my life as a night elf priest

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As a person who enjoys video games I was interested in reading this book because I had several friends who played World of Warcraft, but I myself had never tried it and I never really understood what all the hype was surrounding this game. Now after reading this book I feel like I have a much better understanding of the game. I now understand that WOW is basically another world that regular people enter as soon as they log into their game, similar to the Harry Potter books and movies. I previously understood that video games were a way of getting away from the troubles of everyday life, but I was unaware as to the extent if its capability. Originally I believed that you just made a character to fight and kill things, but now I know that there is much more to do. There are quests which require team-work. One of the bigger surprises is that there is an actually world where you can just go and socialize with friends, or even make new ones. I had no idea that was possible. After reading this book I would defiantly like to try this game.

Change the Dead and Sorcery

In these fantasy realms such as those within WoW and other games I find it odd that so many groups have such strong opinions about content.  While finishing My Life as a Night Elf Priest I found myself looking back though the part about WoW in China and how political interference into the game caused the company to have to change a part of the game.  I don’t know why they would choose to put flesh on the skeletons when the flesh is probably the creepiest part of the undead.  It is probably the evidence of at one point being just like you or me that the flesh would be weird but on top of that the fact that the Chinese government felt that it was better for “Harmony” in their society.  I wonder if they request the same thing in anatomy classrooms?  When it comes to replacing the bodies and skeletons of the dead with freshly dug graves I would have to say that the grave would be less shocking but no less foreboding.  Why do these groups feel that these fantasy worlds have to mirror our own sensibilities and to force these changes seems like a play to exert dominance over gaming as opposed to make others’ lives better.  Most of these changes and ratings are given after someone looks over a game with a fine-toothed comb where for the most part the things that are changed are not something the player was concerned with at all.  I have never thought much into the death of any of my avatars except to think that for all the damage my guy took he looks surprisingly good.

Witchcraft in Pokemon and Final Fantasy being too far I think is taking these games too literally.  When creating these games most designers are not looking to see how much they can get away with but are looking for quick and inexpensive ways of creating effects and explaining phenomenon that occur in the game.  Pokemon instant healing is witchcraft, most likely the designer created this type of healing to allow players to continue playing as opposed to many new games that time is what regains points and abilities.  The game would have needed to be completely redesigned if each battle every point of damage taken took a minute or so to get back or they lost their favorite characters for an period of time.  Most of these sorceries are designer work arounds to keep the player in the action, these are games.

Gender in WoW

One of the chapters in Nardi’s book that I found quite interesting was the chapter on gender. It is obviously true that video games are mostly played by males and in my opinion the population of female competitive video game players are definitely shadowed by the male players. This becomes very clear when Nardi begins to talk about the language that is used between players during WoW. It is great that they take care of racial slurs when they are reported, but sad that they do not (or can not) do anything about the sexual terms. To me, video games are supposed to be an escape from our every day life, a break, relaxation. For female’s that play WoW, however, it seems that they are entering a world where men are dominant…that’s not any type of escape that I would want. While I know that this does not ruin the experience of the game for all females, some seem to not care, it is obvious that it does affect others such as “Mrs.Pain’s” daughter who will not play the game because of the language and how rude some people playing the game are. If video games such as WoW could be played at a level playing field with no dominance of either gender, race, etc. and without all of the horrible language I think they would be much more enjoyable for everyone, especially us girls.

What constitutes work?

My Life as a Night Elf Priest at the surface is a simply just an anthropological account of World of Warcraft. However, Bonnie A. Nardi has taken this opportunity to examine the whole of gaming culture. The concept of “work” has come across all of the books we have read thus far this semester. In Reality is Broken McGonigal examines work in Chapter 3 “More Satisfying Work.” “Compared with games, reality is unproductive. Games give us clearer missions and more satisfying, hands on work” (McGonigal, 55). McgGonigal asserts that satisfying work has two very important components: well-defined objectives and steps toward achieving the goal. In How to Do Things With Videogames, Bogost says that work and play are entirely separate entities. He says that games are disconnected from everyday life. It is an escape from the outside world entirely. He describes it as “safe” and “otherworldly” (Bogost, 117). In My Life as a Night Elf Priest, Nardi explains that play and work can overlap and blend together frequently. Work enters the world of play in two ways. “First, play may manifest seriousness and dedication which players refer to as work. Second, play may demand obligatory actions […] that are necessary to accommodate the larger play activity—the activity that players find pleasurable” (Nardi, 102). Nardi has managed to bring to light the idea that although not all aspects of gaming are enjoyable, it is the freedom to leave at any point that makes it what Bogost calls an escape. Unlike the mandatory facets of our lives such as familial responsibilities and enslavement to the capitalist society we live in, gaming is another world in which we acknowledge and accept the terms of the game and decide whether or not to proceed (and/or leave at any point). “The voluntariness of play is evident in the relative ease with which people abandon play activities” (Nardi, 101). Although very clearly exhibited in WoW, the coexistence of work and play is quite evident in numerous other games (both videogames and not). In MMORPGs such as Final Fantasy XI and World of Warcraft, the codependence of players in different settings adds an element of pressure that can give play the illusion of work. When players know that their actions can directly affect another player’s success within the game, they will exert exponentially more effort. In more common games like soccer or basketball, this is also evident. Frequently people turn to sports as a means to escape the conventions of reality and immerse themselves in an alternate universe with different rules and expectations. However, these team sports have an element of codependence that is quite important to the premise of the game. Only through teamwork is the individual player successful. This possibility of “losing it” or “winning it for the team” adds pressure to the mix. When people are “counting on you to do your job and do it well,” the game can stop being fun and carefree and become what some might call work (Nardi, 100).



