Tag Archives: World of Warcraft

Spent the last four days at iSLC

So, this year instead of being an instructor for the Teacher Education Program (TEP) here in the College of Education at the University of Washington (UW), I’m an RA (research assistant) for a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded Science of Learning Center (SLC) called LIFE (Learning in Informal and Formal Environments). (How many acronyms can I put in there? 🙂 )

There are six SLCs:

  1. Center of Excellence for Learning in Education, Science, and Technology (CELEST) – most brainy
  2. Learning in Informal and Formal Environments (LIFE) – most “everything is about life, dude”
  3. Pittsburg Science of Learning Center (PSLC) – most original name
  4. Spatial Intelligence and Learning Center (SILC) – most visual
  5. Temporal Dynamics of Learning Center (TDLC) – quickest, yet slowest
  6. Visual Language and Visual Learning (VL2) – most spatial

This past weekend the UW branch of LIFE (which also has branches at Stanford and SRI) hosted the second annual grad student and post-docs inter-center conference. It was pretty cool meeting all these other learning sciences students and hearing about their research. We were able to share tools and resources, findings, methods, theories and ideas, and some good drink and company at local bars after each day’s events.

There were a number of us interested in games for learning, from the use of virtual environments for studying the effects of 1st person vs. 3rd person POV on learning (Robb) to testing social vs. non-social feedback for navigation tasks (Dylan Arena), from task oriented vs. social oriented cultural learning goals (Amy) to collaborative activity-based multiplayer mouse control (Neema).

The first day, Sarah Walter from Stanford arrived early so we could meet and brainstorm proposals for upcoming conferences. She does almost the same research as me except that:

  • I am focusing on trying to map the way a raid group works to an ANT or distributed cognition model where she’s focusing more on specific collaboration practices.
  • My data only includes what players were already doing (chat logs, video, web forum threads), while Sarah’s got some interview and survey data in addition to what I’ve done.
  • I’m looking at a 40-person raid in World of Warcraft, while Sarah’s group is a 12-person raid in Lord of the Rings Online.

We quickly saw that it would be easy to start using the same coding scheme and collaborate on analyses so we could compare our settings and findings. We’re writing abstracts to submit to IR10 (Milwaukie, Oct) and DiGRA (London, Sept). Prob will also submit to GLS (Madison, June 10-12) but she’s going to be at CSCL in Greece (lucky!) at the same time as GLS.

On Friday, we had a full day of poster sessions and then workshops on inter and intra center collaboration. We need a match.com for researchers, one that pushes info to participants when something new of interest (maybe tag based) gets added rather than depending on us to go visit a site routinely. Does that exist?

Afterwards, dinner at Portage Bay Cafe was pretty good. Met Vanessa who researches media realism and its effects on arousal.

On Saturday, we had presentations and workshops on current research and tools. The workshop I went to was the video analysis one and ELAN (presented by Sarah Fish and Naomi Berlove of VL2) looks great!

On Sunday, the conference was technically over, but I spent the day working at a cafe with Sarah Lewis (also from Stanford), lunch with Turadg, Erin, Ruth, and Ido (all from CMU), and working at a different cafe with Turadg. Sarah and I talked a bit about our programs and profs and politics. Very informative. 🙂

Turadg showed me some cool stuff he’s been working on that might help me with my chart creation… using python and pickling and a make file and such rather than going through all the crazy manual steps I’ve been doing with a text editor, excel, sql, flash, and photoshop. He’s also working on a collective web tool for learning that I’ve agreed to help with (though honestly, I only have a fuzzy image of what it is) and runs the Open Education Research blog.

Anyway, for anyone interested, below is the poster I presented (based off of the paper I was working on last month) at the conference. Also, you can get the bigger PDF version (13 MB).

Visualizing Chat Data in WoW
Visualizing Chat Data in a WoW Player Group

A few sentences that I thought of that should’ve gone in the paper I just revised

but I think it is too late now since the deadline was yesterday:

Since the players in this raid group have all been playing for about a year and have reached the highest level in the game, they could be seen as expert players. This was not because they were experts of the game mechanics, per se. Rather, these players had successfully accumulated and displayed social and cultural capital, which depended on a fluency of the game culture above and beyond fluency with the game artifact (Chen, forthcoming (from the TWC article that I revised last month)). This research focuses on the adaptive nature of the raid group’s expertise, where the individual experts had to learn to coordinate and communicate effectively with teammates such that the group itself became an acting, thinking entity.

