Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
The border between virtual and real world

Ardol from the WoW Philosophized blog has an interesting post up on Caillois-complete games. According to the French philosopher Roger Caillois a game is "complete" if it is optional and free of obligations, separate, uncertain, unproductive, governed by rules, and make-believe. Ardol then tests World of Warcraft against these conditions and finds that they are not necessarily all fulfilled all the time for all players. Playing WoW can become mandatory for hardcore raiders, the separation between virtual and real world can stretch thin, some activities have very certain outcomes, gold farming is "productive" in creating real world value, the rules don't completely cover player behavior, and stuff like RealID shatters the make-believe.

But that World of Warcraft can be more than "just a game" is not an inherent attribute of the game, but depends largely on the attitude of the players. A very casual player can play WoW in a way which fulfills all the conditions to be Caillois-complete, and where it therefore is "just a game" for him. A hardcore player might view the same game very differently, as "more than just a game", and having more connections between the virtual and the real world, for example with your friends calling you on the phone to see whether you are available for a raid. And for a gold farmer World of Warcraft might *be* the real life job, with no make-believe involved.

The same is true for other MMORPGs as well. The "thinnest" partition between virtual and real worlds appears to be the one of social relations (unless you are Gevlon): Players "make friends" online, and consider those online friends as not fundamentally different from real world friends. Being betrayed by an online friend stings more than a virtual headshot from a stranger. And if you feel that you need to log on because your online friends need you, the condition that play should be optional and free of obligations isn't fulfilled any more, and the border between virtual and real world crumbles.

Now different players might be looking for different things. Personally I have a "casual" attitude towards games, in spite of the amount of time I spend in them, and writing about them, in as far as I prefer my games to be Caillois-complete. I hate to feel obliged to play, I try to keep my real life and virtual lives separate, I like games to be uncertain and unproductive, and so on. One reason I'm not sure I'm going to play A Tale in the Desert for very long is that through its strong social connections it is fundamentally a very hardcore game, in spite of being so peaceful. Others might be searching for more meaning in a MMORPG, including "real" friendships, and a greater purpose.

When MMORPGs run into trouble, it is often at a point where they stopped being Caillois-complete: From the issues with gold farmer, to the RealID fiasco, to stories of players getting into real-life fights over virtual events and possessions, to the subject of "video game addiction", these are all issues that happened where the border between virtual and real world became porous. As long as customer are "just playing a game", they are a lot easier to handle for the game company. And that makes me wonder whether Blizzard's design trend to make World of Warcraft less hardcore isn't a deliberate attempt to push the djinni back into the bottle, and make WoW more Caillois-complete. Because a Caillois-complete game is much safer to sell as a product, causing less problems and potential liability.
And that makes me wonder whether Blizzard's design trend to make World of Warcraft less hardcore isn't a deliberate attempt to push the djinni back into the bottle, and make WoW more Caillois-complete.

Unfortunately they also probably have to deal with the business trend of investing your identity into the product (Facebook, RealID). Interesting days ahead for the gaming industry, I think!
1) So any Team Game is not Perfect, As it can make you feel obliged to Play Soccer with your Friends this afternoon etc.
2) it is hard to imagine somebody playing Todays wow 'hardcore'. What are they supposed to do? Farm Emblems for months?
3) interesting to Note that you think that Hardcore and peaceful are somehow contradictory. Why should they Be?
4) you suggest Blizzard Might want to make wow less Fun so achieve a more perfect Game?
5) my iphone has no idea of when to use Capital Letter in english :)
There may be a qualitative difference between virtual and physical experiences, but they are both part of a whole. The lines we draw are personal, subjective and often arbitrary.

In short, I only have the one life and everything I experience is part of it.
Love the post, love the topic. A couple of random thoughts:

1) Most game definitions fail as they analyze games as they are designed, instead of how they are played. Rarely all of the criteria (such as separate, unproductive etc)are present for a player at any given time, and usually it's a shift between these states, and their opposites.

2)Work / production is not mutually exclusive to fun.

3)The main reason hardcore have changed is that it is now mainstream. Indeed there have been design choices to spur this on, but the shift in the community happened before the initial shift in design...
If your child begs you to spend time with them playing chutes and ladders you may well feel obligated to do so but I cannot see how that makes the game less of a game. In this case it is the social interaction that is obliged not the game itself.

Similarly, I am not sure that needing to spend time with your online friends makes wow less of a game in itself for the game could be replaced by any other. Where it may differ is in that the game itself also become a tool to enable the social interaction. Especially if your friends are all over the continent. But does the fact that the game also serves to facilitate a social interaction make the game less completely a game? I don't think it does necessarily. I met most of my online friend in WoW. Nobody in that circle still plays WoW regularly. Most are in EQ2 at the moment. I have been more in EVE. But we all keep in contact using facebook. (ugh)
I wonder even though obligatory is based on the culture and players, does the game not foster that by making progress raiding depend on large teams cooperating?

So, an FPS could be non obligatory, but if it contains ranking systems and competative seasons, then it becomes obligatory if you want to play. (You could have that seperate, as long as there are no long term upgrades players can get from competing). Pvp in wow is more obligatory (if you want to pvp) than say Halo.

Secondly, I wonder if you are interpreting Unproductive too narrowly. The mere fact of getting upgrades to characters means you are producing something of value (your character itself has a real world monetary value). A massively upgraded max level character is certainly worth more than a lvl 1, both in time and resale value.

But if it's a single player RPG, the levels and upgrading really don't make it prodictive, since there's simply no one to trade with, in the game or outside of the game.
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