Performance and Video Games

One of the sections in Nardi’s My Life as a Night Elf Priest that I could relate to was the section entitled Performance within Chapter Four.  In this section Nardi compares performance in video games like World of Warcraft to performance in more traditional sports stating,

“Players spoke of the importance of “situational awareness, denoting the ability to mentally process rapid multidimensional environmental changes.  The same ability is mandatory in team sports, where the positions of the ball and the positions of other players, as well as their specific movements, must be tracked and responded to rapidly.”(pg55)

As Nardi was discussing the centrality of performance and competition in video games, I found that this is why I play online multiplayer video games, like Call of Duty, where I can compete with others around the world, in an environment similar to that of a sport like football or baseball, where teamwork and the sharpening of your skills can lead to accomplishing a given task.

Also in this section Nardi elaborates on how performance in games is tracked through the use of tables and logs, as well as through user created mods for WoW that displayed certain aspects of the game.  While I do not play, WoW, I found this similar to Call of Duty Elite, that allows gamers to see what guns and equipment a player is most efficient with, as well as heat maps that display where the user is most often killed.  I believe the competitiveness and the ability to actively better one’s performance in video games is a critical aspect of gaming that results in their fruition.

WOW Addictiction Oriented

Bonnie A. Nardi’s book My Life as a Night Elf Priest was wonderful introspective analysis of World of Warcraft (wow). Her view’s, from an anthropological standpoint, are refreshing in the world of gaming books. You find in many gaming books that the author is directly related to the industry. One example is the professional game designer Jane McGonigal and her book Reality is Broken. Though her ideas are introspective into the world of Gaming her views are skewed from her closeness to the industry. Nardi is a more relatable writer for the non-gamer and uses much field research to come to her conclusions.

In Chapter six titled addiction she expresses the idea of problematic use as it is related to video games. This theory of Seay and Kraut’s (2007) is described by Nardi in this way. “This research supports the commonsense notion that problem players bring their problems to the game. As with most thing’s that lead to addiction or problematic use (such as alcohol or overeating), generally the need precedes the object rather than the object creating the need”. (Nardi 125) This is an approach to why people get obsessive about gaming to the point of being unable to stop. By that rationale the addictive or problematic usage was always present in the person and would have come out in one way or another. So games are not the reason for the addiction but rather the outlet that makes the addiction come to the surface.

The Cultural Differences

I always find it interesting to learn about cultural differences in different type of subjects.  Whether if it’s dealing with the differences of education systems, work labor, and even gaming.  Within Nardi’s book, My Life as a Night Elf Priest, she exemplifies the different characteristics for World of Warcraft or WoW North America and China all within the final section and chapter of the book.   Some difference that I picked out is the use of the phrase, “Chinese gold farmer”. Though the author doesn’t give a full description of what this phrase exactly means, but what I can generally determine to what it means is an Asian or a Chinese individual who makes a banking system off of WoW, if I got that correct  Also what else I love about this chapter is that the author just doesn’t go online or anything else to look for her direct sources, but she actually goes out to China to find her sources. Going on, she finds the similarities of the North American and Chinese gamers that, “They liked the socialibility of WoW, the competitive challenge, the graphics, the color.  They extended the game through the use of mods.  They played with friends and family.”  She found that the major and biggest difference that were between one another is the setting to where both play.  For Chinese gammers, they generally play at a cafe or what is known as a wang ba.  These are noted to be the most populated areas in China after the workplace.   With Nardi going out there to find this kind of social shock or difference I find that extremely interesting.

What constitutes a work of art?