This would have let readers of the visualization paper know better what I meant by expertise and why I called the paper as an exploration of expert chat development rather than chat of the move from novice to expert…

Let me back up.

A few months ago (August or Sept) I was asked by Constance Steinkuehler to submit a paper for a special issue on games for eLearning. I didn’t really have anything I could write about with any sort of warranted claims, but I figured that I should take advantage of an invited paper plus it’s generally a good move to say yes to Constance. 😉

So, I emailed her telling her that I wasn’t sure I could make any strong claims as most of my analysis work has yet to be done but that I’d give it a shot. I spent a bunch of time exploring the use of visuals, namely charts, to look at the chat data that I have. This took a while, and given the time that I had, I decided to write a paper on how I made the charts (sent draft around Thanksgiving), since after doing a quick search I couldn’t really find any papers of that type that dealt with qualitative data in education. (There’s stuff from other disciplines and there’s stuff on quantitative data.)

I got feedback from her (Dec), mostly to make the findings and discussion areas more substantial and to move the “how-to” section to an appendix. In other words, to change the paper to not a methods paper but rather one on expertise development, which was the topic under study.

Edited and sent (early Jan), feedback given with a 24 hour deadline (two days ago), edited and sent again (and actually I think it is much better now and includes some chat data along with the charts to strengthen claims), but this morning I woke up thinking… “there’s not enough framing in the paper. I could have described what I consider expertise with these players better.” Oh well….

Claims? Based on analysis of two nights in Molten Core, separated by a couple of months, the first of which we encounter Ragnaros for the first time and the second in which we defeated him:

  • the use of charts is very helpful but should be seen as complementing and supplementing deeper analysis of the content of the chat
  • the level of overall talk rose but the cases of on-task talk remained at about the same level or even lowered. the thought is that as you become expert in something you can spend less of your time focused on the task and more on general banter since the task activity has become routinized
  • women chatted less than men did. unknown reasons
  • the time it took on the successful night actually lengthened rather than shortened, but most of it can be explained with the raid leader taking the time to explain the fight. we had become experienced enough to be able to talk through the fight before actual engagement

Absurdity and the mundane

Here’s a bunch of stuff that’s happened/been happening/going to happen:

I’m revising that paper on visualization of chat logs in WoW raiding to map onto expertise development today and tomorrow. One comment is that the section on how I made the charts should be put into an appendix and the paper should focus on the actual argument rather than be a methods paper. That’s spot on, but I needed Constance to confirm it for me. One problem, however, is that some of my lit review is relatively sparse, but I can beef them up a bit, drawing from the excellent expertise work being done by my fellows (ESTG) at the LIFE Center.  Another problem, though, is my analysis isn’t as robust as it could be given that I haven’t had time to chart out all the raiding nights nor go into detail on specific nights to get a clear sense of exactly what is going on. But I guess I’ll have to do as much as I can in the next three days and hope it’s good/interesting/valid enough.

I played a lot of WoW over the holiday break, getting to level 80, getting pretty much the best gear I can get without raiding, etc. Now that classes have started and I’ve hit 80, I’ll probably cut back my WoW time significantly. My subscription is set to end in Feb… I don’t know at this point if I’ll be resubbing (again…).

In related news, I also tried out Tabula Rasa for a week or so. It would be much better with a regular group of people in a LAN party. As it is, it’s visceral and adrenalin pumping, but ultimately it feels like a grind and got too repetitive. It’s a free game right now until the servers shut down in Feb, so if you want to check it out (Windows only), let me know and I can play with for a bit…

I’m taking 4 courses this quarter rather than just working on my dissertation. All of these haven’t been offered during my stay here at UW before.

