Author Archives: Kim

I have done more writing in the last two days…

Than in the last two months, I think.  Just knowing that this job is ending seems to have inspired me.  🙂

I also volunteered to help the GMs (game masters/mistresses) of Clan Lord.  I’d like to make a concrete contribution to the game, and I also want to learn more about games.  We’ll see if they have anything for me to do though.

Big Decisions

So… I am leaving my current job, which has been a combination of instructional designer, tech support, web mistress and teacher.  I really enjoyed it at first, but it soon became clear that there was no room for me to be creative, or to experiment, or try to keep up with research–my own or anyone else’s.  Further, I was tied to a desk 8 hours a day–even leaving for lunch was discouraged.  I was away from said desk to teach occasional workshops, which were great, or to attend usually useless meetings in which real discussion rarely occurred.

This is the first time since before I was in grad school that I’ve left a job without another to walk into.  It’s scary, but also kind of exhilarating.  I think I might finally have time to really do some writing, and to learn some programming!  And I can apply to jobs that I might not have seriously considered when the choice was stable, predictable academic job vs. a fun, but risky or “unknown” job. If nothing else, I can get back to my research, and writing, and hopefully publish.  Wish me luck.  🙂

What keeps people engaged?

If you study MMOs at all, you may have seen Tom Chatfield’s TED Talk in which he talks about what game designers have learned about what keeps people engaged in a game. He identifies the following:

  • problem solving –> ambition + delight
  • progress bars
  • multiple long and short-term aims
  • reward effort, don’t punish failure much
  • immediate feedback
  • uncertainty causes intense engagement
  • biggest turn on is other people

Now he was talking about how knowing this might help us to deal with other tasks and challenges, and that was very interesting.  But I am also thinking about how Clan Lord does in each of these areas, and it does most of these very well indeed.  Except for progress bars; it doesn’t have any!

As I’ve been doing research on CL, I’ve started interviewing players about what keeps them coming back, and in some cases, what has brought them back after being away for months or years.  In every single case so far (about 20 people to date) they cite the community as the strongest motivator. That seems in line with Chatfield’s last point, but it’s not just that they have friends in CL.  Many players specify that the community is mature and supportive. Though a wide range of ages is represented, the community as a whole is quite mature.  Griefing is minimal and when it occurs, other community members address it. Though the forums show the usual flamewars, the gameworld itself remains remarkably free of such conflict.

In terms of support, players are generally very helpful to each other.  Because the community is small and everyone is motivated to keep the population up and growing, most players will go out of their way to help newbies get started, supplying not only information, but donating gear, and taking them out to hunt or rescuing them if they get into trouble.  Even as players advance though, others will support them in achieving goals such as qualifying for a subclass, acquiring higher level gear, completing quests, and so on.  This has been designed into the game in the way that these goals really cannot be completed alone.  As everyone knows that they will sometimes need help themselves, they have good reason to help others. Doing so though, players often realize that helping this way is satisfying in itself.

As my character works on goals, I find myself intensely grateful that the game is designed this way, or Eirian would be sunk! 🙂

The Price of Scholarship

So I had been accepted to speak at a conference in Amsterdam earlier this month and I had really looked forward to being over there again.  Unfortunately, it became clear in early February that this was not going to be possible, given our budget, our financial burdens, and the total lack of travel funding, not to mention possible job and pay cuts next year because of California’s ballooning deficit. SO I withdrew from the conference.  –And no, they had no options for virtual participation.  I checked.

Disheartening to say the least.

But I’m stubborn, so I have turned my attention to conferences closer to home; I’ll try to present that paper next year at a conference on the West Coast, and submit a related one for a conference in the NL in the fall, saving up for that travel. (still iffy but you never know).  I’m also sending at least one paper based on my MMO research straight to a collection of essays later in the year (if the abstract is accepted). I don’t have to travel at all for that. 🙂

I don’t mind so much having to pay my own way, but if you work at a job that doesn’t see your research as part of the job, so that you have to do it outside work hours, and you have to keep that job in the hopes of paying for travel for that research… and when I say you, I actually mean me… well, I have to wonder how hard I’m willing  to struggle.  How much time to write and do the research can I take away from my friends and family on top of that 40 hours a week that I’m at work?

We’ll see…

Writing in Character

For awhile I was writing here, and on my abstract, and I was not writing so much as my character.  Eventually I started to feel a kind of pressure as that blog fell further behind my in character life.  I started to feel that I wanted to write about what was happening to me in the game currently, but that if I skipped over too much, it wouldn’t really make sense. So I’ve tried to catch up over there, and thus have neglected writing here.

But now it’s time to catch up over here.  🙂

My character finally reached a benchmark I had been aiming to hit before making further choices about what to do with her.  Since I’ve not had too much time to actually play since September, it seemed like this period had just stretched on and on.  And finally I finished, and was faced with those choices. Clan Lord differs from other MMOs in the way characters tend to become more distinct as they develop, because each choice closes off other options. In many games, as players gain ranks or levels, they become more similar–very powerful in basically the same way.

