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Battlefields of Negotiation

Battlefields of Negotiation: Control, Agency, and Ownership in World of Warcraft

René Glas
Series: MediaMatters
Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 220
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  • Book Info
    Battlefields of Negotiation
    Book Description:

    The multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft has become one of the most popular computer games of the past decade, introducing millions around the world to community-based play. Within the boundaries set by its design, the game encourages players to appropriate and shape the game, resulting in highly diverse and creative forms of participation. Battlefields of Negotiation analyzes the complex relationship between groups of World of Warcraft players and the game’s owners and developers. A timely look at an important digital phenomenon, the book sheds new light on complex consumer-producer relationships in the increasingly participatory but still tightly controlled world of online games.

    eISBN: 978-90-485-1808-1
    Subjects: Education, Film Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. 1-4)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. 5-6)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. 7-8)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 9-16)

    World of Warcraftis considered the pinnacle of massively multiplayer online roleplaying games or MMORPGs, a genre of computer games that offer fictional universes where thousands of individuals play with or against each other or simply hang out to socialize. World of Warcraft, developed by Blizzard Entertainment based in Irvine, California, facilitates a wide range of play styles and preferences, ranging from casual role-playing to pursuing hardcore cooperative challenges. The game is considered easy to learn but hard to master, and is surrounded by a huge, player-driven culture offering everything from information wikis to fan fiction, from user-interface modifications to...

  5. Part I: Framing the Game

    • [Part I Introduction]
      (pp. 17-18)

      Even thoughWorld of Warcraftis reaching its tenth anniversary – which makes it ancient in game industry terms – the game and its expansion packs (as well as strategy guides, action figures and other merchandise) can still be found prominently displayed in the game sections of most multimedia stores. World of Warcraft clearly sells like a game, but whether it actually is one depends on the way you look at it.

      MMORPGs like World of Warcraft typically defy easy definition. Media scholars Eric Hayot and Edward Wesp edited an issue of the Game Studies journal which addressed the tenth anniversariy of...

    • 1: The Definition Game
      (pp. 19-22)

      As should be clear now, MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft are hard to define. I have been calling World of Warcraft a game for practical reasons but, as pointed out before, MMORPGs are in fact not games in the traditional sense of the word. Tracing a modern MMORPG like World of Warcraft back to the genre’s roots, for instance, conveys a history that is grounded both in games and in virtual worlds, the result of which makes it infinitely more than “just” a game. Suggesting that there are differences between games and, say, virtual worlds first demands a deeper...

    • 2: The Many Faces of Play
      (pp. 23-29)

      We can agree that World of Warcraft, which offers a wide range of play practices enabled through the game’s design, becomes a varied and unpredictable space for play. Play, however, is always varied and unpredictable, even within the most tightly designed games. As Salen and Zimmermann point out, the act of play, whether within a game, with a toy or with the imagination, is ‘free movement between a more rigid structure’ (2004: 304). To ensure some measure of grip on the wide variety of play practices found in World of Warcraft, I turn to philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer. He defines play...

    • 3: The Contracts of Play
      (pp. 30-35)

      Up until this point, I have mostly referred to game design as a way of affording and limiting certain play practices. These built-in affordances and limitations, one could argue, try to shape play in a sense that they convey what the game designers think the player might want to (or simply should) play. In this chapter, I will discuss forms of control that make sure this shape is retained – they are the rules, codes and contracts that players and Blizzard put in place, both implicitly and explicitly, to make sure players do not stray too far from intended and accepted...

    • 4: Play and/as Participation
      (pp. 36-40)

      This book is not only limited to what happens within the game world, it also looks at what is happening at the game’s periphery. A MMORPG like World of Warcraft is embedded in a network of a thousand satellite websites, web forums and other web applications. Game researchers Kurt Squire and Constance Steinkuehler have noticed that while there is a growing body of research on virtual worlds, there appears to be ‘a paucity of research on [MMORPGs] as bona fide cultures [...] – sites constituted through language and practice both within the game (e.g., virtual social interaction and joint activity) and...

