Ironyca Stood in the Fire

A WoW blog about Minecraft

Player Types, E-sports and Theorycrafting – Some Topics from the Games Conference

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In my last post I wrote about the trip to the DiGRA conference (Digital Games Research Association) in the Netherlands through the use of a gallery. Now I’ll bring up some of the discussions that emerged around the various presentations. If you’re interested in some of the things game academia (the European scene anyways) is talking about currently, you might find this post worthwhile.

One thing that astonished me when I sat down to watch some of the presentations on WoW, was that most of what they said, was common knowledge to me. This is not to say that I’m so clever, but more to say that any WoW player would have been nodding along to what the researchers were saying. It also makes me wonder how much of games research is based on confirming and validating the knowledge that the game community already has.

This presentation was a good example of this:

The WoW based presentation by Kristine Ask was focusing on how different play practices have developed under the same game design. She had taken the terms already found within the community, such as “casual”, “soft-core” and “hardcore” (I’m sure these to a WoW player don’t need explanation).

She used the concept of domestication in the sense that it “highlights the cognitive, symbolic and practical dimensions“. So, how I understand it, it’s about how players handle the game and how they ‘tame’ or appropriate it.

Casual

Softcore

hardcore

Symbolic

Social Interaction Challenging Leisure Competition

Practical

Friends and Alliances Beaurocratic Organized for world firsts

Cognitive

Fellow Players Targeted Experts

This distinction makes me wonder about how game design is already targeting different play styles by making these wild swipes of totalitarian nerfs to the current tier of raiding, so that casuals and softcores can have fun after the hardcore players have already exhausted it for the sake of competition. Maybe WoW’s answer to the different domestications of WoW has been to tailor their content accordingly. The distinction between normal and heroic dungeon/raiding content, then, is less about progession and recycling as it is about letting different play styles with different values access the same content.

The question remains, is it even possible to cater to both hardcores, softcores and casuals equally? As it is right now, it seems the casuals and softcores are getting the large end of the deal at the price of the hardcores’ interests.

My teachers treat WoW as a little yesterday in terms of what games they deem interesting subjects for research, there’s a lot of research done on WoW already, but I was still pleased to see and hear WoW mentioned several times, even in relation to e-sports.

This panel on practicing masculinities largely dealt with masculinity as the title also reveals, but mainly through e-sports including WoW arena.

The researchers talked about WoW Arena as an e-sport being very peripheral and not considered “sporty” enough. Especially constant patching and class imbalances are problems with regards to WoW Arena’s position within e-sports. Thus, WoW Arena players were actively engaged in creating a sense of their own place, an alternative to the “sportified model” of how the Major League Gaming (MLG) frames e-sports.

Notice how the MLG logo reflects the sporty aspect of e-sports by appropriating the MLB logo.

The presenters also spoke about two main discourses within e-sports emphasizing different attributes and values in play: “the geek” and “the jock”

Geek

Jock

e-sports

”real sports”

MMO, RTS

FPS

Computers

Consoles

Technology

Having a fast computer

Embodiment

Fast reaction skills

The geek talks about his gameplay as feeding on highly refined skills, intensive knowledge, mastery and commitment. The geek can take the opportunity to opt out of physical sports, but retain the competition through playing computer games and still perform masculinity this way.

So while the geek thinks about skill as being clever, the jock is a “cyber-athlete” who tends to de-emphasize the technology and puts the body forward as the main tool. For instance they would say that Halo had more in common with fx paintball.

Since the panel was about how masculinity was practiced in these gaming communities, they also spoke about what was usually considered acceptable female participation, that is “Halo hoes”, booth babes and cheerleaders.

These two presentations on identity were also really interesting, and both used WoW (one more than the other) as material for analysis. Surprisingly the discussion quickly turned and started being about gender-bending (playing a character of the opposite sex), a term Nick Taylor (one of the researchers presenting) critizised, saying “sex-swapping” was more suitable. I actually agree even though I’ve called it gender-bending myself, I just mainly adopted the phrasing from the sources I used at the time.

Gender is more about our constructed roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes, while sex is biological. So when you play a character of the opposite sex, you may not act feminine just because the character is female.