Within this entire book on WoW I am repeatedly drawn the question: what is art?  Clearly, Nardi is not undertaking this question but comes close to it on many occasions, as did Bogost.  Nardi says of Second Life, a game in which users design the content, “the pursuant disorder and disunity, made its public spaces less works of art for common life and more environments that provoked the ‘lamentations’ of its own designers that it was not more beautiful” (Nardi 79).  She then goes on to say that she sees “the design encapsulated in the rules of World of Warcraft as a work of art – one that gives rise to participatory aesthetic experience, to the remaking of experience and community” (Nardi 79).  So, on the one hand we have a game which gives players nearly all the control in creating their virtual surroundings and on the other hand we have a game which gives players just enough participation for it be an ‘aesthetic experience’.  Nardi recounts Dewey’s boredom with traditional fine arts because they do not encourage viewer participation.  These three notions (Second Life vs. WoW vs. activity theory) complicate even more the question of what art is.

Even more perplexing, Nardi directly quotes Dewey: “Works of art that are not remote from common life …. are …. marvelous aids in the creation of such a life” (Nardi 151).  What seems to make WoW are work of art and Second Life to be less than art for Nardi are the rules.  She says, “its rules ensure that overall artistic excellence is not compromised”, or the art has not been tampered with, and then that “the capacity to alter rules in controlled ways is designed into the system”, or that a player’s participatory modifications are limited to the specs of the already existing work of art – the player cannot create new art, but only tinker with the old.

This participation in WoW is definitely different than the encased paintings of prestigious museums, but it brings to mind the blurry distinction between real life and art.  I am not trying to solve this (basically) millenia old problem, but rather addressing that it still exists.  Nardi specifically points to the rules as the deciding factor between the art of WoW and the mediocrity of Second Life.  Why should a game which is created by real people rather than designers not be considered art?  WoW and Blizzard still maintain a boundary between player and designer, similar to the rope and security guards which surround the Mona Lisa at the Louvre.  Everyday, reprints and edits of her face are created, but limited to the regulations of representation.  WoW players do a similar editing, but are allowed slightly closer to the original product.  However, in a way their modifications are already created and expected as the rules allow for their creation.  Second Life allows for the pure creativity and yet, nobody is really sure if this is a work of art.

To me, it seems that such mass, free creativity can only be art.  It is an outpouring of humanity, and while it may disappoint in its scandalous and consumptive nature, its the work of millions of people – kind of like the 80,000+ WoW wiki we’ve read so much praise for.

Theorycraft and Learning

Nardi gives a great explanation about how people put their own intelligence to work in video games.  Many people seem to believe that playing video games is a very passive activity that does not require much thinking.  This may be true for some games or for some style of play, but a majority of intense gameplay involves a lot of thinking.  Anyone that is devoted to a specific game spends a decent amount of time thinking about it.  A lot of this is thinking about how the game works or how a character or combination of things can be improved.  This is where our brain power comes in.  World of Warcraft does not give specific details about certain things, so devoted players have done their own research to find answers to unsolved questions.  While for the gamer, this is just an answer to help improve the character, for the mind, it is a puzzle that involves critical thinking.  For example in Skyrim, the NPC enemies often level along with you, making them stronger as you get stronger.  People have come up with formulas to calculate how much damage an enemy will do based on your level.  If you look at this link you can see information of the final boss of the main quest.  His level is 1.2 times whatever yours is and his health is part of a somewhat complex formula based on that.  This type of information can be figured out through research and personal knowledge.  Finding out information like this is very similar to a scientific method experiment, but people are willing to do this on their own free time for no gain but their own knowledge of the game.  If classes used this type of thing more, perhaps students would be more interested in the material.

WoW- The concept of Addiction.

In this Anthropological account of the much loved game WoW, Nardi talks about addiction and the misconceptions associated with it. I have played WoW, for a short period of time and I never really enjoyed it. My friends who introduced me to this game, would play religiously. Just like Nardi states in the book, gamers like to use the word addiction, not because they are addicted to it, but because they want to express their attachment and love for the game. My friends are not addicts, they do like to use phrases like, “I got no sleep last night, was so hooked on WoW,” or ” I am so addicted to this game,” but as Nardi states in his books, the self regulate and evaluate themselves. I do understand that playing a game 24/7, and not wanting to do anything else, is harmful, but can we put playing accesive amounts of gaming in the same category as drug or alcohol addiction? When one puts in WoW on the web, one can see streams of articles from news reports to blogs, where this game is deemed dangerous for its “addicting qualities.” News articles are especially vicious as the make the gamers seem like they are not capable of doing anything ‘normal’ or participate in daily routines ( also putting a very unflattering photo of the said gamer). All this hyped media coverage makes it hard for WoW or other gamers to escape from this negative stereotypes, being placed in the same category as people addicted to drugs or other harmful substances. The media should stop being biased and acknowledge the fact that there are many WoW gamers out there who know how to play and live a ‘normal’ life at the same time.