In Clan Lord on the other hand, every choice makes you stronger in some ways, but weaker in others, and there’s no one best solution for every one, no perfect build.  Instead, you have to try to imagine how you will most enjoy playing in the future and aim to make that possible. This can lead to some counter-intuitive choices. Even if what you want to be the most powerful fighter, do you want to be the most resistant to creatures attacking?  The deadliest when hunting them? Able to keep swinging against numerous weaker creatures or able to take down a stronger one with one blow, but then not being able to swing again right away?

Healers face a similar dilemma.  Further, no matter what you choose, if you grind through the leveling process quickly, you can end up stuck in another way.  Unlike most MMOs, Clan Lord has no level cap.  Players can get stronger and stronger and stronger.  But as they do, they must hunt harder and harder creatures in order to keep gaining ranks and climbing the levels. Natural attrition over the years makes the number of players at the top fairly small, so there are not many people with whom they can play without getting a bit bored, if their main goal is a challenging hunt. Further, game developers themselves have trouble keeping up, creating new and harder areas and creatures to challenge these juggernauts.

Anyway, I decided to first get some more ranks in the skill that lets you skin the furry creatures you hunt, so I can actually make some money.  🙂

I got those to a useful level in about two weeks, so now I’m getting some more in pathfinding.  Some areas of the game can’t be entered unless you have enough ranks as a pathfinder and while I don’t know how far I’ll go with this in the end, for now I want just a few more. Then I’ll go back to fighter skills.  On the one hand, it’s great to see visible results from the ranks for skinning, on the other hand, it’s frustrating to know I’m earning ranks but not have my fighting improve.  I’m not gunning to hit top levels at record speed, but it would be nice to be able to go harder places, because somehow I’ve ended up closest to some players who are pretty advanced.

I feel this post is drifting into the voice of my character a bit, but maybe that’s ok.  My aim is to try and give a sense of the complexity of some decisions–and I haven’t even gotten into the different choices there are to make about fighting skills alone. These choices avoid being overwhelming because they are presented gradually, and because leveling up is rather slow, especially as you get stronger, players have time to consider and to seek advice.  Discussions of these choices and their costs and benefits make a significant part of conversation both in the game and in the discussion boards.

Interestingly, while some people focus only on what path will allow them to advance most quickly, many, even those who are not explicitly role-playing, will make choices that are consistent with some larger vision they have of a character, often related to the race of the character, the professions, and so on.  In my own case, I made no effort to play my character as different than myself, but she seems to be evolving into her own personality, distinct from my own, though still recognizable to me.  Though some players have told me they don’t feel too attached to their characters because they don’t play them as themselves, I’m starting to to wonder if I might not become even more attached because she is different.

So much to ponder…    For those who want to follow her adventures, you can visit Eirian’s blog.

Research Update… If only I could get paid to play. ;-)

So I’ve been collecting responses to questions about Clan Lord and trying to weave them together.  The process is interesting because I represent myself with two voices. So far, the players participating have been speaking as mainly players, not characters, but because most prefer to use only their character names, and because CL players pepper their communications with acronyms and words peculiar to the game, it often feels and reads like an in game conversation, rather that a discussion looking from the outside.

Attached here is the current draft–which is already out of date as more responses come in.  It’s a challenge to find time to play, to respond to players helping with the project and to keep up with two related blogs while having a full-time job, family, etc.  If only this project were my job…maybe there’s a grant out there somewhere… 😉

Blurred Boundaries

As I continue playing and thinking about Clan Lord, and thinking about a new way of researching that integrates observer and participant, theory and practice, I find that boundaries are blurring in other ways as well.  A while back I began a blog for my character, and somewhat to my surprise, I felt compelled to keep it entirely In Character (IC) even though I don’t worry much about that when actually playing.  In fact, when I am playing, my conversation with other players is almost always Out of Character (OOC) unless I am on a public channel, or I am with a player for whom remaining IC is really important.

In the blog, though I remain in character, I find the boundaries start to blur with real life anyway.  I had talked with one of the other players about how I would represent our our relationship in that blog, because it exists both in game and out, which is only true for a few of my in-game friends. We decided that I would represent the emotional component as it actually exists between us, though we haven’t enacted it in the game that much, because in the game we tend to be focused on hunting.  So the blog is in some way more fictional and in other ways more real than the game.  That tension begins to emerge in the blog as my character wrestles with the way time passes in between her activities in the game (when I am too busy to log in).  This is glossed over in the game itself– people will sometimes say they’ve been away traveling in other lands, but for the most part people will say they were on a business trip, or their internet connection was down, or they went on a fishing trip, or whatever.

