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Tag Archives: TERA

Thoughts on virtual gender, appearance, and performance

Over at Motherboard is a short piece about a virtual gender stereotype experiment conducted at Stanford University. Basic concept: users competed against bots to complete math problems. Regardless of physical world gender, when users were assigned male avatars to compete against female bots, they were most successful.  The avatar representations were simply cartoon faces (dark eyes and hair, pale faces). Here’s the paper. I like that they were diligent about standardizing the perceived attractiveness of the avatars and tested whether existing mathematical ability was a factor, based on SAT math scores of participants. Still, could there be something else at work beyond the expected stereotype that males are better at math than females? I’d love to think so, but I’m not sure.

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Katteker in TERA at level 27

Shifting gears, after I got bored with the lack of endgame for a solo player in TERA (or any MMORPG, really), I thought I’d try a small experiment of my own. How would the experience be different if I played the same class but with a radically different appearance?  My level 60 lancer — tank class — Karbyne is rhino-like and scarred, with a name that references the hardest element now known.  My second lancer, now level 28, is about as twee as I could manage.  She’s short with purple pigtails, stars on her cheeks, and squirrel ears and tail. I dubbed her Katteker, which means squirrel in Low German.  I set new rules for myself, too: if someone specifically invited me to join a guild, I would say yes.  If someone addressed me directly in conversation, I would answer. However, I wouldn’t seek to socialize any more than I did with my previous character.  The first result I found was that Katteker was recruited into a guild at level 17, compared with Karbyne, who reached the level cap guild-less. Secondly, random strangers give Katteker buffs almost every day (for non-gamers, that means they cast spells that give her short-term advantages, like greater endurance or faster healing). The strangers don’t stop to talk, though I usually say a quick “thank you!” in local chat. That never happened to Karbyne.

The most dramatic differences are within me, though. It’s more fun to play as Katteker. Her movements are light-hearted and upbeat rather than the angry, aggressive animations that are standard for Karbyne’s race, and my emotional state is influenced by that. For example, when both characters stand still, Katteker will eventually start to dance, then later to clap her hands on an invisible bug. Karbyne sneers and lunges menacingly. I’m excessively amused by playing an adorable purple squirrel-girl who is a ruthless tank. It might be that the gaming part of my personality is inclined toward cuteness and fun, Ratchet & Clank rather than Call of Duty, so I’m more comfortable playing as Katteker.

So, here’s what I’m pondering today: if I was designing a story-based video game, I might want to manipulate the emotional states and preconceptions of players by forcing them to play with different avatars during specific chapters of the game. Personally, I would want to challenge stereotypes as I did that: featuring female avatars in some logic-based segments and male avatars in emotional ones, and including avatars of assorted races and belief systems as primary characters, not just sidekicks and enemies. But what if I was developing a business or educational application that used avatars? I always prefer a system that allows users to choose and modify their own avatars, but would performance be better if the system forced avatar choice consistent with stereotypes about a particular task? I find it offensive to think about limiting mathematical tasks to male avatars and nurturing tasks to female avatars, for example, but if my goal was peak performance….  Hmm.  I think a compromise might be to allow users to pull from a varied set of default avatars for each task or to customize their own. If I felt my best “accounting self” was different than my “presentation self”, I could change avatars or make modifications to my base avatar, rather than having the system choose for me.

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Posted by on August 23, 2014 in Embodied Experience, Gaming, Gender & Sexuality

 

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MMORPG endgame for a solitary player: now what?

I hit level 60, the current level cap for the North American servers in TERA, about a week ago. In TERA, the endgame is presented as a long push for better gear so that you can run higher dungeons to get better gear to run higher dungeons to get better gear to run higher dungeons. Nope, not a typo. There are also various raids and some things you can solo, but the endgame is designed around group play and maximizing the stats on your armor and weapons. I’ve managed to get this far alone and only talking once (to a player who asked if I was looking for a guild, to which I replied, “no thank you”). What do I do now?

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Realize I’m nearing the end of playability of the game and plan accordingly

I don’t need maxed out gear and I don’t care about impressing others. So, I don’t have to hoard materials or work on my crafting skills. Recently there was a weekend event where blue boxes with random gifts spawned around the game world. I found over 150 of them during the course of my normal questing; I sold some of the contents (except things that couldn’t be sold, like the fashion coupons I traded for the outfit my avatar is wearing above) and sold 20 unopened boxes. That gave me enough gold to cover my in-game expenses for a while, so I don’t have to worry about farming materials either. It’s nice not to feel any pressure and just do whatever I want.

Complete accomplishments that are solo-able

Even though I got to level 60 without doing group dungeons or raids, I still have some zone quests left to complete. There are some BAMs (big ass monsters) I haven’t been able to defeat. TERA has an Achievements menu with various things I can still do, ranging from finding hidden paths up mountains to defeating a boss over and over. There are daily quests that give reputation points that allow me to buy decent gear and other things. I can solo some bosses in multi-player dungeons if I don’t mind going slowly.

