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I’d love a virtual world/MMORPG mashup

Second Life isn’t a place I spend much time now, though my posts about SL continue to be get the most traffic and my daily companions also have unused, long time SL avatars. I’m more active in ArcheAge than ever. I left my drama-filled guild and now spend most of my time with my game family and a few friends, caring for our land, transporting trade packs for cash, running dungeons, hijacking enemy vehicles, and poking at enemies who are too highly geared for us to do more than annoy. One couple I know from AA met in SL and now live together and others were active SL residents for years.

One of those friends recently remarked that a mashup of AA and SL would be fantastic. He was thinking about the houses in AA, which are little more than storage locations with very limited opportunities for self-expression, but I think there’s a bigger point to pull from that. MMORPGs could benefit from the sort of interpersonal expression and connection that SL enables. I’m not just talking about sex (though if it’s an adult game, why not?), but the ability to dance with friends, stream your own music in your home, cuddle on a couch, etc.

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From a game standpoint, SL suffers from a lack of things to do. I know some of you will be tempted to jump in here and lecture me about the fine clubs, performances, creative opportunities, experimental game areas, etc. Believe me, I know!  I love those things. Yet most of the time I’m in SL, what am I doing? Remaining relatively stationary in my surroundings and talking with one person or a small group of people. Exploring areas together is difficult without using voice chat to coordinate. We could play a short game, but those are rudimentary at best even if the graphics are jaw-dropping. However, I can move my avatar in ways I’ve designed, have whatever appearance I like, invite people to my completely customized home, and have a visual replication of real human interaction.

Every MMORPG I’ve played offered limited expression and interaction. While Second Life puts creation in the hands of the residents, so each avatar and home can be unique, MMORPGs tend to be stingy with customization: putting costume dyes in a cash shop, requiring multiple purchases or crafting steps to add a graphic overlay to a small number of items, and building up demand (and therefore cash flow) by releasing some items as untradeable rare drops from cash shop chests. As far as interaction, some have interpersonal emotes and allow families/marriages/partnerships. But really, they are games and designed around activities, not social life. When I’m in AA, I might be talking with friends just as I would be in SL, but we’re simultaneously doing something, even if we’re in transit to an island on a ship, planting ginseng seedlings, or laying in wait to ambush enemies.  It’s possible to run out of things you want to do, but there are always more things you could.

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Can you imagine how exciting a combination of the two world types could be, though? Strong game mechanics, with daily events, quests strings, dungeons and raids, crafting/farming/fishing/etc, PVE and PVP, accompanied by rich personalization and interaction? A player-driven economy that also includes items created by those players? A multitude of things to do at any hour of the day, plus all the tools needed to make a comfortable sanctuary if you don’t want to leave your virtual home? When I was a solo player, I would have appreciated more choices to have a unique appearance. Now that I’m more social, the limitations of rigid furniture poses and car radios that play the same loops of music really bug me. I suppose I’ll keep dreaming of an open platform MMORPG that is truly the best of both worlds.

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Posted by on February 25, 2016 in Gaming

 

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Multilayered communications in an MMORPG

When I was in my mid-20s, if I wanted to talk with another person while we were gaming together, we needed to be in the same room. Fast forward a couple decades and I find myself in an MMORPG, communicating with dozens of other players over numerous simultaneous text channels and on voice in TeamSpeak. At the same time, I can talk to my husband across the room and to friends in Skype and Facebook Messenger. Heaven help me if my phone rings!

This got me thinking about how people use those available communication layers and I started paying more attention while playing ArcheAge. What options are available and frequently used? How do players decide which channel to use for which message? Are there norms that have arisen and if so, what happens when someone transgresses them? Gratuitous sea battle photo below, simply because sea battles in AA can be crazy fun.

