WoW subjectivity in and outside Azeroth

I am a human, a girl, a European, a white Europian girl, a daughter, a friend, a postgraduate, a student, a Romanian student in the United Kingdome, hence an immigrant, a buyer, a reader, a blog writer, a newbie gamer, a cat lover, a person, a Facebook user, a film enthusiast, and the list could continue. I never really encountered any kind of racist manifestation directed towards me.  But then, I’m a white, European, heterosexual, young woman. I speak English, I was absorbed by the pop-culture, therefore I know who Lady Gaga is, I will not ask what on Earth is Suicide Squad, and I will consider MacDonalds if I’m hungry enough . Despite my nationality, it seems that I have totally, but pretty much unknowingly, embraced the American culture, and I did at least once fantasize about a wild adventure on American ground as described in Lana del Rey’s song Ride. What could I actually be accused of? So, I floated undisturbed above racism of any sort because my skin color, my gender, and sexuality can easily fell into the “normality” pattern. I’ve encountered no problems of this sort in World of Warcraft either. But then I’m just another new, individual, anonymous player. I am fully aware of the racism and inequitable distribution of power, control, and status around the world, it just did not cross my mind that all of these could and did pass the barrier of digital games experience.

What I did encounter is a sort of surprise and skepticism from my friends when I first said, pretty enthusiastically, that I began playing World of Warcraft. Is was as they, even though, or better say, because they have known me for such a long time, could not imagine me as a gamer. In some of their eyes I should have been able to find myself better ways of spending time, which is exactly what I’ve been thinking before even considering joining the WoW community. Their surprise increased when I continued with saying that it wasn’t really my own decision, but I’m doing it for an assignment, and I’m not only playing it, but actually read and write about World of Warcraft and my own experience as a young, inexperienced gamer. The association of gaming with the action of reading, immediately elevated the game’s status, and gaming was acceptable as long as it involved something generally related to intellectual activity. The simple term “gamer” brings with itself a series of stereotypes; a gamer must be a male, but not every male, a white male with not much of an education or academic knowledge, addicted to shooting entities in virtual space, instead of reading a book. While we all know that not just any book is worth reading, almost any kind of book seems better than a video game, even though there is more than one type of video game on the wide world web. The activity itself seems to be cursed with a “bad” aura in the eyes of the self announced serious, responsible and smart people. Well, excuse me, I do intend on getting good grades, while still playing World of Warcraft.

Another topic, which I’d like to touch on is the inner game discrimination. And this is how a community which otherwise seems close to ideal, because the game doesn’t reject anyone, is crippled by the players. Even though the possibility of creating a new world from scratch gives the opportunity of “giving birth” to a gender-, race-, and hierarchy-free one, it came as no surprise that every single online community out there will and would have demolished the order of the real world, to built a new order over the ashes of the “real” world’s one, based on more or less the same principles. I am able to state this not because I studied every online community out there, but because of our human need for structure, and due to the fact that we only know the current structure, everything we create will have as a starting point at least one aspect of the structure and order under which we conduct our daily lives. World of Warcraft makes no exception. The whole game is based on a war between races, on establishing a race’s superiority over the other, on trying to subjugate the enemy races, well no novelty there, right? Of course, the races are fictional, but there is still no fiction regarding genders. The “male gaze” defined by Laura Mulvey in the article Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema (1975) is as pregnant as it was in early Hollywood cinema which she was referring to, and as it is in nowadays cinema actually. Pretty much every race’s female representative in WoW is sexualised, some more than others, but nevertheless, are pleasant to the eye. For me, going for a female avatar was instinctual, but after reading Angela Washko’s article Why Talk Feminism in World of Warcraft?, I began to wonder how many female avatars which I’ve passed by in Azure Isles were women behind the screen, and how many of the avatar who saw me, really thought that I was a female. I could’ve also chosen to play with a Draenei male, and while that would have been me “escaping” my own gender through World of Warcraft, facilitated by the anonymity provided in the game, this is not the case with males playing as female characters, as their explanation for doing so is not: I was interested to create and play as a female avatar because of the avatar’s qualities, because I was curious about a female role and Azeroth is the perfect place to experience it, but rather because as Angela Washko quotes in her article: “I’d rather look at a girl’s butt all day in WoW”. 

