In one corner, the dust and cobwebs have piled up over something, though it’s hard
to tell what it is.
You hear footsteps in the passage outside the door, and at the same time one
beam of light passes out, then appears once more, as something falls to the floor
through the window slot. It is a key – a heavy iron key!
Something clatters through the street overhead, and a few birds are startled.
(Ingold 2006)
This passage makes striking use of non-interactive plot revelation in IF.
The fact that the key falls into the room while you are examining the
cobwebs – a causally unrelated act – creates a sense of gratuitous pres-
ence, a feeling that other characters are acting independently of you, the
player character, and not merely in response to you.
17
And by overhear-
ing snippets of conversation you only perceive fragments that you do not
know how to interpret, adding a sense of mystery. You have incomplete
information that you must begin to creatively fill in yourself. To find out
more, you can try to pick up the key and use it to escape, but you are
unable to reach it because your hands are tied. With such limited
options, that pile behind the dust and cobwebs begins to look all the
more intriguing…
>MOVE COBWEBS
You cannot, with your hands bound, so you close your eyes and blow; the dust bil-
lowing back at you in a cloud. You try to wave it away, cannot, and are forced to
retreat for a few moments, eyes watering. When they clear, you see an old wine bot-
tle has been uncovered.
(Ingold 2006)
The recurrent reminder of your bound hands reinforces the mystery of
your circumstances. Why are you being treated like a criminal? Who
are you, and how can you find out? Who is the strange woman you
heard speaking to the guard? Can the wine bottle be made useful
somehow? Thankfully, unlike in Adventure, here puzzles are incorpo-
rated into the narrative meaningfully, as genuine problems like ‘how
do I get my hands loose?’, instead of ‘how do I set down the precious
vase without shattering it?’ A mere situation – as it would be in a text
adventure lacking a genuine ‘character’ – here becomes an authentic
predicament. In All Roads, ‘solutions’ to problems thus actually advance
the plot – and develop character – instead of just netting the adven-
turer a treasure:
>EXAMINE BOTTLE
An old bottle, with dark red wine visible behind the green glass. The label is too old to
read, and maybe never said anything to start with.
>GET BOTTLE
You stand in front of the bottle, with it between your heels, and kneel, grasping,
until your fingers brush the glass. Fumbling, you get a grip on the neck, and
straighten up.
32
Alf Seegert
Horizons for the
Literary (2008).
17. The key actually
falls after a certain
number of turns, not
in response to any of
the player’s actual
actions.
JGVW_1.1_02_art_Seegert 11/10/08 1:36 PM Page 32
>BREAK BOTTLE
You release the bottle neck, and hear the glass shatter on the stone behind you, the
sound bouncing jagged off the walls. The back of your leg feels wet as wine splashes
over your trousers.
At the sound of the smash, the pigeons take fright. The birds swoop out of the thin
windows in a panic, and out onto the street. You hear a man yelping, and footsteps
through the doorway which run closer. The guard, sheltering from the birds, perhaps?
The birds whirl around the ceiling, clattering and squawking.
>GET GLASS
You lift one of the larger pieces, a dagger of glass; ever careful not to touch the edge.
Birds stream in and out of the windows, shredding the light.
>CUT ROPE WITH GLASS
(the glass dagger)
Slowly, you align the glass and the ropes. They slip – you try again. It’s difficult, fum-
bling work, and each time you get through one strand the glass slips and you have to
readjust it. Eventually, you sever the width of the rope – but the knot does not come
free, it is so tangled, and the glass slips off the threads. You pause with ropes half cut.
The birds settle down, and finally come back to roost.
You hear the guard go back up to the street, cursing, ‘Damned birds.’
(Ingold 2006)
The bodily interactions supplied here by the narrator (holding the bottle in
your heels and kneeling to grip it with your bound hands) make physical
sense and add a greater sense of physical constraint. The splash of wine on
the back of your trousers has absolutely no effect on gameplay or plot (the
bottle could just as well have been empty), but its crimson wetness serves
as a gratuitous piece of textual evocation that adds immersiveness to a
dimly lit encounter – a nod to Barthes’ ‘reality effect’ (Barthes 1989: 141–8).
Manipulation of objects is also narrated and not merely transacted. Instead of
just adding the bottle to your inventory or perfunctorily replying with a ‘You
can’t pick it up’ (as would be customary in earlier games), here a sense of
bodily limitation is conjured by making it a fumbling, laboured process. The
effects of the sound of breaking glass on the birds reinforce the sense that this
is a world that responds to your actions – a real place. And – again making
puzzles narrative instead of merely concocted – the guard’s panic at the birds
gives you some clue of how to get past him and escape. (In fact, there is more
than one way to escape: you can slash the guard with a shard of glass to inca-
pacitate him, or you can lock him out of the building and then scare the birds,
which will result in him fleeing in panic down the street. And there might be
other ways as well that I have not yet figured out …)
For right now, you’re still locked in the cell and the rope is only half
cut. You try again:
>CUT ROPE WITH GLASS
(the glass dagger)
Again, you painstakingly angle the glass to the fibres, and begin the slow process of
chafing. One by one the strands around your wrist snap, and now the tension eases;
until finally the rope knot slithers to the floor.
33
‘Doing there’ vs. ‘being there’
JGVW_1.1_02_art_Seegert 11/10/08 1:36 PM Page 33
Gratefully you rub your hands together, and notice for the first time – you are
wearing a gold ring.
(Ingold 2006)
Again, the solution to a puzzle has narrative effect – once your hands are
free you encounter things about yourself that you didn’t know before. The
player character in All Roads thus gains legitimacy as a fictional character
and not just as a virtual proxy for the person at the keyboard; indeed, this
character’s identity is unveiled progressively as the story develops, and a
large part of this development results from interactions with objects and
other (non-player) characters. You seek to find out more by typing in the
following:
>EXAMINE RING
A golden ring, stamped with the Seal of Rome. You do not remember acquiring it; it
must have been won gambling in the inn last night, or somesuch. It is probably quite
precious.
(Ingold 2006)
You carry a ring with the Seal of Rome? That would seem to imply more
than what the narrator relates. The results are mysterious, but intriguing,
and only come to light gradually as you continue to explore the narrative
of All Roads by interacting with it further.
One final presence-producing aspect of IF I would like to examine is the
player’s capacity, through his or her own actions, to experience alternative
narrative perspectives. For instance, in Paul O’Brian’s superhero serial
adventure Luminous Horizon (first place winner of the 2004 interactive fic-
tion competition), the opening description reads like this:
High Plains
Scrub bushes and sparse grasses provide a little ground cover for the otherwise
rocky, sandy soil of this area. Other than the jagged mountains looming a few miles
to the east, this spot seems entirely barren.
A damaged road sign lies at your feet.
Emily hovers a few inches above the ground here.
>EXAMINE ME
Sporting your earthsuit, you look every inch the superhero. Well, except without the
caricatured physique.
>EXAMINE EMILY
Like you, Emily is decked out in her superhero regalia, a blue skysuit with cloudy
white streaks.
(O’Brian 2004)
So far, this introduction is par for the course in IF, with the distinction that
it comes with two characters rather than the traditional solo adventurer.
The significance of this difference, however, is revealed with the ability to
enter a ‘CHANGE’ command to swap control over these two personae.
Note that when you switch points of view, you not only gain control over
34
Alf Seegert
JGVW_1.1_02_art_Seegert 11/10/08 1:36 PM Page 34
the other character and obtain use of his or her unique superpowers, but
the narrative’s focalization – and, in turn, the description of the terrain –
changes as well.
>CHANGE
[now controlling Emily]
High Plains
You’ve never been much of a fan of Westerns, but this area just seems to cry out for
some cowboy to mosey through it. Everything’s here – the scrappy little bushes, the
rocky ground, the mountains in the eastern distance, and the sense of barren desola-
tion. All that’s missing is a lonely ghost town and a tumbleweed slowly bouncing
across the frame. The air seems unusually still here, as if the landscape were holding
its breath in anticipation.
Austin is here, staring intently at the landscape.
A damaged road sign lies at your feet.
(O’Brian 2004)
Austin’s description had been antiseptic in its bare categorizing (‘sparse’,
‘rocky’, ‘sandy’ and ‘jagged’ are his primary descriptors). But when Emily
becomes the focal point, the narrator instead populates the landscape with
imagined associations specific to Emily: for her the area is redolent of pop-
ular culture (‘Westerns’) by seeming to ‘cry out for some cowboy to mosey
through it’, and its bushes are personified as ‘scrappy’. The fact that the
landscape seems to be ‘holding its breath’ reinforces a sense of agency in
the area rather than inert backdrop: for Emily, it’s a place and not mere
space. The gendering suggested in Austin and Emily’s respective points of
view is perhaps predictably schematic – Austin is the objective/rational
male, Emily the subjective/intuitive female – but whether or not the
stereotyping of gender roles counts as a weakness in the story, the capac-
ity of the interactor to switch roles at will is striking. It allows him or her
to experiment with virtually embodied perception and thereby experience
two distinct versions of gender-situated presence. Later in the game, each
character’s particular mode of perception becomes critical because each
one interprets the use of important objects differently: viewing the game
world and interacting with it from both perspectives is required in order to
complete the story. What might be more important here than the content
of such gender-swapping perspectives is the effect that such role switching
might have, generally speaking, on the generation of presence effects in
digital narratives. In online role-playing games like World of Warcraft and
other graphically based computer games, it is common for male players to
control female avatars, but this switch to a ‘feminine perspective’ does lit-
erally nothing to alter the landscape as it represents itself to the player.
One’s avatar looks different, and other characters might respond differ-
ently because of the avatar’s gender markers (cf. Schmieder, this issue),
but the representation of the world itself remains unaltered.
18
In the same
way that binocular vision and stereophonic hearing synergistically bring
forth a new dimension of awareness through their combination of multi-
ple inputs, multiple narrative perspectives might generate unexpected new
possibilities for presence production in IF.
35
‘Doing there’ vs. ‘being there’
18. Whether or not this
failure to represent
different narrative
perspectives
represents an intrinsic
limitation of a
graphical medium is,
of course, a different
question. I see no
reason (other
than technical
complications) why
a graphically based
game world might not
reveal itself differently
depending on the
avatar one uses to
interact with it.
Laurel’s VR
installation Placeholder,
for example,
implements multiple
narrative perspectives
in a graphically based
medium by having
players take on the
perspectives of a
spider, snake, fish
and crow. See Laurel
et al. (1994).
JGVW_1.1_02_art_Seegert 11/10/08 1:36 PM Page 35
I have used these examples to provide a glimpse into IF’s potential for
making a fictional world present in a distinctively electronic, but non-
graphical, manner. One might ask, however, why that would matter.
Traditional fiction itself requires some degree of interaction to evoke pres-
ence and leave its mark on us, so why resort to the use of a computer? I
suspect that the current zeal for ‘interactivity’ through computers has
something to do with a desire to reclaim a meaningful sense of agency in
our lives – and, for many readers, ‘traditional’ print texts can feel (justifi-
ably or not) too passive. Through community fragmentation and a mecha-
nized, push-button solution to many basic human needs and desires (these
being represented by the existentialist cover-all trope of ‘alienation’), we
lose a sense of concerned engagement with the world; our actions leave no
lasting ‘mark’ there. Gumbrecht suggests that because communication
technologies have become so pervasive, they create a compensatory yearn-
ing in us for what we’ve lost because of them, namely a sense of embodied
interaction (Gumbrecht 2004: 139). Paradoxically, IF might be one tech-
nologically mediated method for us to imaginatively produce – and, indeed,
perform – such presence.
Works cited
Aarseth, E. (1997), Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature, Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins.
Baf ’s Guide to the Interactive Fiction Archive (n.d.), www.wurb.com/if/index.
Accessed 20 August 2008.
Barthes, R. (1989), ‘The reality effect’ (trans. R. Howard), in The Rustle of Language,
New York: Hill and Wang, pp. 141–8.
—— (1974), S/Z, New York: Noonday Press.
Chaouli, M. (2005), ‘How interactive can fiction be?’, Critical Inquiry, 31:3,
pp. 618–37.
Crowther, W. and Woods, D. (1975–6), Adventure, PDP-1/FORTRAN, numerous
publishers, sometimes distributed as Colossal Cave Adventure. Accessible at Baf ’s
Guide to the IF Archive.
Douglas, J. Y. (2000), The End of Books – Or Books Without End? Reading Interactive
Narratives, Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Fish, S. (1980 [1970]), ‘Literature in the Reader: Affective Stylistics’, in J. P.
Tompkins (ed.), Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-Structuralism,
Baltimore, ML: Johns Hopkins, pp. 70–100.
Gumbrecht, H. U. (2004), Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey,
Stanford: Stanford University Press.
Hansen, M. B. N. (2006), Bodies in Code: Interfaces With Digital Media, London:
Routledge.
Hayles, N. K. (2008), Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary, Notre
Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
Hayles, N. K., Montfort, N., Rettberg, S. and Strickland, S. (eds), (2006), Electronic
Literature Collection Volume 1, http://collection.eliterature.org/. Accessed
15 August 2008.
Heidegger, M. (1977), Basic Writings, San Francisco: Harper & Row.
