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Feb 28, 2005



Here from Japan!
It seems to be a good timing for this kind of notice because we have Asia Online Game Conference 2005 in Tokyo now. I try to publicize the survey to the attendants.


Many thanks Hiroshi,
I really appreciate any advice or support that anyone can offer, the American / English language side of the survey is going fairly well (I'm targetting publications and fan-sites / game forums), with a fairly large initial response.

However as I do not speak (nor am able to translate) other languages I am in a rather difficult situation when it comes to foreign langauge promotion(I have been paying for translation myself which has been very costly).

Thanks for your help,


Alan - The default options for the drop-down boxes should be something along the lines of "select one" otherwise you will be unable to differentiate a real response from a non-response. The way the survey is set up, a blank survey will by default be 95% "completed".


Oh gawd, there's a link on that site to A Criticism of Bartle, due 11th May. I dread to think what flaws it will expose. "He's overweight, boorish and dresses like a thrift store dummy"?



Thanks for the suggestions Nick, I'll try and make the adjustments as soon as possible... if only I could work out the Japanese for 'Please select one'!

Kind regards,


Dear Richard,

No need to worry about that, I don't feel that I would be qualified to make any comments on being overweight, boorish or dressing like a thrift store dummy, as I'm sure both my fiancé and friends would happily levy the same charges on me.

I've been asked to define my stance with regards to a number of my references, your excellent book 'Designing Virtual Worlds' being one of them. I would be very interested to know your thoughts regarding geographic / cultural origin and MMORPG players and behavior (I still view groups of residents of virtual worlds as populations - not cultures per se, but have difficulties in believing that players can distance themselves from the baggage of their own real-life cultures). When I refer to 'cultures' I mean specifically geographically differentiated culture (as used by Hofstede).

Have you experienced anything that suggests that players bring their cultural baggage into virtual worlds?

I'm very interested in what you had to say on this matter in your book: "Part of the point of virtual worlds lies in being able to pick and choose what you leave behind. Culture is that which is passed from generation to generation without being inherited; virtual worlds let you rethink what you’ve been taught at every level"

How often do people pick out things to leave behind (and are they only able to detach from the less rigid cultural protocols), how common is it, and how difficult to sustain?

Kind regards (and congratulations on your Penguin!),
Alan Meades


Alan Meades>I would be very interested to know your thoughts regarding geographic / cultural origin and MMORPG players and behavior

To start with, virtual world cultures woulf form spontaneously (as described it Liz Reid's Cultural Formations paper). Such cultures were informed by mainstream culture, but weren't part of it. Over time, mainstream culture has become more influential, however there are distinct elements of the early virtual world culture that have been passed down (the acceptability of cross-gender play being a classic). There are also new cultural phenomena developing, such as a swing towards carebearism that wasn't there a decade ago. Some of these changes in culture are having an impact on the design of up-coming virtual worlds.

As always, the smaller the group then the more distinct their culture is likely to be. Isolated communities develop along lines influenced more by individuals than do cosmopolitan communities. Thus, the culture of a small-scale text MUD could be noticeably different from that of a near neighbour (even one using the same codebase), for historical and personality reasons.

When a virtual world has many thousands of players, rather than many hundreds, small groups of individuals are less able to leave a mark. Such virtual worlds are therefore more susceptible to influences from outside: other virtual worlds, and the real world. There are things that a designer can do to determine some aspects of the culture that a virtual world develops, but it's mainly the players' doing. The larger the player base, the more the culture will depend on external culture. The less like other virtual worlds it is, the more like the real world culture of its players it's likely to be (at least initially).

>I still view groups of residents of virtual worlds as populations - not cultures per se

I view them as populations that have a culture. I don't regard them as cultures.

>but have difficulties in believing that players can distance themselves from the baggage of their own real-life cultures

The can't distance themselves. While they have to use their real-world language to communicate, they're always going to be close. However, they can adapt their real-world culture, either in response to the virtual environment or in response to the players already there (and the culture they carry with them).

>Have you experienced anything that suggests that players bring their cultural baggage into virtual worlds?