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Meanwhile I actually discovered that I was wrong about the lack of interaction between characters which I was talking about in the previous post, and although I do not have yet access to the to the chatty areas of Azeroth, the “chinese-farmers” case proved me wrong. I still maintain my opinion about the interaction not authentically affecting the plot or the main game lines, but it definitely affects the experience within the game. I did not encounter any generically so-called “chinese-farmer”, and I had no idea that Heilwig herself, and me alongside, could’ve been categorized as one, and attacked by other players if she were a dwarf. Maybe the gold diggers do spoil the pleasure of playing for some gamers, but the issue is not as shallow as that. Actually I find more problematic the fact that people are forced to play WoW in a FOXCONN factory kind of regime, and are accused of spoiling the western guys pleasure. While gamers brag about their chinese-farmers killings, hence purifying Azeroth, they do not seem to have any awareness of the fact that the avatar they just killed might or might as well not be a Chinese, an Asian, a modern slave, who instead of being forced to work on a plantation, is locked in a room full of undeveloped computers. From this point of view I might just state: blood in the mobile, blood in World of Warcraft as well.


References:

Baxter-Webb, J. (2014) ‘Divergent Masculinities in Contemporary Videogame Culture: A Tale of Geeks and Bros’ [online]. available from: <http://www.academia.edu/7731978/Baxter-Webb_J._2014_Divergent_Masculinities_in_Contemporary_Videogame_Culture_A_Tale_of_Geeks_and_Bros_> [29 November 2016]

Nakemura, L. (2012) ‘Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game: The Racialization of Labor in World of Warcraft’. Digital Labor The Internet as Playground and Factory [online]. 188-205. available from: <http://www.tandfebooks.com/action/showBook?doi=10.4324%2F9780203145791&> [27 November 2016]

Pulos, A. (2013) ‘Confronting Heteronormativity in Online Games: A Critical Discourse Analysis of LGBTQ Sexuality in World of Warcraft’. Games and Culture [online] 8 (2). 77-97. available from: http://gac.sagepub.com/content/8/2/77 [30 November 2016]

Washko, A. (2014) ‘Why Talk Feminism in World of Warcraft?’ Creativetimes Reports [online] available from: <http://creativetimereports.org/2014/11/20/angela-washko-feminism-world-of-warcraft-gamergate/> [27 November 2016]

Affect in Azeroth

Affect = 1. influence, sway; modify, alter. 2. touch, stir

to have an effect on something or someone, according do Oxford Dictionary

“Affect” has been approached from different perspectives, as belonging only to “the realm of the senses”, as something preceding the actual thought, preceding even the emotion, as a touch of the Real in Lacanian terms; as a combination of nature and nurture, considering one’s background even one’s mechanical, instinctual reactions might have been at least a little influenced by one’s surroundings. Maybe the second of indefinite terror (which’s existence many of us will deny) when our eyes are first struck by the darkness, is a result of the Boogie Man myth from our early childhood, which is actually nothing more than a construct prefabricated by humans. Furthermore, our excitement over things and places is also shaped by our experience or by others’ experience, by the common experience and crowd opinion as adjudicated by Sara Ahmed in the chapter Happy Objects from  The Promise Of Happiness (2010).  How does affect then influence social media and the digital environment? Firstly it makes us buy our gadgets and then it makes us buy the new improved version of our gadgets. What role does affect play in our digital lives? It is, at least for me, pretty much the same as in the “real world”, only the effect is diminished. I will not be as shocked by a car accident projected on a screen than I would be if it would happen right in front my eyes, without any mediation, but the raw feeling will be the same, only the intensity will differ, and this only as far as there is a neat line between the digital and the real world. The more the digital image resembles the “real” regarding visuals, sound, effects, the more intense the effect it will be, or the more time one spends in the digital realm. It is a circular connection between affect and the clarity of the boundaries between the real and the digital world.