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Since ArcheAge is the example I’m working with, these are the primary ways I’ve observed people communicating:

  • In-game multiplayer text chat channels – A player can choose to watch all of these simultaneously, in which case the channel messages are interspersed and in different colors, or organize channels with tabs. The channels that can be seen in ArcheAge are:
    • Local – close communication only
    • Shout – wider range, but still in the vicinity
    • Trade – intended for commerce, want to buy/want to sell
    • Party – limited to up to 5 people in the same party (will also work for raid members)
    • Raid – limited to 50 people in the same raid
    • Guild – limited to members of registered guild, up to 100 people
    • Family – limited to 8 affiliated members
    • Trial – chat limited to the Defendant, Jury, and Judgebot, but broadcast to entire Faction
    • Faction – there are 2 Faction channels and which one you can see/chat in depends on your avatar’s race. One is open to all of the East (Harani and Firran races) and the other is open to all of the West (Nuian and Elf races). I should add that East and West speak different languages, but it is possible to gain skills to read/write the other Faction’s language.
    • Nation – there are 3 Nation chat channels that are exclusive of each other, like Faction chat: East, West, and Pirate.
  • In-game private chat – though it has been requested many times, it’s not yet possible to set up a custom channel for any group of invited members, so conversations are limited to the privacy afforded by the groupings above, or
    • Whisper – one on one communication
  • Voice chat – there is no voice option in the game, but voice communication is still important
    • TeamSpeak – people host TS servers for their guild, public use, raids, or just to talk with friends. A TS server can have multiple chat rooms, keeping some rooms private and others open to anyone with the login info.
    • Skype – best for one-on-one or small group, some players use Skype with friends while playing
    • In the same room – some players I know are cohabitating (as a couple or roommates) or get together with nearby friends to play
  • Broadcast – nowadays in a virtual space, someone could be recording or live broadcasting at any time
    • Twitch – some players live stream their gaming sessions
    • YouTube – quite a few players share videos of gameplay, informative videos (walkthrough, how-to), or AA machinima
    • Screenshot saved and shared in any of the places below
  • Game forums – not immediate communication, but regularly used
    • Official ArcheAge forums
    • ArcheAge subreddit
  • Guild websites/blogs/social media
  • Player websites/blogs/social media

Needless to say, if you want to get a message across to other ArcheAge players, you have plenty of ways to do it. I’m sure I’ve missed some. So, what sort of messages are being conveyed?

  • Current events – arranging groups for raids and dungeons, sharing news about enemy movements, asking for help
  • Trash talking and dramatics – taunting, whining, stirring things up, gossiping, raging, threats, etc.
  • Coordination – essential communication when working together
  • Commerce – buying and selling
  • Information – discussing new elements in the game, providing details about gear/dungeons/quests
  • Companionship – chatting among friends/acquaintances/romantic partners, or just goofing around with strangers

I generally keep all possible channels enabled when I’m playing, though my attention isn’t always fixed on chat. I also have a few chat tabs with filters applied so that I can focus on, say, guild chat and whispers or raid and guild chat. I almost never join in, but I observe the public drama when I’m online (and honestly, at least one of my guild mates is usually in the thick of it). I also sign onto my guild’s TeamSpeak sometimes, to hang out and hear if anything interesting is happening or for coordination during guild activities.

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Considering just the two dimensions of conversation medium and content creates a vast matrix of possibilities. The complexity increases when we consider that one conversation might have simultaneous overlapping threads. For example, it’s not uncommon for someone in another guild to talk trash about my guild’s leader. This usually takes place in Faction chat, where everyone on our half (more or less) of the player base can see it. That may trigger simultaneous discussions in our private guild chat channel and on TeamSpeak, of the “hey, did you see that?” and “who the hell is that guy?” variety. My guild leader lacks restraint sometimes and may reply in Faction chat, which shakes the hornet nest. People begin sending private Whispers back and forth.  I have to assume that side conversations about the trolling are also occurring in other private and guild channels. Guild mates and allies jump into the fray, which might get shifted to the Nation channel to avoid pirates. Last week, one exchange like this moved to the Trade channel. People may start broadcasting on Twitch or recording video or taking snapshots to share later.  So, instead of a conversation having one set of participants and being limited in time and location, it can branch into multiple lanes that have exclusive or overlapping participants, and through sharing can be continued in another venue — YouTube or forums — with a new group of players. On our half of this particular server, those conversations are usually in English with some Spanish, though the participants are from (at least) four continents.

