Preface: This paper was written for an ethnographic field methods class taken in Spring 2006. If you Google WoW Ethnography, it is one of the first listed. I spent 3 months playing in a guild (including participating in their forums and their voice chat) and documenting their trials and tribulations through participant observation. I also conducted multiple interviews and surveys, both with the members of the guild and with members of the WoW community at large. As it is my most cited paper, I’ve left most of it intact from its original (fixed a few typos). You can also find it on academia.edu.
Ming, a 27-year-old mother of one from Canada, is probably not who you would expect to find sitting at a computer, at 11 p.m. on a Friday night, issuing orders over TeamSpeak to her guild-mates in the game World of Warcraft. What you may find even more surprising is that she is actually the guild leader of this “end-game raiding guild” comprised of over 150 players. Tonight, 40 of these players are making their way through Molten Core (MC), part of the Black Rock Spire (BRS) set of instances built for players who have reached level 60, currently the highest level achievable in the game. At this moment they are sending their bids to Isolt, Ming’s Level 60 Night Elf Druid, for loot that dropped off a boss they just killed. Leading the raid tonight is Cameron, or his Level 60 Night Elf Druid counterpart known as Karius, also known as Ming’s fiancé. They are four hours into the current run and will be calling it quits after the last piece of loot that dropped tonight is distributed to the highest bidder.
To the uninitiated, it may seem like the above paragraph is written in some kind of foreign language. To the over 5 million people who play this game (Blizzard PR 12/05), it is just another day in World of Warcraft (WoW). World of Warcraft is a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game, better known as MMORPG. Through participant observation, surveys, polling, interviews, and other research, I have had the opportunity to view the inner workings of the Alliance Guild, Minions of the Night (MotN). This guild is one of many on the Player versus Environment (PvE) server Bloodhoof, in the latest Warcraft title release from game developer Blizzard. Throughout this paper, I will give you a brief history of gaming, a general introduction to this game, and an in-depth look at this guild. I will also introduce you to the strange and new language that is spoken by over 90 million people who are members of what is known as the “Gamer Generation” that began circa 1975. (Beck and Wade, 17)
So, what exactly are MMORPGs? Miroslaw Filiciak, in his essay on hyperidentities, describes MMORPGs as, “any computer network-mediated games in which at least one thousand players are role-playing simultaneously in a graphical environment.” (Filiciak, 87) But wait, that is not exactly an easy to understand definition either. We all know what the Internet is by now, and most of us are aware of websites and message boards and chat programs and email. It might be stated that most people use the Internet as a way to communicate with others. On top of communication, many people look to the Internet as a source of entertainment, the same as movies, or television, or even – yes – video games. Filiciak sums it up by stating, “MMORPGs are the first interactive mass medium to unite entertainment and communication in one phenomenon.” (Filiciak, 88) By combining the entertainment value of a video game and the socializing aspect of communicating with other real live people, an incredibly interactive real-time environment is created like never before.
Now that we have a better idea of what exactly an MMORPG is, the next question is, what is the allure of an online video game? Considering the staggering number of players playing this game, and the number of countries from which they come, it is important to see what is universally attractive about it. This is especially intriguing since this game costs $50 to purchase and has on-going monthly fees of $15, not including the required high-speed internet access that typically costs anywhere from $25 to $50 a month or more.
One basic thing all human beings do is communicate. We communicate today in much more varied and diverse ways than we ever have before. In industrialized societies, we now communicate with more people in one day than our ancestors 100-200 years ago did in a week, or even a month or more. This change has been greatly influenced by the technological advances that have occurred during the last 200 years and these technological advances have also had a great influence on the cultures that embraced them. As Steven Johnson, in his book Interface Culture writes, “Technological change has been a lightning rod for all manner of cultural electricity over the past two centuries.” (5) It is not only that we communicate with so many people, but also the ways in which we communicate. Filiciak makes an interesting observation when he notes that in today’s society, “even the information coming from our closest friends more and more often reaches us through technological instruments.” (Filiciak, 89)
We are social creatures with a driving need to communicate, to express our ideas and opinions to others, and to get the same in return. The internet with chat rooms and instant messengers, as well as mobile phones with text messaging and now internet access have done 3 things: 1) made communication practically instantaneous, 2) allowed us the ability to take it almost anywhere and have it accessible almost all the time, 3) made communicating fun. Now communication is not just about getting important information back and forth between two or more people. Communication today is about socializing with the world around you, anytime you want to, and in fun new technologically advanced ways.