800px-narcissus-caravaggio_1594-96_editedThat is why I consider the identification with my avatar crucial in the discussion about affect. I already talked about the relationship between me and Heilwig in the previous post. I do feel her as a different me when I am playing World of Warcraft. She is another me, or as Ken Hillis notes, following Charles Sanders Peirce’s lead, Heilwig is my indexical sign in World of Warcraft, the so-called footprints which Robinson Crusoe sees on the beach, my own digital contour in Azeroth.  As I already stated, I do not totally identify with my avatar, I don’t look at her on the screen when waiting for the game to load and become mesmerized with my digital reflection as Narcissus did, which is why, when she dies, I do not have the same fate as the unfortunate mythological character whose reflection brought his death.

I never played an MMORPG game before WoW, but I enjoyed playing real life RPG games with my friends when I was a child. And not just a simple games as mom, dad, and the kids, or the buyer and the seller, but complex games with a plot line, which was unconditionally altered as the game evolved, with sketched surroundings and outfits on shabby notebooks. Maybe it was the age, but I was more affected by those games which I can still remember, than by World of Warcraft. In WoW I do not need to draw myself the background or my avatar’s clothes because all of them are already there. The visuals and the sound are atmospheric, the music goes hand in hand with the mystical, mysterious landscape. And I might have flinched a few times when I was attacked, I had the curiosity to discover new realms, to fly on gryphons, to dive underwater, to fight side by side with my water elemental, which I didn’t think I might eventually find kind of cute, (it isn’t a fluffy little kitten after all), but I did, and I was keen on receiving new missions. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Heilwig’s spirit could walk on water, and I even tried to go through a tree, which didn’t quite work, it seems that not even spirits can do whatever they please.  The pumpkin costume which I acquired on Halloween amused me, and the unexpected appearance of the giant pumpkin-headed horse rider caught me off guard. It made a huge difference playing Wolrd of Warcraft with and without sound, as the background music enhances the atmosphere and the whole game experience, but I never really felt absorbed by the game, as it happened with my childhood RPG games. As I have already said, it must have been the age and my flourishing imagination, but there was something more. Interaction, authentic, and surprising interaction between players, which changed dramatically the plot. Until this point, in WoW, I lacked the interaction with other characters, better said with other players. It lacks the dialogue, the authentic interaction between players, I complete a mission and I receive another, I discover new territories, new creatures, I get new powers, new garments, it is quite exciting in a way, but everything is predetermined. Even though it tries to give the impression that you are in control, your route is already inscribed in the game’s “map”.  There are only so many choices that my avatar, that I can make, there are only so many routes that I can follow. There is no place for real improvisation. Probably that is supposed to be the outcome of a confrontation with another avatar, which I have not yet experienced, but not even this would be enough as it does not change the main plot line.

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 The game does try to trick its players into believing that they are in control of what is happening, but this illusion did not convince me, and the simple, but obvious fact of actually being just a pawn in an assemblage of other pawns which do exactly what the game expect them to do, takes away a bit of the pleasure of playing. Even though it is a role play game, I find it individualistic, there are a lot of players, out there, but I get the impression that we all play it separately, that it is a game played with a computer and not with other players.

But then again, World of Warcraft still has much more to offer, and I still have much more to discover, and at some point, my expectation might be fulfilled… or they might not.

 

 


References:

Ahmed, S (2010) The Promise Of Happiness. [online] Durham [NC]: Duke University Press. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost), EBSCOhost, available from: <http://web.a.ebscohost.com/ehost/detail/detail?sid=54d078af-fe97-44ec-802d-3225ded72487%40sessionmgr4006&vid=0&hid=4207&bdata=JnNpdGU9ZWhvc3QtbGl2ZQ%3d%3d#AN=600207&db=nlebk> [14 November 2016]

Clough, P. T. (2008) ‘The Affective Turn : Political Economy, Biomedia and Bodies’. Theory Culture Society [online] 25 (1). 1-22. available from: <http://tcs.sagepub.com/content/25/1/1> [25 November 2016]