Generalizing about how players decide which channel to use is out of my depth, but I’ve observed a few specific instances. A player may choose to listen in TeamSpeak but not activate a microphone, which means that in order to add to the audible conversation, he has to type in the Raid or Guild channel. This often leads to confusion as not everyone is watching the text. During public drama in Faction chat, players may discuss their plans to jump into the fray in another channel first. On the other hand, a player’s friends may use private channels to try to keep him from amping up the rhetoric.

When someone uses an inappropriate channel for his message, others are quick to correct him. This could be a gentle nudge but often, the rebukes are fast and rude. I found that very intimidating during the months when I was a solo player, because the last thing a shy person wants is to extend herself in public and be hammered down for asking a n00b question.

In a typical evening, I’ll be on TeamSpeak with other members of my guild (and an occasional guest). Those of us who are working together might also use the text Raid channel to include those who aren’t in TS. We’ll comment in TS about things that scroll by in Faction or Nation chat and we’ll recruit others to join our shenanigans in Guild chat.  When things are quiet, I’ll lift off my headset and check in with my husband, who may be on another TS server with guys from World of Tanks or chatting with people in Second Life. And, at some point, my Skype icon will light up and I’ll start text chatting with a friend I first met in SL, switching back and forth between that and my game until I sign off, and then maybe flipping open a video chat. None of this feels disconnected or strange, though I can’t imagine trying to explain it to my parents. They have a hard enough time when I call their house and each of them picks up a different phone extension.

 
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Posted by on January 19, 2016 in Culture, Gaming

 

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Small update: Gear VR, ArcheAge, SL

Sorry for neglecting this blog. I have two half-written posts but I ran out of steam and interest before they were done. So, a small update to get back in the swing of things:

I’ll have more coming about the Samsung Gear VR soon, but I haven’t picked it up again after the first day I tried. Why? Mainly because I’m doing other things in my free time and a VR headset doesn’t allow for multitasking. I’ve also been having headaches; wearing a headset that might make them worse is unappealing. But, I’ll confess, it’s also because I was underwhelmed with my first experiences. 360 degree photos didn’t seem more interesting just because I could move my head rather than my mouse to look around. The few short videos were unimpressive and overall, the things I viewed were low resolution and sometimes blurry. My phone overheated before I was able to try more. I’ve downloaded a few free apps and I’ll try a game or two soon.

Reading some forums about the Gear VR made me wonder if I might be jaded by more than a decade in Second Life. I often wander SL in mouselook (first person) view, where I can scan a full 360 degrees. Moving through a 3D environment and looking around is second nature to me and maybe I don’t feel much of a difference between turning my head and using a mouse. Earlier, when I saw videos of people freaking out because they could look all around a VR scene, I wondered if there was some magical mind-body integration that I couldn’t yet imagine. So far, I haven’t seen one. I’m certainly leaving the possibility open and hoping to be wowed soon. Anyone else have an experience to share?

During the holidays I got more swept up in ArcheAge and even gave up my solitary ways to spend time causing mischief with guildmates and chatting in TeamSpeak. There is so much drama, soap opera writers would roll their eyes! I’m trying to keep some separation between myself and the worst of it, but I’m in a divisive guild with a polarizing leader. I’m stunned by how much time and money others pump into this MMORPG. I’m limited in both, which keeps me out of the upper tier of players and under the radar for a lot of trouble. However, my gaming/virtual world time being spent more in that world than any other… for now, until I get bored or the drama gets to be too much.