IJsselsteijn, W. (2002), ‘Elements of a multi-level theory of presence: phenomenol-
ogy, mental processing and neural correlates’, Proceedings of PRESENCE 2002,
36
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Universidade Fernando Pessoa, Porto Portugal, 9–11 October 2002, www.
presence-research.org/papers/P2002.pdf. Accessed 15 August 2008.
Infocom – The Master Storytellers (n.d.), ‘Infocom – advertisements and product cat-
alog’, www.infocom-if.org/index2.html. Accessed 15 August 2008.
Ingold, J. (2006 [2001]), All Roads, in N. K. Hayles et al. (eds), Electronic Literature
Collection Volume 1, http://collection.eliterature.org/1/works/ingold_all_
roads.html. Accessed 15 August 2008.
Iser, W. (1980 [1974]), ‘The reading process: a phenomenological approach’, in
J. P. Tompkins (ed.), Reader-Response Criticism: From Formalism to Post-
Structuralism, Baltimore, ML: Johns Hopkins, pp. 50–69.
Laurel, B., Strickland, R. and Tow, R. (1994), ‘Placeholder: landscape and narra-
tive in virtual environments’, ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics, 28:2,
pp. 118–26.
Montfort, N. (2003a), ‘Toward a theory of interactive fiction’, nickm.com, www.
nickm.com/if/toward.html. Accessed 21 August 2008.
—— (2003b), Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction, Cambridge,
MA: The MIT Press.
Montessori, M. (1962), The Discovery of the Child, Madras: Kalakshetra Publications.
Nelson, G. (1995), The Craft of Adventure: Five Articles on the Design of Adventure
Games, The Interactive Fiction Archive, www.ifarchive.org/if-archive/programming/
general-discussion/Craft.Of.Adventure.txt. Accessed 21 August 2008.
O’Brian, P. (2004), Luminous Horizon: Earth and Sky, Episode 3, Glulx/Inform.
Accessible at Baf ’s Guide to the IF Archive.
Olsen, L. and Guthrie, T. (2006 [2005]) 10:01, in N. K. Hayles et al. (eds),
Electronic Literature Collection Volume 1, http://collection.eliterature.org/1/
works/olsen_guthrie_10_01.html. Accessed 26 September 2008.
Ryan, M.-L. (2001), Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in
Literature and Electronic Media, Baltimore, ML: Johns Hopkins.
The Colossal Cave Adventure (n.d.), ‘Here’s where it all began’, www.rickadams.org/
adventure/a_history.html. Accessed 15 August 2008.
Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia (2008), ‘Interactive fiction’, http://en.wikipedia.
org/wiki/Interactive_Fiction. Accessed 25 July 2008.
Wittgenstein, L. (1972), On Certainty, San Francisco: Harper & Row.
Suggested citation
Seegert, A. (2009), ‘‘Doing there’ vs. ‘being there’: performing presence in
interactive fiction’, Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds 1: 1, pp. 23–37,
doi: 10.1386/jgvw.1.1.23/1
Contributor details
Alf Seegert (M.A., M.S.) is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English (British
and American Literature) at the University of Utah. His research on ecocriticism
and cyberculture explores how our use of interfaces alters our sense of body,
space and place. Although he has yet to design a work of interactive fiction, he is
the author of several Euro-style board games currently in production.
Contact:
E-mail: alfseegert@gmail.com
37
‘Doing there’ vs. ‘being there’
JGVW_1.1_02_art_Seegert 11/10/08 1:36 PM Page 37
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JGVW_1.1_02_art_Seegert 11/25/08 6:37 PM Page 38
Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds Volume 1 Number 1 © 2009 Intellect Ltd
Article. English language. doi: 10.1386/jgvw.1.1.39/1
Power and nerves of steel or thrill
of adventure and patience? An
empirical study on the use of different
video game genres
Christina Schumann Department of Communication
Research/Political Communication
Daniel Schultheiss Department of Media Management
Abstract
This empirical study focuses on explaining the utilization of three video game
genres – first person shooters, strategy games and role-playing games – and on
whether different explanatory models can be established for the three genres. A
model comprising the three explanatory components, gratifications sought (GS),
gratifications obtained (GO) and subjective restrictions or capacities, operationalized
by the skills that players have to have for the specific genres, serves as a theoretical
basis.
Data was collected by way of an online survey (N = 5,257). The results
show that GO and the capacities are particularly suited to explaining the use of
video games. While GO generally seem to offer a basis for explaining the use of
video games, since the dimensions ‘power and competition’ and ‘thrill of adven-
ture’ do influence the use of all three genres, there were considerable differences
between the individual genres in terms of capacities. Gamers who have a high
stress threshold and quick reactions, as well as a good sense of direction, tend to
prefer first person shooters. The use of strategy games may be explained in
terms of skills like logic and strategic thought. On the other hand, patient
gamers prefer role-playing games. The explanatory power of GS, however,
proves to be extremely low. Based on these results, approaches are discussed for
further research in this field.
Introduction
‘There is nothing in the global entertainment industry that could rival the
sales success of Grand Theft Auto IV on the day of its release’, announced
the German daily newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung on 9th May 2008 in
light of the estimated sales amounting to $310 million (Graff 2008).
The phenomenal success of the fourth edition of the Grand Theft Auto
(GTA) series has not only put video games once again in the headlines but
also re-sparked the discussion about the media’s power of fascination.
This subject matter has already been the focus of scientific research.
For instance, studies have examined, based on perspectives of uses and
39 JGVW 1 (1) pp. 39–56 © Intellect Ltd 2009
Keywords
video games
genres
uses and gratifications
restrictions
capacities
player skills
JGVW_1.1_03_art_Schultheiss 11/10/08 1:38 PM Page 39
gratifications, whether it is possible to explain the use of video games in
general (e.g. Fritz 2003a) or individual genres (e.g. Lehmann et al. 2008;
Jansz and Tanis 2006; Yee 2006) by taking into account the gamers’
motives of use. One approach, however, has for the most part been
neglected; that is one which concentrates on comparative perspectives.
Consequently, the general focal point of this article is to examine whether
various motives can explain the use of different genres of video games.
It is also possible to presume that the use of different genres is not only
influenced by the motives of the players, but is also linked to underlying
external conditions. Due to the high degree of interactivity of video games,
players must possess specific skills to have success in playing these games.
For instance, the German gamers’ magazine Gamestar wrote in its review
of Modern Warfare, the fourth edition of the Call of Duty series, that speed,
accuracy and communication between gamers were decisive factors on the
modern battlefields (Gamestar.de 2008). As a result, this study focuses on
the question of whether the use of different genres may also be explained by
specific skills that gamers have.
Popular video game genres
As a cover-all term, ‘video games’
1
encompasses a wide variety of different
genres that cannot be examined within the framework of a single article.
A careful selection of genres is therefore important. On the one hand, this
selection should focus on genres that are as different as can be, since it can
be presumed that similar factors are also responsible for the use of similar
genres. Furthermore, it is necessary to ensure that the selected genres
enjoy maximum popularity.
The Jugend, Information, (Multi-) Media (JIM) study, which was con-
ducted in 2005 by the Medienpädagogischer Forschungsverband Südwest
(MPFS: South-west German Research Association for Media Education),
and information published by Verband Unterhaltungssoftware Deutschland
(VUD)
2
– the German entertainment software association – (VUD 2003)
provide insight into the popularity of the individual genres. We selected our
genres on the basis of the ‘map of virtual games’ classification schema by
Jürgen Fritz (2003b) because it offers a more straightforward way of sys-
tematically selecting diverse genres than other models for classifying video
games do (e.g. Klimmt 2001).
Fritz takes the construction principles of video games as a starting
point for his schema. Based on three central elements – action, thinking
and story – he proposes a three-pole map, which can be used as a basis for
differentiating between individual genres. The more a specific genre is
aligned with one of the construction principles, the closer it is located to
the respective pole.
Action-oriented games are primarily characterized by suspense, imme-
diacy and liveliness. Due to continually recurring dangerous situations,
such games require players to be able to concentrate and react instantly if
they want to survive. Skills like the ability to react quickly, a good sense of
direction and high stress thresholds are essential for being successful in
action-oriented games (Fritz 2003b). According to Manuel Ladas (2002),
the genres first person shooters (FPS), beat’em ups, military simulations,
racing games and jump-and-runs are prototypical of this pole. Based on
40
Christina Schumann and Daniel Schultheiss
1. In this article no
differentiation is
made between digital
games that are made
for consoles and com-
puter games that are
played on PCs.
2. The JIM-study is a
representative survey
of German
adolescents; the VUD
is the former German
entertainment
software association
that collected market
data of digital games.
The VUD has now
been replaced by
the Bundesverband
interaktive
Unterhaltungssoftware
(BIU).
JGVW_1.1_03_art_Schultheiss 11/10/08 1:38 PM Page 40
the findings of the JIM study (MPFS 2004) and VUD (VUD 2003), with
regard to the popularity of the individual genres, it is advisable to make a
selection in favour of FPS.
Cognitive games, on the other hand, require players to act primarily in
a tactical and well-thought-out manner. In most cases, players do not have
an avatar in the virtual world and thus watch complex actions taking
place from the outside, acting for the most part like a ‘deity’ or a comman-
der. Players control the events by changing individual elements, e.g. by
sending combat troops to a different location, enlarging settlements or
doing business (Fritz 2003b). Ladas (2002) emphasizes that (war) strategy
games, economic and development simulations as well as cognitive and
skill games may be assigned to the thinking pole. In terms of popularity,
strategy games are most important in this genre list.
Game storylines are primarily characterized by a set course of events
with a broad level of suspense. These games frequently have their own,
often fantasy, world with its own set of laws and rules. Much as in
Entwicklungsroman plots, avatars go through different situations, which
help them to further evolve, e.g. by acquiring new skills. These developments
are merged into an independent virtual biography with time. To master
such games, players have to be patient while exploring new worlds, pass
practical tests, solve puzzles and deal with dangerous situations (Fritz
2003b). Consequently, elements of action and cognitive games are
anchored within the storylines of the games. Since adventures and role-
playing games focus on a story, they may be considered representative of
this pole (Ladas 2002). In terms of popularity, role-playing games enjoy
great importance especially with respect to their online variation, massively
multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Given these considera-
tions, this study examines three specific genres: FPS, strategy games and
role-playing games (RPG).
Theoretical background
As was described at the beginning, this article focuses on two components
in order to explain the use of the three genres: motives of use, which in
turn are divided into gratifications sought (GS) and gratifications obtained
(GO), and specific skills of the players.
41
Power and nerves of steel or thrill of adventure and patience?
Story
Thinking Action
Figure 1: Map of virtual games (Fritz 2003b).
JGVW_1.1_03_art_Schultheiss 11/10/08 1:38 PM Page 41
Uses and gratifications approach: gratifications
sought and obtained
The uses and gratifications approach is a central theory employed in com-
munication studies for explaining the use of media. It is based on active
recipients who select and use media in accordance with their motives and
needs (Rubin 2002; Ruggiero 2000; Katz et al. 1974). Such needs are
described in this article as gratifications sought (GS).
These basic assumptions were developed by Philip Palmgreen and
J.D. Rayburn within their discrepancy model (1982), where they not only
focused on the recipients’ specific needs but also asked what needs have
actually been satisfied by the media. The result of this use of media is
referred to as gratifications obtained (GO).
In contrast to many other studies, which attempt to explain the use of
media based on gratifications, the present study does not only focus on
GS but also on GO, since it is possible to assume that gratifications obtained
offer considerable insight into explaining the research question. If the
GS are satisfied while using video games in the form of GO, it may be
assumed that the GO have a positive impact on use. Based on existing
studies, this article will examine possible gratifications obtained from
video games.
Gratifications of video games
Fritz (2003b) as well as Jürgen Fritz and Wolfgang Fehr (2003) argue that
video games are frequently used as a pastime to fight boredom, which
points to a need for amusement. The desire to counter frustration, anger
and stress has also been examined repeatedly. Fritz (2003c) concludes that
relaxation is another gratification dimension while playing video games.
Furthermore, there are findings that suggest a converse dimension: a need
for suspense (Witting and Esser 2003).
Further studies focus on the gratifications that seem to be specific to the
use of video games in addition to these very general dimensions: an impor-
tant reason to play video games is gratification in the form of power and con-
trol (e.g. Lehmann et al. 2008; Fritz 2003c), since interactivity and success
in games give users the feeling that they have power and can control events.
Another important dimension is competition and challenge (e.g. Jansz
and Martens 2005; Vorderer et al. 2003), since video games are fre-
quently geared towards competition and challenge, as players strive to
reach the next level or outplay other gamers.
Community (e.g. Schultheiss 2007; Jansz and Tanis 2006) is another
important gratification factor. Consequently, playing video games may be
motivated by a shared experience that arises when playing with friends or
other gamers.
Another dimension that should be considered is fantasy (e.g. Jansz
2005; Lucas and Sherry 2004). In this case, the point is to attempt things
that are just not possible in real life (e.g. magic), to assume a different
identity or simply to run away from everyday life (Fritz 2003c). The latter
aspect illustrates that the fantasy dimension definitely encompasses ele-
ments of escapism.