Hillis, K. Paasonen, S. Petit M. (2015) ‘Introduction: Networks of Transmission: Intensity, Sensation’. Networked Affect [online] 1. MIT Press. 1-24. available from <http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/bkabstractplus.jsp?bkn=7081709> [26 November 2016]

Hillis, K. Paasonen, S. Petit M. (2015) ‘The Avatar and Online Affect’. Networked Affect [online] 1. MIT Press. 75-88. available from <http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/bkabstractplus.jsp?bkn=7081709> [26 November 2016]

Wetherell, M. (2014) ‘Trends in the Turn to Affect: A Social Psychological Critique’ Body & Society [online] 21 (2). 1-28. available from: http://bod.sagepub.com/content/early/2014/03/27/1357034X14539020 [26 November 2016]

Cyborgs among us and our projection in the virtual world

We imagine cyborgs like this:

ex-machina-trailer

or like this:cyborgs

An image probably proposed for the first time by Metropolis’ (1927) mechanical Maria, which was, as the ones in the images above and Rachel from Blade Runner, who’s on the cover photo, made of steel, of nuts, bolts, and screws, covered with a synthetic pellicle resembling human skin. These science-fiction visual representations shaped through the years our perception on cyborgs. We could not possibly be something like that. We were born from our mother’s womb, we breath, we bleed, we feel. While we might not be robots in the denotative sense of the word, we do tend to ground our daily activities on technology. The first thing I do in the morning, while I’m still sleepy under the covers, is checking my phone. I listen to music on my way to university and my earphones are plug into my ears while I usually hold my phone in my hand to check the time because I’m always just a bit late.

If I drop my phone, I panic (actually not anymore, as I dropped it so many times I still wonder how the poor thing still works), if my laptop stops working or isn’t working properly, which tends to happen quite a lot in the last couple of days, I get angry, I feel like a part of me isn’t working. This addiction, this constant need for technology couldn’t be a sign of “cyborg-ing”? The fact that we almost feel the pain when our precious technological device hits the ground, isn’t a sign that we’ve incorporated it not only into our lives but in our “selves” as persons?

And just between us, Rachel from Blade Runner did feel, she had memories, she fell in love, she suffered, she didn’t even know that she wasn’t human in the sense of being made out of flesh and blood. She went through an existential crisis when she understood her nature as a cyborg. Seeing myself as partly cyborg isn’t nearly as dramatic, although it might change a bit my discourse on what makes me a Human being.

If being vulnerable, getting hurt, getting tired are some of the characteristics which shape my humanity, then what about Heilwig? Heilwig gets tired too, she gets hurt too, she even dies, but then, World of Warcraft has this awesome feature of reviving characters, which isn’t the case with the real world. No, of course, Heilwig isn’t human, not as me and you, not as a race either, she’s a Draenei (a word I don’t even really know how to pronounce).

draenei2

“The Draenei (meaning Exiled Ones in their own tongue) are a faction of uncorrupted eredar who fled their home world of Argus to escape the corruption of the demonic Burning Legion. Led by Prophet Velen and guided by the divine naaru, they traveled throughout the cosmos in search of a safe world to settle on, eventually landing on a planet they would come to call Draenor, or “Exiles’ Refuge”. For centuries, the draenei lived in relative peace with Draenor’s native orcs, until agents of the Burning Legion found them. As the orcs were corrupted by the Legion and formed the original Horde, the draenei were slaughtered en masse and driven into hiding. Eventually, they managed to escape Draenor on the Exodar, a vessel of the naaru fortress of Tempest Keep, crash-landing on Azeroth; more specifically, on the Azuremyst Isles off the western coast of Kalimdor. Once they had arrived on Azeroth, the draenei allied with the Alliance and aided them in the war in Outland.” (1) Of course, I knew nothing of this when I chose my avatar’s race, I just liked that she was blue and had horns. She looks partly human, but still had that fantastic, mythical, and mystical aura, and though she is a part of the “good” side, I still feel her looks give the impression of a dual nature as if she could flip sides at any moment.