  • Phil Bell and Suzanne Reeve (one of his students and one of my cohorts since I’m also one of his students) are coteaching a Learning Across Settings class, drawing from a lot of what LIFE does… specifically the “I” in LIFE (Learning in Informal and Formal Environments), internally known as Strand 2 of LIFE.
  • Reed Stevens is teaching a Technology in Contexts class that will focus on Activity Theory, Actor Network Theory, and Distributed Cognition. These three theories are pretty much the ones I need to focus on in my diss, so this class seemed like a no brainer, especially since I get most of my learning from classes, meetings, face-to-face interactions, and conferences, not being a good independent reader and all…  too many games.
  • Terry Schenold, a grad student in English, and Tim Welsh (who I haven’t met yet–our first class starts in half an hour) are leading another seminar on gaming this quarter as part of the Critical Gaming Project here at UW. This one is called Pandora’s Wake and is essentially visions of dystopic futures and hope as portrayed by Children of Men (film), Fallout 2 (computer game), and The Road (novel). Awesome. I installed Fallout 2 on my mini netbook this morning. Turns out there’s a few mods out there that fix bugs the original developers never fixed, add new areas and quests, and make it playable at higher resolutions. Due to compatibility issues (as in you can’t install all of the mods that are out there at the same time), I opted to go with the consensus as found on the No Mutants Allowed forums (killap’s Restoration Project and the Resolution Patch).
  • And finally, I’m going to attend a seminar onthe college of ed’s common book, Lipsitz’s The Possessive Investment of Whiteness. Issues of social justice have been gaining prominence in what I’m thinking about, though, it hasn’t really surfaced in my research. This class hopefully will help me think through some things, as past classes, discussions with others, and involvement with the grad student group Educators for Social Justice has.

Anyway, all this work and new activity with the new quarter just starting up seems like complete bullshit against the backdrop of world events and the civilian deaths in Gaza. On the Red Square today were two protest groups standing at odds with each other on either side of the square, one group holding up signs like “Israel has a right to defend itself” and the other with signs like “As a Jew, I’m against Israel’s attacks against Gaza.” And meanwhile, we’re just walking through like this is completely normal. WTF is wrong with us?

Working on paper revision today

I’ll post the draft when I get a chance. It was originally a paper on expertise development in WoW, submitted to Transformative Works and Culture, a new online journal. I didn’t have time to get into it as much as I wanted and turned the paper into one that highlighted ethnographic methods and how they were useful. I am now revising it, however, to be re-reframed back to being about expertise development, on the advise of the editors. Makes sense, and there’s plenty material… It’s just sort of haphazard now, though…

But anyway, I ended up cutting this paragraph out and thought it should be saved somewhere:

Part of the meaning players derived from playing World of Warcraft depended heavily on body performance. Playing successfully was not just a cognitive function but required experiential knowledge in a sort of physical sense—both the real aching, tired wrists and back after a long session of playing and the virtual movement and actions on-screen. For example, I experienced finding the “groove” for my character, hitting a particular tempo with the activation of his abilities that everything seemed to “flow” perfectly. While I don’t think “flow theory” (Csíkszentmihályi 1990) applies to most of the game, “flow” is an apt description of the perfect rhythm I was feeling and the muscle memory I was developing.

Visualization paper draft

I’ve gotten a couple of requests for info about how I made those charts I was working on last month. Well, here’s a draft of the paper I am working on, Visualization of expert chat development in WoW (draft PDF). It describes how the charts were made in greater detail.

Here’s the abstract:

Abstract: This paper describes the visualization of chat log data in the massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft. Charts were created to get a general sense of chat trends in a specific player group engaged in “high-end raiding,” a 40-person collaborative activity. These charts helped identify patterns in the frequency of chat over time during two specific gaming sessions. The sessions represented significant moments in the raid group’s history: the first time a particular monster, Ragnaros, was fought and one of the first times he was defeated. The visualization process, while useful, is only one analysis tool in a fuller ethnographic account of expertise development in World of Warcraft.

If you have specific questions, feel free to ask! And feedback is certainly welcome!

MMOG play as barrier to getting a job (rather than seen as a bonus)

Raph Koster (MMOG developer, author of Theory of Fun for Game Design) is relatively prolific on his blog. Today he has a post about a post from a forum where the poster says a recruiter was told to avoid WoW players:

Raph’s Website » MMOG play as a barrier to getting a job


I bought the WoW expansion

Wrath of the Lich King.

Yes, that means when I quit back in Jan, it didn’t stick. Well, it stuck until Science Magazine held a conference *in* WoW on convergence culture back in May [1, 2, 3]. I resubscribed for that, but then kept the subscription and switched servers to play with some other academics who play.

Still, it’s been very off and on. I raided with them for about two months and then stopped mid-summer. I haven’t really logged in since September.

But now, when Wrath arrives at my door, I suppose I’ll be playing for another month or so. (My current subscription expires in Feb, and I’m guessing I won’t be renewing it then.)

In other words, tearful (almost) departure from WoW was followed by (slight) regret that I deposited all my gold into the guild bank only to switch servers/guilds a few months later. And that the rest of the year has been a slow, fizzling withdrawal rather than a clear-cut quit.

