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Feb 01, 2007

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1.

"Michel Foucault famously argued that the power of modern institutions is driven, at root, by the ability to discipline people, or, more directly, to discipline their bodies -- to mold those bodies and order their actions in ways that allow groups to achieve institutional objectives effectively.

This scares me more then the issue of whether games have to deal with players as groups whose motiviation is not just fuctional, but all about continued existence.

It's all fun and games until your guild turns into a RL paramilitary organization... or cult.

2.

... or the developers get involved in the game and start cheating, then get the whistle blown on them by forum hackers: http://www.kugutsumen.com/

3.

"It's all fun and games until your guild turns into a RL paramilitary organization... or cult."

It would be cool if someone with some academic authority studied the Gorean BDSM roleplay institutions in SL with that in mind. It's certainly an accusation often thrown at that scene.

"They come to see this discipline as consitutive of who they are, as shaping their very desires."

That's the happiness in slavery many enter into submissive lifestyles to find. It is disturbing that this is the effect of high level guild play "grinding by rote". I mentioned this is some other discussion here, but I think these MMO games have it backwards- surely the selfless-soldiery should be the bootcamp, and the small teams of expert players solving problems in changing environments (like elite military teams) should be the pinnacle of the game?

4.

The article is interesting but moves from Foucault to other viewpoints. I personally think Asimov's 'the Foundation' series is more pertinent to MMOs once we move past the King Missile ("I'm an individual like all the other individuals") phase. The Kantian sublime, by the way, explains the same phenomenon but with the exact opposite perspective, our body conditions us this way, but our mind overleaps it.
I wonder what Foucault thought of Zen Buddhism, I am not controlling the mouse, I am the mouse...

5.

@EricC

Heh...thats a good question, what does the relativist think about the nothingness?

I cant imagine that game play experiance for the Priest that only knows scripted instances is some kind of fun.

This is more a matter of what kind of organization she belongs to rather than that all large guilds are like this. OTOH most PVE oriented guilds tend to be highly structured dogmatic (and not very appealing) mostly because large raid PVE takes no skill set whatsoever.

Smaller instances as you say, do take a more varied, multiple skill set oriented group filling various roles. This is why PVP oriented guilds or large/small casual guilds are excelling past the type of mega-raid guild that WOW has bred (none of which seem to last longer than 1-1.5 years, and certainly not past WOW) in TBC.

At least this is my experiance on 2 of 3 WOW servers whose population I watch (2 PVP 1 PVE server)

6.

Hi Thomas -- the title of this is just great. We should all aspire to such post titles.

One Q: you say "Foucault, like Weber, thought that people banding together to accomplish something was fine, but was wary of what happens next. Once any nascent institution begins looking for something else to accomplish, its primary raison d'etre has already changed. At that point, it's more interested in its own reproduction than in its original aims or purview. Once that happens, look out."

Is that last sentence you speaking or your reading of Foucault, or both? I've always been a little puzzled about Foucault's politics, and I think Foucault did his best to resist categorization. So, although I get (well, mostly get) his descriptive and theoretical points in D&P, I'm often at a loss to describe his normative voice. So I can see what you mean about guilds and discipline, if that is your view, but I have no confidence that this is what Foucault would think about it. Can you point me to some language.

I've got D&P, (Vintage (1995)) on the bookshelf, btw, if you've got it and can give me a page reference from there to clear this up.

7.

I wholeheartedly agree with the notion that raid oriented guilds can be likened directly to other hierarchical organizations that rely on disciplined bodies. Foucault generally saw the increasing institutionalization, bureaucratization, and routinization of the body as a creeping evil resulting from changes in our social structures. He seemed to believe that this kind of behavior is based on those higher up in the hierarchy constantly working to reinforce the legitimacy of existing power differentials through symbolic, semiotic, and performative processes. In other words, the reason he thought people participate in these kinds of embodied discipline was because they are on the losing end of a diffuse power struggle permeating all social relationships.

So, I can’t help but wonder how we explain why people seek out these kinds of experiences? I don’t know the answer but I will admit I endlessly enjoyed being a healbotting resto druid in my guild.

