Category Archives: Research
Protected: Part 1: SF and Fantasy film; Fans vs Critics vs Scholars
Lately I’ve been thinking about how celebrities try to create their own identitities and the push-pull created between celebs and fans, celebs and the media, and a number of other actors and groups. And as I start thinking, I realize that vocabulary will be an issue because I am thinking about actors and actresses, but also about actor-network theory, an entirely different definition. Eventually I guess I’ll need to check how others are distiguishing and if new terms have come into use. I am sooooo disconnected at the moment, academically speaking. But for now, I know what I mean.
Here is a short narrative of my deciding to look at this. I find that I can now watch all but the last season on True Blood on one of our streaming services. We had stopped having cable a few years ago, so stopped watching anything on HBO, since until very recently, they stubbornly required a cable subscription. We even more stubbornly refused to get one so… Anway, decided to catch up. Enjoyed it more than I remembered, and started to check other stuff various actors were doing because it’s summer and I finally have time for it. In researching that, I looked at lots of interviews, ComicCon panels, talk show spots, wikipedia entries, Twitter feeds, YouTube clips, fan sites, etc. As I was surveying, I was making mental comparisons to how this media landscape felt compared to the last time I was really engaged, which was at least five years ago.
So that’s all percolating in my head, and I noticed that Alexander Skarsgård is starring in the new Tarzan movie. I will pause here and say that Tarzan, as a character, and his stories, hold a special place in my heart. As a kid, I spent every summer in a rustic cabin in the Maine woods where I read all of Edgar Rice Burroughs books, repeatedly. Those books actually had a huge impact on my own identity formation, and also might be among the first to provoke my analyzing texts. I’ve always been frustrated at how far the movies have wandered from the books, and at how the modern treatments never get much beyond the origin story.
The Legend of Tarzan was released in early July and of course there is a surge of promo activities from the actors, but especially Margot Robbie and Alexander Skarsgård. Watching and reading all these guest spots and interviews, I was struck by many things, but I’ll talk about two here. First, most of the interviews cover a really narrow range of topics and if it became grindingly dull for me reading, I can’t imagine how the actors feel. More on that in another post. Second, attitudes toward celebrities parallel attitudes toward women in some the worst ways imaginable. In particular, many seem to feel that because actors and actresses are paid for a certain kind of public appearance, the audience then owns them. Or maybe better that they owe us. That they owe us attention; they owe us every detail of their lives, no matter how intimate; they owe us always looking attractive according to our standard… I hope the parallels are clear.
Sometimes watching the interviews became really painful; I just wanted to cringe at some of the questions asked by interviewers, or by fans, when they had a chance.
So, to recap: the media and, sadly, fans often act like we are entitled to intimacy, attention, attractiveness and sexuality from actors. The focus on these detracts (I think) from discussions about story, craft, etc. Do we really need to hear more than once how someone bulked up or slimmed down? I don’t think so. Harping on these tired topics is at best lazy, and often feeds into rape culture in the assumption that other people are there only for our pleasure, and that we are entitled to touch them or be somehow intimate whenever we want, rather than when they choose (for example when they perform).
I’ll be getting back to this idea later, after pisting about some other stuff.
Trying to Keep up Momentum
Have read and commented on one book, I’ve tried to keep going in spite of discovering that parenting full time really is a full time job. I’m reading Synthetic Worlds by Castronova. So far quite interesting, and again I find reading work by another gamer really influences my reception in interesting ways. More on that eventually. 😛
I have also been trying to maintain my participation in ClanLord, for a number of reasons. I love playing, so that’s one. Of course it’s research, so that’s another. But perhaps what motivates me most is realizing that I’ve come to have an important role in the community as someone who sometimes formally organizes hunts, but also tends to provoke more spontaneous hunts as well. In a community as small as Clan Lords, this is important. My being online sometimes means one or two or even for more people are on to hunt, and once on they may get drown into subsequent hunts and start forming friendships with people they don’t normally join. During times when I’ve been unable to hunt much because of commitments “OOC” –out of character– I sometimes have noticed a drop in the population of more than just my own absence. I see this when other regular players are away as well.
Some players seem to act as nodes around which hunts arise. I hadn’t planned to become one of these, but I’m not entirely surprised. I am often the one that ends up organizing a coffee hour or some other regular set of meetings for people who share some interest or other. This has got me thinking about the role each player has in the community. Because the community is small, these are usually quite distinctive roles, as players become established, stronger, and better known by everyone else.
So I’m thinking about that as I read everything else, to see what others make of that aspect as they discuss MMO culture.
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! 🙂
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… 😉
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.
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.