A claim was therefore made that sex-swapping for males playing a female character was not transgressive. It’s interesting cause I wonder how far the gaming community has moved on this topic. Sometimes I still see the question arise “why do some guys play a female toon?” as if it’s still this strange phenomenon. However, it’s such a common practice now and male players are already the majority, so this choice of play is not really a big deal, everyone assumes everyone is (a white heterosexual) male in fx WoW anyways. I’ve been called a “he” many times, often I’ve wondered if there even was a point in correcting it. What Nick Taylor did deem transgressive was instead females engaging in sex-swapping – playing male characters.

Nick Taylor also expressed critique about the interpretation of sex-swappers when they say they just want to “look at a sexy behind”. This phrasing is not hard to find on the internet, you’ll find it on the WoW forums in a second. I also suspect that it stems from male players wanting to distance themselves from any string of something not fiercely heteronormative, “it’s not like they’re GAY, GOSH! No no, that’s impossible when they play this female toon because her ass is sexy”. So the “nice butt” argument, I suspect, is more about impression management than these guys actually drooling over their female avatars.

During the discussions the problem of the “raging homophobia” to use one researcher’s own words, was also brought up.


These presentations about theorycrafting had many examples from the WoW theorycrafters and dealt with Elitist Jerks amongst others.

The presentations focused on knowledge production and how the players worked to gain control instead of being controlled by the game. A question was posed by a member of the audience about any counter actions to theorycrafting and I instantly thought of the Ironman Challenge.

In short, the Ironman Challenge is a style of leveling that puts severe restraints on the character. An Iron(wo)man character cannot wear items of green quality and up, nor can they take on a spec, to see the full list of rules, check The Land of Odd and Psynister’s Notebook, who are both authors of this idea. The first character we know of, that has completed this challenge, reaching lvl 85, is the warlock Ironsally, whose journey you can read about on the blog Tome of the Ancient.

I can only speak for myself when I say that leveling my own Ironman Character Elford the (former) Executive, is without a doubt a withdrawal from the extensive theorycrafting that I feel is dominating WoW, even outside of the raiding scene. I’m not a theorycrafter myself and often find the constant demand to stay updated and ALWAYS play with the most optimized setup exhausting.

By playing an ironman character, I feel like I am safely opting out of this race and can play as I want. All the stuff around a character, gemming, spec, enchants, heirlooms etc, is now a blank. There is only the way I play, how I push this character with all it’s restrictions as far as I can, and I find this liberating. This character is flawed, it sucks I know this, but that’s the point. So for me, playing Elford is very much a counter response to the surveillance players exercise on each other.

There were many other presentations but I chose to highlight these as their work drew on WoW as a case study. These were also the ones that really inspired me and had me think about myself as a WoW-player and the community.

As a final note, while the panel on Minecraft was going on, one of the kids was asked if you could win in Minecraft, and the answer was that maybe you could, if you mined the entire world. Kids can be so funny, I’ve got a long way to go to win Minecraft then!

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5 comments on “Player Types, E-sports and Theorycrafting – Some Topics from the Games Conference

  1. Döra
    October 8, 2011

    Really interesting Ironyca. I had never considered that leveling a nerfed character was actually a kickback against theory crafting, but you are so right. Half the fun is not having to worry about keeping all aspects of your character optimised – which for me can be a drag on the fun.

    The Geek vs Jock was interesting too. Reminded me of someone I know who when getting a job interview at a games company to work on a ‘Jock’ type game was worried that he wouldn’t fit in because he was more of a ‘geek’ personality in terms of he preferred games he considered to be e-sport games, and thought everyone else who worked there would likely be ‘Jocks’. He didn’t use the term ‘Jocks’ exactly – but this was exactly the way he thought about it.

    • ironyca
      October 8, 2011

      Interesting story with your “geek”-acquaintance. I don’t know much about e-sports at all, not even WoW Arena, but the two types also made sense to me, I can recognize them too.

  2. tomeoftheancient
    October 9, 2011

    It’s fascinating to learn why we feel like we do. I knew playing Sally although hard, was a relief. No worries about anything other than XP. When I came back to normal and was faced with allocating another talent point to my regular warlock I didn’t know where to put it. I was so behind, I hadn’t kept up with assuring I was doing everything “right”.

    Lol, yeah, I gave up on correcting the “Hey Dude”s I get a couple years back.

    • ironyca
      October 9, 2011

      Haha yeah, I’m gonna be interested to see how different it is to play a mage with a spec as I suspect I will have to give Elford a few points probably around reaching Outland.

  3. ladyerinia
    October 10, 2011

    Dear god…what an interesting conference. I’ll have to go next year because it’s applicable to some research I want to do.

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