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«media matters Battlefields of Negotiation Control, Agency, and Ownership in World of Warcraft rené glas amsterdam university press Battlefields of ...»

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38. Judging from the many death stories Klastrup has gathered, death in World of Warcraft can provide fun and entertainment too, especially in a social context. Strategic use (or exploitation) of the death/resurrection-system can even result in gameplay advantages on one’s opponent (2008: 162-163).

39. Fine takes this principle from folklorist Alan Dundes’ work on ‘folk ideas’ as the integral components of world views (1971: 96-97).

40. Blizzard itself makes an insider joke about this situation when it lets one of the bosses in the Blackwing Lair instance, Lord Victor Nefarius, call out ‘You fools! Go after the one in the dress!’ to his minions, referring to the fact that the healer class almost always wears robes.

41. For this reason, many players create several characters with different classes who can jump in when needed. The drawback is that one has to put in considerable amounts of time to raise each character to the same level of strength – time that not everyone has.

42. Initially, the Honor System turned out to be one of Blizzard’s most controversial implementations due to the sheer amount of time players had to put in, in order to reach military Honor ranks. At the height of its popularity, to reach the highest rank (“Grand Marshall” for the Alliance, “High Warlord” for the Horde) players needed to play weeks, even continuous months of more than ten hours a day, seven days a week.

Missing a week or even a day was not on option as the danger of falling back in rank was too high. Acknowledging that such a system would lead to unhealthy situations, Blizzard replaced the old Honor system with a new one in patch 2.0.1 (December 2006), replacing the weekly honor calculation with a simpler points-per-kill system.

These points could be exchanged for the same (and new) dedicated PvP rewards.

43. Good examples were the Hillsbrad Foothills including the almost adjacent towns of Southshore (Alliance) and Tarren Mill (Horde) or the The Barrens zone with the Horde town Crossroads being in the middle of a busy traveling route. Here, large gatherings of characters, often in loosely, usually chaotically organized raids, faced each other trying to improve their honor rank.

44. Attacks without mutual consent are, by design, allowed only in dedicated PvP realms.

On a PvE realm, players give their consent by enabling the PvP function manually (by typing /pvp in the command window). In this case, the colour of the character's name changes to bright red (being “flagged” for combat), alerting members of the other faction that he or she can be attacked.

45. While not the sole creator of Warcraft’s fictional universe, Chris Metzen is its official keeper. As a consequence, he attracts most of the blame when players’ expectations are not met in newly added Warcraft fiction.

46. Rare examples of choice within quests do actually exist. In the case of The Burning Crusade’s Aldor and Scryer factions, players must choose between quest-routes. Following quests from one of these factions blocks access to the other, and the other way around.

186 battlefields of negotiation

47. According to the official World of Warcraft website, the Horde and Alliance are actually in a state of “truce” on Normal realms, explaining on a fictional level why players from different factions cannot simply attack each other. On PvP Realms, where both factions are allowed to attack each other without warning, the website notes that the factions are “at war”.

48. Similarly, the Middle-earth as presented in the MMORPG The Lord of the Rings Online:

Shadows of Angmar (Turbine Inc. 2007) is, when measured, likely as small and compartmental as World of Warcraft’s version of Azeroth.

49. In the zones that were added through the expansion pack The Burning Crusade, the players on the highest level and with enough money could buy a mount which enables flight. Suddenly it was possible to fly over all barriers and see what lies behind or on top. Flight was nevertheless restricted to the new zones; “old” Azeroth was never designed as a fly-over zone. Hidden behind the barriers are temporary, test and/or abandoned geographical content and other environmental design work never meant to be seen by the players, proof of which came out after dedicated explorers/exploiters found ways to reach it anyway. Movies showing the hidden content are still around, some of them banned by Blizzard like the infamous Exploration: The Movie (Dopefish 2005), showing early designs from the expansion pack years before it came out.

Exploits enabling “wall-walking” or other ways to get over, through or past the barriers are constantly being fixed by Blizzard. More about wall-walking as design exploitation will follow in chapter twelve.

50. Azeroth’s transportation system is for a large part dependent on inter-city flights (with characters sitting on the backs of flying fantasy creatures like wyvern or giant eagles).

Other means of transportation also exist. Between continents and other particularly large distances there are boats and zeppelins, some classes and professions enable characters to instantly zap themselves elsewhere, and characters are always able to use their own mount (if they have bought one) to speed up travel.





51. A full timeline including the location of all the games and related reading matter (novels, manga comics) can be found on the official site at: http://www.wow-europe.

com/en/info/story/timeline.html (accessed January 2012).

52. Environmental storytelling is a term coined by amusement park show designer Don Carson to argue that ‘by manipulating an audience's expectations, which they have based on their own experiences of the physical world’, storytellers can infuse a physical space with story elements in such a way that it ‘does much of the work of conveying the story the designers are trying to tell’. As Jenkins notes, this form of spatial storytelling, present in many digital games, suggests that we should think of game designers ‘less as storytellers than as narrative architects’ (2004: 129).

53. In a discussion on the size of Second Life, a virtual world growing continuously by virtue of the fact that users have no restraints in terms of their impact on the virtual environment, game designer Mike Sellers argues that unbridled spatial growth can lead to very barren landscapes. Due to its enormous size, Sellers points out, ‘the average population density in [Second Life] is like playing in a world the size of WoW’s Azeroth – but containing only nine other people’ (2007).

54. It was not until the Cataclysm expansion pack, released in December 2010, that the old content of the leveling phase of the game received a thorough design overhaul. As notes Brown points out in his study of World of Warcraft’s endgame, Blizzard justifies their focus on the endgame up to this point with the desire to look forward rather than backwards (Brown 2011: 80).