Perhaps there is a natural human drive to feel part of something larger than oneself? If people are finding ways to satisfy this urge within MMOs, we are seeing much larger social urges driving in-game behavior than most developers imagine. This fits in with my belief that people are seeking all kinds of social forms in MMOs that are on the periphery of the kinds of social interactions we would expect. Beyond “fun” people could arguably be joining guilds for the very same reason people join the military or any other closed, disciplined group.

I totally love the idea of looking at relationships between developers and institutions as a way to explore these kinds of social relationships and structures being formed in MMOs!

8.

Thanks for the comments, all. In retrospect, I think ErikC is absolutely right -- there are a number of main points in the OP whose connections are not fully drawn. I suspect, however, that to do so would be a full-length article.

@Greg: Thanks re: the title -- once it occurred to me I couldn't wait to use it, even if the post came out of the oven a mite early (and I credit Dan just as much for the title -- it arose in private tells with him in WoW). In answer to your question, I am trying to give an account of how I believe Foucault saw institutions, and in particular the relationship between ad hoc political action and institutionally-organized action, though it's certainly my view at least. I may, I admit, be inferring a fair amount from what is in truth a limited number of tantalizing passages, mostly in interviews. The primary place to look for these suggestions is in an interview he gave (I'm not at my office atm -- I think it's in Power/Knowledge), where he is asked about activism. There is also his discussion of "subjugated knowledges" (I think in the same volume). I'd be happy to correspond with you about it with my copies of the texts at hand.

@Jen: Thank you for the comments. Foucault's answer to your question, I would surmise, is that we want to participate in disciplinary activities (boy, does that sound wrongly suggestive) because the power relations constituted through them are "productive" -- of lots of things, including pleasure (this discussion is in The History of Sexuality, Vol. 1). So, for example, we have wound up with a "confessional" culture, where confessing our feelings (in narrative) is seen as a source of pleasure, only because of a long history of insitutions (the church, psychiatry, etc) that made the expert interpretation of spoken secrets their purview. That book is really a core text for understanding Foucault's take on power, even if he somewhat contradicts his earlier, practice-oriented work (like D&P) by overstaing the power of discourse. His ethics of self-care (in his later work) seemed to be an effort to move away from this connection between power and pleasure, but I'm not an expert on that aspect of his work.

I guess one of the ways I can try to knit the OP's ideas together a bit more is to raise the issue of legitimacy and belonging. The rise of institutions within VWs intrigues me because it suggests a potential clash between them and the institutions that make the worlds, both of which may presumably end up competing for the right to discipline their subjects.

9.

Ace wrote:

I think these MMO games have it backwards- surely the selfless-soldiery should be the bootcamp, and the small teams of expert players solving problems in changing environments (like elite military teams) should be the pinnacle of the game?

I agree, and I talked a bit about this in the previous post to this one, here. There, I thought about how the code of these games (as opposed to, say, FPS's like Unreal Tournament) makes credentials (levels, talents, soulbound gear) stand in for competence. It's interesting to think about the 5-man and 25-man instances of TBC as part of a return to emphasizing competence over credentials, but my limited experiences in two of them -- Hellfire Ramparts and Blood Furnace -- did not bear this out. They were not difficult at all, especially when you compare them to, say Stratholme. But, there are many more to try, so it's probably too early to say.

10.

Thomas wrote:

"Foucault's answer to your question, I would surmise, is that we want to participate in disciplinary activities (boy, does that sound wrongly suggestive) because the power relations constituted through them are "productive" -- of lots of things, including pleasure"

I just wanted to mention that given Foucault's own preference for S&M and the like, as wrongly suggestive as that sounds it probably captures his perspective pretty well.

11.

Yes, Moses, no question. It would just be a shame if his claim were reduced to that association.

12.

Moses Wolfenstein said:

"It's interesting to think about the 5-man and 25-man instances of TBC as part of a return to emphasizing competence over credentials, but my limited experiences in two of them -- Hellfire Ramparts and Blood Furnace -- did not bear this out. They were not difficult at all, especially when you compare them to, say Stratholme. But, there are many more to try, so it's probably too early to say."-

Actually great equipment makes the first couple of instances trivial. Groups still in blues and without much resist gear are finding those instances quite difficult.
---

I soloed and small grouped my character into the end game. I eventually found a casual Raiding guild. They were regularly raiding Molten Core and the 20mans (ZG and AQ-20). I found that after basically exclusively raiding with no other grouping or soloing. That my skills in a 5 man group had atrophied. I found myself having to relearn how to play my character effectively in a group. I play a hunter and our guild actually allowed pets out for most fights in raids, so I didn't have any issues there. It was just the loss of the ability to quickly deal with changing tactical situations.