I have been thinking as well how to integrate other aspects of OOC life that intrude into the game.  I am sometimes interrupted by the demands of family life while playing and will then often tell my hunting partners that I must deal with whatever domestic issue.  But in the blog, when I am firmly IC, how do I explain that I fell in a hunt because I had to suddenly leave the computer?

Well, time will tell, as I keep writing and as Eirian continues to hunt and grow stronger and become more and more embedded in the story that is the game.  In the meantime, I am about to announce the IC blog more publicly on the Clan Lord community forum, The Sentinel, and start asking players for interviews and for collaboration. I then have to somehow stitch all this together into about 4000 words.

So, here we go…

Attempting a New Approach to Fan and Game Studies

So… as I posted last time, I will be speaking about how one might take an approach to studying an MMO fan community that achieves not just a balance between the critical stance of a scholar and the enthusiasm of a player, but some kind of integration of the two positions.  Further, how might the voice of the community be part of that account in a more significant and participatory way than merely providing data and useful quotes?

This is even more challenging because my new job is seriously cutting into my playing time.

But I’ve taken a step in creating a blog that represents an in-character (IC) narrative of my life in the game.  It’s a bit odd because I don’t usually worry about staying IC unless I’m hunting with others for whom I know that’s important. Further, in that blog I am writing about the relationships my character has with other characters; in some cases this is parallel by out-of-character (OOC) friendships, and in some cases not.  Right now the line between fiction and reality has become ambiguous, when it comes to the relationships.

Inhabiting Characters

One of the most striking aspects of this particular game is the extent to which players are devoted to their characters. The explanations for this devotion include some that fairly straightforward and common to many games:

  • simple time investment; in some cases as long as 12 years
  • effort; time and energy may have been spent achieving certain goals, such as strengths in particular areas or abilities that are difficult to acquire

Other reasons are not as typical, such as the devotion to the community of other players.  Within the larger player base, most players develop networks of people with whom they routinely hunt, and while these friendships may grow beyond the confines of the game, for those who are geographically distant from each other, the game may represent an important way in which they can “be together.”

The most interesting reason to me though, is the way characters become more and more individual over time, and become more and more real — meaning they form ongoing relationships with other characters, not only in the game, but through posts in the game’s forum, through individual “scrolls” (blogs) that players create, and in the websites made for clans — players that form cooperative groups that are somewhat familial in character and may share a common purpose.  Some purposes are rather lofty while others are humorous, as can be seen in this description of the Laughing Academy.  My own clan is the Zouclougeist Alliance, which is devoted to silliness and being lazy.  I am very fond of ducks.

In order to further explore the emergence of these characters as individuals, I’ve started keeping a “scroll” for my character.  Interesting her voice in the scroll is not the voice she uses in game — it’s far more in character (IC) and rather serious.  I’m not sure why, it just comes out that way. More on that experiment later.


I am way behind on posting because in late summer I started a new job and moved myself and the family to a new city.  The job is interesting, challenging, and pays well, but it is 9-5ish and I am busy the whole time. Not much time for blogging.

But, now I have more incentive to resume because I’ve been accepted to a conference for next March and need to get my paper written by mid January.  🙂  And I’ve just seen a call for an online conference at which I could make a presentation on the same topic, only multimedia instead of just text.  So, yay.  🙂

The conference is Practicing Theory: Imagining, Resisting, Remembering; the annual conference of the Amsterdam School for Cultural Analysis (ASCA).

I submitted the following abstract:

Finding Balance Through Doubled Resistance: Piloting a Collaborative Ethnograpic Approach to Game Studies in the Clan Lord MMO

The tension between theory and practice is long-standing, but in recent years it has been brought into sharper relief by the work of scholars such as Henry Jenkins, who argue for study of popular culture from stance of engagement rather than distance. Jenkins resists the dismissive stance toward popular culture and fan communities that long held sway in academia and coined the term “aca-fan” to describe one working from such a position.  He has further argued for the recognition that fans themselves bring a critical eye to pop cultural texts that deserves recognition as having some scholarly value.

Jenkins has recently called for the development of “another set of critical practices which reflected different emotional and social relations to popular culture” than those of the scholar looking from a distance or an aca-fan looking only from inside. This brings us back to the question of resistance.  A scholar who is also a fan may try to study the cultural product of which she is a fan, resisting on the one hand theorizing from a distance, and on the other a perhaps over-enthusiastic engagement. Is an uneasy balance between the two the best we can hope for?  Or can these stances be in some way integrated into a more productive whole?

This case-study aims for just such a synthesis, using the community around a smaller Multi-Massive Online Game (MMO) in which the author participates to pilot a collaborative ethnographic approach.  While the author takes a traditional ethnographic approach, members of the MMO’s community are invited to add their voices, as are game theorists who stand entirely outside the MMO. The resulting poly-vocal work offers a possible model from which to develop a more balanced and integrated approach to pop cultural products and fan communities.

The MMO in question is Clan Lord, and so now I need to figure out the best way of inviting involvement of other players, GMs, etc.