But wait! Were we not talking about video games? What do video games have to do with communication or socializing? Consider that even in the infancy of video games Pong was still a two-person game, which meant that while interacting with the machine players were also interacting with each other therefore they were communicating and socializing. As the Ultimate History of Video Games states, “the first ones were all two-person games.” (Kent, 24) As games progressed and the interaction with the machine became more intense, so did interaction with other players. Fighting games were at the forefront of this type of interaction with their inherent competitive nature. Even arcade machines eventually had the ability to play against someone else. As any Street Fighter player can tell you, it is always more exciting to compete against a real living breathing person over playing against the machine.
Moving these games from the public arcade to the console and into the home did not take away their social aspects and you can see this by the simple fact that all console systems including the Atari came with the ability to use more than one controller, implying playing with others. When the Xbox came out, it gave you the ability to connect multiple systems and up to four controllers per system! Now, all major home consoles can connect to the Internet and more and more games are supporting Internet play. Before consoles took gaming to the Internet, computer fighting games such as Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament were very popular games that gave you the ability to fight opponents online. What online games lacked in the beginning was the ability to actually communicate with the people you were playing against.
Blizzard Entertainment embraced the Internet in their offerings of strategy games Warcraft and Starcraft, and their adventure game Diablo. My first introduction to Blizzard was through Diablo’s sequel, Diablo 2 in 2000, so that is where I am going to start. What was unique about this game for me was not only the ability to play it in single person mode, but also the ability to play it over a network amongst just your friends or online with total strangers. What was different about this game from other online games was the fact that you played ‘with’ the other players and not ‘against’ them. While Quake 3 and Unreal Tournament offered team play, you were still playing against another team. What made Diablo 2 different for me was that the players in the game were on the same side competing against a common foe.
Another unique feature was the ability, and even the necessity, at times to talk to these other players. This was real cooperative gameplay with a socializing aspect due to the simple fact you could have an in-game conversation and it could be about anything, even to the exclusion of the game. Blizzard played to this aspect by having the player loading area (the area where players looked for games to join) also function as a chat room where players could talk and trade with each other. Although Diablo 2 was more about cooperative than competitive gameplay, the game did have a duel feature where you could fight other players and collect their ears as trophies. Diablo 2 went on to enjoy a great deal of popularity selling millions of copies, making Blizzard one of the top game developers around. What made it so popular? As the authors of the book Developing Online Games, point out, “It’s the Socialization, Stupid.” In their words, “an online game is really just a mechanism to allow players to socialize in a context.” (Mulligan and Patrovsky, 139)
Jumping ahead to November of 2004, Blizzard introduces their first MMORPG called World of Warcraft, based on their long-running Warcraft series of strategy games. Instead of controlling groups of characters to strategically battle your opponents, you can now play as one of those characters and make it all your own. Where Diablo 2 was limited to eight players in a world at one time and five acts (areas of play – this number includes the expansion), a WoW world or server (of which there are over 150) can consist of thousands of players playing simultaneously over two separate continents with six major cities and nineteen major dungeons. Where Diablo 2 had everyone fighting on the same side and therefore fighting the same foes and speaking the same language, WoW has opposing factions of the Horde and the Alliance. These factions are made up of different races, each with their own traits, histories and even languages making it difficult to communicate with each other across faction lines.
