Posted by: Sean | June 4, 2010

In Defense of Gnome Role-Play

So I was on the official forums today. There was this one post about races and role-play. In a development that will surprise maybe two people, gnomes got bashed about as an unpopular choice.

Sigh.

Look, in truth, I get it. I do. I think I do, anyway. They’ve barely got any lore! They’re nothing but comedic relief! They’re cute and silly, and cute nor silly belongs in the World of Warcraft! Yes, yes. But here’s the thing.

They’ve barely got any lore: To some degree, true. I sympathise, I really do, with those who argue the gnomes pushed the High Elves out of the game. More or less, that’s correct. But the gnomes have gotten a lot more lore love as the game has gone on. The Ulduar revelations; that gnomes are under the surface (figuratively) robots is a really neat twist and one with a lot of potential. The battle to retake Gnomeregan is building up to epic levels. It just isn’t true any more that they don’t have any lore behind them. This far down the trail, all the initial eight races have got to have some lore to play with.

They’re nothing but comedic relief! Does this guy look like he’s kidding around to you? Yes, the gnomes have a lot of potential as comic relief, and Blizzard enjoys playing with it. But the gnomes have a surprisingly tragic backstory, they’re very powerful mages (one of only three PC races as part of the Kirin Tor) and are, in short (no pun intended) people like any other.

They’re cute and silly, and cute nor silly belongs in the World of Warcraft! Mini-pets! Half the darn quests! The constant in-jokes! Have you been playing the same game as me? World of Warcraft is comedic fantasy with stretches into the epic. Always has been. Wrath of the Lich King was, it’s true, a particularly dark expansion. But even there the in-jokes flew thick and fast. There is equal room in the game for silly and serious.

And here’s the thing: The gnomes are perfectly placed within both the silly and the serious traditions of World of Warcraft. They have the best one-two punch in the game. (Jess would call it Mood Whiplash) Everyone expects gnomes to be silly, and funny, and jokey. So the moments when you ditch that, and go for inspirational, heartbreaking, or brutal are all the more shocking. Nobody does this better than gnomes. Nobody.

Gnomes are funny. But gnomes are also the product of a horrific story of disaster and death. They can be efficient; not coldly, but horrifically cheerfully. (Imagine a rugged human spymaster rogue ruefully reflect that allowing the Scourge to take a city will ultimately save more in the long run. Now imagine a gnome rogue cheerfully observing the same. “Why are you so glum? Oh, this is absolutely minor in comparison. So a few thousand people will die in horrible suffering. We just saved millions! This is great!” I’d posit the latter is the more horrifying.) They dream big, and are crushed when those dreams fail.

So quit punting the gnomes. Gnomes are awesome.

ps. We are not here this is not a post hi anyone reading this but seriously we’re not bringing Blogatelle back. This is just a one-off.

Posted by: Sean | June 30, 2009

And good luck.

We began this ‘blog a little under a year ago, hoping to create something we felt the internet lacked – A dedicated World of Warcraft role-play ‘blog. Nothing else, no game strategy, no nothing but role-play.

That was our first mistake. There were, of course, many World of War role-play ‘blogs – The fantastic RP Made Simple would be the first one we found.

Nor would it be the last. We were rightfully criticised on occasion. The Play Files will always stand for me as a semi-frustration: What I still see as excellent speculation tarnished by a far too authoritative tone.

But we also had triumphs. The Do It Different series is something mostly unique to us, and something I hope has helped a few people think of new ideas for their characters. Of everything we’ve done, it’s probably what I’m most proud of.

And there are things unfinished. I am sad that the Katafray Project will not continue. We had such plans. And my Gnomeregan project taught me that I’m not quite the game developer I thought I could be.

Ce la vie. There comes a point where you have to admit you’ve run out of things to say, and for me that was a while ago. And I know Jess feels the same way. So, we’re closing the ‘blog. We will leave the archives up so that barring WordPress doing something odd, they should always be available. But we’re not coming back to it. It’s time to move on to new projects.

Above all, thank you for reading, and for commenting. You’ve made this worthwhile. But now, we must pay the bills and leave.

/farewell

Posted by: Sean | June 20, 2009

Unintended Play: Why does it threaten people?