There is one further dimension that has not been covered by existing
studies but should be taken into account all the same: the dimension of
42
Christina Schumann and Daniel Schultheiss
JGVW_1.1_03_art_Schultheiss 11/10/08 1:38 PM Page 42
overcoming loneliness, which is cited in the popular and widely used grat-
ification scale developed by Bradley Greenberg (1974).
3
This is an impor-
tant dimension in light of the popular belief that video game players are
lonely.
In summary, it is possible to infer the following gratification factors
for playing video games: amusement, relaxation, suspense, power and
control, challenge and competition, community, fantasy, and overcom-
ing loneliness. In the empirical section, we aim to evaluate whether
different dimensions of gratification are responsible for the use of different
genres.
General conditions: subjective restrictions
and capacities
Player skills should serve as a second explanatory component for the use
of different video game genres. This aspect has been ignored in the past in
video games reception research. Since it is not possible to draw on exist-
ing literature, the question is what dimensions of players’ skills could play
a role?
The argument offered by Michael Jäckel (1992) provides a systematic
answer to this question. He suggests looking at general underlying con-
ditions to explain the use of media. These are manifested in restrictions
that can limit an individual’s freedom to act in a specific situation when
decisions are required (Kirchgässner 1991). Hartmut Esser (1999: 308)
describes these circumstances colourfully in terms of ‘limits of desire’.
According to Gerhard Vowe and Jens Wolling (2001, 2002), restrictions
must be broken down into objective restrictions (e.g. monetary or time-
based costs) and subjective restrictions. When it comes to the use of video
games, subjective restrictions, which may be understood as the limits of
one’s own perceived abilities, are of particular interest. Compared to
other media, the skills and abilities required to play video games may be
regarded as an important factor, due to high interactivity. Unlike TV or
film viewers, video game players are physically active and have to
employ specific skills in order to be able to play in the first place and be
successful.
As Wolling (2004) emphasizes, it is reasonable to mention both the
negative restrictions and the positive effects that may arise: thus, it can be
assumed that gamers who have the skills that are essential for success in a
particular video game will use that specific genre more frequently. These
skills are called capacities.
What skills and abilities do gamers have to have in order to be success-
ful in the three selected genres? A group of skills and abilities, on the basis
of which it is possible to determine probable subjective restrictions or
capacities, has been established for each pole on the map of virtual games
(Fritz 2003b): for instance, FPS games require in particular quick reac-
tions, a high stress threshold and a good sense of direction; strategy games
call for players to keep an eye on everything that is happening and to solve
problems by using logic; while RPG are distinguished by a sophisticated
character system and a complex gaming universe, so players must be able
to familiarize themselves with complex topics quickly and exercise lots of
patience. Based on these considerations, it is possible to assume, in light of
43
Power and nerves of steel or thrill of adventure and patience?
3. Greenberg calls
this dimension
‘sociability’.
JGVW_1.1_03_art_Schultheiss 11/10/08 1:38 PM Page 43
the use of different video game genres, that gamers do not use a specific
genre in which their subjective restrictions are very distinctive, or that
they turn to a particular genre when they have especially good skills and
abilities.
In summary, we are able to cite the following dimensions of subjective
restrictions or capacities: quick reactions, high stress threshold, good sense
of direction, ability to keep an eye on complex occurrences, logical think-
ing, familiarization with complex topics and patience.
Model development
In line with the theoretical statements, three explanatory components can
be drawn on for examining the research question: GS, GO and subjective
restrictions or capacities. It is assumed that each of these three compo-
nents has a direct impact on the use of the different genres such that the
components result in differences between the genres regarding the impor-
tance of the individual dimensions.
Moreover, it can be presumed that the individual explanatory compo-
nents influence each other. When it comes to subjective restrictions or
capacities, an impact can be expected for both GS and GO: presumably, the
knowledge that one is not able to do certain things results in the fact that
specific gratifications are not sought out at all. For example, if players are
not patient enough to acquaint themselves thoroughly with a game, they
presumably do not have the desire to immerse themselves in a specific
world in the first place, since they would not have the time or leisure to get
properly involved with that world.
Likewise, a connection seems probable between subjective restrictions
and GO: if players do not have the skills that are crucial for success in a
game, e.g. high stress threshold as required for FPS, the sense of success is
replaced by a sense of failure, thus reducing or preventing the obtainment
of possible gratifications.
These assumptions may be summarized in a model, as follows:
4
44
Christina Schumann and Daniel Schultheiss
4. Possible influences
of the genre use on
GO or restrictions and
capacities are not
considered in this
study as it would
go beyond the scope
of this article.
use of
• FPS
• RPG
• strategy
games
subjective
restrictions and
capacities
gratifications
sought
gratifications
obtained
Figure 2: Theoretical model for explaining the use of different video game genres.
JGVW_1.1_03_art_Schultheiss 11/11/08 8:49 AM Page 44
Based on this model, the research focus presented at the beginning of
this article can be divided into the following sub-questions, which are
answered in the empirical section:
RQ1: What impact do GS, GO and subjective restrictions or capacities
have on the use of different genres? What differences are there
between the genres?
RQ2: What impact do subjective restrictions have on sought and
obtained gratifications? Are there differences between genres
here as well?
Method
Data was collected by way of an online survey. The invitation to participate
in the survey was posted in the news section of eleven topic-oriented web-
sites together with a link pointing to the survey. These websites were pri-
marily online German magazines
5
dealing with video games. Participation
was anonymous and not promoted by a raffle. Instead, participants were
motivated through their own personal interest in this topic.
The survey was conducted between 27 January and 14 February 2006.
Of the total 7,612 surveys completed, only 5,257 were suited for analysis
after data cleansing due to the fact that some were either incomplete or
filled out incorrectly.
As a result of self selection (participation in the survey was open rather
than limited to a selected group of people) it is not possible to depict a basic
population. For this reason, the following evaluation of data obtained does
not focus for the most part on a descriptive presentation of the percentages
and mean values. Instead, attention is placed primarily on analysing the
relationships between variables, because such relationships are relatively
stable compared to a sample selection bias. The following descriptive data
alone are used to describe the sample:
The majority of the participants were male (97 per cent) and propor-
tionally young: 86 per cent were between 12 and 29 years old. The pre-
dominance of male gamers can presumably be attributed to the method by
which the participants were recruited: the majority of readers of video
game magazines in Germany are male. In light of the ‘youthful’ sample, it
is not surprising that 54 per cent of the participants still go to school or
are attending a university. The average time spent playing video games
per week is 16 hours. The genre of video games that is played the most is
FPS, followed by strategy games in second place. RPG ranked fifth behind
action games and action adventures.
6
The data were prepared as follows to facilitate further analysis: to cal-
culate dependent variables it is not a good idea to directly apply the fre-
quency of use of the individual genres, since it can be assumed that part of
the use of a specific genre may be explained by the generally high amount
of time spent playing video games (so called heavy players). Consequently,
the dependent variables were calculated from the residuals that were
determined during a regression analysis of the general period of use over
the frequency of use of the individual genres. This ensured that the depen-
dent variables used included a high frequency of use of the interesting
genres that is independent of the general time of use.
45
Power and nerves of steel or thrill of adventure and patience?
5. Names of the
websites: 4players.de;
demonews.de;
game-basis.com;
gamecaptain.com;
gamesagent.net;
gamesaktuell.de;
gamestar.de;
gametalkzone.de;
gamezone.de;
justgamers.de;
maniac.de.
6. FPS: 70 per cent
‘frequent or very
frequent use’;
strategic games:
45 per cent ‘frequent
or very frequent use’;
action games: 44 per
cent ‘frequent or very
frequent use’; action
adventures: 33 per
cent ‘frequent or very
frequent use’; RPGs:
31 per cent ‘frequent
or very frequent use’.
JGVW_1.1_03_art_Schultheiss 11/10/08 1:38 PM Page 45
Results
Empirical dimensions of GS
The item set regarding the GS was introduced as follows: ‘Now I am inter-
ested in knowing what expectations you have of video games. It is not
important if your expectations are met or not. I am more interested in
finding out what is important to you in general. What do you wish for?’
This was followed by a list of 25 items that could be evaluated on the basis
of a five-point Likert scale, ranging from ‘I do not want at all’ to ‘I really
want’ and a residual category ‘Do not know’. The number of items per
dimension was between two (e.g. suspense dimension) and five (e.g. power
and control dimension). This number corresponded to the theoretically
supposed significance of the respective dimensions.
Factor analysis was used to check what empirical dimensions of GS
could be determined.
46
Christina Schumann and Daniel Schultheiss
7. Because of high dou-
ble loading, the items
‘to feel less lonely’
(overcoming
loneliness), ‘the
sportive competition
with other gamers/
the computer’
(challenge and
competition) and ‘to
feel powerful’ (power
and control) had to be
taken out of analysis.
thrill of power and mood social opinion amusement
adventure competition management contacts leadership
... to experience s.th. exciting .76
... to immerse in another world .76
... to experience s.th. agitating .75
... to slip into different roles .73
... to be somebody else .66 .40
... to try things that are otherwise .47
impossible
... to master a video game as well .83
as possible
... to be better than other gamers/ .75
the computer
... to improve my skills by training .70
... to control the game .61
... to prove myself .61
... to distract me from everyday .81
worries
... to run away from everyday life .78
... to counter frustration and anger .73
... to meet other gamers .84
... to make new friends .81
... to play together with my friends .74
... to be in the know on the latest .85
games
... to have a say in talks about .81
video games
... to kill time .89
... to fight boredom .82
Extraction method: principal component analysis (PCA), varimax rotation with Kaiser normalization,
Eigenvalue > 1, 63% of variance explained
Figure 3: Factor analysis of GS.
7
JGVW_1.1_03_art_Schultheiss 11/10/08 1:38 PM Page 46
The results show that the theoretically presumed dimensions could be
modified at several points:
The first factor includes items that should cover primarily the dimen-
sions suspense (items 1 + 3) and fantasy (items 2, 4, 5, 6). Accordingly, it
seems important to flee the real world and leave everyday life behind, to
try things that are otherwise impossible, to assume a different identity
(role) but also to experience excitement and suspense through the game.
Based on this factor, the presumption can be made that there is a desire to
personally experience the adventures of heroic figures like Indiana Jones
or Harry Potter and prove oneself by attempting to master the exciting
challenges that these heroes face. Consequently, this factor was referred to
as the ‘thrill of adventure’.
Factor two also encompassed several of these theoretically presumed
dimensions (power and control: items 1, 2, 4, 5; challenge and competi-
tion: item 3). This combination is easy to comprehend. It may be assumed
that the feeling of having power and control is accompanied by a pleasant
sensation. Moreover, it is possible to assume that this feeling becomes
more intensive when gamers are able to demonstrate their skills by com-
peting with other gamers or the computer, and thus gain recognition
for their success. This dimension has been described as ‘power and
competition’.
The third factor includes two items that were originally assigned to the
fantasy dimension and has gained, due to the third item (originally: relax-
ation), a different emphasis. A common element of all these items is the
desire to dispel one’s negative mood. This factor has been called ‘mood
management’ in line with the mood management concept (e.g. Zillmann
1988).
Factor four combines items that have been attributed to the opera-
tionalization of the dimensions ‘overcoming loneliness’ (items 1 and 2)
and ‘community’ (item 3). In this empirical formation, these can be com-
bined to form a comprehensive concept that is mainly dominated by a
social component. Here the use of video games seems to be characterized
primarily by a need to share one’s hobby with others. For instance, people
look for like-minded individuals with whom they may become friends and
pursue their hobbies together. Based on that, this factor is referred to as
‘social contacts.’
The combination of the items belonging to the fifth factor (both items
originally shared experience) points to a need for opinion leadership within
a peer group. Here it seems that there is a desire to have a say in important
discussions and to present oneself at the same time as an opinion leader
who knows about the latest developments unfolding in the video game
world. As a result, this factor has been called ‘opinion leadership’.
Factor six combines two items, which can be used to operationalize the
dimension ‘amusement’.
Empirical dimensions of GO
The items relating to GO were introduced as follows: ‘Before, I asked about
wishes that individuals may have with respect to video games. I am now
interested in knowing how you would rate the individual genres in this
regard. Please rate whether the following statements in your opinion
47
Power and nerves of steel or thrill of adventure and patience?
JGVW_1.1_03_art_Schultheiss 11/10/08 1:38 PM Page 47
correspond to the mentioned genres.’ The respective items were designated
accordingly; the genres served as response options with the sequence
rotated. The following example for the power and control dimension illus-
trates this process:
It is easy to prove oneself in
…Role-playing games
…First person shooters
…Strategy games.
To keep the list of questions regarding GO short, we decided to exclude
the dimensions that were described as very general in the theoretical
section above. As a result, the following dimensions were operational-
ized: overcoming loneliness, shared experience, fantasy, challenge and
competition, and power and control. Furthermore, the operationaliza-
tion was limited to one item for each gratification dimension such
that there were a total of six items, which were queried by the cited
structure.