In Diablo 2 and its expansion, you had the ability to choose one of seven different standard characters, each with their own set sex, race, class, and look, to use as your avatar throughout the game. In WoW, you have the ability to choose from two different factions (Alliance as the ‘good guys’, and Horde as the ‘bad guys’), eight different races with four on each side (Alliance – Human, Dwarf, Gnome, Night Elf; or Horde – Orc, Tauren, Troll, and Undead), and nine different classes (Druid, Hunter, Mage, Rogue, Priest, Paladin, Shaman, Warrior, and Warlock). Each faction, race, and class has its positive and negative sides and those should be considered when creating your character. Your number of options becomes more limited with each choice you make in your character creation. For example, if I choose Alliance, I cannot play a Shaman because that class is only available to the Horde, and if I choose Gnome, I cannot play a Druid because that option is only available to the Night Elves or Tauren.
After you choose what type of character you want to play, you then get to choose what your character looks like. Though there are a set number of options available, you do get to somewhat customize your character’s hairstyle, hair color, skin color, and facial features. You can even be liberal in choosing which sex you want to play. A common joke made on the acronym MMORPG is, “Many Men Online Role Playing Girls” as it is not uncommon for men to choose to play female characters over their male counterparts. When asking a male player why he chose to play a female human priest, his response was, “I wanted to play a priest and a male priest was just a little too metro-sexual for me”, -Rosalyn, Human Priest, Level 60.
WoW also introduces different types of servers with different types of player environments including the Player versus Environment, Player versus Player, Role Playing, and Player versus Player Role Playing. In Player versus Environment (PvE), the main objective is to fight against the Non Player Character (NPC) foes in the dungeons and world around you and fighting between opposing factions is player initiated. In Player versus Player (PvP), the dissonance between the factions is played up and at any time outside of major cities you can be attacked by an NPC or another player. On Role Playing (RP) servers, the main objective of your character is to be “in character” and to portray through your actions and interactions with the world around you how you think your character would act if it were real. On Role Playing Player versus Player servers (RP-PVP), you find a combination of the last two.
The most common WoW worlds are the PvE servers. In these worlds, one has the broadest range of options open to their character as they can choose to play their character anyway they see fit, including RPing and PvPing when they want to. Though it is perfectly acceptable to play a character without interacting with others and you can reach level 60 without grouping with other players, most players chose to group together forming parties, allowing them to participate together in teams of 5 to easily take down a common foe. Many players have the same goals to complete, so joining to do this helps everyone not only complete the goals necessary to progress their characters, but also helps them do it quickly and more efficiently than doing it alone. Different characters are capable of different things, and by achieving the right combination of characters in a party, you are able to easily take down foes several levels above you and even more than one at a time.
The basic purpose of the game is to complete a series of tasks to help your character move to the next level. Many times these tasks are very repetitious or menial, such as serving as a messenger between two people, or defeating creatures to collect specific items. Defeating these creatures increases your stats in the weapons you use (your chance to hit and do damage with the weapon increases the more you use it) and gives you experience. Turning in these items for quests gives you experience and rewards in the form of money or time. Increasing in experience allows you to achieve the next level which gives your character access to skills, abilities, and areas of the game that were not accessible before. After you have reached the final level your goal is then to complete the quests necessary to acquire the highest level of armor and weapons that are only available to your character by progressing through the different dungeons or battlegrounds.
So, other than the socializing aspect that we’ve touched on and will come back to, why do people choose to subject themselves to this rather monotonous repetition of actions you would never think to subject yourself to in real life? Steven Johnson in his book, Everything Bad is Good for You, reveals that, “The DIRTY little secret of gaming is how much time you spend not having fun.” (25) He goes on to ask the questions, “WHY does anyone bother playing these things? Why do we use the word “play” to describe this torture?” (31) What he proceeds to explain is how our brains are wired to be responsive to reward systems and how each time we complete a task and are given even a little reward (experience, items, money) the dopamine levels in our brain increase (the same effect drugs have) leading us to get satisfaction (or a high) from this transaction. (Johnson, Everything Bad is Good for You 31) Almost every action in the game reciprocates in some kind of reward. Each of these little rewards keeps us coming back until the next goal is achieved (the next level) and then we start the process all over again. It is easy to see, just by the basic gameplay, how this can be addicting and therefore explains why we continue to play – now we can get back to the socializing.