I’ve been trying to divide the mainland parcel I own in Second Life to get down to a lower tier payment, but since I’m dealing with a couple of premium accounts and a group land bonus, the math is complicated and I’m trying to find a last ~100 m² to cut off. It’s been almost a month since Jakob died and spending too much time at that parcel still makes me melancholy. At least his sister has stopped sending me photos of his coffin and grave. It was kind that she included me and recognized that we had been important to each other, but those photos were very hard.

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2016 in Digital Devices, Gaming, Side Topics

 

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Roundup: Star Wars, holiday tech gifts, ArcheAge, yada yada yada

Thank you for all your kind comments about Jakob. Once the waves of grief subsided, I started finding peace with his death. His illness was never going to have a happy ending and it’s a relief to let go of the constant tension of worry and sadness. I don’t have to dread a new crisis each time his sister writes to me. His funeral is Thursday and I’m grateful that it was easy to send flowers to a village in the Rhineland from the other side of the world. Jakob will always be part of who I am.

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Image above from Berkeley Breathed of course. Some heresy: I really don’t care about the new Star Wars movie. I adored the first film of the original series. Robots! Space! Scary creatures in the desert! Darth Vader! Star Wars action figures moved into my Barbie Dreamhouse. After that? Meh. The other two in the first series were fine. A date took me to a midnight premiere of The Phantom Menace and it was hard not to dim his enthusiasm with my wtf exclamations. I hope the new movie is good and more coherent than the last few. If you see it and it’s awesome, let me know.

What technology is on your holiday gift wish list? I’m seeing a lot of hits on my review of the Amazon Echo. I’ve had mine a year and still use it daily, though there’s plenty of room for innovation and improvement. If you’re still looking for ideas, I’m pretty excited about the Anova Precision Cooker I picked up recently ($129 from the Anova website, more expensive elsewhere). This Gizmodo review explains why, with plenty of food porn. As for me, I’ve asked Santa for a Samsung Gear VR. I see it as a starter headset and the device that could spread VR from the narrow band of the innovator market segment into the early adopters.

I’ve remained moderately active in ArcheAge long after I thought I’d give it up from boredom, which says something about the game though I’m an atypical player. I’m not social, I don’t spend lots of money, and I don’t play for hours on end (except for a lazy afternoon on the weekend, perhaps). I’ll never be in the top tier but I’m satisfied. This week I moved from my boring guild of farmers and fishermen to a high level guild that often leads faction raids. I was evaluated on my level, gear, and had to pass a voice interview before I was accepted. It felt good to do my first sea raid with many of my new guildmates and to be praised for my play style. Earning the admiration and respect of one’s peers is a boost, no matter what arena that takes place in. Until No Man’s Sky arrives for the PC next year, you’ll probably find my gaming time spent in ArcheAge.

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Lately I’ve been in Second Life a lot more, relearning how to make small talk and upgrading my neglected avatars (I love the Maitreya Lara body so very much). This week I need to attend the RL holiday party for my husband’s company and that small talk practice will help tame my shyness at the event. Part of that is learning to apply filters to my stream of consciousness again; I’ve had a few years of not holding anything back when talking with my husband and Jakob. When a new acquaintance recently asked some probing questions, in a conversation where I felt that optimistic honesty would be appreciated, I told him the truth about Jakob and my health struggles. His response was more robotic than actual robots and he vanished in a cloud of dust. Ha! I’m not a roleplayer so if I’m asked a personal question that I’m willing to answer, that answer will be true. It will take practice to get back to answering truthfully without spilling my whole life, no matter how nicely phrased.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2015 in Side Topics

 

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Friday night in virtual worlds

It’s been a rough week: I haven’t felt well, the news has been lousy, and I’ve been frustrated and lonely in my online worlds. I’m bored in ArcheAge, though I’m finding some amusement in traveling the oceans, killing sea monsters for drops to upgrade my clipper. Other than that? Blah.

