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Jan 11, 2007



WoW is chock full of examples, they impart "authority" through two means:

1. Style - the shoulder pads sprouting flames are more likely to be more expensive, rare and powerful than the thin brown leather ones.

2. Sets - distinctive visual styles to the top end gear give players bonuses as well as make them stand out.


When I joined the Navy, I wasn't entirely aware of how the notion of recognizing authority worked. Boot Camp presented what seemed to me to be a novel and highly specialized form of training in order to engender feelings of obedience and reflexive respect for uniform. Recognizing the actual rank and power meant little, recognizing that ANY rank and power meant more than yours was important.

After I left boot camp I gradually learned that the training there was just a subset out of society's (or any society's) habit of entrenching not just respect but subconscious respect for authority as represented by uniformed figures.

But, the author's point about Naval uniform versus Army uniform is important here, as the distinction is important as regards authority. Army officers were, as signaling moved away from standards, told to look and act like their men while on the ground. An officer (or NCO)would be shot and killed if he was recognized as an authority figure. This development is a 20th century one, but has has such an impact as to totally diminish the implied authority of an Army uniform to a civilian. The Navy, on the other hand, grew out of the tradition of officers and midshipmen standing on quarterdecks (the raised part of a sailing ship with the ship's wheel on it)--they would be severely punished for ducking in the face of enemy fighters. Even though targeting officers started much earlier for Naval officers than Army officers, the position of command relied heavily on remaining visible (As a sidenote, the Marines were first used to shoot from masts with rifles at officers of opposing ships, often less than 300 feet away). But as the 20th century approached, fewer and fewer opportunities existed to target Naval officers--battles were fought at greater distances and with more devastating firepower. As a result, Naval uniforms have grown more distinct for officers and NCO's (chiefs), and more ornate in comparison to other services.

I said this would have something to do with VW's, and it does. The recognition of uniform and status afforded by it was partially due to my experience with pavlovian (hehe) correction during boot camp and partly due to the distinctiveness of the uniform itself. Authority was afforded to those in power, but recognized by the sharp distinction with those not in power.

The separateness is a key element to equating a uniform with power. The first group suggested has had no problem doing this. Dev's in EQ would commonly walk around with flaming swords or impossible armor (and this was less a uniform than regalia, which Naval uniforms mix), but as player loot expanded, sometimes desperate measures were taken. I remember a protest over Monk nerfing that resulted in a sit in of over 50 naked lvl 1 pvp monks outside of Freeport. The protest was broken up by John Smedley (SP?) appearing as a 100ft Gnome in order to attract some attention.

Your comment about the second group is very astute. Before Sam Huntington started writing about the "Clash of Civilizations", he was a sociologist writing about the military. He wrote extensively about the notion of civil-military relations and (what is germane to our discussion) what makes a unit elite--we might say Uber. He concludes that among the possible reasons, cohesion, training, history, esprit, and so on, the one that survives is distinction. The marines are the few and the proud because they are the few. The SEAL's are so elite mostly (mostly is the wrong word, Huntington would say distinction was the most transcendental cause) because they fail so many entrants to BUDS--those 60% that fail aren't all necessarily not SEAL material, but they add to the mystique inside and outside of the organization. As a result, the gold trident on a SEAL uniform inspires a good deal of respect.

So the uniform would stem from the authority, or the appearance of authority. More precisely, the uniform would represent the general authority not vested in the individual. The individual authority is not a predicate, but the general is. In this case, what I remember (I was never in any very powerful guilds) was being humbled sometimes just by guild tags. That was all the uniform that I ever needed. A well recognized three letter set or "Something of Something", usually legions, all the good guilds seemed to be legions, enclosed within carrots.

I would say the answer is a qualified maybe. Hhahaha.

Okay. Maybe a qualified no. As authority doesn't flow directly from the uniform. Except when it does. :)


I've seen many cases, for instance in Dark Age of Camelot, where particular guild groups upon becoming known for their leadership on the battlefield have subsequently elected to wear fashionably coordinated regalia in order to set themselves apart visually, increase recogniability by friend and foe alike, and there by better coordinate strategic actions and promote morale. Players using in game text chat would also routinely identify groups and individual avatars acting in key strategic or leadership roles by their specify appear to such a degree that incoming "troops" could readily identify and select enemies of consequence when arriving at a site of conflict.


I can think of two instances in my personal experience of marks of distinction in Virtual Worlds.