Guides are not the only alternative in this case. Commercial parties can be “hired” to 55.

power-level your character to the highest level, which often involves using people in low-wage countries to actually do the playing. More on these often controversial practices can be found in chapter twelve.

56. Parts of this chapter have been published as part of (Jørgensen et al. 2011).

57. Joana sells his guide through his website, Joanasworld.com. I bought my copy for thirty-seven dollars in 2007, almost twice the price of World of Warcraft itself, which demonstrates that not all of the production of participatory culture is distributed through a gift economy and that players are not always victims of an industry that capitalizes on player-created content (see also Sun, Lin & Ho 2003).

58. The need for strategy guides like Bradygames’ product has diminished over time.

Since World of Warcraft’s release, an extensive array of information databases and guides has popped up online for free, most of them far more comprehensive and advanced than commercial print guides. I should also add that Blizzard includes a mini strategy guide in the box in which the software is sold. This booklet, which is thicker than the usual instruction manual included with most videogames, includes some basic information about initial choices (classes, professions, etc.) and gameplay.

Additionally, the official website offers an extensive database of information and is constantly expanded. Naturally, these too form important starting points for many players. As these paratexts do not present themselves as strategy guides or walkthroughs – instead, opting for the more neutral “game manual” and “game guide” – I did not include them here.

For example, the description of the quest ‘Cutting Teeth’ mentioned in the excerpt is 59.

as follows: ‘The first order of business will be to put a little strength in your backbone.

I could send you out to the Barrens to hunt kodo, but well, in all honesty, you're more useful to us alive than dead. I believe you would find a good match with the mottled boars you'll find to the north of here’ (Blizzard Entertainment 2004a). The writing style here signals the higher status this NPC has in comparison to your new, low-level character and also hints at the larger fictional world that will be explored and your part in it.

60. One particularly flamboyant speedrunner playing under the pseudonym of Athene gained notoriety among the World of Warcraft player community and beyond for being quite brash about his activities (including claiming most if not all world records) by creating a “reality web-series” and a DVD showing his and his friends’ endeavours.

61. For more speedrunning records, see Speed Demos Archive: http://speeddemosarchive.

com/.

62. More background information about individual quests is available through hyperlinks (the italicized fragments are pointers to the information database allakhazam.com), but the walkthrough itself focuses on one thing alone: the most desired route.

Consalvo actually uses the term ‘de-Myst-ification’, referring to Myst (Brøderbund 63.

Software Inc. 1993), the classic puzzle game (2007: 45, emphasis in original).

188 battlefields of negotiation

64. The most profound moment I encountered related to this form of sequence breaking came when nearing level sixty. Prior to the release of the first expansion pack, level sixty was the maximum level your character could achieve. The expansion pack added an entirely new landmass to the game world, the so-called Outlands, as well as ten extra levels. To gain access to this new content, a player must first reach level fiftyeight. While the first version of Joana’s guide provides a walkthrough all the way to level sixty and doing quests on the old continents, the updated version simply commands the player to leave the old world at level fifty-nine immediately and start “grinding” easy mobs (killing them for experience points) on the new continent until level sixty is reached. The reason stated by the guide for moving to the Outlands so abruptly could not be more instrumental: ‘Because you earn about twice as much XP per mob kill than you do in Azeroth’ (2007: 33).

65. A previous version of this chapter has been published as (Glas, 2007).

66. Available at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twinking.

67. An often-used term in role-playing games, the term munchkin also refers to being silly or immature. For a satirical discussion of munchkins, see Desborough and Mortimer (1999).

68. Quotes retrieved from Thottbot.com (http://www.thottbott.com/?i=11136, retrieved April, 2007).

69. Bartle sees the desire to dominate as an unavoidable but nevertheless negative side effect of virtual worlds. Therefore, he includes not only attacking other players but making other’s lives difficult in different ways as well, including verbal harassment, within his definition of Killers (2004: 130). While griefing is unmistakably a part of PvP play, this is a somewhat limited view of player versus player behaviour, especially in a MMORPG such as World of Warcraft where dedicated, sports-like options for PvP exist in the form of battlegrounds. Bartle’s main sequence, in which “killer” behaviour only (or most outspokenly) exists among new players who are still experimenting with the boundaries of play, therefore becomes problematic when dedicated, high-level PvP engagement enters the picture.

70. Twink guilds are still very domination oriented; some guilds revel in “steamrolling” the opposition by joining a battleground match with a full twink team. As I did not actively pursue a twink guild for Brikk, further research would be needed to investigate what this means for social play within such guilds.

71. These abbreviations and examples of jargon translate into ‘learn to play, newbie’ (newcomer), ‘good game’, ‘good job’ and ‘owned’ (referring to a person having just dominated another).

72. According to Blizzard’s ‘UI Add-On Development Policy’, add-ons must be free of charge; the code must be completely visible; they must not negatively impact World of Warcraft realms or other players; they may not include advertisements; they may not solicit donations; they must not contain offensive or objectionable material; they must abide by World of Warcraft ToU and EULA; and Blizzard has the right to disable add-on functionality as it sees fit (Blizzard Entertainment 2009). It further adds that ‘failure to abide by them may result in measures up to and including taking formal legal action’ (ibid).

73. A modified version of this chapter has been published as (Glas, forthcoming).

notes

74. In the periods directly after the implementation of changes in the combat log system, usually during a patch, mod makers usually need some time to adjust their mods to the changes. When the changes Blizzard makes are substantial, this can take more than a few days; sometimes even weeks are needed for adjustment. As one UI mod scene observer commented: ‘that first week or two without our beloved add-ons such as Omen [a popular threat meter add-on] and damage meters reminded us just how much we've come to rely on them, for better or worse’ (Porter). Remarks like these show how much the raiding community has come to depend on using UI mods for play.



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