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As a fourth year doctoral candidate, in addition to having completed comprehensive examinations and prospectus and working on the dissertation, my thoughts are also turning towards the job market and securing that first academic position. This purpose of this blog is to chronicle the trials and tribulations of completing my Ph.D. and finding that first job.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Gaming and the Couch-Stone Symposium

Well, this morning I attended the Couch-Stone Symposium 2006, organized by Dr. Patrick Williams and Michael Ramirez of the University of Georgia's Sociology Department. The session that I attended was entitled "Culture, Games and Leisure," which was presided over by Patrick Williams (subzon@uga.edu).

Here are my notes from the session:

The Power Elite in Massive Multiplayer Online Games
Mark Silverman (darkstar4.6@videotron.ca), Concordia University

  • part of the Montreal GameCODE Project (Concordia University)
  • Master's thesis research
  • research that focuses upon power gamers (specifically the game Everquest)
  • participant researcher (player for three years)
  • difficult to get participants
    • comfort of anonomity
    • portrayals of gamers (addicted and socially inept)
  • claims power gamers have
    • positive self image
    • sense of belonging
    • sense of achievement
  • characteristics
    • spend much of their leisure time playing games
    • want to be first to defeat the badest enemy
    • want to have the best equipment
    • want to have the highest level of skills
  • most start as just players killing time for leisure
    • symbols of status that they encounter become the reason for quest
    • quest to be the elite player
    • nature of their game playing changing
      • they start to research
      • they start to gain knowledge of the game world
      • the spend more time accessing this information from many sources outside of the game itself (e.g., websites about the game)
  • encounter other on this quest
    • become competitive
    • "keeping up with the Jones' to the extreme"
    • the further they get the more they need to work together
    • it is this need that forces the "classes" within the game to begin
      • power gamers don't like to work with newbies because they slow down the attaining of goals
  • guilds begin to work around these groups
    • power gamer guilds take membership very serious
      • end to be smaller, more elite and based upon ability of play
      • described as being as rigid as the most difficult to attain job interview
      • game knowledge and ability to perserve are seen as most important qualities
  • once accepted, there is a probation period
    • lets guild get a sense of the applicant
    • allows applicant to get a sense of the social structure of the guild
    • most play 30-40 hours during this period
    • not expected to speak out
  • after the initiation process, the applicant gets many of the full privileges of the guild
    • but also allows applicant to have the status of the guild name within the game
  • typically 2-5 power gaming guilds operating within each game server
    • competitive between guilds - oneupmanship (inside and outside of the game)
    • need to be the first to defeat the end warrior on individual servers and want to be first to defeat the end warrior on all of the servers
  • there is a negative backlash from newvies towards these power gamers
    • developers are starting to notice and the second generation of MMOGs are being developed to restrict the activities of these power gamers

Questions

  • asked about the negative and individual portrayal of these power gamers
    • the nature of these MMOGs is that gamers are typically individual in their orientation until they join these guilds, at which point their orientation becomes collective
  • asked about gender
    • 90% are male
    • nature of the power gamer is a hypermasculine portrayal
      • will to power
      • power gamers exercise their will to power in the game world
  • guilds are very structured
    • are raid times and they are much the same as regularly scheduled meetings
    • outside of these scheduled times, guild members are free to do whatever they please

http://www.gamecode.ca/

Male Miniature Gamers and Nerd Masculinity: The Construction of an Alternative Masculinity
Heather Bostwick (hlbostwi@sa.ncsu.edu), North Carolina State University

  • no Powerpoint, simply read a paper (if you are interested, you should e-mail her)

  • view of masculinity
    • white, strong, successful, monied
    • alternate view of masculinity
      • nerd masculinity -> smart, dedicated, etc.
  • previous research has shown that many who possess this nerd masculinity assume characteristics of the traditional view of masculinity in the fantasy activities
    • MMOGs
    • Dungeons and Dragons
  • her research dealt with miniture gamers
    • kind of like a board game with a role play aspect
    • MecWarriors -> a game based around robots engaged in a global conflict
    • half older males/half younger males -> some gamers are very young (one 8 year old and another 12 year old for example)
    • none are physically fit or some even have health issues that would prevent physical activity
  • characteristics of these gamers
    • distancing themselves from women/feminity
    • threatening physical violence against each other or utilize aggressive strategies
    • bringing sports references/lingo into the game
    • use of death/mortality references/language (i.e. war talk)