I would love to see the scripted boss encounters to become more dynamic. It would be nice to see better AI implemented on all encounters.

13.

What you describe here is what seperates mediocre or average raiding guilds from quality raiding guilds.

I'm in a raiding guild, and unfortuately my guild is somewhere in the middle of mediocre and quality.

Your average, mediocre raiding guild consists of dedicated players who can come into a zone, learn the encounters via several attempts, understand the patterns and mechanics, and re-create them each week. Once you master the mechanics, it's auto-pilot. Many of these guilds struggle without pre-published strategies and heavy mentoring from guild leaders.

Then you have your quality raiding guild that excels in these same zones. The players from these guilds, top to bottom, can master nearly any encounter (at those that aren't gear checks like resist fights) within an hour or two. Every player has a deep understanding of game mechanics, every class ability (not only your own, but others) that could help in the encounter, and a willlingness, almost an eagerness, to try new and different methods to conquer new bosses.

I'm thrilled at the lower raid size, it allows us to weed-out players that are just 'along for the ride' and are trained to simply press 3 buttons for a 4-hour raid over and over, regardless of encounter. I'm not saying your grad student falls into this category, but I know I have some people in my guild that need to be drug through a zone by 5 other players, hand holding every step of the way.

14.

@greglas: A quick reference that you requested, since I find myself in my office with the books at hand. The interview in which Foucault talks about local, specific political action as the proper cite is "Truth and Power" and it is reprinted *both* in The Foucault Reader (p. 51-75), edited by Paul Rabinow, and Power/Knowledge (p. 109-133), edited by Colin Gordon. The actual question that prompts Foucault's ruminations on this is on p. 67 of the Rabinow volume. Hope that's useful.

Thomas

15.

One interesting experience, from my hardcore raidings. The raid institution absolutely punishes individuals who seek to fall outside their rank-and-file instructions, and I think that the nature of these disciplines highlights another reason for entrance, to a great many raid guild members.

Once instance was the Twin Emps, about 6-8 monts prior to the expansion. A druid with excellent healing and damage gear had the desire to do damage, so much so that he refused to heal. The guild leader wouldn't tolerate it, since in his mind it jeapordized the group goal of killing the boss. He not only ejected the druid from the raid, but also from the guild - at the cost of a few other long-time guild members.

This guild leader was extremely aggressive, and at times violent and mean in his desire for progression. When we finally defeated the twin emps, and then after 3 weeks of hard work, c'thun, at each boss he rewarded each person with 200g ---- and the feeling of learning that script, and pulling it off ---- truly amazing.

The guild leader was certainly an aggressive force in driving the guild's progression forward. TBC may bespeak of a shift in how guilds play out, but we might want to look past their objective as solely for the specific scripts or (obviously) the gear rewarded when those scripts are successful. There are so many rich layers of reward - progression, completion, in-server and worldwide recognition, items, gold...

But don't think that TBC really put a dent in that pursuit. We haven't yet begun seeing people showing off the world-firsts, besides of course the French powerleveler (first to level 70). People had started raiding within the first few months of the original WoW, 2 years ago. People will complete tier 4 and 5 quests, if only to show off among their server-mates of 2 years. Some of the reasons for entrance have mutated, but many remain fully intact.

Guilds have been preparing and, in many cases, cutting their numbers. When people start figuring out the bosses of Kahziachkaistanipants (Whatever it's called, I don't pay attention), everyone's going to hear about it - from Silvermoon to Tichondrius.

16.

That's a great comment, Neils, and it connects with things I've been noticing post-TBC that probably call for another post themselves. In particular, the rise of, effectively, soulbound currencies (Holy dust and the like) could change the relationships between individual players, loot, and their guild significantly. While I don't think it's the end of DKP, it definitely refigures the nature of reward in high-end instances to something that, at least at first glance, would seem not to call for the massively rationalized systems of loot distribution that enabled guilds to actually *have* the players they needed to run an instance both the first (unsuccessful) time and the 25th (successful) time.

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