No Man is an Island

Looking for the dynamics between the game, the group and the player

“No man is an Iland, intire of it selfe; every man is a peece of the Continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod bee washed away by the Sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine own were; any mans death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.” John Donne (1572 – 1631)

 

Preface

This report was written in fall of 2005 as part for a project cluster in “Advanced Computer Game Analysis” at the IT-University of Copenhagen. The idea of this cluster was to look at games in an analytical and methodological perspective, and by doing so understand the elements and functions behind the game. During this report we will investigate how and why group structures within multiplayer games emerge.

As this is a new field for all of us we have consulted people who are currently working in this field. We would like to thank Miguel Sicart and Jonas Heide Smith, PhD students at the IT-University, for going beyond the call of duty and sharing thoughts and ideas on the subject.

 

Introduction

This was not how they planed it. This was going to be a walk-over. The dragons of The Blasted Lands were known throughout the entire realm of Azeroth, as being easy prey for seasoned adventurers like themselves. But something had gone wrong. Terribly wrong. Seven of the ten man strong group that had set out to bring down the dragons, were no longer among the living. Their lifeless corpses lay scattered on the hillside which had proven their final doom. One of them was still on fire, but the proud warrior that once occupied that body, had long since seized his panicking attempts to put it out. He was now walking the lonely road through the eternal fields of the afterlife. Their slogan of “you will never walk alone” suddenly had a very hollow ring to it. Every man for himself was now the order of the day. The chance of survival was close to none. Everyone was running around screaming. “I’m not even supposed to be here for crying out loud! You just be happy I’m helping you fight this dragon.” “Can’t anyone control that freaking rogue? We have rules, and a chain of command for the love of God. If nobody followed our rules it would just be total anarchy. I make the calls of when to fight and when to run!” Never before had they been in these parts of the barren wastelands. Before leaving the secure town of Ironforge behind, they had allied themselves with some highly skilled veterans to help with bringing the dragon down. Because down it had to go! The legend had it that the dragons of The Blasted Lands held guard over some of the most precious metals in the entire known world. Metals that could be used to forge mighty swords and armor. But all that seemed to matter little now…

The story above is an imaginary scene from the game World of Warcraft. Even though none of this really took place, it is included to illustrate some of the mechanics in the game. The game mechanics combined with the human factors, are some of the issues which we will try to cover in this report.

All the members of this project group have been playing games for many years and take great interest in especially multiplayer games and how relations between people emerge in such games. Anyone who has spent a few hours in a multiplayer game has probably experienced how people act and interact in different ways. We have all experienced the good and bad things about such games. How people interact with each other and the game has been our starting point. What we intend to clarify is whether or not the player is influenced by the context of a group and if there is a mutual exchange between players. In the following sections we will clarify the scope of this project and how we will approach the subject.

Problem area

Games in the genre of “Massively Multiplayer Online Games” (MMOGs) have during the last couple of years exploded in terms of player population and popularity. Why, could one ask? What do these games provide that make people, month after month, pay fairly big amounts of money to play? Is it the chance to experience grand adventures, epic battles or the opportunity to rise as a hero in a world of chaos? Or is it something completely non-game related, like chatting, forming new friendships etc.?

In the beginning it is fairly reasonable to expect that the main focus of a player in any MMOG is to explore and learn how to act within the game world, but as time passes and you get more and more familiar with your surroundings other objectives arise; at some point you know everything there is to know about the world and you are faced with a dilemma – what to do now? Either you quit the game completely or you find new objectives within the game – e.g. acquiring the best item, being the best player at a specific game mechanic or building strong social relations. These objectives then serve as a means to keep playing, even though the game itself does not instruct you to. One could say that you stop playing the designers game and instead start to play within the world.

So why is this interesting? Well, people tend to approach games in a very rational fashion; how do I optimize my chance of winning. This is due to how games are structured – a cost-benefit principle where every move should be weighed according to the overall goal of the game. This is certainly the case if we were talking about single player games, where every move only affects you. So, would it be a sensible assumption to make when we are talking multiplayer games, MMOGs in particular? During our initial studies, we saw a tendency that people seemed to deviate from this assumption. Why is that? It seems there is something else affecting the player, when he enters a social context. Why would anyone emphasise a non-game related issues, like social interaction, in a situation where winning is everything? Of course there are anomalies among players – not everyone is playing to win a game, but it is, as we see it, a minority in comparison with most players (Smith, forthcoming).

During this report we will try to clarify the key factors when people participating in certain group structures – e.g. do players always choose, as one could expect, the rational choice in a particular context? In exploring this phenomenon we are using the MMOG World of Warcraft as a case study.

This game is currently the biggest MMOG on the marked, with more than 5 million subscribing users (Blizzard.com). It’s truly a game which has managed to appeal to players in a broader perspective. People of every age, play this game. It has become a leading title within this genre and is probably shaping the next generation of MMOGs.

Problem statement

Based upon the problem area we will try to answer the following question:

  • When playing World of Warcraft, what are the key factors of the relationship between the player and the group?

To understand why players make certain choices regarding group structures, we will initially have to clarify how the game facilitates group structures and what types of players it is dealing with. We will therefore use the following questions as means to answer the before-mentioned statement.

  • How are groups structured within World of Warcraft?
  • Which type of players takes part in these structures?

Problem limitation

As part of our problem limitation we have chosen only to focus on World of Warcraft. This is done due to two factors. First of all because of the extreme focus which World of Warcraft is experiencing at this time, which has, as mentioned in the first section, managed to capture the essence for many types of players and thereby their way of playing. Secondly we wanted a problem area of manageable size.

In our analysis we will be using different theories to verify or explain certain findings. We will not at any time try to verify or substantiate the theories, but merely use them as a foundation from which we will try to explain player behaviour in a social context.

 

The report

In the following section there will be a brief introduction to the report and how this is structured. In order to answer or problem statement we have decide to divide the report into two sections, where each part respectively will handle “the group” and “the player”. Each chapter will be organised in the following way:

  • Theory – the theory will be used to analyse the mechanics of the game and will be introduced at the beginning of each chapter.
  • The analysis – the theory combined with the empirical material should give us some answers to our initial (sub-) problem statement.
  • Conclusion – there will be a summary of all our findings regarding the analysis.

The consequence of this structure is that we do not have a purely theoretical chapter, where all the theory is introduced at once, but rather it is split up into smaller parts and explained when needed.

 

Download

No Man Is An Island (PDF – 1.3 MB)