With the aid of the factor analyses for GO, it was possible to determine
three or two factors depending on the genre. Based on the factor analysis
of GO, the results for role-playing games were:
8
48
Christina Schumann and Daniel Schultheiss
8. Due to the almost
identical results, no
additional table is pre-
sented here because
no new findings could
be shown. Key data to
these factor analyses
is: principal
component analysis
(PCA), varimax rota-
tion with Kaiser
normalization,
Eigenvalue > 1,
strategy games: 66
per cent of variance
explained/FPS: 67 per
cent of variance
explained.
9. Both items had to be
excluded from factor
analysis for GS
because of high dou-
ble loading.
thrill of adventure power and sense of belonging
(GO RPGs) competition (GO RPGs)
(GO RPGs)
It is easy to immerse into another world in RPGs .86
It is easy to slip into other roles in RPGs .83
A sportive competition can be easily realized .85
in RPGs
9
It is easy to prove oneself in RPGs .81
RPGs are well suited for playing with friends .80
you feel less alone when playing RPGs .78
Extraction method: principal component analysis (PCA), varimax rotation with Kaiser normalization,
Eigenvalue > 1, 74% of variance explained
Figure 4: Factor analysis of GO (RPGs).
The first factor includes the items that describe the ‘thrill of adventure’
in GS and thus was called ‘thrill of adventure’ (GO RPGs).
Factor two may be regarded as the equivalent of the GS factor ‘power
and competition’ and is referred to here as ‘power and competition’ (GO
RPGs).
The third factor is not yet known in this constellation in GS. Although
the social component is inherent, it has a different nuance here due to
the second item: when playing RPG, gamers also have the opportunity
to play together with friends and thus have the feeling that they are less
alone. That’s why we named this factor ‘sense of belonging’ (GO RPGs).
JGVW_1.1_03_art_Schultheiss 11/10/08 1:38 PM Page 48
Empirical dimensions of subjective restrictions and capacities
The item set regarding the subjective restrictions and capacities was intro-
duced with the following: ‘Individuals must be able to do different things
when playing different video game genres. What are your personal strengths
as a gamer? How good are you at …?’
The results of the factor analysis for the subjective restrictions indicate
a three-factor structure:
49
Power and nerves of steel or thrill of adventure and patience?
e-warrior talent commander skills patience
... reacting to danger quickly .78
... dealing with stress .68
... keeping the sense of direction in the game world .54
... thinking strategically .87
... acting logically and foresightedly .79
... keeping an eye on everything that is happening .52
... developing a character patiently .80
... familiarizing myself with complex rules before .76
starting to play
... memorizing complicated gaming rules .54
Extraction method: principal component analysis (PCA), Varimax rotation with Kaiser normalization,
Eigenvalue > 1, 58% of variance explained
Figure 5: Factor analysis of subjective restrictions and capacities of video game players.
Factor one combines items that can be collectively described as warlike,
martial skills. They are reminiscent of talents that are typical of elite
lone warriors such as those we know from movies like Rambo. Quick
reactions, nerves of steel and a good sense of direction help such heroes
overcome many opponents, even in impassable and dark settings. This
factor sums up the skills that have been described as important for the
success in action-oriented video games. The predominant warlike element
of these items is reflected in how we decided to refer to this factor –
‘e-warrior talent’. The ‘e’ indicates that the talent has a virtual refer-
ence level.
The second factor is characterized by cognitive elements like logical
thinking skills, the ability to recognize connections and act in a tactical,
well-thought-out and foresighted manner. Consequently, the items that
were originally prepared to operationalize the requirements in video
games that are based mainly on a cognitive construction principle fall
into place. Since these abilities call to mind the skills that a commander
must have, this factor has been summarized under ‘commander skills’.
Factor three encompasses items that describe abilities like patience and
leisure, abilities gamers need for example to develop their characters grad-
ually. That’s why this factor has been called ‘patience’.
With this factor analysis, the theoretically presumed dimensions could
be confirmed almost completely.
JGVW_1.1_03_art_Schultheiss 11/10/08 1:38 PM Page 49
Model test
Research question 1
What impact do GS, GO and subjective restrictions or capacities have on
the use of different genres?
The GO proved to be especially influential, with the exception of the
‘sense of belonging’ dimension. It is noticeable that very similar explana-
tory models could be established for all three genres: the ‘power and com-
petition’ dimension plays a significant role especially when it comes to the
use of strategy games and FPS. In the case of FPS, the assumption can be
made that the relatively high proportion of violence results in the fact that
games have considerable power-oriented gratifications, which in turn lead
to an increased use of this genre.
In the case of strategy games, particular attention was directed repeat-
edly to the all-powerful and almighty authority that gamers have. Thus, it
is not surprising that when playing strategy games individuals experience
the intense feeling of ‘power and competition’ that in turn results in an
increased use. It is also noticeable that this dimension has an impact on
the use of RPG. The results suggest that ‘power and competition’ repre-
sents one of the key gratification dimensions of video games.
Another key dimension is the ‘thrill of adventure’, which, like ‘power
and competition’, has an impact on the use of all three genres. In the case
of RPG, this dimension is even more important than the power-oriented
components, which stands in contrast to strategy games and FPS. In light
of the complex, well-developed gaming universes, this correlation is easy
to understand, since these universes invite gamers to experience suspense
and adventure.
50
Christina Schumann and Daniel Schultheiss
10. Because of sample
size in the table, only
findings that were
significant by p <
0.001 and for which
the beta was > .1 are
shown.
Use of … strategy games FPS
RPGs
N= 4137 4289 4434
R
2
= .16 .17 .17
beta beta beta
thrill of adventure –.14
power and competition
mood management
social contacts .19 .10
opinion leadership
pastime
thrill of adventure (GO RPGs/strategy .14 .16 .20
games/FPS)
power and competition (GO RPGs/strategy .13 .26 .23
games/FPS)
sense of belonging (GO only RPGs)
e-warrior talent .13
commander skills .21
patience .19
Figure 6: Impact of GS, GO and subjective restrictions or capacities on intensity of use of different video
game genres – multiple regression.
10
JGVW_1.1_03_art_Schultheiss 11/10/08 1:38 PM Page 50
Compared to the GO, the explanatory power of the GS is low. With regard
to strategy games, none of the dimensions examined is of importance.
The only dimensions that contribute in some way to finding an answer
for the research question are ‘social contacts’ and ‘thrill of adventure’. The
positive association between the intensity of use of FPS and the ‘social con-
tacts’ dimension is especially interesting, since gamers of this genre have
become the focal point of criticism due to the incidents at schools in
Columbine, Colorado (BBC 2001; Block 2007) and Erfurt, Germany, and
have been described as dangerous loners with violent tempers. The results
of this study suggest a necessity to re-evaluate this opinion, since the need
to play with and meet others who share the same likes seems to be a rea-
son to play FPS games frequently. The strong clan and LAN (=Local Area
Network) scene that has evolved around this genre emphasizes the signifi-
cance of this dimension as well.
The relationship between the ‘social contacts’ dimension and the inten-
sity of use of RPG, on the other hand, is less surprising, since the influence
of this dimension can be attributed primarily to the variation of MMORPGs
11
included in this genre; in the case of such social games this dimension may
be regarded as a prerequisite for individuals to be able to play at all.
The negative association between the GS ‘thrill of adventure’ and the
intensity of use of FPS is, however, surprising, especially due to the fact
that the GO ‘thrill of adventure’ exhibited a positive association with the
use of FPS games.
12
Why would anyone who likes to play FPS not want to
experience adventure? A possible explanation could point to the signifi-
cant escapism component that is inherent in the GS ‘thrill of adventure’.
Perhaps, it is important for FPS gamers to seek gratification in the real
world, which is clearly articulated in the significance of the ‘social con-
tacts’ factor. Immersing oneself in a different virtual world would likely
counter this factor. If the ‘thrill of adventure’ should become tangible,
however, as part of the GO, gamers do seem to rate this as a positive out-
come, even if they did not originally seek this dimension.
With respect to the component of subjective restrictions or capacities,
each genre has only one dimension of explanatory content. The relation-
ship is positive in each case, which clearly shows that subjective restric-
tions are not suited for explaining the use of specific genres of video games,
since negative association would have to be present as well. For instance, a
gamer who has less ‘e-warrior talent’ is likely to play FPS less frequently.
The capacities, on the other hand, demonstrate a considerable impact on
the use of specific genres. This means that the absence of specific skills
does not lead to the avoidance of a specific genre. Instead, the fact that cer-
tain skills are highly developed is important.
As had been assumed in theory, ‘patience’ is especially important for
the use of RPG. Learning and being able to remember complex rules of
a game requires patience due to the fact that these games are usually
set in extremely complex game worlds that players must first explore
gradually.
The use of strategy games can be explained in particular in terms of the
‘commander skills’ dimension. As was highlighted at the beginning, it is
especially important for strategy gamers to be able to act in a logical and
foresighted manner while keeping an eye on everything that is occurring.
51
Power and nerves of steel or thrill of adventure and patience?
11. Indeed, the MMORPG
World of Warcraft is
one of the most popu-
lar games in this
sample, as it was
mentioned 897 times.
12. The testing on multi-
collinearity showed
that this finding is
not due to high
correlations of the
independent variables,
as the tolerance lay
between .93 and .84.
JGVW_1.1_03_art_Schultheiss 11/10/08 1:38 PM Page 51
Here it may be assumed that gamers who have considerable cognitive abil-
ities are particularly successful at such games.
The associations that have already been assumed theoretically are also
apparent in the use of FPS. Gamers who have well-developed ‘e-warrior tal-
ents’, i.e. are able to react quickly and have a high stress threshold and
good sense of direction, play FPS games especially frequently, since these
skills in particular are essential for being successful at these games.
In summary, it may be argued that the GO and capacities especially help
to explain the use of different genres of video games. Regarding GO, the
same dimensions are meaningful for each one of the three genres under
examination here. There are, however, differences in terms of capacities,
since different components are important for the use of each genre.
Research question 2
The analyses show that capacities rather than subjective restrictions are
relevant for these relations, since only positive associations can be found.
As has already been presumed in the explanatory model, the capacities are
not only suited for explaining the use of different genres, but also have an
impact on the GS and GO.
As far as GS are concerned, it may be presumed that some GS are
strengthened by a sense of possessing specific abilities. In the case of
‘e-warrior talents’ and ‘commander skills’, that is the ‘social contacts’ dimen-
sion. The explanation for this relation may presumably be attributed to
people’s great appreciation of these skills. In the case of ‘commander skills’
it can be found, for instance, in the reputation that intelligent people have.
The skills that warriors have are also important for athletes. Consequently,
it is easy to understand that gamers who possess such skills also need to
show their skills to others.
The relation between ‘patience’ and ‘thrill of adventure’ is also under-
standable. Gamers who are patient will more likely feel a need to under-
take an exciting adventure and spend plenty of time in other worlds than
players who are less patient.
52
Christina Schumann and Daniel Schultheiss
13. Findings are shown
only for the
dimensions that were
significant in the for-
mally presented
regression analyses.
As in a multivariate
testing of the
influence of
restrictions on GS and
GO only one variable
was significant, no
multiple regression
analyses are
presented here for
reasons of easy read-
ability. Because of
sample size in the
table, only findings
are shown that were
significant by p <
0.001 and for which
r > .1.
e-warrior talent commander skills patience
N = 4409 N = 4233 N = 4126
r r r
GS
social contacts .21 .17 .10
thrill of adventure n.s. .21
GO
thrill of adventure (GO RPG) .19
power and competition (GO RPG) .16
thrill of adventure (GO strategy games) .17
power and competition (GO strategy games) .10 .18
thrill of adventure (GO FPS) .13
power and competition (GO FPS) .22 .14 n.s.
Figure 7: Relation between subjective restrictions and GS/GO – bivariate correlation.
13
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It is interesting that these GS did not prove to be relevant for explaining
the use of FPS or RPG in the multivariate model, which would have been
conclusive in light of the fact that the genre-specific skills seem to evoke
these requirements.
In the case of strategy games it can be presumed that the nature of the
games counteracts this need. Strategy games are usually played by gamers
alone or against an anonymous opponent online. Consequently, these games
do not really focus on satisfying the social needs of players. Knowing about
this fact could mean that such a need does not even emerge. In the case of
RPG, on the other hand, these missing connections remain unclear.
With regard to the relation of subjective capacities and GO, the following
must be emphasized: the better developed the skills that are important for
success in a specific genre are, the stronger the gratifications that players
receive from this genre. It is interesting that different skills lead to the same
GO, depending on the genre: whether the relevant GO are obtained when
using a specific genre depends primarily on whether or not gamers have the
skills that they need to master the game. If success in a game becomes tangi-
ble, the gratifications obtained while playing different genres are the same;
the only difference is the ‘method taken’. Consequently, the skill ‘patience’ is
responsible for obtaining both ‘thrill of adventure’ and ‘power and competi-
tion’ gratifications in RPG. For strategy games this is the ‘commander skills’
and for FPS it is the ‘e-warrior talent’: when it comes to ‘power and compe-
tition’, the ‘commander skills’ are also influential for FPS. Considering that
FPS games call for lots of tactics, this relation is easy to understand.
Summary
This article has focused on the question of whether it is possible to account
for the use of different video game genres. Three genres – role-playing
games, strategy games and first person shooters – were selected for closer
examination due to the fact that they are popular and distinguishable. A
model, comprising the three explanatory components, GS, GO and restric-
tions or capacities, served as a theoretical basis. Data was collected by way
of an online survey.