Yes. There are several, in fact, although it would be suicide to list many of them without hard facts to back them up. It's not controversial to point out that St Patrick's Day is celebrated in many US virtual worlds but not in many English ones, for example, but if I were to suggest there were differences in, say, attitudes to commodification or role-playing or adult themes, I could start to look bigoted. I might even be bigoted.

Still, here's an example that shows you what I mean. From a designer's point of view, there are big differences in the way that players in the Far East treat virtual worlds compared with those of the West. It's as if players from Korea and China don't play to advance their own identity, but to advance the identity of their group. It's possible to map the development of a Far Eastern group onto my player types model, which in the West you have to do at the player level. Is that a cultural thing? Certainly! Is it something we have hard evidence for? No, but the evidence we do have (when Aaron Delwiche gets around to publishing it!) doesn't discount it. Is it all fascinating stuff? You bet!

>How often do people pick out things to leave behind (and are they only able to detach from the less rigid cultural protocols), how common is it, and how difficult to sustain?

There's a difference between deliberate and non-deliberate change. If I lived in the USA, I could deliberately decide to adopt a US accent, but the chances are that after 20 years I'd have something of one whether I wanted it or not. Thus, questions like "how often" are tricky to answer; they may perhaps be quantifiable for deliberate decisions, but for non-deliberate ones you're going to have some difficulty finding out. I suspect most cultural changes are of this kind.

One way you can get some idea as to how the differences arise is to look at different, relatively isolated virtual worlds and see what same cultural changes have occurred in both. The chances are that these arose as a result of something intrinsic to the environment (eg. anonymity) that is not present in the real world. You can also look at identical codebases played by different player demographics and see what differences arise there, too. I had the same game played by adults and teenagers, and their cultures developed along separate lines. Differences attributable to codebases can be observed by comparing virtual worlds from the same country that have similar demographics. This can tell you what kind of influence a designer has on how the players behave. In doing this kind of anthropological study, you can thus build up a picture of how different individual sources can affect an overall culture. My guess is that you'd need something with a higher fidelity of assessment than you get from Hofstede to identify the kind of subtle differences you might need to make the kind of statements you might want to about it.

It's a lot of work, too!



My Japanese language ability is definitely a work in progress, but I've found it helpful to try to work your way through Japanese language FFXI sites. I get a plenty of help from a couple informants, but my kanji-dictionary is still getting dog-eared. Fortunately, the Japanese game market loves to produce auxiliary literature: there are many game-art books and guides, written in high-school level Japanese, which are useful not only as sources, but as practice for reading.

As I understand it so far, there is a typology of player styles that reflects different Japanese realities, for example, that may be similar in some ways to those in the US or the UK, but different in others. The "Freeter" phenomenon of perma-temp and part-time work is one, the fact that most Japanese universities are less demanding that those in the US or Europe is another, as is the phenomenon of the "Ronin student." These are types more likely to be "Haijin" (achiever-types, literally "lost people.")

Casualness has a difference valence, too, when it's called mataari - identified with more of an explorer's style, with a slower, relaxed pace of play. There's even a certain characterization that gets applied to players who seek out non-Japanese parties - the "global-kun." (Thank you to all the global-kun who have been helping me in my own FFXI activities.)

The perception of the value of spare time, the importance of being organized and informed before playing (a big value for Japanese players, and the sense of lack of preparation and organization among North American players is among the biggest complaints on the boards.)

I have to be a little skeptical of cross-cultural comparative work that is run by questionaire, when there are also some important distinctions on other levels that are based on notions and roles of play. I recently spoke with some of the producers of FFXI, and they emphasized how the cross-cultural aspect of the game was an important motivator - I think they consider it the most important differentiator between FFXI and other RPGs, and cross-cultural communications and problems there-in are one of the themes of the game-text-world itself. The very term for play in Japanese - asobi - has cultural implications that include aspects of cultural performance that are different from the English language one. Inasmuch as FFXI is a game-world drafted from a Japanese perspective with an eye towards a global market and global interlocutors, it might be helpful to think about the background of that production.