I have a nasty habit of doing big, long intros and then really small bodies in posts. It’s quite difficult to get around, and reminds me of a story…

Just kidding. Let’s get right to the point.

MMO role-playing is part of a larger movement in gaming which has no “proper name” that I’m aware of. I prefer to simply call it “unintended play”: The art of playing video-games in ways that the developers didn’t intend in the first place. Unintended playing isn’t just goofing around (although it can be) but is rather about playing games to different goals than those the developers designed it for. Mucking around in Grand Theft Auto is not, for example, unintended play. That’s part of what the designers were looking for. Now, by contrast, if you decided to play Grand Theft Auto by trying to see how much money you could make as an ‘honest citizen’, now that is unintended play.

The first example of unintended play I can remember seeing was the “Dance, Voldo, Dance” machinima. (Machinima as a whole can likewise be considered unintended play in most games.) In this, two players co-ordinated their play efforts in the game Soul Calibur 2, creating the illusion that the two Voldo characters they played were dancing to Nellie’s “Hot in Herre”. And then descending into juvenile sex jokes, but that’s beside the point. The point is that you don’t need to scroll too far down to find the suggestion, “I would bet that these two are dorks with no girlfriends. Guys, you need to get out of your parents basement and get a life. “

Sound familiar? How about we move to World of Warcraft, instead, and take a look at a few examples of brilliant unintended play there, too.

Inspired by the South Park Cartoon “Make Love Not Warcraft”, this guy hit level cap killing nothing but pigs. Now, if you ask me? That’s astonishingly clever. It must have taken him a considerable amount of research and dedication. His reward? Comments like, “That’s just sad” or “Well, that’s either very impressive, or completely sad. Maybe a little of each.”

Noor the Pacifist has been levelling steadily while refusing to kill anyone – He levels entirely through battleground daily quests, helping to win by disrupting flag captures and healing. To me, this is a very difficult but impressive effort – My only criticism is that he’s compromised himself by allowing the throwing of bombs to stop flag captures. The insults continue.

Here’s my favourite one. Cautious, who is very aptly named, went level 1-80 without a single death. She did this by, you guessed it, unintended play – remaining consistently within green experience zones with little chance of death until she finally managed to hit level 80.

I can’t even get to level ten without dying.

And she was still blasted for this. “Not a single 5 man or raid. I don’t see why this is impressive. Farming lower level mobs isn’t exactly difficult or risky.” Even though really, what she was doing was barely unintended play at all.

What’s intriguing is also that the tone never changes. The accusations of ‘living in your parent’s basement’ remain. The ‘get a girlfriend, get a life’ comments continue… oh my god.

We’re nerds!

This is the thing. Naturally people deduce fairly quickly the intended goals of the game. And most people, fairly sensibly, move to achieve those goals. So when others don’t, well, it’s seen as proof that they can’t. We’re not achievers, we’re seen as pointless. As Gweryc the Melee Hunter argued, “I think the really violent reactions come from highly competitive players who can’t reconcile themselves to the idea that I am, in essence, playing a different game than they are.”

But just like the nerds in high school weren’t pointless, we are achieving something. We’re doing more. Those who mock will never get to level 70 by only killing pigs. They’ll never dance with Voldo. And they’ll never have your story.

All they’ll ever do is kill Yogg-Sagon. Like almost everyone else will. Just play the game the way you enjoy it, and hopefully enjoy the way others play it too.

Edited after excellent observation by Elleiras

Posted by: Sean | June 19, 2009

Crowning Moment of Awesome: What’s yours?

In place of a proper post today, I ask you a question: What is your character’s crowning moment of awesome? Give us a brief background, and then explain it.

For me? Fulthruttle McKenzie Winterspring was investigating her missing family inside Gnomeregan and trying to lay to bed the rumors her father had been a traitor to her people. Instead, she confirmed it, and learned he was being supplied by Thermaplugg. Facing off against him, she yelled:

Thermaplugg, you bastard! I READ YOUR PURCHASE REPORTS!

Which, yes, does break rule #1 in a big way. But it worked anyway.

What about you? What was your character’s crowning moment of awesome?