The results show that GO and capacities in particular contribute to the
use of video games. While GO are of little help when explaining the differ-
ence in the use of genres and are to be regarded more as general dimensions
for being able to explain the use of video games in general, the capacities
have a greater impact on understanding the differences in genre use.
The decreased explanatory power of GS was, on the other hand, notice-
able. With regard to strategy games, in particular, none of the dimensions
under examination were relevant. Two factors are important for further
research in this field. On the one hand, it seems inadvisable to only consider
GS in empirical studies, as was often the case in the past. The results of this
study suggest that particular attention should be placed on GO. On the other
hand, the fact that GS offer little insight is surprising for such a central line
of research as the uses and gratifications approach. This results in the ques-
tion of whether this approach is well suited for explaining the use of video
games. For future studies it would therefore be important to look at other
theories on media use to explain the use of video games and compare the rel-
evant findings with the results of the uses and gratifications approach.
53
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We also examined whether the restrictions or capacities had an impact
on the GS and GO. Only the capacities proved to be relevant. It was espe-
cially interesting to note that the same GO were influenced by different
capacities for different genres. The reason for this could presumably be
that the gamers basically obtained the same gratifications by having suc-
cess, even though the methods taken to obtain these gratifications in dif-
ferent genres were different.
Although specific GS are influenced by genre-specific skills that gamers
have, it is surprising that these GS do not contribute to explaining the use
of the genre.
Strategy games were used as an example to show that game characteris-
tics may possibly intervene in this connection. Consequently, future studies
should focus more on the characteristics of the game and thus incorporate
components that have, for the most part, been ignored in use research thus
far. The Theory of Subjective Quality Assessment (TSQA) (Wolling 2004, 2006;
Vowe and Wolling 2001, 2004), which focuses on content to explain media
use, could prove to be a suitable approach here.
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Suggested citation
Schumann, C. and Schultheiss, D. (2009), ‘Power and nerves of steel or thrill
of adventure and patience? An empirical study on the use of different video
game genres’, Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds 1: 1, pp. 39–56,
doi: 10.1386/jgvw.1.1.39/1
Contributor details
Christina Schumann, M.A., born in 1980, read Communication Studies, Intercultural
Communication and Psychology in Munich, Germany. Since October 2006 she has
been a Research Assistant at Ilmenau University of Technology (Institute of Media
and Communication Studies, Department of Communication Research/Political
Communication), Germany. Her research focus includes uses and effects of video
games, especially quality in video games.
Contact: Ilmenau University of Technology, Institute of Media and Communication
Science, P.O. Box: 10 05 65, 98684 Ilmenau, Germany.
E-mail: c.schumann@tu-ilmenau.de
Daniel Schultheiss, Dipl.-Medienwiss., born in 1980, read Applied Media Studies at
Ilmenau, Germany. Since April 2007 he has been a doctoral candidate and since
October 2008 a Research Assistant at Ilmenau University of Technology (Institute
of Media and Communication Studies, Department of Media Management),
Germany. His research foci include: motivation, experience and behaviour in video
games; business and sales models for (Internet) games; online communities.
Contact: Ilmenau University of Technology, Institute of Media and Communication
Science, P.O. Box: 10 05 65, 98684 Ilmenau, Germany.
E-mail: daniel.schultheiss@tu-ilmenau.de
56
Christina Schumann and Daniel Schultheiss
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Interview
Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds Volume 1 Number 1 © 2009 Intellect Ltd
Miscellaneous. English language. doi: 10.1386/jgvw.1.1.57/7
A discussion with game designers
The Lord of the Rings: Shadows
of Angmar – LOTRO.com
Maggie Parke Bangor University (UK)
Introduction
No faction of the media and entertainment industry is growing at the
speed and with as much sophistication as is the gaming industry. The
Entertainment Software Association’s website states that, ‘Halo 3, the best-
selling title of 2007, took in more revenue in its first day of sales than the
biggest opening weekend ever for a movie, Spider-Man 3, and the final
Harry Potter book’s first day sales.’
1
Console games were the original and
dominant gaming option, but now players can participate on their com-
puters as well as interactive online gaming. 51 per cent of the most fre-
quent game players say they play games online for at least one hour per
week, up from 31 per cent in 2002. Within these gaming worlds, players
are constantly looking for new avenues of game-play, involvement and
unique storylines as well as extensions of recognizable fictional worlds,
adapted from beloved books; as in The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of
Angmar designed by the Massachusetts-based company, Turbine Inc.
Where once players only had the sophistication of games like Frogger or
Pong, players today can hold second lives within a digitized Middle Earth
that looks as realistic as any green-screened scene from Peter Jackson’s
The Lord of the Rings film trilogy. These players are the creators of the
avatars’ lives, and are thus godlike in their practices. They can interact
with other players, buy, sell and trade goods, create families and kinships,
and embark on epic quests in the style of their favourite Tolkien heroes,
thus giving new social implications to the alternate lives lived within
digital worlds.
With dog-eared copies of The Lord of the Rings as well as the critical and
historical works of Tom Shippey (one of the most prominent Tolkien schol-
ars today) on their desks, the designers sit creating, and I was permitted
access to Turbine Inc. to interview four of them: Chris Clay, Brent Schmidt,
Cardell Kerr and Dan Parke, in order to discuss the adaptation process of
The Lord of the Rings Online: Shadows of Angmar (hereafter referred to as
LOTRO). They shared with me the development process of the game, their
incorporation and reflections of Tolkien’s works and some of the social
opportunities that this digitized Middle Earth presents.
57 JGVW 1 (1) pp. 57–66 © Intellect Ltd 2009
1. ESA: www.theesa.
com/facts/index.asp.
Accessed 12 June
2008.
JGVW_1.1_04_Int_Parke 11/17/08 6:30 PM Page 57
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Maggie Parke
Figure 2: Screenshot from LOTRO.com.
Figure 1: Screenshot from LOTRO.com.
JGVW_1.1_04_Int_Parke 11/17/08 6:30 PM Page 58
How did the game, The Lord of the Rings Online, begin?
It started with a small team hired to develop the game. We began with
some basic aspects of the game such as prototype characters and a few
expected settings (like Bree and Hobbiton), and once we got them down,
we continued to get more funding and more green-lighting. We then had
to hire more people; we were able to discuss the reaches of the game more,
broaden the worlds, add characters, challenges and events, and the com-
pany has only continued to grow to about five times the original number.
The game was released April 24, 2007, and we now have somewhere
around 250,000 users, making us the second largest massively multi-
player online (MMO) game on the Internet.
You have the rights to the novels, correct? What were the beginning
thoughts about expanding the well-known world of Middle Earth?
Yes, we have the rights to the books and the appendices. We work
closely with the Tolkien Estate and they approve every aspect of the
game before it is published. The estate actually wanted us to explore the
worlds that were just touched upon in Tolkien’s works. We were encour-
aged to expand upon Tolkien’s less-realized locations and characters.
For example, if Tolkien had a line in the appendices that said something
like ‘there was a frozen wasteland called Forochel north of the shire
where a mighty king had once died’, we could take that one line of
history and from it create an entire world, following Tolkien’s rules.
We couldn’t and wouldn’t inject anything alien into it; it had to be
believable in Tolkien’s world, but it was up to us to create it. We start
with one line and come up with the whole, believable and acceptable
landscape.
2
Many players will be fans of the novels. Will they recognize anyone in the
game? Are some of the key characters there?
Yes, they are. An avatar can travel to Rivendell and see Frodo recuperating
from the attack on Weathertop. Strider is often around and will even give
your character a task in Bree if you ask him. Because of this, you get to
work, play and fight in the same world as them. In fact, some of the fight-
ing you do enables the Fellowship to complete their tasks. Basically you
can be a kind of unsung hero.
It’s interesting that you can see the known heroes in the game, but you
are your own character. Do you think it is important to have the player be
their own hero?
Definitely. You can’t become the known hero in our game; it’s not a ‘King
of the Hill’ game. An issue many licensed games run into is that players
come to the game with the intent in mind to be the hero, but in a multi-
player game you can’t let a single player be Han Solo any more than you
can let one person be Legolas.
59
A discussion with game designers
2. See www.lotro.com/
book13 for details of
Forochel (accessed 11
June 2008).
JGVW_1.1_04_Int_Parke 11/17/08 6:30 PM Page 59
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Maggie Parke
Figure 4: Screenshot from LOTRO.com.
Figure 3: Screenshot from LOTRO.com.
JGVW_1.1_04_Int_Parke 11/17/08 6:30 PM Page 60
With The Lord of the Rings we start with various heroes as archetypes, as
familiar forms on which to base your avatar. It helped in our designing that
there were so many forms to choose from. Not everyone wants to be like
Aragorn; someone will want to be like Frodo, or Gimli. This allowed us to
have more permutations of the hero from the start, like men, elves, hobbits
and dwarves, and not just one or two. We have four races, two genders of
each race and multiple professions within each subdivision. When the player
first registers with LOTRO, the first thing that they do is create their hero;
here they are able to dictate exactly what their hero will look like and give
him or her a name, so there are multiple possibilities for new heroes in Middle
Earth. You can’t become the hero, but, more individually, you can make your
own hero, existing in Middle Earth at the same time as the known heroes.
There are a number of heroes present in the game, and, as a whole,
the characters put together resemble the Fellowship in appearance,
profession and lineage. What was the creative process for developing
the races? Did you consider the films or your audience when
creating them?
We split up the classes amongst the team. Originally it was just one per-
son working on all of the classes, but when it was split up we had more
unique differences amongst the characters because we all brought
unique ideas to them. Essentially, we split them up, and the team dis-
cussed the classes of hero needed in a game. We looked at the game as a
whole, saw what would work, and what wouldn’t. We wanted movie
moments and book moments because we wanted to fulfill that fantasy for
the fans of both Tolkien’s works and of Jackson’s films, as that is the audi-
ence that would be drawn to our game. (Movie moments: i.e. in character
movement, such as when Legolas slides down the trunk of the Oliphant,
or when the black riders pass through the scene on the hunt; they move
and look just as they do in the film and are therefore recognizable. Book
moments: i.e. aspects of the novels that were missing in the films but can
be woven into the plot and extra detail of the game such as characters
like Tom Bombadil, or lines from the text of the books that did not appear
in the films.)
There’s a big social aspect to this game in that you can run into other
avatars that have a live person controlling them. Is there any kind of
identity of the real person?
Your hero is completely anonymous from you. The avatar has its own
name, house, kinship, fellowship…there’s no association or identifica-
tion of the human playing the hero unless the players decide to reveal
that information. There is the ability to chat in the game, so it’s possi-
ble that people could get into a discussion as people and not just as
avatars. In fact, due to the long play times associated with these
games, many players use them as a social outlet. We’ve gotten numer-
ous letters from people that met their significant others in our game
worlds, showing that very meaningful relations can ascend beyond the
confines of our game.
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A discussion with game designers
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Maggie Parke
Figure 6: Screenshot from LOTRO.com.
Figure 5: Screenshot from LOTRO.com.
JGVW_1.1_04_Int_Parke 11/17/08 6:30 PM Page 62
How does the player become more heroic in the game? Better weapons?
More power? Followers?
The more experience your avatar has, and the more quests that they com-
plete, the more powerful they become. They learn new skills for their pro-
fession, they gain better gear and armour, they can obtain a horse, the
Captain has a follower after a certain level, and they can earn titles of
recognition from accomplishing certain feats as well.
What have been some of the challenges in the actual design of the game?
Have you encountered any problems while adapting the book to the game?
The ultimate challenge was transforming one form of media into another.
Books convey information well, while leaving details open to the imagina-
tion of the reader. Games convey only details that matter for interaction.
The biggest challenge was ensuring that the interaction was fun, realistic
and immersive, while maintaining the overall themes of the novels. We
couldn’t have anything that took you ‘out’ of the game or broke that
sense of fantasy. For example, we had a hard time developing how to get
the avatar to ride a horse believably. It looked unrealistic and the rider
wouldn’t move the right way with the horse. Finally we decided to make
‘horse pants’ essentially; at least that’s how the code reads. The avatar
puts on ‘horse pants’ and then it moves as an extension of their legs and
looks natural.
I’ve heard a lot about the ‘T-Factor’ around here (Tolkien factor – the
designers used this term as a measure for the amount of Tolkien-like
aspects to a game element). It seems like it’s almost a competition of who
can be more Tolkien-like in their design. What are some of the more
outstanding T-factor elements? What, if anything, had to be changed from
Tolkien’s original design?
Well for one, Tom Bombadil is present in the game. We want to distinguish
ourselves from the films, and we were able to include a number of things
that aren’t in the films. We want the game to refer to the books more than
the films, and to include as many Tolkien elements as it can, so the designers
often get competitive about who can include more ‘T-Factor’ components.
One area where we made deliberate efforts to increase the ‘T-factor’ was
early in the player’s experience of the game. It is most visible during the ini-
tial solo-instances that each character goes through when first created
(these instances are without interaction from other online players; it is
essentially a tutorial to instruct you on how to navigate the game). In the Elf
instance, players meet Elrond. In the Dwarf instance, Gandalf and Thorin
can be seen in conversation, and if you look at their dialogue you can see
hints and allusions to the events of the Hobbits that are about to happen. In
both instances for the Race of Man and the Hobbits you see a black rider.
