This post has been really hard for me to finish. A lot has happened on the community side since I handed in the paper, which was the basis for this series.
A lot of the same topics seems to have surfaced once again with the Raid Finder (LFR), and even though it’s a new thing that the systematizing of the group making process moved from dungeons to raiding, I get flashbacks to when LFD was introduced.
I see the community (both blogs and the WoW fora) having the same discussions as back then, perhaps we thought we moved forward, perhaps history did repeat itself.
So while trying to encompass Solo Play in relation to MMO’s as a genre with their particular multiplayer atmosphere and their strong communities, it felt as if these recent LFR discussions were relevant. It also felt as if this couldn’t be done in a single blog post like this, MMO communities are so large and complex that I can’t do it justice, but I want to finish the series off too.
Before I go on a rant, I want to recommend an article written by Vidyala at Manalicious called Looking For: Community. She brings up a lot of valuable observations about LFR that are coinciding with my own thoughts and I think her article is relevant to solo play and server communities especially but also where WoW is heading in general.
But let’s get to the point.
The Community and the MMOG Atmosphere
Part 7 was about the closer network of players, but we can also think of wider relations than guilds and friends – that is the server and the WoW community as a whole, basically players you don’t have a direct contact to, but share the game with.
The MMO atmosphere here is closely interlinked with the experience of social presence, that even though you are alone, you still feel a sense of company. For example during my interview with Skyfire about enjoyable experiences when playing alone, he pointed to the time frame right after the release of a new expansion:
Skyfire: yeah, then it can be fun to explore the new areas, quest, while seeing so many other players focusing on the same things, that can be fun even though I’m not playing with someone at that time
While Skyfire’s account of the allure of a shared world includes a visibility of other characters, his example is still centered on playing alone and just observing and enjoying a bustling world around him. We saw the more subtle sides to this in pt. 6 with the examples of city flâneurie and character performances through clothing and accessories, which are also facets that emerge between individual and social activities.
So even though someone might be playing alone, their experience isn’t necessarily lonely. While I see a lot of animosity towards solo players, about them playing the wrong game, about them being directly antisocial and disruptive, about them adding nothing to a game that is founded on community, my point is that this depiction of solo players is harmful and vastly over exaggerated. In terms of social presence, they too help populate the world – the server.
Gordon Calleja (2007) found in Digital Games as Designed Experience: Reframing the Concept of Immersion that one of the main attractions of MMOG’s was the experience of a shared but also “living, breathing world”, because they offer more than an automated game world to interact with. This counts for all of us, and this sensation can also be obtained even when alone, although the ability to actually meet other random characters, as in Skyfire’s story, greatly enhances and supports this.
Even though no interviewed players alleged to be playing WoW in solitude to get a sense of being “connected” or “in touch with the world”, it’s an experience I get when logging in and playing. The whole idea, that right now or at any given time my server is active and awake, is very fascinating to me. It’s like having Narnia inside my computer.
The difference between the server community and the WoW community as a whole is perhaps the fact that social presence is very much central to the server, as the wider community which flourish outside of the game space itself, on forums, blogs and the like, for some have less strength as a community factor:
Ironyca: Would you say you feel part of the WoW community?
Fidell: I guess I wouldn’t no! I just keep in my circle mainly and then that spreads out as I know more people.
Ironyca: How about the server community?
Fidell: Yes on my main char, I would say yes
Fidell emphasized that she felt part of her server community on her main, so it’s not only about being around people but also about not being completely unknown. Also, it turned out later that the character Fidell was secret at the time, so Fidells network didn’t know this character (except RealID contacts presumably). The phenomenon of secret alts is perhaps one of the more emphatic expressions of solo play, and one I will deal with in part 9.
Chat channels, which are local to the server, also play a big part in social presence, as Julian Holland Oliver (2002) puts it in The Similar Eye: Proxy Life and Public Space in the MMORPG:
With in-game chat and the practice of telling stories, we hear of the existence of other places with other people. That someone might be somewhere else doing something else, gives the world an extensiveness that can be felt from any occupied position. In this way the world develops its prominence, it persists regardless of the player, even regardless of that player’s active participation.
Jüsta, like Fidell, was also one of the players who could relate better to the question of whether they felt part of the server community than to the WoW community as a whole.
Jüsta: on ally everyone stays within their guild, on horde there is a community… And I like it. If you’re talking about the community on internet.. then I am no part of it. It’s enough playing this game. Reading about it is going over the line.
It should be noted that Jüsta played on a PvP server and his faction, the Horde, was the smallest of the two. He made me wonder if PvP servers, based on world PvP occurring more regularly there, have a stronger server community. The fights between the two factions can bring allied players closer and players out and about can be either enemy or a friend that can/need help.
On the roleplay server I play on, as mentioned in part 3, other players are probably seen differently. For example, they carry the treat of breaking the immersion when questing. Conversely, roleplay servers encourage players to stay in character as much as possible, and this can create interesting situations when you get enveloped in someone else’s storyline.
I had a short experience of this with my character Elford and that event definitely made me feel more integrated and tied to my server.
Since the first step with cross realm battlegrounds, more and more parts of the play activities in WoW are becoming less and less tied to the individual server. Even raiding, albeit on a very simple in/out-level, has moved from being based on the individual server to being a WoW community wide thing (contained within the language based groupings – en/fr/de etc).
Does it matter that we play less and less with the people on our own servers? How important are server communities? – to us? – to the retention of the game as a whole?
Some obviously couldn’t care less, but I do fear that the effect of social presence can be weakened by this as we only briefly share a slice of the world with the people in these cross-realm situations. To bring back Oliver’s quote: How extensive is the world when we meet other players only momentarily? To me personally, WoW does feel less social and I believe it has something to do with this.
In closing, I would like to bring out a snippet of the conversation I had with the player Jefflindsay:
Ironyca: Do you often use the LFD tool?
Jefflindsay: When I’m in a rush, yeah i would. If i was playing with my guild we wouldn’t. We would walk to the dungeon etc
Ironyca: How do you relate to the players you meet in a randomized group in LFD?
Jefflindsay: I don’t think there is much interaction between players in LFD. Its more of get in, do it, get out kind of thing. On the other hand sometimes you do meet some nice people who are there for the experience :)
Ironyca: Would you call it socializing?
Jefflindsay: to an extent. Playing with others is essentially socializing. Right?
Ironyca: Perhaps, it’s a good question
Jefflindsay and I had somewhat the same experience of LFD (and now perhaps also LFR), it gave us one thing, convenience, fast and easy access and progress, but it took away something too, it took away the ability to choose who you wanted to play with, for some it made it feel less authentic, more hollow and robotic (this topic is where Vidyala’s post has a lot to say).
But he posed the question whether play in itself was social. Are we playing together in LFD/LFR or in parallel to each other?
I don’t have the answer to this question myself.