Posted by: Sean | June 18, 2009

The Last Days of Crank Fizzlepop

And on a happier note, a much happier one, we are proud to present Blizzard Global Writing Contest runner-up, The Last Days of Crank Fizzlepop. We hope you enjoy.

Posted by: Sean | June 18, 2009

The Halo Effect: Can It Be Overcome?

BAAAAASTAAARDS!

BAAAAASTAAARDS!

I’ll let you in on a little secret: I’ve not actually been doing a lot of Warcraft of late. Certainly not a lot of Warcraft role-play. I’d like to, really, but this pack of miserable time-sucking weasels has been stopping me. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, I’ve developed an acute The Sims 3 addiction. (ps. That’s Conner on the left, Saphia in the middle, and little Astra – Hi little Astra! – on the right, kicking her father’s behind at chess.)

So let’s talk a little bit about The Sims. One of the most interesting Sims projects out there right now is Alice and Kev. Go on and read it. All of it. It’s a touching, heartbreaking story of two homeless people, using The Sims 3 to simulate their lives.

No, I’m not kidding. Go read it. I’ll wait for you to come back.

OK, you’re done? Good. Now, if you’re like me, you probably started thinking of Alice as the hero of the story, and Kev as the villain. If that’s the case, it’s understandable. Alice is sweet, good natured and doomed to disappointment. Kev is an insane monster who delights in tormenting Alice and making her life miserable. But he’s homeless and has been for a long time. It’s not fair to dub him a villain; he’s not. Much like Alice, he spends most of his life trying to make friends and (because he lacks Alice’s social skills) failing miserably. His one successful social interaction – His only one to date – has been with a ghost. And he’s not even sure if the ghost was real.

So initial perceptions aren’t always true. Surface analyses are suspect, and I know that. Keep that in mind when I start calling you horrible people.

Some of you, if you’re like me, also found the general story very affecting and resolved to try and do something for real homeless people as a result. You felt grateful for the tiny simple things you had, and wanted to give those without them a better chance.

And if that’s the case, you should be ashamed because you’re a horrible person, like me. Come on! You knew damn well stories like this existed in the real world. Even now, you can probably piece together that homeless life is both worse and better than what Alice and Kev depicts. There are homeless shelters and people trying to give homeless people a bed and a roof. Alice’s only option for food is truthfully not her school dinners. But she does face horrible threats of violence and disease, which Alice and Kev does not depict. You knew all this. I knew all this. So why is it that now, like me, you suddenly felt it all come home? It would be easy to say the narrative did it, but at least in my case, I’ve seen stories of true homelessness before, and never felt this affected.

But, you see, Alice is cute.

Horrible though it is, there’s the little sucker punch. She’s attractive. And because she’s attractive, you begin ascribing other qualities as well. She must be a good person. It’s not her fault. She’s a victim. If Kev had the good trait, you’d never believe it. If Alice had nasty traits, you’d probably not believe those either.

Welcome to the Halo Effect. Human beings have difficulty with seeing the idea that good and bad can exist within the same vessel. Our villains have to be true villains. Our heroes spotless. When we see one good quality, we assume everything behind it is good too. And the first thing we see is appearance: Good looking people we assume to be good. It’s insidious and has real world effects: Good looking people are likely to be better educated, higher class and (here’s the kicker) more intelligent. Why? Because they expect to be.

OK, fine. But this isn’t a Sims blog yet. What’s the World of Warcraft link?

Here’s your damned link.

Most popular races? Blood Elves, Night Elves, Humans and Draenei. The four lean, attractive human-esque races.

And observe the issues we’ve discussed before! One of the most common plagues among Blood Elf role-players before the end of Burning Crusade was the multitiude who ignored the magic addiction or found cures. Look again: We saw an attractive species and couldn’t parse it with addiction and horror.

Also look at the end of the scale. Dwarves. Dwarves are one of the most heroic and honorable species of World of Warcraft. They’ve endured through countless wars, they’ve kept their word and held firm their alleigances. But they’re not attractive.

And we have trouble maintaining them as heroes. But the undead, also hideous, we have no trouble parsing as villains, which is how Blizzard cast them. Unsurprisingly, they’re popular as a result.

I have no answers to this question, and it’s a larger one than just World of Warcraft, hell, perhaps larger than role-playing. Our tendency to equate heroism, goodness and rightness with beauty is a problem inherent in the species. But it is, at least, a problem for World of Warcraft gameplay, too. It ensures that orcs will tend to be played to the more vicious stereotypes more often than their noble shamanistic side. It results in dwarves barely being role-played at all, because there isn’t a comfortable negative side for people to latch onto.

So next time you make a character? Make a heroic orc. Make a bastard of a night elf. Break the beauty.

The Halo Effect may or may not be able to be overcome. But only we can overcome it.

Posted by: blogatelle | June 16, 2009

A poll

Since Sean deigned to update today, a poll. Where do you role-play?

Posted by: Sean | June 16, 2009

Role-playing with Manifestations

Before we begin, a quick editor’s note:

Ahem.

HOLY CATS! Good blogging seat! I mean, it’s no Awesome Blogging Seat™ but it’s still actually usable for typing. This is seriously nice.

Done now.

So, in my grand tradition of stealing David Bowers’s ideas contributing to a discussion, let’s talk about the idea of role-playing with layers. David’s written a really terrific three part set of columns there and you should read the whole thing, but in case you don’t have time, I’ll nutshell it for you. David’s suggested that a good model for conceptualising a character is in three layers: An surface layer filled with quirks and hooks designed to pull in others, an inside layer that can be revealed to those you interact more closely with in order to deepen role-play, and a core layer that only true friends get to see. All well and good.

But I want you to take part in a little thought experiment with me. Let’s role-play on this blog! Woo! This should be fun. OK. Imagine you’re someone normal, like say, yourself. (If you’re not normal, imagine what it would be like if you were.) Now, the scene is that you’re out with a bunch of people you don’t know too well but get along OK with at a big, action-packed movie and you’re all hanging out. Describe your surface layer. Actually write it down, if you like, but you probably don’t need to.

Now, same character, but imagine you’re talking to a religious leader after a service. A lot of elderly people are around you. Same you, still surface layer (they’re not that close to you) but I’m willing to bet money that most of you are going to have a very different surface layer going on.

Now, to be fair, David Bowers was accounting for this. I’m not saying anything he really hasn’t. But hear me out: Let’s say you’re with a group of friends and hanging out at that movie. (They’re friends this time, not acquaintances.) You’re chilling out and talking, and you admit a few secrets to one of them.

Now, back to the religious leader. The elderly ladies have left, and you know your priest/rabbi/imam well. You acknowledge a few secrets and ask for advice.

Those secrets may be the same ones, perhaps. But more than likely, they’re not. “I like a girl, how do I get her to notice me?” is likely a secret given to friends. “I find myself struggling with thoughts of lust” might be more likely to be given to a priest. (Actually, “Dude, I can’t stop thinking about doing her” could well come out with friends too, depending on what kind of friends you have, but you get the point.)

The only layer that doesn’t change much depending on context is the core layer, because in many ways that’s the layer that you reveal mostly to you. Other friends simply get to see it because, well, you’re willing to drop your guards around them.

So perhaps the way to apply David’s model at character creation is to mix layers with your designated character traits. Watch, I’ll explain.

Katafray is my Draenei Paladin whom we’ll one day get back to playing. She’s Pompous, Responsible, and Cultured. So, I’m going to draw up a chart and start filling it in…

Pompous Responsible Cultured
Surface Sniffs her nose a lot at people, enjoys the phrase, ‘Fortunately, I thought different’ Insists on doing the right thing, talks of duty a lot Fawns over artworks and frowns on those who don’t recognise the various books/music/art she talks about
Inside Gets competitive and insists she can do everything better Always lends a helping hand, never refuses a chance to assist Talks passionately about ‘the nature of beauty’
Core Talks quietly about her family and how they never got along Bursts into tears, talks of stress Admits fear that she doesn’t feel she’s capable of creating art

OK, you get the idea. Each of those traits manifests differently at each level. Now, of course, which trait she’s operating on depends on context.

Would she be pompous and arrogant with a priest? Probably not. She’d more be stressing her responsibility… and showing the manifestation in that column depending on how close she was to the priest. With her friends? It’s pompous and cultured down the line.