    • 5: Battlefields of Negotiation
      (pp. 41-44)

      The previous chapters conveyed how one should not limit observations of a MMORPG such as World of Warcraft to one perspective. It does not do justice to its complexity, potentially limiting one’s understanding of the game. I have therefore tried to frame World of Warcraft through four main perspectives. First, I discussed World of Warcraft from a game design perspective, framing the MMORPG genre as a problematic type of game, as it defies classic game definitions. While part of the virtual worlds family, I argued that it is a gameworld first and foremost, with individualistic and instrumental play being important...

  6. Part II: Controlling the Game

    • [Part II Introduction]
      (pp. 45-46)

      A game likeWorld of Warcraftis always developed with an ‘attempt to embed within it particular forms of use and, by extension, particular users’, as game researcher T. L. Taylor puts it (2006a). In this part of the book, I will analyze World of Warcraft’s underlying technology, its coded rules and its fictional world as designed by Blizzard. By doing so, I will demonstrate how the game is indeed constructed with particular uses and users in mind. Individual and individualized group players with a strong emphasis on the instrumental parts of the game, for instance, might be very passionate...

    • 6. The Setup of Play
      (pp. 47-58)

      Not unlike other computer games, World of Warcraft has certain technological and contractual thresholds and barriers, often working in conjunction, which must be traversed in order to actually arrive at the playable part. In this chapter, I will discuss three such thresholds – the network, the platform technology (both hardware and software) and the game configuration – each playing its own role in affording and imitating certain forms of play. These technological and configurational thresholds convey the amount of control Blizzard has given itself over World of Warcraft, both enabling and restricting play before it has even started as well as influencing...

    • 7: The Rules of Play
      (pp. 59-71)

      In this chapter I will not deal yet with World of Warcraft as a fictional world but will instead focus on World of Warcraft as a game, or as Galloway puts it: the ‘gamic elements that all are inside the total gamic apparatus yet outside the portion of the apparatus that constitutes a pretend world of character and story’ (2006: 7-8). Sure enough, much of the gamic apparatus is articulated to the player through the fictional world. While one could describe World of Warcraft’s rules and structures using only abstract descriptions (referring to characters as player-controlled objects for instance), rules...

    • 8: Playing with Fiction
      (pp. 72-84)

      While discussing the dominant rules and structures that constitute the game in World of Warcraft, I did not shy away from mentioning that which creates its fiction. After all, in order to explain the mechanics of World of Warcraft, it does not matter that its factions are called Horde and Alliance: a more abstract “A” and “B” would have sufficed. For most players, the fact that World of Warcraft is set in a fantasy world cannot be divorced from play – even with the same instrumental rules and structures, another fictional theme would have meant playing another game. World of Warcraft’s...

  7. Part III: Gaming the Game

    • [Part III Introduction]
      (pp. 85-86)

      It should be clear by now that even though World of Warcraft is very much open for free play, it is nevertheless a game infused with a range of control and guidance mechanisms creating dominant play strategies and also certain limitations for play. The three chapters in this part of the book will, however, show how players address these strategies and limitations imposed on them. They are, one could say, “gaming” the game. The chapters also show what happens when players share the game, but not necessarily the way it can or should be played. Players do not always agree...

    • 9: It’s about time
      (pp. 87-102)

      World of Warcraftasks for a serious time investment from players. Just getting to the highest level to reach the endgame, where most of the bigger instrumental challenges and social activities can be found, requires hundreds of hours of play. A 2006 data-mining project by game researchers Nicholas Ducheneaut, Nick Yee, Eric Nickell and Robert Moore showed that the average player had accumulated fifteen-and-a-half days (or forty-seven full eight-hour work days) to reach level sixty, excluding all the time played after reaching this level (Ducheneaut et al. 2006: 409). Patches and expansion packs have since significantly speeded up the process...