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Second Life hasn’t been much better. SL is a huge space and new users have always complained that it’s hard to find and meet people in it. Well, let me assure newcomers that it’s not much easier for someone shy who has been there a decade! I jumped around the Destination Guide, often finding myself alone in a sim. The biggest crowds were at sexually oriented sims; I don’t shy away from those and I’ve met some great friends at venues with names that would instantly stop my mother’s heart, but I’m not ready for that sort of interaction. I visited a couple of the formal dance venues but I’m a lag snob and a room full of flexi gowns is a disaster. Standing at the side of the dance floor in my light(render)weight mesh gown, I felt like a prissy wallflower. Hmmph. I’m open to meeting people but also wary, as my heartache about Jakob comes to the surface easily when I’m in SL. Someone who meets me now might get a tough facade or thin ice over raging sadness instead of my normal personality.

So, I was delighted tonight when I got a group notice from Hesperia Templemore announcing an imminent performance by Red Heaven featuring Joel Eilde. I hadn’t heard Joel perform in the past but Templemore has never disappointed me and I headed right over. The crowd averaged 50 avatars, which is a considerable number for one space, but his stream was clear and the music was enjoyable. I tipped liberally — the artist, GM/host Bee, and the house — and I hope to go to another show there soon. (Related real world anecdote: I met my husband for lunch at a sandwich shop on Thursday and as we left, I wanted to tip the young woman who had been playing the guitar and singing in the corner, “if she has someplace I can put it,” I said. My husband said that she did, described the white can to me, and added, “After being in SL this long, I can find a tip jar!”)

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I grooved to the music and had a couple of conversations, and all in all, that’s a pretty good night in SL.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2015 in Art in SL, Gaming

 

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I’m still alive, really

I’ve been neglecting this blog terribly. The good news is that it’s because I’ve been busy. My broken leg is doing pretty well, so I’ve gone back to normal activities plus writing. I still read tech blogs and websites, but honestly, research for my novel has taken most of my free reading time. I share interesting finds on Twitter when I can, even if I don’t have time to add commentary or flesh out a post for the blog.

NaNoWriMo starts Sunday and I’m using the event as motivation to get my fingers moving on my novel. I’ve been doing lots of research, plot and character development, and thinking. It’s time for me to churn out some scenes and chapters, even if the first draft is awful and full of holes. Though I consider myself a NaNoWriMo participant, I’ll be out of town for a few days next week and doubt I’ll meet the 50,000 word count goal by the end of the month. I’ll try!

Things are not going well for Jakob. I found out from his sister that he’s not online because he has forgotten his passwords and how to use his devices. Cancer in the brain will do that, it seems. He has stopped chemotherapy and gone back to smoking, though the cancer has spread to his lungs, and his sister is making plans for his end-of-life care. I haven’t signed in to Second Life in weeks because it hurts to go to the land we shared there, but I’m starting to feel the urge to go online and purge it all. I’ve been worried or mourning for 11 months and it’s exhausting; I want a fresh start soon. Is that cold? It’s not that I don’t care about him — I do — but he hasn’t been able to communicate since August and there’s nothing I can do but send him snail mail now and then. I may try splitting my evenings between SL and the MMORPG I’ve been playing, to ease myself back in.

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I’m still playing ArcheAge and my main avatar has reached the maximum level of 55. There is freedom in that: I don’t have to worry about dying anymore because I can’t lose XP. I have fair gear for someone who doesn’t plan to spend an arm and leg on an MMORPG; the gap between what I have now and the next level is crazy. It’s not rare for a single endgame gear piece to cost the equivalent of $100-200… and that’s with a 7-piece armor set, weapon, shield, bow, and instrument. In the most bizarre twist, I’m now an officer in my guild although I rarely talk or do anything with other guild members. Heh. They seem to be nice people, but I don’t want to spend my time doing virtual farming and fishing when I could be learning boss, dungeon, and PvP strategies.