As players progress their characters through the game (known as leveling), they increasingly form groups and often times these groups are made of other characters they have grouped with before. These groups tend to lead to online friendships. With in-game tools such as the ‘Friends List’, players are able to add the friends they make through grouping to their list so they may keep up with them (similar to an instant messenger list). The user interface can be set up to alert you when these friends log on so you can then message them with the in-game messaging system and plan your next adventure. For some, it is necessary to have these friendships, as the game is only exciting when they have someone with which to share their adventures.
“Past a certain point in a player’s “career” in a game, being with friends and associates online is more important than the game itself, or at least equally important. If both elements are not present, the player really has no reason to stick around. This has manifested itself into the form of guilds and teams that stay together for years…” (Mulligan and Patrovsky, 139)
In addition to the ability to form parties and to add friends you make during your gameplay to your Friends List, WoW has also incorporated the ability to create and maintain more formal and permanent groupings of players called guilds. Guilds can range anywhere from ten players (and even sometimes less) to hundreds of players comprising all levels of characters and levels of player skill. As I stated at the beginning, I have spent a fair amount of time during the last three months participating in and observing the Alliance guild, Minions of the Night, on the PvE server Bloodhoof.
What follows now are my observations of the inner workings of this guild. These observations are based on ethnographic fieldwork conducted through polls, surveys, interviews, and participant observation. My interactions with this guild occurred through the game, through the guild’s website, and through their TeamSpeak server. I made sure they were aware of my research from the day I joined by contacting the guild leader and asking for permission as well as talking about it in-game and making posts about it on the forums. I should note that this is not necessarily a complete overview of how all guilds work. I feel I need to state that there will be some immediate differences between this guild and others because 1) this guild is Alliance, 2) it is on a PvE server, and 3) they consider themselves a “raiding” guild, which will be explained in more detail later.
On February 21, 2006, members of the guild Erthad o Caun (EoC) merged with the guild Minions of the Night (MotN) in order to combine forces and number of level 60s so that the combined guild could start regularly participating in end-game instances and raids. End-game refers to tasks to be completed after a character has hit level 60, the highest level attainable at this time (this cap will be raised soon with a much-anticipated expansion). An instance refers to a dungeon or area, which members who are participating in a party or raid, can enter together and then fight within, without having to worry about outside threats such as other players in the game. Instances are closed to all outside people who are not a part of your party or raid. Where a party is a group of two to five players, a raid is a group of six or more players, usually ten to forty, participating in one event, sharing one chat channel, and sharing the rewards of the kills they perform together. As a previous member of Erthad o Caun and before that an officer of Alliance of Khaz Modan (AoKM) who merged with EoC fourth months prior, I had had some guild experience but nothing as large as Minions of the Night was and had grown to be with our recent merger. This was to be a wholly new experience filled with many trials and tribulations in a setting only a larger guild could provide.
MotN started about a year before our merger, with a small group of people who regularly grouped together. Ming explained in her interview, that the reason why they started their own guild over joining another guild is that while people would gladly recruit healing classes such as Ming’s Druid, they would not also recruit the more common classes like Hunters or Rogues, which her family and real life friends played. She explains that she got into the game to play with family and friends and did not wish to abandon them to join a guild of people she did not know.
They were happy to be their own guild even if it was just the five of them. Ming was chosen to start the guild because her character was the one with the most money so she could afford the startup costs. Because there were only five of them, they had to get at least five more to sign their charter before they could start their guild due to the game’s built-in starting minimum of ten players. They asked random people to sign their charter, letting these people know they were free to “/gquit” (the command to quit a guild) after the guild was formed, and most did. The name, Minions of the Night, was chosen because the guild started out with all Night Elf characters. Their small group of five slowly expanded after that due mainly to word of mouth.
