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Monday, November 29, 2004

MMOs Part 2

This time I played Lineage, not just to have fun, but also with an eye of an instructional technologist, specifically looking at points David Merrill and Kurt Squire have made.

First, some background. Last time, I played mostly with a group of people who seemed to know what they were doing. “Seemed” is the focus of that statement. I gave them such credit and reputation because they had higher levels than me, had better artifacts, had played longer (pretty easy to assume that since I had not played at all), and generally had some goals in mind. But, I realized after a while that they had no clue what to do either. This was blatantly apparent when their main questions became, “So, it looks like to get through the dungeon, we need a red key. Does anyone have a red key?” Indeed, it was, to borrow two phrases, the blind leading the blind and pooled ignorance. But, truthfully, I had no better option, so I just followed them around, hoping to gain what I needed to out of the experience.

That was last time (an aggregate of my experiences last week), on to this time (an aggregate of my experiences this week). I made the decision to not travel with a group this time, prepared to accept whatever dire consequences that might ensue. For some reason, I found the experience much more enjoyable. Perhaps it is my personality of individuality, wanting to figure things out on my own, and leadership—who knows.

I learned something really important right off. I could not figure out why I was only at level two and everyone else I had played with was at least at level seven. I knew that fighting enemies made my levels go up, but for some reason fighting in a group gleaned me few rewards. I still have not figured out why group fighting did not level me up faster. So, this time, alone, I threw out the question to the first unoccupied co-player I found, “How do I level up faster? I am on level two.” Surprisingly, he responded, “You can get to level five on the dummies.” Since I had no clue what he was talking about a little conversation continued until I knew where to go to fight the dummies. I followed his advice and sure enough, in a matter of minutes, I found myself at level five. It was almost too easy. This taught me that sometimes what is good for the group may not be what is good for the individual…especially since I never figured this out while fighting in a group. I had to be alone.

So, once leveled up, I figured I would try what the group was trying last week: to go through the dungeon. Then I remembered that they were always asking about a red ring. So, I thought I would just explore the terrain a bit more, since I hadn’t up to this point. I talked with people and I attacked anything that I could (I killed a frog, how morbid). Inside of one of the buildings, a girl said something like, “Hi, I make things, mostly jewelry, if people bring me stuff so I can make them.” I thought that was nice, but not that interesting….and then, wait, did she say jewelry?....like maybe a red ring? My interest was piqued, so I continued talking. Sure enough, she made rings, but I didn’t have the necessary materials….so, bam, just like that, I had a purpose, I had a goal, hurray, I needed to get money and metal. This I knew how to do from playing with the group last time. And off I went.
So what does Merrill say about this? Well, it was certainly problem centered (I needed to level up but did not know how). It definitely activated my previous experience. I did want to demonstrate my new-found knowledge (fighting enemies at level two is much more embarrassing than at level five). I knew it would be easier to pursue a goal at a higher level (hence, application of my new knowledge). But, I’m not sure about integrating my knowledge into everyday life. I guess one could look at it two ways: one, if everyday life is the character in the game, then integrating would be using leveling up to do other things, which certainly happens; or two, if everyday life was my life, outside of the game, then integration might be me incorporating ways of knowing I learn from the game (like asking others, just-in-time instruction, learning by doing, etc.) into my real life. Either way, Merrill’s five first principles are covered.

And how does this relate to Squire’s Replaying History article. First, it was odd reading an article based off of his dissertation. I’ve actually read his entire dissertation (a qualitative case study) and I attended his dissertation defense. So this marks the first time I’ve read an article based off a study with which I was already very familiar. Okay, back to the point. I certainly felt confused wondering around the game not knowing what to do or what the purpose was. This felt like a very constructivist way of doing things and was certainly how the students in Squire’s study, play Civ III felt. But eventually, through playing knowledge emerged. I also exemplified learning through failures. I died and restarted so many times I can’t count. My favorite way was when I decided to quit playing so I wanted to go out in glory by taking on a huge creature, one that I had never fought before. We both ended up delivering the final blow at the exact same time and we both died together. It was a classic ending. And, I think I had some powerful learning experience that occurred outside the game, mostly as I pondered what I had learned while crafting this blog entry.

Monday, November 22, 2004

MMOs Part 1

It was frustrating at first playing Lineage online. I had no clue what the point was. The number one question I kept typing in at beginning was, “Where am I supposed to go?” Nobody was responding. Luckily, I had played some real-time strategy games, like Warcraft and Age of Empires, so I at least was familiar with how to walk around the terrain.