How do your characters look?

Posted by: Sean | June 4, 2009

Apologies for sporadic updating

No long update today, I’m afraid. I truly miss my great blogging chair. Even without it, I was able to find some seats that facilitated blogging, but this bus I have to now catch just has nothing.

So as not to leave you all without anything, I put forward a theory: World of Warcraft is more responsive to comedy play than dramatic play, because we have a long-lasting acceptance of comedies in which Status Quo is God. Dramas, by contrast, are expected to grow and change in a way unsupported by an MMORPG format.

Discuss!

Posted by: Sean | June 3, 2009

Reflections on trade and family.

It’s 6:37am on a Wednesday and I’m sitting in the food court of the University. The staff are about, but not the professors. One thing the movies miss about Universities is the reality that they’re nearly always under construction – Universities get built up over decades and there’s always one building or another in desperate need of renovation. It’s true of the oldest and the newest – There’s always something to build.

The construction workers mill about, it’s too early and too dark to start work; once the daylight breaks a little bit more they’ll finish up their coffees and go to work. And I know from my other viewing that they won’t be going home until late as well. Long hours of physical, tiring work. And they wear it. You can see a weariness in them even now, perhaps especially now when the weekend was long enough ago that it’s failed to rejuvenate them further, and the coming weekend remains most of a week away.

One of them in particular catches my eye. He’s young, certainly younger than me and frankly, I’d guess a teenager. An apprentice, I suppose. I don’t know his story, of course, but I mentally fill it in anyway; creating a life with wrong guesses and stereotypes. He’s seventeen, I say. Left school a year ago. Picked up an apprenticeship. He doesn’t hope to have his own firm, that hope will come later. Right now he’s just desperately trying to absorb the knowledge he needs to do this work safely and effectively.

It used to be that this kind of work was family business. Lessons got passed down father to son. That’s why we have family names like Mason and Thatcher; was such a time that for the men those names were accurate. Peter Mason’s son is a mason, and so was his father, down and down it goes.

And I think of the Defias Brotherhood. And their sons.

Imagine the promises rebuilding Stormwind held. You could make your name doing that – And set yourself up for life. More to the point, you could set your son up for life, too. He would never go again hungry. Never again would he worry about the simple need to keep a roof over his head. Some of them didn’t even dare to say it to their children. More naive ones promised them everything.

They were, as we know, betrayed.

Imagine all those hopes, those dreams, twisted and inverted. You turned down work for this. Family savings, what pittances they were, kept you going through those months. Then, their money gone, their hopes all that remain, they were forced out at sword-point from the city and exiled.

At that point, one of them looked at his son.

Now go and run through Westfall again. Do all the quests. I dare you.

— —

At a looser level, these kinds of trades are technical and difficult in many ways. There’s an endless knowledge of techniques; right ways and wrong ways to do the various tasks. The equivalent for World of Warcraft is, of course, professions.

But who the hell taught them to you? No. Stop. Do not answer, ‘the trainer’. The trainer is an in-game construct. If you wish, you may indeed have learned tailoring from someone named Ambershine or engineering from Jenna Lemkenilli. But even if you did, it didn’t cost you fifteen copper and emerge in a flash of light. What were her classes like? How long did they take? Why did you do it in the first place? Did the promise of mystic tailoring soothe the savage need for magic when you were addicted? Did, upon leaving Teldrassil, the urge to do something truly and utterly at odds with your life before take hold? What does this say about your training? What does it say about you?

And it’s better to find other ways. Was it a family trade? Did you learn it from a local tradesman as a child, back when your family thought that they might have a bit of peace in between the horrible wars, that their son might be a blacksmith instead of a swordsman?

Are they thrilled at their son’s bravery or disappointed that their hopes were for naught?

What jobs have you done? Not just the stuff you make in game. If you’re a tailor, have you repaired clothes for someone? Have you ever done honest tailoring work? You should know how to measure someone correctly, what cloth breathes and which doesn’t, how to cut cloth so it sits right on someone. Engineers may have made clocks, cleaning devices, anything to make life easier. Blacksmiths should know how to make horseshoes.

Why is your trade?

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