Today, Minions of the Night, is a guild of about 150 people with 95 level 60s (there are some members with two level 60 characters). The guild has a hierarchy starting with the Guild Leader Isolt (Ming’s NE Druid), after the Guild Leader, there are ten Officers, and after the Officers, there are four Marshals. Beyond the Marshals, there are eight Class Leaders, one for each of the possible classes. The Class Leaders are responsible for answering character related questions. Marshals represent the first chain of command. If you have a question or issue pertaining to the guild in general, you should attempt to go to the Marshals first. If a Marshal cannot help you or is not on, then the next in line are the Officers. If the Officers cannot help they forward issues up to the Guild Leader.
The guild has different ranks based on level. Making a new rank is a reward based on individual character achievements. The first rank attained at level 10 is called Night Follower, 21-30 is Night Seeker, 31-49 is Night Defender, 50-59 is Warrior, and the level 60s are Champions. As characters progress through their initial level-ups within the guild, the focus of the guild is based on individual player successes and helping guild members increase in level, rank, skill, items, and even earning money. It is advantageous for the guild to help the lower leveled members become successful so that when those members hit level 60 they will be well prepared to join the larger group and work on progressing the guild as a whole.
As characters in the guild reach 60, their individual focus turns from leveling to acquiring. The only way certain items can be acquired is through high-level or end-game instances that take at least five and up to forty people to complete. What this means is that even though the need and drive for your character to achieve the latest and greatest items is built into the game, and this is alone is a very selfish desire, it is impossible to do it alone. By grouping with other characters to get through these instances, you are in turn also helping them. Many of these highly desirable items can only be acquired after taking a boss down. Bosses are high-level NPCs the group must fight, and can usually only get to, after clearing out the rest of the instance. It is a very familiar strategy used in some of the most popular video games, including the famous Mario Brothers. In Mario Brothers, Mario had to defeat each level before he could reach the end boss Bowser. He then had to defeat Bowser to get to the ultimate prize, Princess Peach.
After a boss is defeated, it generally only has one to two items/drops in addition to money to be looted. These items or drops are also affectionately referred to as loot and getting them off the boss (or any defeated foe) is called looting. One boss in the game may be responsible for dropping a special helm for each class, but he only drops one after each time he is defeated. He can be defeated repeatedly, but it will be necessary to go back through the instance, usually one to three hours worth of time, to get back to him to defeat him again.
This means only one character out of a party of five will actually get what he came in for. This also means that if you did not get it, you will end up coming back and becoming a part of another team in an attempt to reach the boss again to see if he drops the loot you were looking for this time around. If two or more characters need or want the same piece, the game has a built-in system that allows the players to “roll” for it (click on a picture of dice), in an attempt to fairly distribute it. This system randomly generates a number for each character and whoever ends up with the highest number wins.
Yes, we are still talking about a game, and it gets even more complicated from here. Where rolling for an item is fine if there are only five to ten members of the group, when you get up to forty members this can become very chaotic and can lead to disputes, especially if someone feels that someone else is winning the game of luck a little more often than they should be. Mistakes can also be made when using the roll system. Take for instance a character like a priest who cannot use shields, but accidentally rolls by clicking on the picture of dice that came up while he was fighting, and then he wins a Bind on Pickup (BoP) shield that he cannot use due to his class, and now no one else can because it is bound to him.
In order to prevent mistakes and to make winning items fair, MotN uses what is called a DKP (Dragon Kill Points) system during raids of 20 players or more. In its simplest terms, DKP is an attendance point system and it works basically like this: you show up, you raid, you get points, loot drops that you want, you spend points in a silent bid to the raid leader, if you bid the highest amount you win your item, the points you used to win the item are deducted from your total, you show up again tomorrow to earn more points for the next item that you want and hope that it doesn’t drop until you have enough points to outbid everyone else for it. This encourages attendance because you get points even if you do not win any loot and those that attend more often and have spent a lot of time helping the guild in general, will have more points, therefore they have a better chance at winning the items they want when those items drop because of the points they have earned.