Heilwig isn’t a cyborg either, at least not by herself. No, she is my projection in the realm of World of Warcraft, my embodiment, which if I think of it, makes me a cyborg. My choice was looks based mostly as I knew close to nothing about WoW. She does not necessarily depict features that I would like to “borrow” in the outside world, but I did create her in the way I would have created a fictional character in a written fantastic short story. The name I chose for her does not say much about myself, other than that I do have a soft spot for Germanic names. She is a wizard, because I had a passion for witches when I was little, so a bit of magic never killed anybody.

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As far as my identification with my avatar goes, there are two ways in which I refer and think of my character. When I’m in the game, playing, I do identify with her. If she dies I won’t think Heilwig died, I’ll say I died, my bag is full, and not Heilwig’s bag, when a siren’s attacks Heilwig, I’ll just think I’m being attacked, and that grisly creature is trying to kill me; of course if the siren isn’t attacking me, she’s not a grisly creature anymore, she’s just another  bytes-breathing being.

The game itself does help with this identification through the auxiliary characters which address you in the second person. Of course, they say “Hello, Heilwig!” and not “Hello, Maria!”, but I don’t seem to really notice that, because I am not really playing as my self. It’s more like my character is some kind of alter ego of mine, a part of me which isn’t visible on a daily basis, and only manifest itself when I enter World of Warcraft.

The view changes when I’m outside Azeroth. I will still say that I’m a Draenei, that I reached a certain level, or that I was killed 3 times the last time I played World of Warcraft, but I’m saying it out of habit. In my mind I project Heilwig’s image, and I am fully aware of the fact that she and me are distinct entities, which is totally different from when I’m playing. If I’d be informed she died, or she was the great hero of Azeroth I wouldn’t be impressed, I wouldn’t actually care much. She’s not real, I wouldn’t have to go to her funeral, I gain nothing from her grand success. She’s just a character, fictional character who wouldn’t be missed by anybody… until I click play. Until I see her on the screen. until I move her around and direct her to complete missions, which make her evolve as a character, as a part of WoW community. When I have that power over her, she suddenly becomes important. I start caring if she succeeds or dies, because it’s not Heilwig who does this, it’s actually me. I don’t feel as creator watching his creation, I feel as I am the creator and the creation at the same time. I allocate myself all of her merits, and I accept her defeats because it is, in fact, me who is playing, and she wouldn’t exist without me, which isn’t applicable the other way around.


(1) http://wow.gamepedia.com/Draenei


References:

Crick, T. (2011) ‘The Game Body: Toward a Phenomenology of Contemporary Video Gaming’. Games and Culture [online] 6 (3), 259-269. available from <http://gac.sagepub.com/content/6/3/259.full.pdf+html> [11 November 2016]

Farrow, R., Iacovides, I. (2014), ‘Gaming and the limits of digital embodiment’. Philosophy & Technology, [online] 27 (2), 221-233. available from <http://search.proquest.com/docview/1530371718?OpenUrlRefId=info:xri/sid:primo&accountid=10286> [20 October 2016]

Graham, L. T., Gosling, S. D. (2012) ‘Impressions of World of Warcraft players’ personalities based on their usernames: Interobserver consensus but no accuracy’. Journal of Research in Personality [online] 46 (5), 599-603. available from <> [11 November 2016]

May, S. (2012) ‘Embodiment, Transparency and the Disclosiveness of Failure’. Body, Space & Technology [online]. available from <http://people.brunel.ac.uk/bst/vol11/shaunmay/home.html> [20 October 2016]

http://wow.gamepedia.com/Draenei

World of Warcraft, Digital Community, Virtual World – Personal Review

What is this painting all about? Just for the record, is a painting by Bruegel, and even though I used as a cover a 16th-century painting, I have no intention to start a discussion around 16th century’s art. No, I will be writing about a pretty unusual subject, at least for me, World of Warcraft.

I will start by saying that I am no gamer. So, do no expect to find any new tactics or tips on how to pass the levels, far from that. I am just a newbie. If I remember well, my blue character with horns, just passed level 6, or was it 7? From what I just said, you already understood that I am not the biggest fan of video games, and some of you might tell me: Well you do not know what you are losing and I might just agree with that.

