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Turkle vs. MMOs: Are her Ideas Irrelevant?

Amophrast's picture

I have a strange sort of relationship with online gaming. 

I’ve always wanted to get more into gaming than I am, and have suffered short self-competitive bursts with games from Super Smash Bros. Melee to Farmville to vocabulary quizzing games. My drive was always based on trying to improve myself—trying to become faster, better, higher-leveled, unlocking achievements, rewards and items.

To me, online gaming is another matter entirely. Online gaming has usually been regarded as a stage for people to play out roles they are unable to in real life, for “performing the self you wanted to be” (158). This webpaper will be focused mainly on exploring MMORPGs, or Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games. Turkle suggests that in any role-playing scenario, “their online identities make them feel more like themselves than they do in the physical real” (159).

Fluffyjacket is a gamer who mostly sticks to PC games, which include Rift (an MMORPG), League of Legends (an MMORTS or Real Time Strategy game), and Guild Wars (or the “poor man’s World of Warcraft”). Fluffyjacket says that he does not take advantage of playing another personality online—he simply plays as himself, finding further role-playing other than controlling his character not “fun.” 

But more importantly than her ideas about identity is Turkle’s claim that technology distances us from each other, because we use it as a substitute for other beings, whether they be pets or humans. “Does virtual intimacy degrade our experience of the other kind and, indeed, of all encounters of any kind?” (12) While this separation does not seem to exist from Fluffyjacket’s perspective, there are many factors that may make it the gaming world seem isolated from the physical world.

Communication within the online world develops a whole slew of slang that non-players might not be able to understand. Most of the slang seems to be abbreviations, some of which are said phonetically (pug rather than P-U-G). Examples include:

-          Gank – to be killed by two or more players by surprise

-          AoE – area of effect: the area in which a skill’s effect is in effect

-          PUG – pick-up group: people that aren’t in your guild or friends list. Random people that are in the same server as you that you join to complete quests or dungeons.

PUGs can be very useful if you need the aid of someone like a healer, but no healers from your guild (a large group of players that join together to do quests, raids, and dungeons) or friends list are online. So you would think that the main reason of forming a guild would be to have players with a range of abilities, like healers, right? Wrong. Fluffyjacket’s first response to why you would want to form a guild was “so you can get to know other players personally. It develops trust and loyalty.”

Gaming does create situations in which some level of social skill is utilized. In fact, Fluffyjacket says that he only really likes to start playing a game if he’s going to be playing it with someone he knows in real life.

FJ: “I don’t like playing on PvP (player vs. player) servers [by myelf] because I don’t like open world PvP. It’s annoying when you get ganked by level-capped players while you’re questing just because they like to be assholes. And sometimes you get bodycamped.”

(When one dies in a game like Rift, if you choose to respawn, your ghost is teleported to the nearest graveyard and you have to run around to actually find your body. When one gets bodycamped, the killers stand over your dead body and wait for you to return to it so they can kill you again. If you’re their level, they may gain PvP currency and/or PvP rank. If you’re a low level, they might just be doing it for fun. This is a reportable offense in the game world.)

M: What do you gain from playing by yourself?

FJ: “Nothing. Playing by yourself is boring. That’s why some people drop games.”

For players like Fluffyjacket, social interaction is necessary—otherwise, it seems pointless or boring.

M: Why do you play online RPGs?

FJ: “Because I get to explore a bigger world that isn’t as boring or mundane as the real world. I get to do things I would normally not be able to do in real life. Like kill people! Or slay a dragon. I guess that seems more appropriate.”

M: How many hours a day do you spend on online gaming?

FJ: “Too many. Ranges from 10 to 15 hours.”

M: Do you think your time is better spent in an online world or in the real world?

FJ: “I…don’t know… actually. I mean, probably it would be better used in real life.”

M: Do you really believe that?

FJ: “Probably could be better used in real life, since real life is more relevant…”

He seems to be as bad as convincing himself as he is convincing me. There’s a reluctance and slight uncomfortableness in his answers.

M: Then why don’t you make changes to your gaming lifestyle?

He gets slightly defensive here.

FJ: “I mean I still do use time in real life. I’m not saying that my life is devoted to videogames. It’s a way for me to relieve stress from real life.”

M: So in a 24 hour day, let’s say you sleep 8 hours on average… That leaves 16 waking hours in a day. And you typically spend 10 to 15 gaming. What do you do with the 1 to 5 hours of waking time that isn’t gaming?

FJ: “Usually doing anything else I have to in real life that isn’t school related.”

Math appears to be slightly cruel and shaming. When immersed in the game, it seems to be easy to let time slide.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

Just how immersive is it?

Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

M: Does online gaming, in your experience, allow for a “partial buy-in,” or does it demand more attention than that? (184)

FJ: “Depends on your playing style. Casual gamers get through the game at their own pace. Hardcore players try to get to the level cap as fast as possible, and start to do endgame content along with friends or a guild that have similar playing styles. There are sometimes events that games have during holidays, so if you don’t play during those you may miss out on seasonal items, events, titles, achievements, etc.”

M: By having these special events, etc. during holidays, do you think it detracts from a real world experience you could be having?

