On wednesday I finally mailed the second promoter of my research with my ‘progress’. It took me three days to get just about anything out of my head onto the screen. You’ll probably noticed the desperate SOS post from during the process. I’m glad to announce that throwing a message in the bottle from my island helped, even though I didn’t get any back. It’s a lonely island out here in my head. Maybe I should repopulate it with OompaLoompas!
I don’t expect anybody to be curious about my progress, but I’ll tell you anyway. Meanwhile I’m anxiously playing the waiting game, waiting for a response. Hoping for green lights and a great race. I wouldn’t like to hear I’m on the wrong track.
I’ll (hopefully) be performing my research about identity, the way J.P. Gee sees it in his books and articles (I’ll put some references later). Gamers have their own, real life identity. But their in-game avatar also has an identity: a virtual one. Put those two together and you get what he calls the projective identity. That’s when you, as a gamer, project expectancies and values on their avatar. It becomes an ‘in-between’ identity, not quite real but also not completely virtual. It’s those virtual and projective identities I’m interested in. How do people identify with their character(s), specifically in a very social and ever changing environment: MMORPGs.
Another important background element is the specific game I’ll be finding my poor case studies in. Despite two years of experience with World of Warcraft, I didn’t choose the most popular and obvious choice. I think there is already an overload of studies in that environment. I’d like to run in a different direction. A very different one. The game I chose is not set in a fantasy or a science fiction world. No, it’s based on our very own contemporary Earth, just a bit more… mystic. Just imagine that every myth and urban legend you ever heard, were true. Expect a surprise behind every corner!
But that’s not the biggest difference and not necessarily the one that pulled me in. The big fish for me is the game play. No traditional classes. Bye bye warrior, priest, shaman, paladin or druid. Hello skill based system with over 500 skills to choose and combine from. Hello freedom and hello complication. Hopefully not hello to jack-of-all-trades-that-fails-at-everything-but-solo-questing. Also there will be no progress by leveling. No level cap. I suspect the major progress will be made by gear and ‘practice’ with skills. It gets even more complicated as we speak!
Those that have been following the recent developments in the MMO scene, will know what game I’m talking about. A contemporary setting, skill-based gameplay and no leveling. Yep, I am talking about Funcom’s The Secret World, that will hopefully launch in April this year. Otherwise I’ll have a major problem. Oh well, I guess that’s my punishment for choosing a game that is not even released yet and I don’t have beta access to. But too be honest, I’ve been looking forward to this game ever since I saw this teaser trailer a couple of years ago.
So what will I do with all that background? Identities and a skill based system / lack of levels? How does that combine? It does, Gurren Lagann style!
I’m interested in how this not so conventional gameplay will influence people’s virtual and projective identities in group play. I’ll be focusing on group roles, which I suspect will still be fairly traditional.
- Tank: A tank is a tank is a tank. It’s someone big and strong that takes all the punches for the team. He can handle a lot of damage and keeps the attention (aggro) of the bad guys on him so the rest of the team can do their thing.
- Healer: This guy (or girl) has a fairly straightforward job: don’t let the tank die! And preferably keep everybody else alive in the process as well. Just throw those heals, baby! In bigger groups, there’s a chance the healer will be occupied with the whole group and curse at everybody that is stupid enough to stand in fire. It’s also the person that usually gets flamed when the group wipes (aka everybody is sleeping with the fishes).
- DPS: Damage Per Second. That says it all. Just do some major pew pew, don’t stand in fire and don’t do anything stupid. Like taking the aggro away from the tank and getting squashed by an ugly, slime barfing giant.
- CC: Crowd Control. This is not necessarily a separate roll, usually a couple of DPS are charged with this. When you’re facing a big group of mobs (bad guys), it can come in handy to put some asleep or glue them to the ground. Just incapacitate the shit out of them.
In a class based game, it is usually fairly straight forward who takes on which role. A protection paladin is a tank, while a restoration pally is a healer. A hunter does pew pew and a holy priest heals. My apologies for basing all my examples on WoW. I know fans of other, equally awesome MMOs will hate me for picking the biggest one in the pack, but these examples are pretty straightforward. Your class and specialization define what you do in a group and 90% of the time you’ll perform a very similar routine.
I expect things to be a bit more complicated in The Secret World. There are no predefined classes. You decide what you do with your skills and how you combine them. There will of course be pre-cut templates, but nobody forces you to use them. It makes things a bit more tricky for a group leader to find what he needs. But it also makes it easier to switch in between roles. You don’t have to level a totally new character or change your complete spec. Just look for the skills and practice them till you’re pro. Simply put of course.
So what does that mean? My premise is that, instead of having a fixed identity when it comes to group play, there will be more opportunities to switch in between identities. The skill-based gameplay seems to encourage multiple identies and flexibility in using them ingame. But at the same time I expect it will be harder to acquire and develop said identities. There is so much versatility in opportunities, that I think it might take a while to find the play style that suits you as a player and you might get less support from your guild and the community. There will probably be tons of ninja’s around, but what if you want to be a fire-blazing revolver-wielding bounty hunter and there is nobody like you out there? It will take a lot of learning and practice to take on an identity and it will become even more complicated when we put five or ten people in a group to go kill stuff.
As I’ve stated before, I’m starting from Gee’s view on identity in games, applying that on group roles in MMOs. I think that, because of that thinking framework, discourse analysis will be the way to go. I’ll be taking and analyzing interviews with players, both experienced and new. I’m expecting I’ll look for players in a stable guild and otherwise players that play in PUGs (pick up groups, playing with people you find in the game world and you usually don’t know). That will give me ample opportunity to analyze and compare their language, their expertise in the game and their view on identities and group play.
After my last exam of the semester (on tuesday, fingers crossed and light those candles please), I’ll be looking more into this method, to define how it will help me in my research. Yay, more literature! Moar! Maybe I should post a picture of my stack of books and articles?
Wow, long post!
Lots to do, but now I have to go study educational policy and development. Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker!