The GIST of Rift
Note: This is meant to be an extension of my fourth webpaper, which can be found at: serendip.brynmawr.edu/exchange/node/10144
I hold a firm belief that the arguments Sherry Turkle presents about online gaming in Alone Together are based on stereotypes or the most popularly known stories. Though I do not have the statistical means for this project to prove her wrong, I do not think that online gaming involves creating another self entirely. Another downfall is that she doesn't seem to explore the difference between teenage gamers and adult gamers. Teenage gamers seem to better fit what she has set out to prove--technology distances us from each other. Steven Johnson's book Everything Good is Bad for You describes the Sleeper Curve as the idea is that over a long period of time, we find out that "everything bad is good for you," like hot fudge and cream pies. He describes the process of the Sleeper Curve developing as being like positive brainwashing by the popular media. There's no way I can think of the word "brainwashing" with any positive connotations.
I am looking at these texts in an attempt to get them into conversation with each other. Neither of them give a full or accurate picture—not even Johnson, who wanted so badly to observe and interrogate the state of mind of the user. While Turkle seemed to repeat her one claim a thousand times, Johnson never seemed to carry his as far as it could/should go.
His text feels incomplete and not representative like he claims it is. Maybe this can be attributed to the fact that it was written in 2005, making it already vastly outdated. About 45 pages are dedicated to talking about games, from tabletop pencil-paper-and-dice games to video games, mostly the Legend of Zelda series. He talks mostly about Nintendo—the most “tame” of popular game console companies, in my opinion. Most of Nintendo’s games are adventure or fantasy-based; major ones that come to mind are: Zelda, Mario, Kirby, Pokémon, Starfox, Metroid, F-Zero, Earthbound, etc. Consider instead Xbox, owned by Microsoft: Halo, Dead or Alive, Fable, Gears of War, Metal Arms, Crash Bandicoot, etc. Consider also Playstation, owned by Sony: Kingdom Hearts, Grand Theft Auto, Final Fantasy, God of War, Katamari Damacy, LittleBigPlanet, Killzone, Metal Gear Solid, etc. So he really only talks about Nintendo, and briefly talks about Grand Theft Auto, because every study that talks about video games seems to talk about GTA. Only 8 pages of his book are dedicated to talking about the internet, though there’s not a single mention of online gaming.
Another major thing that Johnson neglects to mention when he’s talking about the large amount of money spent on game guides is that a lot of game guides are available on the internet for free. There are either user-compiled free versions or even pirated versions of the ones sold for money.
But the main thing that made me both displeased and unconvinced of Johnson's argument is that he loosely throws statistics around without supporting them, such as the following:
- “We teach alegebra to children knowing full well that the day they leave the classroom, ninety-nine percent of those kids will never again directly employ their algebraic skills” (Johnson 40).
- “…Non-readers—more than half the population..." (Johnson 18).
He also claims to be working with representative samples, even though (as I mentioned before) Nintendo is not representative of hte video gaming field. However, he does make a good point when he talks about bias. We are using bias from a past generation against ourselves:
“The intellectual nourishment of reading books is so deeply ingrained in our assumptions that it’s hard to contemplate a different viewpoint. …the problem with judging new cultural systems on their own terms is that the presence of the recent past inevitably colors your vision of the emerging form, highlighting the flaws and imperfections” (Johnson 18).
The points that Turkle and Johnson make often end up going head to head to create...a binary:
“After a half-century of technological isolation, we’re finally learning new ways to connect[: with cars, television, film, internet]” (Johnson 124).
"The ties we form through the internet are not, in the end, the ties that bind. But they are the ties that preoccupy. ... When we misplace our mobile devices, we become anxious--impossible really" (Turkle 280).
My aim with this paper is to experience what it feels like to immerse oneself in a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG), compare it to what I’ve read about online gaming and technology, and report back. I want to fill in the gaps between these texts using Rift, the current drug of choice of my boyfriend (Rift character: Fluffyjacket). I spent about 10 hours total on gameplay, so I can hopefully explore the online world while still ensuring a safe return. I started the game at Fluffyjacket's house because he has an installation disc so I could run the free 7-day trial, but this is where I spent the majority of my time playing:
HOW TO MAKE A CHARACTER:
My original goal was to play 18 hours of game: 6 hours a day for three days. I was going to play Perfect World International (hereafter referred to as PWI), a free MMORPG. I downloaded the very large file, which took several hours on its own, especially when it had to update after downloading. I spent one to one and a half hours designing my character. I was utterly impressed with my options. I could choose from 52 different hairstyles, including hair texture, and could change details as small as the width of the bridge of my nose.
You can make some pretty terrifying combinations
Rift’s character design disappointed me compared to PWI. My goal was to make a very butch female character, which I accomplished just fine in PWI. Rift, by contrast, had about 5 hairstyles for my choice in race and gender (female elf), with the most “butch” one being a pixie cut. Nonetheless, she kept her masculine origin name.
All underlined words reflect the choices I made in picking my character:
1. Guardian or Defiant
a. Race: Mathosian (human), high elf, dwarf
i. Calling/Class: Warrior, Mage, Rogue, Cleric
POINT OF INFORMATION:
Tears (right) need to be opened to make rifts (left)
EXTERNAL VS. INTERNAL:
Keyboard configuration for playing Rift
“But we rarely hear accurate descriptions about what it actually feels like to spend time in these virtual worlds. I worry about the experiential gap between people who have immersed themselves in games, and people who have only heard secondhand reports, because the gap makes it difficult to discuss the meaning of games in a coherent way” (Johnson 25).
By limiting the amount of time I played the game, I believe I limited the size of my own experiential gap. The more I played, the more it closed, but still enough is open for speculation. I videotaped myself almost the whole time I was playing Rift, then waded through the footage to find spots in which I spoke out loud but I wasn't mumbling or narrating text to later be transcribed. Internal reactions leaked into the external. My goal was to not necessarily narrate what I was doing the whole time, but find in what cases I did seem to (almost involuntarily at times) speak out loud.
I had originally also intended to include the hours I recorded when I was hanging out with Fluffyjacket, but I noticed that around him, I played the game completely differently. I talked more, and in whinier or more dramatic ways. I also cursed a hell of a lot more around him. In general, I looked like I was alive rather than the hours of boring, mostly silent video that took place in Guild.
“Please also note that when using a video game you should take certain standard health and safety precautions, including avoiding playing the game when tired, taking 10 to 15 minute breaks every hour, sitting a reasonable distance from the screen, and playing the game in a well-lit environment.”
From the Rift user agreement
Well I violated a few of those rules… When I took my break for dinner, I kind of rushed back—I did not linger in procrastination past dessert. I told myself that I needed to continue working. When I got back to my spot in Guild, I felt very attentive to what I needed to do to get back into the game. I remembered to switch my headphones back on before putting them on, and remembered that the sd card was full so i imported the videos.
“The dirty little secret of gaming is how much time you spend not having fun” (Johnson 25).
There can’t be a more accurate statement said in this book, which I think revealed itself more or less in the video. But I realized that this, which seems obvious to gamers, may not be clear to the rest of the population. I was already partially on the other side of the experiential gap, distancing myself from those who don't play games.
I’m a little embarrassed to admit that Turkle was right in some regards, the same ways she seemed to be right about Fluffyjacket. I have been using Rift as an escape, despite thinking that Turkle was making those conclusions based on stereotypical evidence. Even though I am using the game as a part of this paper, I have been telling myself that basically playing it is a reasonable excuse to not work on other schoolwork, shirking responsibilities to see what comes next.
A COMPANION AT LAST:
I was playing my first rift outside of the newbie realm and I finally found another online user. I’m assuming that Gothitelle uses male pronouns due to pieces of the conversation, but he also uses a female character. Note that Gothitelle is the name of the actual character; there are no separate usernames used in Rift—you use only your email address to log in. For most of the chat, we used party chat by selecting /party. It was a more or less private conversation, and easier to keep track of.
Here's a brief introduction to Gothitelle:
- been gaming for about 20 years, about 10 of those including MMOs
- hardcore gamer when it comes to MMOs, and less hardcore with other games
- spends about 10 hours or more a day gaming (comparable to Fluffyjacket from my last webpaper), and with the rest of the time he either travels or spends time on the internet
- believes that time is better spent in the real world, and about 90 percent of the time, real world does take priority over online world, with some exceptions being timed quests or timed events.
- Gothitelle is actually his second character for the Rift trial--his first was a cleric that he had already max-leveled for the trial (level 15)
One thing that I did not completely foresee is that the chat would erase the earliest messages to make room for the new ones. These deleted messages are irretrievable unless the conversation was being logged with /log. Thus, all conversations between Gothitelle and me are scrapped together from screenshots, from memory, and a transcription of my verbal recording of the messages. Thus, slight inaccuracies may follow.
GT: need help with anything?
KK: mostly getting used to the game.... am huge n00b
GT: hehe I'm new too
GT: started on monday
KK: I started the trial last night
GT: cool, I'm on the trial too
KK: playing it is actually supposed to be part of my paper on MMORPGs, and most of what I was planning to talk about was interaction with other players
KK: I didn't realize there'd be so few starter players >.>
Even though I finally found someone, one thing I have to keep in mind is something that Turkle warns about: there is no accountability on the internet. Identity is malleable. There is nothing that lets me know whether or not this user is telling the truth. Running a Google search for "Gothitelle" or even "Gothitelle Rift" only brings up hits about a Pokémon named Gothitelle. For all I know, Gothitelle is trolling me and all of my support is completely useless.
(As a side note: near the end of our conversation I gave Gothitelle this URL when he expressed interest in reading what I was going to write, so he very well may show up here!)