This system also prevents people from joining the guild, going on one run, and winning a prized item that other players have been waiting for, for months, and then leaving. In order to get rewards from the guild you must participate in the guild on a regular basis. In the end, it is felt that by gearing up its members (having members earn better armor and weapons through the winning of drops), the guild is gearing up itself so that it may progress on to the next stage of the game. It is a community effort and does not work well if those in it are only in it for themselves.
What this does not protect against are those people who are greedy and are willing to use the system against itself. A few weeks ago, five high-level members left Minions of the Night, following two other high-level members to another guild that left just a few days before. While members are free to leave if they choose to do so, it gets a little more complicated when they have been elevated to certain positions within the guild. Of this seven that left, two of them were officers and of those two officers, one was designated as the guilds Main Tank (MT). What this means is that he was chosen above all other warriors (tanks), to receive certain item drops and to have armor and weapons specially crafted for him from materials that are very rare and hard to collect so that he could be the staring warrior of each fight. It took the entire guild to come up with the materials and recipes, and to fight the bosses in order to get the items that were used to gear him up. He volunteered for this position and as an officer, the guild felt there was some sort of loyalty there. Little did they know that their loyalty was misplaced.
Had he and the others just chosen to leave the guild and move on to a guild that could better suit them, there would not have been such a problem or what has now resulted in bad blood. Instead, this group of players planned for at least a week in advance to earn DKP with MotN and to use the DKP they earned to get rare and expensive drops knowing that they were going to take this loot away with them. They bid on and accepted the items that they could not have acquired without the guild’s help knowing all along that they were going to leave and take the items with them, thus intentionally depriving other players and the guild of loot they all worked hard to acquire. This was regarded as stealing and the backlash from the guild was not anger over the fact that they left, but anger over the deception and the fact that these members who were treated like family stole from the entire guild and did it willingly.
As Isolt remarked in her interview, “The incident we had last night with 5 of those people leav[ing] and also cheating the guild of cores and loot really upset me. They were family and the excuse that they used (playing with a friend that they also met in another MMO) really made me upset because they were also our friends.”
Though 150 is a large guild, it is only half the size of the largest guilds that have an upwards of 300 or more, however, a guild between 75 and 150 seems to be the most popular. According to an open survey, I conducted of 55 WoW players (only two of whom were in this guild), most belonged to guilds of 75-100 (24.4%), with the second highest amount belonging to guilds of 100-150 (22.2%). Very few answered that they were a part of guilds of 300 or more (8.4%). In regards to what people look for in a guild, most people selected friends (86.7%), with fun and socializing tying (84.4%) right behind it. The fact that this guild started with people who all knew each other in real life (IRL) gives it more of a family-feel even at 150 members.
This is especially true when you consider out of all of the players in the guild, almost half know someone else in the guild in real life. Ming plays with her brother, brother-in-law, and her fiancé and fiancé’s parents among others. In addition to family members and friends, there are several couples in the guild. In my online survey, 74% replied that they play with someone they knew in real life before the game, and 81% of respondents stated they play with their significant others. Ming actually admits that the whole reason she started playing WoW was to spend time with her family. This coincides with an article published in the Washington Post on April 20, 2006, that refers to online games as a way for friends and families, especially those that span long distances, to connect with one another.
“Although computer games have often been thought of as a pastime for the antisocial, communal online worlds such as the one in Guild Wars are the hottest things in games these days. The most popular title in this genre, World of Warcraft, has more than 5 million subscribers — all text-chatting with their fellow players or using microphones and headsets to collaborate on the latest monster-killing mission” (Musgrove, Washington Post 4/20/06)
It is easy to see that with family members and significant others playing the game with each other how the game can be a socializing experience, but can you actually make friends and maintain lasting friendships online and through video games? Rather than asking such an involved question to the guild, I simply asked the guild members to tell me who in the guild and the game they knew in real life. To give you a better idea of friendships in the guild and the game, WTRiker, an officer in the guild, had this to offer when asked whom he knew in real life:
“I know Katsumoto (Ray), Aounghus (Travis), Rasputant (Jermey), Palias (Jason), Shikaka (Jason), Radeon (Paul), Timarious (Tim), Serebulus (Josh), Tygron (TJ) (MUSA), Fors (Jamie) (MUSA), Defender (Randy) (MUSA), Soulless (Stevie) (Horde Rogue on Skullcrusher), and Milas (Eric). All of these people I have meet in RL and a friends with. Amroth (Jim) and Bastige (Kyle) I have never meet in RL but I have known them since way before WOW.
