You know, I wouldn't call myself one of those evil academics^TM who studies World of WarCraft (WoW). Far from it, I play WoW, and the anthropologist in me can't help but analyze what makes that play culture tick. And that would include a little more than a passing academic interest in WoW. So, maybe I am evil after all and I suppose that's why I typically play Horde. kek.
For this entry, I shall begin with a
story about WoW that may hit home with many TN readers. This is just
one example of engagement with one form of media, being games. As I
promised in my last entry, I will show that the interactions associated
with game play are significant and deserve more of our attention than
being written off as 'just a game.' I don't think I'm preaching solely
to the converted here, either. Sometimes, in the rare moments I
venture outside the land of the digerati, I realize
just how much work remains to be done in driving home the idea that
games are indeed social, as opposed to isolating, for example. This is
a story about games as part of our
communications media toolkit, with which we have just as many chances
the good, bad, and ugly of humanity as we do with other forms of media.
Over the years I had come to think myself rather good at what I call passionate detachment.
Passion is what drives me to pursue the tough questions, but detachment is what needs to occur in order to convert things like intense passionate participation into clear, compelling, ethnographic writing. It has taken me until now to truly be able to convert one particular experience into anything resembling articulate.
In this particular
night of passionate participation, I found myself curled up in the foetal
position and sobbing post-raid. True
One may ask what the deal is, because it's just a game. Right? Well, it isn't and here's why.
At the time, I was a
new level 60 (meaning, that my gear wasn't uber in any sense, I only had one
purple item, and I didn't have Vent or even CT mod yet). I had however been in
many instances with coordinated groups, had my fair share of bad PUGs (Pick-Up
Groups), and was a pretty confident player. I felt like I had an advantage coming from EverQuest: because I wasn't a
new gamer, I knew what to do during a raid, and what not to do. Anyone could feel confident inviting me because
I wouldn't be an 'idiot.'
One evening after dinner, a local friend called me up and told me that his guild (most of which had members joining in from time zones seven hours ahead) needed more people for their Silithus raid. With my agreement to participate, there were already social relations at stake. This friend was my in to this particular group. If I screwed up somehow, it would reflect badly on him in his guild. It would also reflect badly on me, I could potentially be blacklisted from ever grouping with this prominent guild again, and pain of shame would be mine. But, as I mentioned before, I wouldn't be an idiot, so we were totally safe of course.
I logged on, got myself to the rallying point in Silithus, was welcomed by the group, and along with many other players' and waited. And waited, and waited. Waiting is a big part of group coordination, especially where a 40+ player raid is concerned. People joining/leaving the group, figuring out where so and so is, and other such mundane matters. Depending on the group and its leaders, distribution of loot off slain monsters could work differently. Some groups will allow everyone to ''roll" at will on a precious item, and others will restrict the chances to a select few. It really depends and is subject to negotiation. For this particular raid, I was only allowed to loot anything the other group members left on the mob's body. I was ok with that, because I was a guest. My friend directed me to be extremely careful, because this group had previous bad encounters with Ninjas (people who wrongfully/covertly loot and keep items) and were quite paranoid about looting practices. I waved it off, thinking I had it together.
Hours went by, and we were finally ready to begin with a full complement. By this time I was getting quite tired and it was already late into my night, even if it wasn't for the other group members. However, I wasn't about to quit now. To quit after committing to a group is bad form. It would have let group members down, so I stayed. There was a quest I needed to complete coinciding with this raid anyway.
The summoning of creatures began, and the whole zone was watching in awe as this guild and its affiliates like me joined in to kill monster after monster. We were almost finished, right before approaching the Boss. The looting was rather conventional up to that point. Everyone seemed to be waiting around for the next kill, and I saw that loot had been left on the monster. So I looted, like I had for the previous mobs.
My screen was suddenly filled with one angry group member after another shouting at me, "WTF??" At that time I didn't understand what was going on. It took a while for my friend to clue in as to what had just happened as well.
I had just Ninja'd a blue BOP Bind on Pickup item.
When I had realized what I had done, I gave
back what I could, and apologized profusely. Meanwhile, my friend was busy trying to remedy the situation whilst
apologizing himself. The group members
were not convinced that I wasn't a Ninja and proceeded to lay an onslaught of
verbal abuse on me and nothing I did or said could help it. In order to quell everyone's temper, the
group leader messaged me and told me that I had to be kicked out of the raid
group, and I was subsequently booted from the raid.
I am not sure how I can convey the feeling of utter frustration and humiliation I felt at that moment. They ALL knew who I was because of my screen name and supposed good affiliation with a guild. This was supposed to be my "coming out party" of sorts. My first real participation in a large, unfamiliar group as a level 60 character. It was supposed to be a no brainer. Instead, I watched as everyone else killed the Boss and fulfilled their quests without me. I was convinced I would be blacklisted thereafter. It was a prominent enough screw up. Hence, the tiredness on top of everything allowed the sobbing to begin. These were actual people who were pissed off at me (along with the friend who first invited me), and actual people who would remember that I was an, "idiot."
Well, my friend called me after the raid and said that the group member whose item I had ninja'd wanted to talk to me and apologize for overreacting the way he did. I was not in a state to listen however and just decided to sleep on it. Five days later, when I had the guts to show my avatar again in Orgrimmar, we cleared things up and added each other to our 'friends' list for future grouping as a show of good faith.
This encounter was just one more instance of an argument that community formation and identity politics are negotiated with as much seriousness and fervor online as it is offline. In this vein, I have gone so far as to say that it's not a first life or second life, but one life.
This experience left me asking many more reflexive questions about my experiences online, offline, and how the two were really intertwined and fluid. As one can see, the interpersonal dynamics experienced within this game context could have really happened anywhere, though people are not chided nearly as much for having emotional reactions to other everyday activities like hockey, soccer, golf, or even poker probably because those activities have become more entrenched and accepted in mainstream culture as worthy (think: Bourdieu) timesinks. There were people trying to achieve a goal, personalities, economics, culture, and paranoia were involved. Real people were playing games with other real people. And, it is the real people part in which I am ultimately interested.
Tune in next time for musings on the existence of my imaginary cat.