Questions

  • interaction between computer gamers, card gamers, and miniture gamers
    • little interaction between card gamers and miniture gamers (in fact miniture gamers looked down upon card gamers)
    • miniture gamers did play computer games, but claimed that it took time away from their miniture game play
  • do these people use the term nerds
    • all of the time
    • they seem to work to make the term acceptable
    • one audience member differentitated between nerd and geek
      • geek is good -> implies a choice to become more knowledgable about the game
      • nerd is bad -> is someone who can't help it
  • asked about gender
    • she didn't see a single female
    • the group used to talk about females who did attend in the past (including the wife of the game master)
  • asked about the children
    • two of them the game master's children (he had a third child, a daughter, who didn't want to play and this was usually commentted on in a negative way by the game master)
    • three were just dropped off by their parents and just left there

Playing Life and Life Playing: The Impact of Character Talk and Interaction in Role-Playing Games
Matt Lust (lust_82@yahoo.com), Southern Utah University

  • no Powerpoint, simply discussed his research (if you are interested, you should e-mail him for potential paper or proposal)

  • research focuses on a game called Vampire of the Masscadre
    • a high percentage of female users
    • Whitewolf games (the company name) is much more narrative
      • have strong storyline
      • game masters are storytellers
      • sagas are chapters
      • longer games are tales
    • many of his participants were drama majors
    • research conducted in Utah
  • focuses on character development and how that influences their game experiences
    • for example interaction that is not in keeping with your character is seen as destroying the game narrative for many
    • one participant in his research has a crush on one of the other gamers within the game and would play her characters as if they were in love with his characters
  • these players want to play for the experience of the game, not necessarily for the successes of the game
  • their play is focused upon the live of the game, which in turn affects the lives of their characters and others' characters
  • character talk can either enhance or destroy the live of the game

*** from the way that he was talking about it (using the terms "their lives") it made it seem like there was a really blurred line between the game live and real live

  • this is consistent with the literature on the two personalities of game playing
    • one personality is that of the character
    • second personality is that of the game player
  • there were instances of when gamers would use the interactions of their characters to patch up real life difficulties between gamers
  • the life of the game is real life for the time that the game is being played

Questions

  • question about gender
    • more males playing female characters
    • fewer females playing male characters
      • not as common in this game because of the character narrative and the ability of the gamer to speak like their character
      • more common in role playing games
  • question about punishment for breaking character
    • more punishment within an online environment than in the narrative environment
    • punishment is within the game for the narrative environment -> including expulsion from the game
  • question about pretense acceptance
    • his research dealt with a small community, so pretense acceptance was high
    • usually based upon the gamers ability to assume and maintain that pretense

Playing Research: A Virtual Ethnography of the Game EverQuest
Tim Rowlands (timothy.rowlands@asu.edu), Arizona State University

  • Master's thesis work
    • not a power gamer
    • used to play tabletop role playing and Whitewolf games
  • provided an overview of EverQuest
    • online multiplayer game that is a virtual world
  • hybrid chat room and video game
    • over 350 square miles of virtual world
    • at peak, had over half a million subscribers
    • fantasy-based and fairly closely based upon Dungeons and Dragons
    • first generation of MMOGs
  • started field work late
    • Fall 2004 for sixteen months
    • game was already in decline, facing stiff competition
    • remaining players were "high end" players
      • many of the non-high end characters were actually additional characters of "high end" gamers
      • these characters advance quickly because of gamer knowledge and assistance from other gamers
  • in his own gaming, his failures were seen as a being a bad player and not as being a real newbie
  • normative strategy of game play
    • reinforces specialization and player interdependence
    • players fit themselves into five key roles
    • playes are expected to know these roles in detail and play them accordingly
    • failure to do so results in private and public censure and exclusion
  • started dualboxing
    • one gamer playing more than one character at the same time
    • allows them to fulfill more roles in the normative strategy
    • allows them not to have to share the spoils of victory
    • elliminates some of the problems of bad gamers
  • the nature of dualboxing and the normative strategy
    • assumes that there is a "right" way to play the game
    • helps the cycle of killing more monsters, gaining better gear and moving up more a level, enabling you to kill more monsters
    • de-emphasises other ways of playing - with more than one character you have more than one role (i.e., others don't know that both characters have one gamer)

Questions

  • gaming research has focused upon either narrative or structure/design
    • dualboxing appears to focus upon both
  • how does social control work
    • software has some limitations built into it -> which is reinforced by the normative strategy
    • in some instances it comes from public conversation
    • in some instances it comes from private conversations
    • these private and public interactions can act to exclude you from the limitations built into the game
    • there are also comments made in public message boards outside of the games on websites
      • in the first generation games, your reputations stayed with you
      • in the second generation games, this is not as strict as they used to be

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