Tygron, Fors, and Defender I have known the longest. They live in the same town I do and we have played online games together for years. Tygron and Fors are also the reason I left my old game of Knights Online and came to World of Warcraft. Shikaka, Radeon, Serebulus, Timarious, Soulless, and Milas all worked with me at OfficeMax together. Soulless was already playing WoW when I meet him the rest I brought over.
Kats, Anoughus, Palias, Rasputant, Amroth, and Bastige I meet online while playing Knights Online. I took a trip to Kentuckey to meet everyone last 4th of July. We all have become good friends in RL from just meeting online playing a game. Am and Bastige could not make it to Kentucky for that 4th so I still have not had the Honor in meeting with them. I also brought all of these guys to WoW.” – WTRiker, Officer MotN
By this example we learn that 1) online friendships can be long lasting 2) online friendships can lead to meeting in real life, and 3) even if you don’t know someone in real life they can be considered a good friend and even choose to continue that friendship from one online game to another.
To facilitate and organize parties/raids the guild has its own website. The website has the ability to schedule raids and to sign up for them as well as a set of forums to talk about the game, the guild, your characters, and more. While a lot of communication goes on in-game through the various chat methods and channels, the important information that needs to be disseminated to all is placed on the forums. People also get to know each other better on a more personal level as the conversations can become more in-depth and longer lasting. Strange as it may sound this was a great place to do participant observation, as well as polls of the guild because I could reach more of the guild than just the group that was online at the times that I was.
Another way the guild has to communicate with each other outside of the game is a program called TeamSpeak. TeamSpeak is a Voice-Over-IP program used by people all over the world to talk to each other. In simpler terms, think of it like talking on a conference call with 40 other people through your computer. Gamers have taken a liking to it as it allows them to have real-time communication beyond typing in the games chat channels.
One evening after a raid, I was still on TeamSpeak when Ming/Isolt moved me into the officer channel because she was bored and wanted to talk to someone. Dellia, an officer who is a real-life friend of Isolt’s, was also on at the time so we started talking about homes, and Isolt’s upcoming wedding. The conversation soon died down and we were quiet for a bit. I walked away from my computer and when I came back I heard the last half of a conversation between Isolt and Dellia about Isolt being sick and how that was going to make moving difficult. I put my headset back on and let them know I was still on the channel and asked if they wanted me to get off. Isolt replied no, that it was ok, that she was going to be making an announcement to the guild and that I may as well hear it from her first. I told her I had only caught the last half of the conversation, so she began again for me and told me that she has cancer and that she will be going through chemo soon.
I was shocked and offered my sympathies. She played it off as if it was nothing saying she had been through it before and that this time though she could not deny she was worried, she felt guilty because the first thing that occurred to her was the fact she did not want to be bald at her wedding this May. I am someone who she has never met in real life and who resides over 1000 miles away, yet she felt comfortable enough with me to tell me this very personal information and in a very personal way. Had it been over guild chat or on the message boards it would have still been important but it would not have felt as personal as it did to hear it in her own words.
A day or two later she posted this on the guild’s message boards:
First off, I am proud to say that I have one of the best guilds on this server and that we have come a long way.