Way back in 2001, when Phantasy Star Online was still alive and kicking on the Dreamcast, a few key mistakes on the part of the development team ultimately killed off the game. Most notably, the game information was stored client-side and not server-side, which allowed for manipulation of game code by use of Game Shark type software. The easy access to these codes and their proliferation throughout the game caused lots of difficulties with innovative PKing, and before long, there was the "rise" of a known group of coordinated hackers that called themselves "The Master G Clan." They were easily identified by character names such as "THE MASTER G2," the number presumably representing their rank; however, they also operated under various cover names, though they were usually easily identified by the fact that they were level 200, the maximum for PSO v.2. A few of their preferred aliases were well-known. One in particular, Terrorist X, who was actually THE MASTER G1, was notorious, as he was rumored to be the creater of the "NOL code." This code actually overwrote the data of your character and replaced with that of a level 5 NPC character, named NOL. This code also had a risk of corrupting your entire memory card. So, if you saw one of these names, you logged out as quickly as possible. On more than a few occasions, I actually had to dive to shut off my Dreamcast as a last resort. An interesting side effect of this whole fiasco was that because there was nothing to prohibit multiple characters having the same name, so there was the potential for copycat crime, though whether or not that was actually exercised, I do not know.

My other main experience with marks of status came from Ragnarok Online, which I started playing as PSO was in its last hours of legitimate playability. RO was in its original open beta at the time, and Izlude had just been added as a town. The game was much, much simpler back then, and market prices were usually reasonable. After the "Beta2" expansion, particularly after RO's Englsh servers went pay-to-play, things started to take a turn. With a myriad of new functions, several new dungeons, and new items and equipment to go with second classes, the economy really went to town. Whole new markets opened up, and before long, inflation was skyrocketing, by more than 1000% in some places. Among the new pieces of equipment were pieces of headgear that were very, very difficult to obtain, and owning one of them put you in an elite fraction of a percent of players. And as all characters could wear three head pieces (Top, Mid, and Bottom), a character with a Corsair, Elven Ears, and a Cigar had probably spent roughtly 20,000,000 zeny on headgear alone, noting that the game has a zeny limit of 9,999,999. They were easy to very easy to spot, and even easier to ogle at.

While the second example is less centered on authority, I think both examples speak to the idea of status as conveyed by fashion or name recognition. Particularly in the first case, the mere sight of certain names prompted panic in the players, and the existence of the Master G Clan and others like them prompted a fundamental shift in the way the game was played.


There's the alternative, too. SAS, for example, rarely wear any distinctive kind of uniform (the ski-masks are for when there's cameras about), report themselves as belonging to regiments which they in fact no longer belong to (although usually came out of) and yet have absolute authority when they choose to reveal their identities (massively rare).

Partly that's rarity, as Adam Hyland mentions. Partly it's a mixture of respect and fear because those reputations which deserved, if not played-down.

As a Signal for 4 and a half years, i saw the Winged Dagger only twice but both times everyone present went absolutely silent and did exactly as they were told.


Part of my experience in EVE has been in huge fleet battles, where our teamspeak server may have 150-250 people on it. Coordination is hard, but there are a few corporations that are known for their combat expertise. Sometimes hundreds of people will quiet their objections and do what they're told because an "uber" pvp corporation took control of the fight. They defer to those people who have distinctive, proven corporation or alliance tags because they figure they have more experience fighting than they do. It's always interesting to see people shut up when someone with an elite corp tag starts telling people what to do.


In WoW your "authority" comes from two sources:

Your gear, if it's high-level most players can recognize it on sight. Having tier 2 or higher automatically confers some superiority over lesser-geared players in PuGs and PvP.

And more importantly, outside of x-realm pvp at least, is your guild tag. Having the name of one of the most powerful guilds under your name is massive, and having a guild tag that people know as a "bad" guild is the opposite. This is immensely powerful, and as a member of one of the "leet" guilds on our server I can attest to being defered to in pugs.


And that sense of status and belonging is exactly why those MMORPG treadmills are still running.


I play a flight sim that allows one to use custom aircraft skins. It's usually a good bet that the people with custom skins know what they are doing. And they probably fly that specific aircraft type to the exclusion of most others.

Most people attempt to make their skin as elaborate as possible. Some of them completely abandon the military theme. Nobody is satisfied to merely stencil their girlfriend's name on the cowling like grandpa did in WW2.

But the regulars do churn out new skins like clockwork, so new players can download them if they wish. Most don't bother. And some servers turn the custom skin option off to save bandwidth.

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