One element that I'm becoming aware of is the inter-relationship between manga culture and gaming culture that is less pronounced in the US - and the fact that drawing in manga/anime style is something that many of the players pick up while growing up, as part of their informal artistic education.


Dear Richard> Thanks for the detailed response, I really appreciate you taking the time to respond to my questions, thanks for sharing your experiences and expertise in this field. Could you tell me a little more about Aaron Delwiche’s research, it certainly sounds like something that I should take a look at?

I have also been wondering if you have any experiences that you can share regarding virtual worlds where the culture changes according to time zone – i.e. in the case of FFXI, when the time reaches a point when the population consists of predominantly Japanese players, is the dynamic of the world different to the same world seven hours later when the Western-Seaboard players become the majority? Also have you experienced any changes due to the relatively large period of influence that NA players have (due to the 3hr difference in Western-Eastern seaboard timezone), i.e. intercultural virtual worlds having a marginally stronger NA influence than intended?

I’m sorry if I seem cheeky or demanding, I’ve thought about loads of questions that have arisen while reading your articles and book, and I’d love you to answer them. I know that TerraNova isn’t my own little portal to Richard Bartle, and that you’re a busy person (that goes for everyone really) –so I understand if you don’t get around to answering.

Kind regards,

Dear William>
Thanks for taking the time to give me some advice and tell me about your experiences, the same goes for all the kind support that everyone has offered. I’m very interested by the mention of
I've encountered a number of examples of Japanese FFXI ancillary literature, and they've been helpful to varying degrees (I've mainly used them to source direct translations of in-game terms, but due to my absolute lack of Japanese reading skills I will not have been exposed to any of the subtle differences that you have mentioned), the game footage DVDs allude to the organized, proud and professional nature of some of the Japanese Linkshells (perhaps reflective of Richard’s comments players who aim to ‘advance the identity of their group’).

I'm really interested by your comments on the notions of "Freeter", "Ronin student", "Haijin" and "global-kun", do you have any more information that you could offer me?

With regards to the "Ronin student" model I'd be interested to know if the differences between Japan and specifically the UK are as distinct as you suggest; I can certainly see that there could be parity between “Ronin Students” and players that I have encountered. (I would prefer not to be drawn into a protracted discussion about the state of FE-HE in general [I had enough of that during my Certificate of Education course.], although in the UK at current debate includes the prickly issue of part-time / distance learning course provision, the 'softening' of subjects in general, and a government supported initiative to encourage potential students into FE-HE that conventionally would not have been adequately supported by the system -'widening participation'. The difference between the perceived student need and the actual support level is at times so pronounced that students are given disproportionate amount of non-contact time – which in turn may equate to an equivalent of the “Ronin Student”). I can’t comment on the frequency of Japanese “Ronin Students”, but have found a (reassuringly, disturbingly?) considerable proportion of UK undergraduate players to fit this bill.

My study doesn’t aim to profile every meta or sub-culture that has a foothold on FFXI, but offer quantitative data to support anecdotal evidence really, suggesting that (within wide brush strokes) players from different locations / backgrounds play differently within the PSW. I can also understand your skepticism regarding the use of such online surveys in this manner, with particular concern with non-representation of the respondents, and the sheer variation of player preference and behavior (not to mention myriad of meta-cultures that exist within the response group [such as the "Freeter" and "Ronin student"]), but I’m at a loss to think of other suitable methods of obtaining large data-sets (bar server-side data / data mining, which has not been made available by Square-Enix), do you have any suggestions?

Conversations that I have had with Square-Enix staff in the UK have also referenced the importance (and S-E’s pride) of FFXI’s intercultural design, but not to the point of it becoming a thematic sub-text. I have wondered if there was merit within the forum reports of (understandable) hostility between established Japanese players and the comparatively recent influx NA and European players(although I must say that I have never experienced any overt hostility, but many "global-kun"), but perhaps your mention of “asobi” may shed light upon the origination of tension - are NA and EU players factored in to become digital-gaijin?

Kind regards

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