Another post when I have something to contribute to general Internet discussion, which could be tomorrow, could be in a couple weeks. I’m still here. Have a fun Halloween!

 

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Endgame and being a little less solitary in ArcheAge

My husband is out of town this weekend and I’ve spent too many hours playing ArcheAge. I joined a guild with the character I play most often, hoping that someone could teach me PvP techniques now that I’m almost maximum level and have passable gear. I chose the wrong guild for that, but spending time with some of the players was enlightening.

Nothing says tough like a bustier and denim mini-skirt, apparently. This is cloth Auroria armor, not a costume.

Nothing says tough like a bustier and denim mini-skirt. This is cloth Auroria armor, level 50+.

Though I’m primarily a solo player in MMORPGs, I enjoy doing 50-person raids in AA and I’ve done a couple of dungeon runs with pick-up groups. Those reminded me of the joy of having a good team I can count on, like the days in PWI (Perfect World International) when I could do a run with my friends, comfortable that everyone knew how to play his class as well as the particulars of the dungeon and bosses. Adrenaline, camaraderie, and the satisfaction of doing something well; those were a blast. Since I’m afraid of falling while my leg heals, I’ll probably be indoors a lot this winter and it would be good to have some friends online to play with. Jakob has lost his ability to use a computer or his smartphone now — the cancer in his brain has taken too much — so the person I spent time with in the past is no longer around and I don’t have the heart to go back to Second Life yet. (Yes, it’s awful. Deep breath. … Ok now. )

I joined my AA guild’s TeamSpeak channel on a couple nights, mostly listening to the three to five others who were there. There was another woman who sounded like she might be my age or older, who talked only about the pets and children in her home. The rest were men, though they mentioned that the guild may have more active “girls” than guys right now, and they were happy about that fact. Though most of them play female characters because of their sex appeal and they love the sluttiest costumes, they seem to welcome female gamers as equals and friends.

The guys seem nice, but they’re not going to shatter any gamer stereotypes. At least two of three have jobs in retail. They watch anime, argue about superheroes and board games, and despite spending lots of cash and hours each day in ArcheAge, they also play other games and are intensely watching for new alpha and beta invitations. While I pronounce the game “ark age”, they pronounce it “arch age”, which is damned awkward to say. Then again, they also pronounce “chalet” as “shall it”. Clever, resourceful, friendly guys who are willing to work hard to reach a goal, but not paragons of academic achievement.

However, I find their approach to this game tedious. The leader has the philosophy that all guild members should be farmers and traders to earn money for a few months, until we can afford for everyone to have fantastic gear, and then we can start running dungeons and raids, etc. Ugh. I do plenty of farming, gathering, and mining, but since I’ve never owned land, at least I have the challenge of hiding my “illegal” farms on public land or finding places to acquire resources. I know where pearl oysters spawn in the oceans or where you can feed and milk an NPC’s cows, for example. The guys were talking about how much they make by their farming and fishing methods — not counting that they have to buy land, buy supplies, pay taxes, buy boats, buy vehicles, etc. — and I can easily earn double or triple that with no investment, simply by grinding high level mobs for the materials, gear, and cash they drop. Though the different paths are part of AA’s appeal to me, I didn’t join to play Farmville. I may have to find another guild.

Yesterday I participated in my first naval warfare in AA and it was awfully fun, though very confusing at first. I know some of the daily raids cold and my husband chuckles at my fervent swearing when the raid general doesn’t communicate or participants don’t listen, leading to the boss wiping out half the raid. I like learning the strategies and improving my gameplay. There still are many things to do and yes, this being an MMORPG, I do need to work toward better gear for endgame activities. Maybe I’ll keep playing for a while, maybe I won’t, but I don’t see the point of playing in a style I don’t enjoy.

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2015 in Gaming

 

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