FJ: “Not all the time. Games don’t have the holiday event just on the day of the holiday. They tend to have the event the week before, leading up to the holiday, allowing you to participate in the holiday in real life for whatever events you have.”

Contrary to articles we've read in class like Turkle chapter "Tinysex and Gender Trouble" in her book Life on the Screen, Fluffyjacket makes it sound like gender and gender difference is not a relevant issue in Rift. He reports that he doesn't see much flirting online, and actions like sex between characters is not possible in Rift.

M: What role does gender play in online gaming?

FJ: “Most people role a character that’s their own gender.”

M: How can you tell?

FJ: “Because I know people”

M: Do you think they’re the majority?

FJ: “Can’t tell. I know women most of the time role female characters. For men I would say it’s about 50/50. Men like to run female characters so they ‘don’t have to stare at a man’s ass while they’re playing.’”

M: How do you choose what gender to play?

FJ: “Most races don’t look that bad for each gender, but if I don’t like how the model of each gender looks I won’t play that gender for that race. Like in WoW, how the human males look like cavemen with very bad haircuts.”

M: Do you think that game designers purposefully design men to be uglier so ore people will play as females?

FJ: “I have no idea. I haven’t really run into too many games where I don’t like how the male looks, so I don’t think it’s intentional.”

While I type out questions before I ask him, he turns back to his computer, checking facebook or other things.

M: How many female gamers do you know?

FJ: “I know females that play videogames, but not really ‘gamers.’”

M: So do you know a lot of male gamers?

FJ: “Yes.”

M: How many of them are in relationships?

FJ: “…Actually a lot of them. Most of the people that I talk to in my guild have a girlfriend or a fiancée…or a wife. Or a whole family.”

M: Are their significant others also gamers?

FJ: “On some occasions, yes.”

M: Do you think that excessive time spent gaming creates a separation between body and mind?

FJ: “Do you mean you lose your grasp on reality?”

M: Anything. There are lots of stereotypical comics showing gamers’ different relationships between their significant others and their games. Does one negatively affect the other?

FJ: “No, I don’t believe so.”

This is coming from the guy whose friend texts him almost every single evening he’s hanging out with me, asking, “You online?” or “You home?” Is this interruption negative? Maybe not. But it comes off as seeming like an almost co-dependent relationship.

M: If this isn’t an issue, then why is it constantly represented as one?

FJ: “It’s just a stereotypical joke. As much as gamers say they don’t have a life, they do have some sort of a life.”

M: Is there truth in stereotypes?

FJ: “There is truth in stereotypes. Like I said, there are actual people who do nothing but games…the 30-year-old that lives in his parents’ basement. Though it’s never portrayed as a female.”

M: Do you think online gaming diminishes the quality of IM/videochat?

FJ: “No, because I’m always multitasking when I’m on my computer. Though when you’re doing something in the game that requires your full attention, messaging can get…one-worded.”

M: So you don’t think that multitasking in general diminishes the quality of IM/videochat?

FJ: “No.”

Ways to communicate simultaneously in the online world and the outside world include combinations of :

o   Phone (on Bluetooth/headset)

o   Webcam

o   IM

o   Yelling at door/don’t take eyes off screen

In general, it seems that technology can be harmful when substituted for interactions or relationships with people, but by no means is this the only reason for using it.

M: So you think that technology distances us from other human beings?

Turkle says that being too involved with our machines makes us "spectator of the human world" (7).

FJ: “Actually, I think it’s the opposite. It allows human beings that are further away to be closer to us.”

M: Do you think that you can be simultaneously close to those who are far away and those who are physically close to you? 

FJ: “Mhm. It just doesn’t make any sense [that there should be such a distinction].

When comparing his opinions to what he actually says and by observing him, I'm not quite sure I can totally discount Turkle's idea that technology distances us from others. Does answering this question for myself require interviewing more people?

Or should I try to immerse in a world and see how it affects me?


Anne Dalke's picture

On being a spectator of the human world

so: this begins sort of jumpily. I don't know where the quotes are coming from @ first (and actually never do find out: are they from Turkle's newest book, Alone Together?) I don't know who Fluffyjacket is, how you located him, why you chose him as your source, or what your relation is to him. I don't know what the conditions for his interview were ("While I type out questions before I ask him, he turns back to his computer, checking facebook or other things")--are you "alone together" while you are doing this interview?

Most importantly, I don't know what the ultimate point of the dialogue is. Have you countered Turkle's concern that "“virtual intimacy degrades all kinds of other encounters"? Or illustrated another, very different claim of hers, that "online identities make players feel more like themselves than they do in the physical real"? You say that there's a disconnect between what Fluffyjacket says --"some level of social skill is utilized," "social interaction is necessary"-- and your observations of him (what are these?)

You quote Turkle saying that "being too involved with our machines makes us "spectator of the human world." What would she say-- what do you say --is your role in this project? Are you a spectator of the human world? A spectator of a human gamer? A participant in a human relationship? Is Fluffyjacket a spectator or a participant in the human world? In a human relationship with you?

Finally, of course, I want to know if your final questions are real ones, and what answers you have for them: "Does answering this question for myself require interviewing more people? Or should I try to immerse in a world and see how it affects me?" How does each possibility stack up against the other, as a mode of data collection?