I will admit I was really skeptical at first; I might still be a little. Playing a video game of this amplitude can be addictive, and I had the impression that I could find better ways to pass time. I do know people who used to spend nights after nights in front a computer pursuing heroic mission and trying to save the virtual world, and I was against it because it affected their daily activities and sometimes they could just not keep up with their responsibilities because of the immense amount of time they spent playing video games, and if I recall well, it was exactly World of Warcraft. Then, as I was disinterestedly scrolling my Facebook timeline in absence of a better occupation, it just struck me, scrolling my Facebook timeline was definitely not a better way of passing time. I do not militate for video games, even as a WoW player now, a very new and inexperienced player, but a player nonetheless, I still believe that the world outside my Windows is such a vast and wonderful place, and I should use every second and every means to discover it. But, and there is a really big but, this world we are all living in is constantly changing, and digital culture is a part of it now, an important part I must say, and it has been so for quite a while.

Gadgets, online platforms, virtual communities have entered our world and are here to stay, so we would better get used to it. And most of us already did. Who does not have a mobile phone today? Or a computer, who does not have a Facebook account and does not communicate with friends, family, coworkers, and professors online? Our grandparents, maybe… but mine do have a mobile phone, newborns, but they will soon have all of these as well. So, the internet became nowadays, at least for the western world a vital element, a facility without which, none of us can even imagine our lives. Thus, as in the so-called “real world” where people are organized in communities, starting from villages, towns, cities, countries; friend communities, family, students in an university, colleagues in an office, members of the same church, the same knitting club or football enthusiasts, the digital, virtual world is also formed of communities, based on common interests, principles, hobbies, or simply by having an account on a specific online platform. Idyllically, a community is a group of people united by a common specific, who are always ready to help, support, listen to the other members; an abstract place where you can feel wanted, needed, heard. A community is, probably in a utopian world, a home without walls, floors or a roof. Sadly, utopias do not exist, hence neither do these idyllical communities, unless you are playing a video game, and here I will just concentrate on World of Warcraft (I certainly do not consider Counter-Strike community an idyllically one, though gamers do form teams and help each other accomplishing a certain mission as a team). As Jane McGonigal advocates in her conference from February 2010, Gaming can make a better world, a world as the one proposed in World of Warcraft is, in spite of the imminent danger of falling apart due to evil forces, a utopia. Every gamer, experienced or inexperienced can find its own place and be a part of saving the characters’ world. More bluntly said, World of Warcraft gives his players the opportunity of being heroes. And if you are not interested in being a hero, it still does not lose its appeal. By proposing this whole new universe, only exploring Azeroth might be enough to convince fantasy enthusiasts to keep on playing. Of course, in there you have your own missions, you can not possibly feel unwanted, and who would reject a Blood Elf who is trying to save the world?

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Coming back to the start, the reason I used a Bruegel’s painting as cover is because it shows a community, a medieval one it is true, but a community gravitating around crafts and organized, just as the one in World of Warcraft in guilds, and every and each one of these guilds plays its own important role in making the world go round. There is no unemployment, no character who graduated a Law School and the only place hiring him is McDonalds or KFC, there is no loss of potential, because everyone has its own place, and other experienced characters are willing to give you missions, and world-saving tasks, in spite of your own lack of experience. In World of Warcraft you will never hear: Oh, you are twenty, you just graduated, and have no experience, we can not hire you, we are looking for a young person with more experience, we are really sorry. But the reason this universe is so appealing is that it is not real, it is programmed in such a way to let everybody win. You die but you revive, you mess up your mission, but there is a way of remedying the situation, you do not win now, you just have to log in later and try again, and again, and again. Some of these might apply to the real world, but not every time.

Games are a mean of relaxation, of gaining certain skills, of learning, but these should not only resume to the world of games, should be transposed in the real world.


References:

Brignall, T.W. ; Van Valey, T.L. (2007) ‘An Online Community as a New Tribalism: The World of Warcraft’. 40th Annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences [online] 179b-179b. available from: <http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/4076738/> [1 December 2016]

Jane McGonigal, (2010) ‘Gaming can make a better world’. conference [online] available from: <https://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world> [12 October 2016]