    • 10: Twinking, or Playing Another Game
      (pp. 103-115)

      In this chapter, the notion of playing “alone together” is investigated by focusing on individualized group play. As game researchers Nicolas Ducheneaust, Eric Nickell, Robert Moore and Nick Yee point out, many players prefer to be surrounded by other players rather than actually playing with them (Ducheneaut et al. 2006: 4). Here, I want to extend the notion of playing alone together to include playing against other players in ways that are not universally accepted and can even be considered anti-social. In the battlefields of negotiation discussed here, power between players is at stake, as players use everything at their...

    • 11: Playing the Interface
      (pp. 116-128)

      The user interface or UI represents one of most flexible parts of World of Warcraft in terms of what players are able to manipulate or add to the game. Players can, to a certain extent, manipulate the looks of World of Warcraft’s native graphical user interface and therefore their window onto the world of Azeroth. Additionally, World of Warcraft’s application programming interface or API is set up to allow a certain level of access to the game’s library, enabling the retrieval and – through UI modification – visualization of a large variety of data normally hidden from view. By using the appropriate...

  8. Part IV: Claiming the Game

    • [Part IV Introduction]
      (pp. 129-130)

      In this final part of the book, “Claiming the Game”, I set out to investigate play practices and other forms of participatory practices that exist in the marginal grey areas of what is possible or allowed within – and with – World of Warcraft. Again, the examples presented throughout the coming chapters feature players who, through practices diverging from the intended use of the game or by judging other players playing the game differently, try to make the game their own. What is added here is an extra layer in the form of the activities of Blizzard Entertainment and its employees as...

    • 12: Virtual Thievery
      (pp. 131-143)

      This chapter tells the story of how I was banned, for a short period of time, from playing World of Warcraft due to allegedly taking part in illegal activities, with “illegal” here being defined as contravening the rules set by Blizzard in the contractual documents accompanying the game. In reality, I was actually a victim of “virtual crime” – an awkwardly dual status of being both perpetrator and victim. I encountered firsthand what happens when a player collides with the legal side of World of Warcraft, a part of the game most players will not even notice after they click ‘I...

    • 13: Performing on the Edge of Rules and Fiction
      (pp. 144-158)

      This chapter deals with creative productions by players, homemade fiction and non-fiction films to be more specific, made within but also with the game. They display free play in its most outspoken form: here we see players who do not just play the game to beat its goal-oriented content but instead seek ways to expand or in other ways manipulate the fictional world, or who try to find the edges of what is possible in the game’s design in terms of the coded rules and boundaries. These creative productions do not always conform to what the designers and other players...

    • 14: The Fragmented and the Multiple
      (pp. 159-172)

      In January 2006, Blizzard released patch 1.9, titled The Gates of Ahn’Qiraj, which implemented highly anticipated new content. This patch would finally open a huge gate in the south of the fictional world which had remained sealed since WoW’s release, offering access to the mysterious city-kingdom of Ahn’Qiraj which consisted of two major raid dungeons. For the first time in World of Warcraft’s history, new content was not instantly accessible to the players upon release of the patch. Opening the gates to Ahn’Qiraj (and thus the new content) required players to participate in a “War Effort”; without this effort, the...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 173-180)

    In July 2008, I ventured to Paris, France to visit the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational, a large convention celebrating Blizzard’s computer games and spinoff products. Thousands of Blizzard fans from all over Europe and beyond – a considerable part of which were hardcore World of Warcraft players – gathered in agiant convention centre somewhere on the Parisian outskirts to attend developer Q&A panels, play unreleased games, get the latest scoops, buy merchandise, meet other players and be part of the Blizzard brand community. This particular edition of the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational preceded the release of the World of Warcraft’s Wrath of the Lich...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 181-194)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 195-208)
  12. Index
    (pp. 209-220)