We tried to find iconic characters and to situate the instance at a significant
point in the timeline of the world. For the long-lived Dwarves and Elves, we
could effectively make the instances ‘flashbacks’ to much earlier times,
catching the players up to the current timeline of the world afterward.
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A discussion with game designers
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64
Maggie Parke
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JGVW_1.1_04_Int_Parke 11/17/08 6:30 PM Page 64
An example of something that we had to change from the books was in
relation to the Elves. Elves shouldn’t deal with money in theory (there may
always be renegade Elves that break the social norms, but as a whole they
do not need or deal with currency), but it is somewhat necessary for them
to do so in order to interact with this society and be an active part in the
game. So elves ‘in the world’ use money, and trade.
Similar to the Amish?
Yes, exactly.
There were a few ways in which we were able to correct some other
discrepancies as well. For example, a hobbit can get good shoes for com-
pleting a quest that make his feet tougher, thereby extending his
strength, but, really, hobbits shouldn’t wear shoes, they should be bare-
foot. So there is a menu you can bring up to not show the shoes. The
character still gets the protection, but they are invisible and the hobbit
looks barefoot, as Tolkien intended him to be, thereby not distracting
from the narrative.
Closing thoughts
It is evident that the staff at Turbine Inc. are passionate about their work,
and most are enthusiastic fans of Tolkien’s novels. I found that this enthu-
siasm translates into the game, as minute details reveal a level of commit-
ment to the story that only true Tolkienists or fanatics would recognize.
The ability to create and act as your own hero in a recognizable realm
such as Middle Earth empowers the player, and with the opportunity to
gain abilities and recognizable gear to make your hero stronger, more
important and revered, the game offers social esteem and opportunities for
individual growth, as well as social interaction.
While deviations from Tolkien’s original work exist, they are incorpo-
rated seamlessly and do not remove the player from the immersive story; if
anything, the new storylines are so convincing and well-researched that it
often becomes difficult to recall what fact or event came from Tolkien’s
novels and what came from the game. The game is also still continuing to
grow and expand into the other little-mentioned worlds of Tolkien’s imag-
ination, thus retaining audience interest and keeping the game fresh and
new. With this continuous growth and commitment to a quality product,
it appears that The Lord of the Rings: Shadows of Angmar will retain its die-
hard following as well as attract new players, whether they are familiar
with Tolkien and his works or are just avid gamers.
Suggested citation
Parke, M. (2009), ‘A discussion with game designers The Lord of the Rings: Shadows
of Angmar – LOTRO.com’, Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds 1: 1, pp. 57–66,
doi: 10.1386/jgvw.1.1.57/7
Contributor details
Maggie Parke is a second year PhD student at the National Institute for Excellence
in the Creative Industries at Bangor University, where she is studying the adaptation
process of select fantasy works. She is focusing on The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter,
65
A discussion with game designers
JGVW_1.1_04_Int_Parke 11/17/08 6:30 PM Page 65
Twilight, His Dark Materials and The Dark is Rising from book to film, to video game
and to merchandise. Originally from the States, she has spent the past year observ-
ing film sets and game design companies and researching with authors in Boston,
Portland, and San Francisco.
Contact: National Institute for Excellence in the Creative Industries, Bangor
University, College Road, Bangor, Gwynedd, LL57 2DG.
E-mail: maggie_parke@hotmail.com
66
Maggie Parke
JGVW_1.1_04_Int_Parke 11/17/08 6:30 PM Page 66
Reviews
Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds Volume 1 Number 1 © 2009 Intellect Ltd
Reviews. English language. doi: 10.1386/jgvw.1.1.67/4
Vicarious play: a jaunt through computer role-playing
game history
Dungeons & Desktops: The History of Computer
Role-Playing Games, Matt Barton (2008), First Edition
Wellesley, MA: A K Peters, Ltd, 451pp.,
ISBN 978-1-56881-411-7, Hardback, $39.00 (USD).
Reviewed by Matthew S. S. Johnson, Southern Illinois University
Edwardsville (IL, USA)
I have often said at academic conferences that computer games, despite
having only been around since the 1960s (Steve Russell’s 1961 mainframe
game, Spacewar!, is often touted the first), have a rich history; perhaps
one equally complex as other media forms that have enjoyed far lengthier
lifetimes. Part of the reason for this intricacy – and, even more so, the
amazing speed at which it developed – is that computer games evolved with
computer technology, and computers (clearly) have steadily and exponen-
tially increased in complexity, pervasiveness and integration into the every-
day. Matt Barton’s Dungeons & Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing
Games serves as fine evidence for that theory. He traces computer role-playing
games (CRPGs) from their paper and pencil and tabletop origins to the
introduction of the ‘first true CRPGs’ in the late 1970s (p. 28), systemati-
cally highlighting games from that period through just before publication of
the book (which is significant, as the history has moved so quickly – per-
haps we should expect to see another Barton CRPG history, equally as
impressive, in another four or five years). Any gamer playing pedit5 or
Dungeon switching to Morrowind or Everquest will need no further convinc-
ing – and yet, as Barton argues throughout the book, the fundamentals
were present in those earlier titles, clearly indicating that even games from
the late 1970s and early 1980s can be as immersive and fun as today’s
comparatively sophisticated massively multiplayer online role-playing games
(MMORPGs), although later titles’ gameplay is generally more complicated
and their graphics far, far more realistic (yet perhaps Barton’s history
proves that their development is also only arguably progressive).
Dungeons & Desktops starts where one might expect: with definitional
work about what constitutes a ‘role-playing game’ as opposed to other
game genres (Barton uses the term ‘true’ to refer to those games that fit
squarely within his definition, but he does not neglect CRPG-related
games), an unavoidable task, given the 42 game genres into which Mark
J. P. Wolf (2001) previously broke down video games. Barton gracefully
weaves this definitional work in with examples of games he addresses
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further, later in the book. In fact, I might mention here that this practice –
connecting one portion of his text with others – is a particular strength
of Barton’s, lending the whole text a coherence that should be present in
all good histories (if the reader is not bothered by frequent comments
such as ‘we’ll hear more about X later’, ‘we’ll discuss X further in the
next chapter’ or ‘we’ll return to X throughout the book’). Scholars who
have read Dungeons & Desktops will indeed be able to refer to Barton’s
definition as a quick way to cover this essential task in their own future
scholarship.
After examining the origins of the CRPG – well before the genre
existed and examples of it became playable, from war games (of the nine-
teenth century) to tabletop sports simulation games (appearing as early
as 1941), from J. R. R. Tolkien (on whose 1950s books much fantasy
gameplaying of whatever medium is based) to Gary Cygax and Dave
Arneson’s traditional Dungeons & Dragons story-based and dice-governed
games (p. 13–24) – Barton covers CRPG history proper. He breaks his his-
tory into six chronological segments, which he titles according to eras of
human civilization. For instance, the ‘Dark Age’ consists mainly of main-
frame games and those designed for now comparatively obscure plat-
forms. Covered here are games for which information is now difficult to
trace (although Barton does an admirable job in doing so) and examples
hard to come by. The ‘Bronze Age’ sees the advent of the personal com-
puter, and therefore many more widely available games. In the ‘Silver
Age’, during which CRPGs really came into their own, we see such well-
known and groundbreaking titles (and series) as Ultima and Wizardry.
The ‘Golden Age’, which is broad enough that Barton splits it into three
sub-eras, is the period in which ‘demand and budgets soared’, ‘developers
slaved away at their keyboards, fueled by Mountain Dew and extraordi-
nary constitutions’ and when ‘the genre hit the fan’ (p. 87). Semantically
pleasing moments like these also indicate that Barton’s authorial voice
has clearly rolled an eighteen for charisma. The ‘Platinum Age’ follows,
marking the recovery of the industry’s ‘spectacular disasters’ (p. 271) of
the 1990s, and introducing Baldur’s Gate, which (I agree with Barton)
was positively ‘magnificent’ (p. 287). Fallout and Planescape: Torment also
debut, which (I also agree with Barton) were ‘among the best CRPGs ever
to grace a desktop’ (p. 287). This is, by the way, one of the attractions of
the book: the author is often unapologetically blunt in his game assess-
ments, yet I typically cannot find fault in his evaluations (as much as I
felt it my duty to try, especially as I rekindle memories of those titles that
I wanted to enjoy so badly, but simply could not, such as the later Quest for
Glory games). Last is the ‘Modern Age’, in which, Barton argues,
‘Western CRPG developers focus their energies on consoles rather than
computer platforms’ (p. 383), despite the release of several best-selling
titles for the computer, such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and
the latest in the Elder Scrolls series (the spectacular), Oblivion. Barton then
focuses on several major console titles. The Modern Age also contains
MMORPGs – Ultima Online, EverQuest, Star Wars: Galaxies and World of
Warcraft, simply to name a few. (It is on the MMO game that current game
studies scholarship seems to overwhelmingly focus. Whether we deem
that emphasis justifiable or no, the sheer numbers of games on which
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Barton reports indicates a considerable imbalance.) Barton closes his his-
tory with a speculative discussion about CRPGs’ future, largely focusing
on the CRPG versus the MMORPG.
The book covers comparatively little about the history of either the
games’ authors, development/production companies, the industry itself
or the ‘culture of gaming’ (although mentions of and brief commen-
taries on all of these aspects of the world of gaming are woven into the
prose seamlessly). Barton also offers readers numerous screenshots
(although these – except for eight glossy, high-quality images placed at
the centre of the book – are black and white and somewhat poorly
reproduced, which is too bad; however, we get the idea, higher-quality
reproduction would doubtless considerably raise the price of the book,
and the images’ inclusion is most welcome). It is, as the title indicates,
specifically a history about the games (but also in this respect, as the title
does not indicate, it is a history, as opposed to the history of the CRPG).
In this sense, Dungeons & Desktops would admirably complement Steven
L. Kent’s The Ultimate History of Computer Games (2003), which covers
the gaming industry, concentrating more on console games; Rusel
Demaria and Johnny L. Wilson’s High Score (2004), which is as good for
its superbly reproduced images as for its text, covering games, compa-
nies and people (also less in-depth, doubtless in part to make room for
all of those flashy images); David Kushner’s Masters of Doom (2003), a
unique book that concentrates on John Carmack and John Romero of id
Software and Doom’s effect on a wider public; and Brad King and John
Borland’s Dungeons & Dreamers (2003), which is a cultural study above
all else. (Readers may also be interested in Van Burnham’s Supercade
(2003), a stunning ‘visual history’ of gaming with contributions from
multiple authors; the book itself is ‘game-like’ and charismatic). In fact,
Dungeons & Desktops would serve well as the connective tissue that
might hold these other works together – none cover the games them-
selves in greater detail than Barton (and none exclusively cover role-
playing games either).
Unlike in these other titles, the historical eras in Dungeons & Desktops
are, with few exceptions – such as brief introductory and chapter transi-
tion paragraphs or interludes to discuss major industry events (such as the
aforementioned slump of the 1990s) – broken down by individual game
title. Barton describes the games themselves, covering: overall storylines;
design platforms; authors/programmers (where pertinent – usually for
earlier games); characteristics of gameplay, such as available character
classes, races, skills, number of party members; less often, but not infre-
quently, connections to other popular culture artefacts (such as Star Trek
or Middle Earth, Neuromancer or Dungeons & Dragons); gameplay emphases
such as exploration, story or combat; connections to other games (usually
similarities between gameplay or the programming engine, for instance);
and other general information about each title. A typical passage reads as
follows:
Baldur’s Gate also offers much more strategy than Diablo. Rather than simplify
or dumb down battle tactics, the real-time aspect adds a new dimension –
the time it takes to perform an action (casting a spell, quaffing a potion,
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switching weapons, etc.) may leave a character more vulnerable, and magic-
users can be interrupted if they take damage while casting. Many reviewers
praised the game for staying so faithful to the official AD&D rules without
baffling novices with the details. The math is kept mostly in the background,
but it is there for those players who enjoy numbers.
(p. 346)
I admit that this is a fairly random selection, but that does not lessen its
status as a ‘typical passage’. In fact, the semi-random selection process I
employed puts into sharp relief a strong characteristic of the book: this
style of game summary/commentary is practised for most of the copious
games covered in these 430 plus pages. While often the text can be, from a
certain perspective, tedious, nevertheless in this short passage Barton: 1)
compares one game to another; 2) evaluates the game overall; 3) provides
details of the gameplay; 4) highlights the game’s original reception; and 5)
offers advice as to whom the game might appeal. The key, then, to Barton,
I imagine, is in the details. Depending on what readers are looking for, this
strategy can be – in a fairly binary way – positive or negative.