I do just want to make an announcement to say that in the upcoming weeks or months I will not be on as much. Yes because of the wedding and also because Karius and I will be moving to another house (we are not sure if we got it or not, we are signing the agreement and hoping for a good home inspection), but because I have been sick recently. Some of you may remember my ‘cold’ that I have been fighting for the last month. Well last week we actually found out it was not a cold. Without going into very much detail I was told that I have Cancer and will need treatment as soon as they can get me into one. … Bornawisp is flying in today to come live with me because I will need help in the future. And for the Banana Bread 😉
… I do not want you to feel that your Guild Leader is abandoning you because I won’t be on as much as before …
I thank you all for your understanding and I WILL STILL BE HERE. Just not as much as I used to be (like the 12 hours that I use to play a day).
Love you all
Although this is a very personal issue, she has chosen to share it with people she plays a game with. These are people she greatly cares for and people she considers family. I think it is this attitude and outlook that really sums up what MotN is all about. Minions of the Night started as a small group of people who all knew each other in real life and just wanted to hang out and have fun. Since then, it has evolved on those same basic themes it started with, friends, family, and fun. I think Isolt sums it up nicely her interview,
“I started to play WoW because of my real life family and now a year and a half later I play because of the family members I have made online.” – Ming/Isolt, Guild Leader of Minions of the Night.
The purpose of this ethnography was to investigate two prevalent ideas about gamers.
The first, that gamers are unsocial people who chose to isolate themselves from the rest of the world to sit in front of a computer or console playing games. The second is the idea that games are wastes of time and gamers do not really get anything out of them. I chose World of Warcraft due to its large fan base and how quickly it has grown. My first idea was to do it on WoW and its entirety, but it did not take long for me to realize that it was far too big for a single semester or a single paper. I decided that to make this work I had to choose a smaller group inside the game and that is where the idea to do it on a guild came about. My conclusion on the social aspects of gamers is that they can be very social just in very different ways as has been demonstrated here and that from the beginning gaming started out as a way to socially interact with other people.
My conclusions about what gamers can get out of games are 1) a sense of accomplishment, 2) a sense of community, and 3) in this case specifically, a sense of family.
While I would have liked to have more time and more room to write I was limited to a single semester and 15 pages (of which you can see I’ve already gone over). Due to the small amount of time and space to cover this topic in, I’ve had to leave out some key points as well as the history of gaming and it’s social interactions, which may be lacking relevant information (such as MUDs, Dr. Bartle and his player personality guide, and more in-depth information on consoles).
In addition, because this paper covers the ethnography of a specific guild, I had to go into more personal points (as part of the assignment) that could be left out in lieu of other information when viewing the larger picture. I also had to leave out information about WoW and its many varied aspects that I would have really liked to have included (playing unguilded, RP, PVP, economics, language, factions and more). I hope to one day continue work on this subject and perhaps write a longer dissertation (graduate school perhaps) or a book that can go into this expansive and varied world that has been created and given a life all its own, not only by a game developer, but also by its many players.
Beck, John C and Mitchell Wade. Got Game: How the Gamer Generation is Reshaping Business Forever. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 2004.
Blizzard, Entertainment. WORLD OF WARCRAFT® SURPASSES FIVE MILLION CUSTOMERS WORLDWIDE. 19 Dec. 2005. 21 Mar. 2006. <http://www.blizzard.com/press/051219.shtml>.
Filiciak, Miroslaw. “Hyperidentities: Postmodern Identity Patterns in Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games.” The Video Game Theory Reader. Ed. Mark J. Wolf and Bernard Perron. New York: Routledge, 2003. 87-102.
Johnson, Steven. Everything Bad is Good for You. New York: Penguin Group, 2005.
Johnson, Steven. Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate. New York: Basic Books, 1997.
Kent, Steven L. The Ultimate History of Video Games. New York: Three River Press, 2001.
Mulligan, Jessica and Bridgette Patrovsky. Developing Online Games: An Insider’s Guide. Indianapolis: New Riders, 2003.
Musgrove, Mike. Far-Flung Families Unite in Cyberspace — And Kill Monsters. 20 Apr. 2006. Washington Post. 20 Apr. 2006. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/04/19/AR2006041902617.html>.