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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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