Who might read the Dungeons & Desktops is key here, as while the book
may appeal to significantly different audiences it also conflates them to an
extent – or at least, in spots, the book cannot quite figure out to whom it is
speaking. Scholars will be interested in the great detail that Barton provides
(although comparatively few scholars will really need to know that Curse of
the Azure Bonds ‘removed the individual character portraits but kept the icons’
(p. 150) – and such details are commonplace throughout the text – but who
knows?), but will also be frustrated by the lack of documentation throughout
the text (few footnotes are provided and only when absolutely necessary, no
bibliography is included and even where direct quotations are taken from
other books, no page numbers accompany them). But if the text is not
directed towards an academic audience, then we could probably lose the ref-
erences to James Paul Gee (p. 3) and Ludwig Wittgenstein (p. 4). Without
doubt, gamers will appreciate the game comparisons and the enormous detail
Barton offers (especially if they are familiar with the games in question), as
well as the quotations from famous (worshipped?) game designers. ‘Older’
gamers – those in their thirties – will hugely enjoy the nostalgic trip on which
Dungeons & Desktops takes them (it was not uncommon while reading for me
to exclaim, ‘Oh, yes, I do remember that!’ and Barton reminded me of games
that I otherwise would have entirely forgotten). Scholars and gamers alike,
who might be interested in reviewing/analysing/playing earlier games, espe-
cially for the first time, will find the book an absolutely invaluable resource for
sorting through what would be most productive and/or enjoyable. Hardcore
CRPGers, of course, will love the book through and through. And Barton –
despite, I think, conflating audiences somewhat – has nevertheless smartly
arranged the book (complete with ample headers) so that whatever the
reader’s objectives, they can easily skip around from game to game, passage to
passage. To put it another way, Dungeons & Desktops has great re-playability
potential from the perspectives of different professional character classes.
What will appeal to all readers, though, is something that can be found
in Dungeons & Desktops exclusively: the author’s personal correspondence
with many of the games’ creators. Throughout the book, Barton includes
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quotations from personal e-mails that he has exchanged with, to name a
few, James Aspnes (TinyMUD), Michael Cranford (The Bard’s Tale – the bard
was ‘just an afterthought’? [p. 94]. Say it ain’t so!) and Chris Taylor (Total
Annihilation, Dungeon Siege). These game creators add to the book their
motivations, commentary and criticisms of their own games, personal
anecdotes and answers to the seemingly burning questions of their loyal
fan bases. In addition – although this information can, if exceedingly
inconveniently, be found elsewhere – Barton integrates a wealth of mater-
ial from various gaming and personal websites, blogs, online game reviews
and even several gaming magazines from over the course of the last thirty
years, illustrating clearly his extensive research.
It is important to note, though, that Barton is not only a researcher; he
is also – which is incontrovertibly revealed after pursuing but a few pages
of his book – a gamer. He communicates his gaming experience, comprised
without question of both ‘authentic’ and ‘researched’ experiences (empha-
sis on the former). He writes about games as a gamer: on The Bard’s Tale,
Barton comments, ‘I lost track of the times I created an entire party of
adventurers, only to have them all perish in a random encounter before I
could make it to Garth’s weapon shop!’ (p. 93). I feel your pain, Dr Barton.
And on Rings of Zilfin he advises, ‘If you’ve ever wanted a CRPG that lets
you feed a cookie to a water dragon, look no further’ (p. 109). Indeed, who
hasn’t! His love of games and gaming is made apparent throughout the
text, a quality of his writing much appreciated, at least by this reader. His
credibility as a gamer is, ultimately, unquestionable.
His personality also shines through as an honest historian, unafraid to
indicate where research failed to produce answers, or materials simply
could not be located: ‘The version I played [of Moria] listed 1979 as the
earliest release date, but several later versions were produced (up to
1984). Though I’m not sure who did what or when, the six authors cred-
ited on the menu screen are …’ (p. 33). And, ‘[I]t’s much easier to acquire
these [later] games and run them on a modern computer, whereas we
must rely on second-hand accounts of games such as pedit5 and orthanc’
(p. 43). Barton’s prose is as conversational as it is comprehensive.
While the book is not for everyone – casual readers may tire of relent-
less detail (even half-dedicated gamers might), and only so much detail
can be provided per game in the maximum few pages devoted to each any-
way – Dungeons & Desktops should grace games studies scholars’ book-
shelves (and be close at hand when writing scholarly articles, even if the
book would benefit from a more in-depth index and bibliography), and
those already interested in games will find much of the book interesting,
even delightful, especially if read in multiple, short sittings. I will certainly
be among the first to purchase the sequel, which would be appropriate to
release, I imagine, in only a handful of years – just long enough for every-
thing in computer role-playing games to have changed.
Works cited
Burnham, V. (2003), Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame Age 1971–1984,
Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Demaria, R. and Wilson, J. L. (2004), High Score: The Illustrated History of Electronic
Games, 2nd ed., New York: McGraw-Hill/Osborne.
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Kent, S. L. (2003), The Ultimate History of Computer Games, New York: Prima Life.
King, B. and Borland, J. (2003), Dungeons and Dreamers: The Rise of Computer Game
Culture, from Geek to Chic, New York: McGraw-Hill.
Kushner, D. (2003), Masters of Doom: How Two Guys Created an Empire and
Transformed Pop Culture, New York: Random House, Inc.
Wolf, M. J. P. (2001), ‘Genre and the video game’, in M. J. P. Wolf (ed.), The Medium
of the Video Game, Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, pp. 113–34.
What else can I be? A critical evaluation of World of Warcraft
Reviewed by Kevin Knott, Frostburg State University (ML, USA)
On 22 January 2008, Blizzard Entertainment reported that its World of
Warcraft (WoW) had surpassed ten million users worldwide, making the
game (in Blizzard’s words) the most popular massively multiplayer online
role-playing game (MMORPG) on the market (Blizzard 2008). And yet,
amid the congratulations and the applause on that day, one could never-
theless imagine the ghosts of past and ‘yet to come’ MMORPGs lingering
above the podium, whispering as they did so to ‘beware the chains forged
in virtual life’. Blizzard is no literal Scrooge, not in the bitter and miserly
way the character is so often rendered on television and film. Rather, the
company’s success haunts it and the industry in much the same way that
Scrooge was haunted more by his many regrets and failures than by any
disembodied spectre. WoW represents, to game developers and academics
alike, the pinnacle of the MMORPG market: a highly populated, fully real-
ized, virtual gaming experience that has accrued for itself enough cultural
capital to inspire at least one Emmy-winning television programme and
the promise of a future full-length film. And yet, as satisfying as its success
has been, the game also demonstrates the lows of MMO gameplay. For
many gamers, WoW is synonymous with the tedium of unimaginative,
redundant questing, all for the sake of keeping players preoccupied until a
new peak of in-game success can be manufactured. Regardless, the game’s
player base continues to grow, and with another expansion looming in the
autumn (Wrath of the Lich King), WoW may once again reach another
milestone of commercial success on its fourth anniversary (having been
released on 23 November 2004).
In the light of that upcoming anniversary, let us take a moment to con-
sider what World of Warcraft has taught us about MMORPGs through its
successes and failures. Perhaps the most important lesson is the one iden-
tified by Jeff Strain in his speech, ‘How to create a successful MMO’, pre-
sented last year at the Games Convention (GC) in Leipzig:
Before you start building the ultimate MMO, you should accept that ‘MMO’ is
a technology, not a game design. It still feels like many MMOs are trying to
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build on the fundamental designs established by UO [Ultima Online] and EQ
[EverQuest] in the late ‘90s.
(Strain 2007)
Far from simply ‘building upon these fundamental designs’, recent MMOs
such as WoW have copied and pasted familiar RPG gameplay in an effort
to reduce the most daunting aspect of MMOs for casual gamers, namely
the high learning curve.WoWusers, for example, must first acquaint them-
selves with the dizzying array of choices presented to them. Between race,
class and the physical appearance of the player’s avatar (colloquially
referred to as a ‘char’ or ‘toon’), there is still the choice of server type, which
vary widely in actual gameplay. Again, EverQuest provided the model here
with its player versus player (PvP) server, Zek, the numerous standard
servers, and the ‘role-playing preferred server’ Firiona Vie – of course, there
was also the short-lived Legends server Stormhammer, intended to offer
premium content (in-character support) for players willing to pay more
money each month. WoW has modelled its own server offerings on
EverQuest’s design by providing players the choice between four types: PvP,
Normal (like EQ’s standard servers), RP (role playing) and RP-PVP (role
playing within a PvP context). And to further potential players’ agony,
they must then choose from more than 200 (in North America alone)
servers, long before they even have the opportunity to create characters
and experience the actual game.
Among the glut of abbreviations there is nevertheless a simple truth.
MMOs present players with a digital playground in which numerous
games within the larger ‘game’ may take place. Thus, WoW’s enduring
legacy may be its success in forging multiple interactive communities
rather than one seamless gaming experience. After all, at its heart, WoWis
yet another fantasy adventure game that has directly inherited the RPG
design of its predecessors, Ultima Online and EverQuest, as much as it has
copied and advanced the existing MMO technology. In this way, the famil-
iar RPG experience of creating a character with a particular race (inevitably
a Tolkien model with some variation of elves, dwarves and small
humanoids like hobbits) and class (the fundamental Dungeons & Dragons
model of upfront warriors, stealthy rogues, dependable healers and
immensely powerful magi) is seemingly written into the very DNA of the
modern MMORPG – and all the more so with WoW. But with apologies to
MMOs that have attempted to break this mould, such as Tabula Rasa and
Star Wars: Galaxies, the genre of the game (science fiction, fantasy, horror,
etc.) has had little influence on the success and failure of MMOs.
Instead, the answer may be in the ability of the game to enable the
players to craft their own game experiences, to make choices in how they
spend their time and the people they associate with (if any at all) as they
explore the virtual world created for them. In WoW, we see a pastiche of
basic fantasy elements that are as often forgettable as they are familiar,
such as the wizened old mentor who guides the hero in his or her jour-
ney, or the monster who terrorizes a community without purpose or rea-
son. And then there are the myriad ‘zones’ or lands that are scattered
across the world of Azeroth, the fictional planet where the game takes
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place. Like a modern theme park of pulp adventure, players can cross
gothic forests on their way to dense jungles as they complete quests, usu-
ally to retrieve and/or deliver an item (referred to as a ‘Fed Ex’ quest),
gather an item from animal or humanoid enemy (‘drop’ quest) or the
occasional mission to defeat a villainous character or group of characters
(often a set number such as ‘kill 12 Syndicate Footpads’). Even the his-
tory of Azeroth is little more than a backdrop for the quests, though it is
rich and inviting just the same. Most players can reach the maximum
level of the game (currently set at 70) without ever paying attention to
the contemporary events or the various political factions that supposedly
call upon the player’s character for help. For example, the Burning
Crusade expansion, released last year (17 January 2007), gave players the
option to choose between two new political factions in addition to the ini-
tial choice between Alliance (Tolkienesque heroic races of humans, elves,
dwarves, gnomes and, now, draenei – a satyr-like race) and Horde (the
monstrous races of orc, troll, tauren, undead and, now, blood elves).
Unlike the endless conflict between the Alliance and the Horde, these new
factions, Aldor and Scryer, merely create a context for the adventures
across Outland, the remains of the draenei home world, though the
player’s choice does limit access to quests and some areas within the cen-
tral city of Shattrath. In the end, the choice has little actual impact on
gameplay, and it was later parodied in the satiric machinima ‘Jimmy: The
World of Warcraft Story’ as a melodramatic sundering of an old friendship
between two gnome mages, one who chose Scryer for its epic ring reward
and the other who chose Aldor for the nearly epic staff: a traditional
American civil war story (Sirschmoopy 2007).
The value of Strain’s observation, then, may not be in the recognition
that the gaming industry is still wrestling with the actual technology of
delivering the MMO experience (though certainly this is a legitimate con-
cern), but rather that the supposed primacy of game design and content
has led us to make potentially false assumptions about what players value
in their MMORPGs of choice. Later in his speech, Strain tempers the
excitement of potential MMO designers by relating James Phinney’s belief
that ‘half of the appeal of an MMO isn’t anything we designers do – it’s
simply the fact that there are other players, so we should make a world
that players want to live in’ (Strain 2007). And yet, such an observation
begs the question of why more established franchises, with large built-in
fan bases, namely Lord of the Rings Online and Star Wars: Galaxies, have
failed to inspire a larger community when these are worlds in which fans
so clearly want to live. In Timothy Burke’s October 2005 review of Star
Wars: Galaxies, we are told that the game mechanics so often conflict with
fans’ assumptions about the fictional world of Star Wars that the game
reputedly doesn’t feel ‘Star Warsy’ enough (Burke 2005). WoWclearly has
no such problem, though die-hard fans of Blizzard’s real-time strategy
(RTS) game Warcraft often remark on how important that game was in
determining the meta-plot, class choices and geography of Azeroth.
Nevertheless, familiarity with Warcraft is unnecessary for enjoying the
MMO based upon it, and a lack of familiarity may even facilitate a greater
appreciation of World of Warcraft since it eschews the epic war story of
Warcraft for a more generic RPG fantasy adventure. Further, it could be
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said that players enjoy the game in spite of the world setting, since they so
often congregate in the same select locations, leading more than a few to
avoid towns like Goldshire or cities such as Shattrath on a Saturday night
when the sheer number of players in one place can result in significant game
slowing (‘lag’) or even the complete destabilization of the game (‘crash’).