Play in the way I enjoy most

I finally hid global chat. I had enough of debates about the sexual interests of people who like Elin characters, arguments over trolling alts, discussions of anime, and childish obscenities. I also don’t care about killing many mobs (monsters) at once. Sure, I could round up a bunch and fight them together, but I’m perfectly happy doing one or two at a time and then moving along. Some people on the TERA forums are enraged by solo players, screaming that we shouldn’t be in an MMORPG if we want to play alone, but I really don’t give a damn about their opinion and can play as I please. I have to use different skills than other lancers (the tank class I play) because I never partner with healers or damage dealers, but it’s simply a different and not inferior style. (How hard is it to use aggro and blocking skills over and over, anyway?)

And then?

I could start over playing a different class of character, but honestly, I like being a tank. So, once I get bored with my solo version of endgame, I’ll leave TERA. It’s been a nice time-waster and I still think the landscapes are fantastic, the combat system is interesting, and it’s not as grindy as some say. If I wanted to meet people and build some relationships in a guild, I could get a lot more out of it, but that doesn’t interest me right now. Overall, I’d recommend it. Maybe I’ll use some of the cash from recent birthday presents to buy into the beta of ArcheAge when it opens… hmmm.  Alpha access is a bit beyond my budget for a tertiary hobby.

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2014 in Gaming

 

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The continuing adventures (?) of a solitary person in an MMORPG

Though I have spent less time than usual at my computer since late Spring, when I’m feeling burnt out and just want a simple activity to multitask while watching videos, I turn to TERA. It’s less mindless than casual gaming of the “match three” variety, yet doesn’t require the attention of Second Life.

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Karbyne in TERA, level 47

My avatar is now level 47. I’m in no rush to move up and I spend a lot of time mining and gathering. I’ve earned enough to buy myself a pirate costume, which you can see in the photo above. I like it. It hides my mismatched armor and — with a leather vest, jacket, and pants — almost seems like reasonable clothing for a warrior. It’s a lot better than the crotchless armor I got through reward tokens after tons of grinding. I wish I was joking.

I’ve gotten to level 47 without talking to a single person or participating in any group activities. This takes effort in an MMORPG. I’ve had to forego quests that required parties for completion and have died many times taking on Big Ass Monsters (BAMs) by myself. Since I’ve played an MMO before, this is a careful and conscious choice: I don’t want to get sucked into the interpersonal drama. I’m also not interested in doing the endgame push for the most powerful gear, especially since I’m not spending any money, and gear is important for the tank in a group endeavor. So, I’ll continue to solo what I can and get my gear from drops, rewards, and the trade broker (in-world auction house).

TERA landscape screenshot

Wandering the edge of the TERA map

The scenery and character design in TERA is stunning. I spend some of my time just wandering the fringe, often off the game map, climbing mountains and swimming into the distance to see what I find. The designers put a lot of work into areas that are never used. Clearly they guessed there would be players like me, because there are some in-game Achievements based on unnecessary mountain climbing and almost-hidden paths.

That said, my style of play is unconventional at best. The mindless grinding that most players complain about is fine with me. Kill 30 of these and 20 of those? Sure thing, boss! My self-imposed isolation means I don’t get to experience the large battles or multi-boss dungeons that many players would consider to be the core of the game. I miss the fun of doing challenging things with trusted friends who knew how to play their roles well, but I’m not invested enough to seek that camaraderie here.

My approach to TERA has some financial advantages. When I played PWI, I had the latest outfits, best gear, and a cool mount (creature to ride), and put about $20 into the game each month. My TERA mount in the photo above is a limited-time reward that will disappear; my usual mount is an incredibly dorky music-listening duck wearing a rainbow afro wig and sneakers. He’s not cool or cute but he runs as quickly as the more aesthetically pleasing mounts and was very cheap in the trade broker. I don’t have to equip my gear with crystals to keep monster aggro (attack focus) because I’m not grouping with others who might come under attack. TERA also has an armor slot for underwear, which boosts certain stats and raises maximum HP (hit points – life energy). I was surprised to see that the cheap insulated underwear had the same stats as the silk items that were selling at far higher prices. The insulated undies work just fine.

Choosing to play an avatar that is rhinoceros-like, with large scars crossing her face, helps free me from my own aesthetic leanings, too. I don’t worry about making her pretty or sexy: I want her tough and capable. That is clearly an unusual approach to this game, where almost all of the female avatars I see are wearing costumes to appear extremely kawaii or sultry. I don’t recall seeing another female Aman, the rhino-like race. That’s giving me a lot to think about at night as I do my mindless grinding and binge watch Luther on Netflix.

Dafi mount and crotchless armor

A dorky mount and crotchless armor

 
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Posted by on July 16, 2014 in Gaming

 

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