Trolls meet Turkle
MULTITASKING AND ATTENTION:
While technology usually makes it easier to multitask, I found that online gaming complicated my multitasking. When playing the game, it takes up the whole screen, so you can't easily switch tabs back and forth with shortcuts like alt + tab or windows + tab. And since you can't pause the game, oftentimes switching windows to answer an IM or check my email would result in a hostile monster attacking you. This helps explain a lot of Fluffyjacket's actions, such as the dual computer set-up and my perceived lack of his attention during a video or instant message chat. However, Both Fluffyjacket and Gothitelle seem to believe that multitasking is easy with gaming.
KK: Do you often multitask while gaming? What kind of things do you do?
GT: I interact with family, watch movies, or even play two games at once
KK: Do you have multiple computers/screens set up near each other?
KK: How many?
GT: I have two computers usually set up next to each other, but I own three
KK: Do you think that multitasking ruins the quality of certain activities, or is it easy to handle?
GT: It’s pretty easy for me to handle. On top of that, it makes some of my games funner.
GT: While in Everquest 2, I play two accounts at once. With that I can do more than a normal solo player. Also, I don’t have to worry about a group to kill larger mobs
KK: How do you coordinate with two characters at the same time? I don’t really know much about how Everquest works.
GT: Everquest 2 has a lot of similarities as this. Basically I put one character on auto follow and assist, then lead with the other. I cast spells on the other keyboard with the keys, and use the mouse for the lead character
KK: ahh, I see
KK: Do you have any technology specifically marketed towards gamers? (or wish you did?) i.e. gaming mouse, special headset, special keyboards you can assign hotkeys to…
GT: I suppose my mouse and keyboard are marketed towards gamers, but they don’t have any special keys
KK: What brand/model are they?
KK: Oh yeah, I’m familiar with them
KK: how expensive were they, and were they worth it?
GT: ummm… keyboard was about $60, and the mouse was about $90. Yes, very worth it
Razer has some costly products for the gamers who can afford it
KK: I’m currently using my laptop’s mouse to play the game. Does having an external (wireless) mouse really make a difference?
GT: You mean the touchpad thing?
GT: using that makes (to me) gaming a lot more difficult. A mouse is far more responsive than that pad.
GENDER AND ONLINE GAMING:
One of the things that I thought was interesting is that Gothitelle had mentioned that he also plays female characters more often than not, based on the way they look, because you’d rather look at something nice than something ugly if you’re going to be playing for hours on end. This seems to be a more common way to pick gender than I thought it was--Fluffyjacket mentioned this as well. Prettier characters are more likely to get played.
When I asked Gothitelle about gender, and if people gave female characters special treatment in the game, he said that he’s mostly seen that in games that younger kids or teenagers play, rather than adults. The reason he offered was that a lot of teenage boys try to help out female characters because they think it will get them a girlfriend, if only an online girlfriend. I asked him if he’s ever done anything like that and he said he did in his teenage years, but they were unsuccessful attempts. He also believes that generally most attempts are unsuccessful, possibly due to the fact that a lot of female characters are played by guys.
Turkle's arguments all seem to basically support Gothitelle's teenager theory, that online gaming exists as an outlet for others to construct an identity to live through. Or rather, Turkle's argument seems to be only supported by the teenager theory.
The more and more I play the game, the less of a big deal it is to run across the whole map just to get one quest in or to find a new rift. I feel like I am becoming more…apathetic? Not apathetic, but…reasonable? I’m becoming more like a gamer. I spend time much more easily than I was willing to spend it before. And it’s weird, because why would I spend all this time playing this game? To some extent, yes I'm doing my homework, and that's pretty legitimate. But I also just find myself not wanting to do anything else. I guess I am kind of avoiding my own problems by playing this game. It's especially bizarre because I now look at Fluffyjacket’s gaming with his 50 max-leveled character running through the same difficult dungeon for hours and coordinating with other people around the country to try to defeat it, and I find myself weirdly in awe of his skill, now that I understand the game. But I am not sure that there is a way to mend this experiential gap with the experience itself.
I did not find gender to be an issue of any sort while I played. The main discovery I found is that, from my experience, no one was running around the lower level lands in abundance. So in general, in order to get any sort of social interaction back from the game, you have to dedicate yourself--travel without being set back by too many respawns, complete quests and dungeons. The one place I saw people gathering the most was at the rifts. But nonetheless, I got almost no interaction. I only saw one request on the chat from a person Looking for Group (LFG). I got lucky with meeting Gothitelle--I joined his public group to help reseal the rift, and he talked to me afterwards. Most other users I saw around the lands either ignored me or didn't talk to me, though to be fair, I stopped actively trying to engage people after I found Gothitelle.
So in general? Technology has:
- made me feel closer to my boyfriend
- enabled me to talk to an arbitrary stranger
- had no effect on my connections with every other stranger
- let me communicate with myself, especially with videotaping
- allows me to communicate with essentially everyone who reads this paper, for as long as the internet can preserve this information.
Now I just need to figure out a way to see if it was effective communication. I believe that communication should be two-way, as the first step of seeing if it's effective.
The comment box is there. Go ahead.
Johnson, Steven. Everything Bad is Good for You. New York: Riverhead Books, 2005. Print.
Turkle, Sherry. Alone Together. New York: Basic Books, 2011. Print.