Thus, WoW may be a victim of its own success and a misleading tem-
plate for future and current MMOs, even as it presents a tantalizing subject
for scholars eager to better understand the significance of MMORPGs.
After all, what exactly is the game of WoW? Do we define it by the fantasy
adventure that leads a player’s character across a fictional landscape, the
inter-personal conflicts that arise when real-life friends find themselves in
direct competition within the game world or the performance(s) that
emerge as players take control of the virtual environment to construct
their own entertainment separate from the game itself ? In a recent series
of television advertisements, William Shatner, Mr T. and Verne Troyer are
featured separately extolling their love of WoW and subsequently asking
the audience ‘What’s your game?’ (Blizzard 2007). Implied in the ads is
the belief that the ‘game’ is a matter of choosing one’s preferred class – a
shaman for Shatner, a warrior for Mr T. and a mage for Troyer, all of
whom have chosen the class and race that most resembles their physical
appearance and real-life personality. But if there is one lesson we learn in
Charles Dickens’ story A Christmas Carol, it is simply that we are not who
we appear to be (or were in the case of former celebrities), rather what we
may one day become. Thus, the same can be said of World of Warcraft, a
game that is perhaps better defined by its potential as a fascinating and
immense collection of interactive communities than the popular MMORPG
it is today.
Works cited
Blizzard Entertainment (2003), World of Warcraft, Vivendi Games.
Blizzard (2007), ‘World of Warcraft commercials’, WorldofWarcraft.com, www.
worldofwarcraft.com/downloads/movies.html. Accessed 3 May 2008.
Blizzard (2008), ‘World of Warcraft reaches new milestone: 10 million sub-
scribers’, Blizzard.com, www.blizzard.com/us/press/080122.html. Accessed
3 May 2008.
Burke, T. (2005), ‘Can a table stand on one leg? Critical and ludological thoughts
on Star Wars: Galaxies’, Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game
Research, 5:1, www.gamestudies.org/0501/burke/. Accessed 3 May 2008.
Sirschmoopy (2007), ‘Jimmy: the World of Warcraft story’, Machinima.com, www.
machinima.com/film/view&id=22374#. Accessed 3 May 2008.
Strain, J. (2007), ‘How to create a successful MMO’, Guildwars.com, www.
guildwars.com/events/tradeshows/gc2007/gcspeech. Accessed 3 May 2008.
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It’s not real until you can tax it: how gaming, yet again,
changes reality
Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun is Changing Reality,
Edward Castronova (2007), First Edition
New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 256pp.,
ISBN 1-4039-8412-3, Hardback, $24.95 (USD).
Computer. Computer. Hello Computer …The keyboard.
How quaint. Montgomery Scott, Star Trek: The Voyage Home
(Nimoy et al. 1986).
Reviewed by Mary Elizabeth Sullivan, Kent State University
(OH, USA)
That twenty to thirty million people across western society (kids, adults,
students, teachers, fathers, mothers, democrats and bureaucrats alike)
have flocked to virtual worlds to play is not news. One of the great appeals
of virtual worlds is that they may mirror the ideas for the future that people
expected would become a part of our current reality, from computers that
are voice-activated and intuitive to flying cars, transporters or even more
gentile societies. Nor is it news that people’s real lives are being shaped in
significant ways by their online activities, as evidenced by the growing
incidents of real-life divorces filed for virtual indiscretions, gaming
‘addictions’ or inattention (in real or virtual life), or the cottage industry
cropping up for divorce lawyers and counsellors in virtual realms.
In Exodus to the Virtual World, though, Edward Castronova considers
the ways he believes that everyone’s daily reality will change because of
the economics of virtual or, more appropriately, synthetic-world play. To
demonstrate the impact of virtual play on real-world policies, Castronova
begins the text with the example of ‘Carla’, a woman who lives in the
United States and works in a car dealership by day, and designs and sells
dresses in Second Life by night. In this scenario, Carla is able to start mak-
ing enough money through dress sales, eventually exchanging Lindens
(the monetary unit in Second Life) into real US dollars, that this income
represents roughly 40 per cent of her entire earnings. Castronova hypoth-
esizes first that, as a significant portion of her income, Carla’s Second Life
earnings will eventually be recognized by public policy-makers and will be
figured into the gross national product (GNP) (for Carla is producing the
virtual dresses in the United States). Second, Castronova suggests that
these earnings will eventually be taxed as income. These changes in policy
that generate revenue for the government will directly impact Carla and
American citizens as more money flows into the economy. These are the
more short-term effects that Castronova sees virtual worlds having in the
real world. Other writers such as Julian Dibbell (2006) have shown that it
is already possible to live in the real world on money earned from virtual
labour, and John C. Beck and Mitchell Wade (2004) consider how gamers
are changing the real world workplace through the value they place on
skill competence and the constant desire to improve oneself.
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However, rather than examining the short-term impact of ‘synthetic
worlds’ on the ‘real world’ (the author’s divisions to separate material real-
ity from that in computer environments), Castronova’s major project is to
consider why this exodus will take place, the workings of virtual economies
and the long-term impact of synthetic-world play on material societies.
Specifically, he makes four predictions for people within the next forty
years. He suggests: 1) that even more people will participate in online
gaming environments – an ‘exodus’ to the virtual world, affecting the
world of non-gamers; 2) that as a result of this exodus the public will
equate game and public policy designs as similar activities; 3) that tech-
niques successfully used in synthetic worlds will find their way into real-
world policy debates; and 4) that people will develop a deeper understanding
of happiness, and that public policy will have to focus more directly on
human happiness than it does now (p. xvii).
Using basic economic theory, Castronova describes how, given the
choice between work and play, people naturally choose play because it is
simply more fun. This is why Castronova expects an exodus to occur.
Describing the appeal of virtual play is more involved. To account for what
makes virtual-world play more fun than real-world play, the author
explains that in synthetic environments the rules are fair, that rules apply
to every player equally, that there is a stronger adherence to following the
rules and that outcomes for play are more predictable. For instance, if a
player is told that she must beat a dragon to receive an upgraded sword
and ten gold pieces, she can count on receiving that reward upon comple-
tion of the task. In like fashion, anyone else who completes the same task
can expect the same reward. Also, in synthetic worlds, rewards for com-
pleting difficult tasks are greater than completing easier ones. Further,
Castronova contends that designers engineer the games to be fun, and cre-
ate policies that are intended to maximize enjoyment of the experience.
Moreover, synthetic worlds have certain advantages over other media
including video games (and perhaps) the real world: interactivity that may
be lacking in other settings is present in an immersive environment that
provides a multi-sensory experience and sociality – a sense of shared goals
experienced in reaching those goals. In simplest terms, people can see
direct outcomes for what they do, feeling worth through their work in vir-
tual worlds (especially if ridding a kingdom of a dragon). In real-world
contexts, people cannot expect the same fairness, rewards, policies meant
to make everyone happy or shared sense of investment in the world.
Castronova theorizes that if future generations grow up socialized in
synthetic-world environments, they will develop expectations about how
things are done. When designers create virtual worlds, they appear as gov-
ernments who are only interested in policies that make people happy or
life more fun. Consequently, ‘the gamer generation’ (to borrow a phrase
from Beck and Wade [2004]) will expect public policy to mirror its under-
standings of fun, justice and so on, all to make its members’ lives more
enjoyable. Ultimately, Castronova projects that for the material world to
have any relevance for future citizens, laws and public policy will need to
re-adjust to people’s expectations.
Castronova envisions the way that the real world will need to
change to mimic the ‘fun economy’ of play to respond to people’s shift in
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expectations of government policies. He suggests that those interested in
public policies can look to game designers for ways to make the real world
more fun. The economies and societies in games can serve as examples of
how real economies and societies can, or should, be constructed. Describing
a process of quick deliberation, and then lengthy testing periods in virtual
worlds, Castronova suggests that governments could benefit from this
model so that people can have a voice in policy-making and the rules that
result can be amended (so there are fewer rules), rather than adding layer
upon layer of rules and enforcement of them. More importantly, as people
come to expect the real world to be more fun, Castronova envisions eight
places that fun economies will put pressure on real-world societies. Among
them, real-world governments must:
• provide meaningful employment for everyone who wants to work;
• equalize opportunity so that everyone starts out on an equal basis;
• equalize outcomes so that the reward is commensurate with the risk
involved in completing a goal or task; and
• move towards a fee-for-service model instead of flat taxes (p. 139).
For gamers, non-gamers and policy-makers alike, video games and virtual
worlds fundamentally suggest a change in the social order of the real
world. Castronova describes this shift as the ‘fun revolution’, which he sees
as ending the ‘politics of misery’ (pp. 206–7). He expects – perhaps hopes –
that this policy of fun, which will eventually become the status quo in the
material world, will also bring a strong sense of morality, where the social
order encourages people to do all things in their lives well. This is how
Castronova accounts for why people will continue to have families. He rec-
ognizes that much about raising children is not ‘fun’, but argues that the
‘pursuit of fun must be accompanied by the pursuit of a deeper satisfac-
tion, of a moral nature, produced primarily by things like the commitment
of a parent to the well-being of his children’ (p. 193).
And to get to this point where the fun revolution sparks a renewed
sense of morality, Castronova argues that the type of mythos that guides
our virtual play – that all of our choices and actions have meaning – will
need to be made apparent in the real world. Many gamers, after all, find a
map of meaning that they cannot find in the real world (p. 201). Virtual
worlds offer more than merely personality exploration; they offer a mythic
cosmos in which a personality can find a reason to exist. The author con-
tends that this aspect of virtual worlds may be their most powerful force
for social transformation.
One problem that readers are left with is that Castronova is looking for-
ward twenty to forty years. Beyond the social impacts of gamers on non-
gaming spouses’ lives, what is the result of gaming today, and in our
society now? Dibbell (2006) and Beck and Wade (2004) give some exam-
ples, but the scale on which Castronova sees this change is much greater.
The revitalization of a shared mythos that Castronova projects seems
much like the grand narratives or metanarratives that Jean-François
Lyotard (1979) argues are no longer a part of postmodern society. Lyotard
suggests that we now live in a society ruled by paralogy (Lyotard 1979:
60), the individualistic search for new meaning in established practices.
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Thus, the overarching mythos that guides societies is no longer relevant in
the modern world. Where Castronova projects the need to return to
shared mythos or grand narratives, Lyotard suggests instead that individ-
ual experience, and individuals’ unique perspectives on those experiences,
is prized in a paralogic society. This is to say that people’s lived experiences
(whether virtual or material) of bodies matter in a paralogic society – the
experiences all contribute both to little narratives and to creating larger
life-worlds in which people work and play together.
While the author suggests a compelling future that gaming brings to
bear, Exodus to the Virtual World does not provide a projectory of how to get
from today to a future where fun affects the ways that public policies are
made, or to account for how we might revive the grand narratives that we
have left behind. What’s more, he has not accounted for those people who
do not relate to the fun culture because they cannot game, those that Jeffrey T.
Grabill (1998) has dubbed the ‘techno-poor’. These people may simply
have limited, out-of-date or no access to technology. How can these people,
who feel the results of inequity on a daily basis, come to understand the
new changes in society? If we were to make policy changes, what about
the people who may not adapt well during the long tinkering, the testing
phase of that policy? Might they not be further disadvantaged?
Perhaps the way Castronova starts the book is the best way of imagin-
ing an overarching mythos: like ‘Carla’, our labours, whether virtual or
real, tend to be valued in society by their ability to be taxed. Perhaps that
is what gives the work, or the experience, worth in the real world: this
translates into real-world currency, as both a commodity and a character-
istic that is valued in society. It is often said that there are certainties in
life: death and taxes. Now that we may have multiple synthetic lives, if
Castronova is right, in the future, taxes will become the only certainty in
life. The question remains though, once our online lives are taxed as much
as our material ones, will our synthetic lives still be fun?
Works cited
Beck, J. C. and Wade, M. (2004), Got Game: How the Gamer Generation Is Reshaping
Business Forever, Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Dibbell, J. (2006), Play Money: Or, How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading
Virtual Loot, New York: Basic.
Grabill, J. T. (1998), ‘Utopic visions, the technopoor, and public access: writing
technologies in a community literacy program’, Computers and Composition,
15:4, pp. 297–315.
Lyotard, J. F. (1979), The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge (trans.
G. Bennington and B. Massumi), Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.
Nimoy, L., Bennett, H., Meerson, S., Krikes, P. and Meyer, N. (1986), Star Trek: The
Voyage Home, Hollywood, CA: Paramount Pictures.
79
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Journal of
Gaming &
Virtual Worlds
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Journal of
Gaming & Virtual Worlds
Volume 1 Number 1 – 2009
Articles
5–21 World of Maskcraft vs. World of Queercraft? Communication,
sex and gender in the online role-playing game World of Warcraft
Christian Schmieder
23–37 ‘Doing there’ vs. ‘being there’: performing presence
in interactive fiction
Alf Seegert
39–56 Power and nerves of steel or thrill of adventure and patience?
An empirical study on the use of different video game genres
Christina Schumann and Daniel Schultheiss
Interview
57–66 A discussion with game designers The Lord of the Rings: Shadows
of Angmar – LOTRO.com
Maggie Parke
67–79 Reviews
ISSN 1757-191X
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