Maybe the unstickyness of the game for me now is in part due to being dirt poor (I *almost* had enough gold for an epic flying mount when I gave it all to my former guild). Or maybe it’s because the game was so different than what I remember… the tokens and daily quests were so demoralizing for me…. in the sense that I was left wondering wtf I had been working for during the previous 3 years of playing.

Interestingly, Nathan Dutton, one of Mia Consalvo’s students at Ohio does research on quitting texts and WoW! I’ll have to read it and see if it’ll help me understand my ambivalence about WoW.

Prelim charts of my data

So, I uploaded the graphs I’m currently messing around with, created with amCharts (using data from a MySQL database) and added to in Photoshop. Check out my graphs!

WoW Data Visualization

Games I’m playing now

(All images from Wikipedia!)

The collector’s edition headstart for Warhammer Online started yesterday. I’ll start playing on Tuesday, probably. Same servers as Michael Zenke [Edit 18-9-2008: for some reason I thought it was Mike Sellers’ blog, but I am wrong… unless Zenke and Sellers are the same people]:

  • Destruction: Volkmar
  • Order: Averheim

Except that he chose regular servers and since I’m partial to RP servers, I also started on an RP server, Ostermark – Order. [Edit (Tuesday): Lucas Gillispie sent me a note that his RP guild is starting on Phoenix Throne, so I started there instead. Order side.]

Spore came out over the weekend to some crazy low reviews on Amazon and other user-based review sites due to its onerous (draconian) DRM. I tried it out yesterday and decided that it was not for me. I mean, it’s kind of fun for a while, but it gets rather tedious. And it seems unbalanced in that the first few stages go by quick and then the last space stage is humongous. Like way too detailed. The first stage is almost a clone of but not as good as the Flash game flow. The other stages remind me of other games, too. Namely Populous in the tribal stage. [Edit: At first I thought this made sense since I thought Populous was made by Maxis and Will Wright, the person behind Spore, but it turns out that it was made by Bullfrog and Peter Molyneux. We’ll see how his game Fable 2 plays in a few…]

While everyone else has been hyping about Spore, I’ve been more interested in Mercenaries 2. It’s fun so far. Blowing shit up is always fun I guess. Basically, think GTA but you start with an arsenal from the get-go, and your missions involve making money for destroying stuff for various factions. You get the missions GTA style by going to a contact’s location as marked by a little circle beam of light.  🙂

And finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I’ve been playing World of Warcraft (in prep for the expansion due out in a couple of months) using two accounts at the same time! Basically, on the first day I had my laptop open next to me with one character following my main guy on my desktop. But then I read that you can actually run two (or more) copies of WoW at the same time, and since I got a new monitor last month, I decided to do that with each monitor showing a different WoW window. Then I installed an app (HotKeyNet) that lets me send keystrokes to both windows at the same time. So on one screen I hit 2 for Sinister Strike and on the other screen, 2 triggers a macro that targets my main’s target and casts Sinister Strike (yes, two rogues :p) Check out wowwiki and dual-boxing for helpful details.

GLS 2008 Day 2 Session 2: the WoW roundtables!

I was part of the World of Warcraft roundtable session this morning. It went really well, and the paper figures were a hit.

I caught up with Adam Hyland who used to be an engineer and managing engineer on a NAVY boat, and it was really cool hearing about how much parallel he saw with WoW raiding and the way a NAVY boat works. We talked a bit about Hutchins and it was great to hear that the description in Cognition in the Wild is pretty close to Adam’s experiences.

Here’s the info for my session:

World of Warcraft: Modeling the Ladder to Success in the Classroom
Paul Bielema

The Complexity of Dialogues in Interactive Role-Playing Videogames
Ellen Bielema

Leet Noobs: Expert World of Warcraft Players Relearning & Adapting Expertise in New Contexts
Mark Chen

World of Warcraft Lessons Learned & Applied: Models & Professions
Kenneth Hay

Women & “Passing” in Online Games
Shawna Kelly

Finding Governance in Synthetic Worlds
Krista-Lee Malone

“N00b” Rhetorics, Learning, & Identity in Online Gaming
Lee Sherlock

A Topology of Literacy Practices in World of Warcraft
Constance Steinkuehler

Much like I would with a poster session, I lament the fact that we didn’t get to go around and talk to each other.  It seems ironic since we would’ve benefited the most.  (I just had a quick chat with Lee and Shawna who feel the same way.)

Here’s a photo of my papercraft. 🙂