Then, since around ten class members had arranged to be playing the game at the same time, I eventually found some friends. They answered my questions about how to put on armor, how to buy potions, and how to weld my sword. But the best guidance I received was given me by a person who began playing the game on the computer right next to me. He was a little more experienced than me. I don’t think I would have learned as quickly had he not pointed to parts of the game and said, “To do [whatever] you must do this.” It is just too cumbersome to try and describe certain things virtually.

I did find it interesting that those who could answer the questions the best, tended to not want to help. The expert-looking players, when I asked them a question, tended to write, “LOL” and then they would disappear with some magic spell, leaving me to fend for myself. My most frequent question once I got into the game a bit was, “What goal are we trying to achieve?” Nobody would answer this. They would say things like, “We are powering up to get stronger.” To this I would reply, “Yeah, but why….what are we supposed to be doing?” I came to the conclusion that they either did not know, did not want to tell me, or there was no real goal. Maybe this next week of playing will yield some better results.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Online Identity

I got thinking about if cooperation (however defined) can succeed without accountability and trust. I’ve come to the conclusion that it can. Just think of all the Usenet newsgroups. People can ask questions and get responses from people who have no reputation and/or very little identity. The questioning person can then use the information from the responder to act in a certain way. Thus, cooperation can result.

Now, yes, I agree that a receiving person will act differently depending on the perceived reputation or identity of the sender. Think about asking for medical advice in a newsgroup. Let’s get even more specific. Think about asking for advice about how to deal with cancer. Anybody could respond and the actions could actually be highly effective or highly detrimental.

So say the cancer patient asks for advice and two online identities (presumably two different people) respond. If one of the responses appears to have come from someone with a medical background—someone who a lot of others have given positive feedback, thus having a good reputation—then the receiver might actually do what the responder says with little hesitation. Now, if the other response comes from an anonymous person or someone with no track record, then the receiver might do some more research before doing what this responder says to do. Does one interaction imply more or less cooperation? I don’t think so. It’s just a different kind of cooperation. And, I do not perceive one type of cooperation to be more valuable than another. In one instance the information could be more valuable, but the cooperation value is the same.

So, what about accountability? What about, using this same example, a person who is deliberately sending out deceptive signals? Yes, that would be hard to imagine that someone would intentionally deceive a cancer patient, but it could happen. In such a case, the costs of finding the deceiver and proving the trail of deception is very difficult, as Judith S. Donath mentions in her article http://smg.media.mit.edu/people/Judith/Identity/IdentityDeception.html . My opinion is, why try to catch such a person? What’s the point? I would rather have a system where the bad signals are filtered out by all the good. For example, what if our cancer patient asked his question and instead of only two responders, there were 100, and, perhaps they could build upon each other’s responses. Then, the bad would likely be filtered out and the good would kind of become the average of the responses of those that remained. That would be a better system for our cancer patient.

But then, I’m caused to question something else. What is the trust, reputation, and identity of large groups in the virtual world? How is this determined? And, how can there be a group track record establishing trust, reputation, and identity? Is it based on the individual users’? That could be time-consuming to determine. And does every single group have a different identity? Or could there be an average identity that can be expected for any given question? Would there be an expected value of the signals that could be received based upon the question and the number of responders in the group? I wonder?

Monday, November 08, 2004


I used MIRC and went to channels: #Beginner, #Family_Chat, and #FunnyWorld

Compared to LmabdaMOO, using IRC felt much more formal. Maybe it was the constant feeling of knowing there was a channel op that was always looking over my shoulder (or at least the possibility existed). I didn’t feel as free to write whatever I wanted because there was that potential of being kicked out or even permanently blocked. Of course I knew that if that happened that it may or may not have been anything I did, but psychologically, getting kicked out—especially as a newbie—kind of does something to your spirits.

It felt less free, more onstrained. I didn’t feel I could write about anything I wanted. There seemed to be boundaries. I felt more required to stay on topic, whatever the channel was focused on. And it wasn’t for a lack of anonymity. It just seemed that the feeling and reason for using IRC, instead of something like LambdaMOO, was to stay on topic, a specific topic.

There was not a metaphorical feeling of going from one room to another. Even when going from one channel to another, it just felt like I was entering a different chat session, nothing more. For some reason I went into this thinking it would be more game-like and it wasn’t at all. No “playing,” just “chatting.”

The whole new world of commands and emoticons was tough to get used to…I still don’t think I am, even though I was familiar with some of the emoticons. It’s just different with non-CMC. Nothing can really replace being in person with somebody, communicating.

Monday, November 01, 2004

MUDs ‘n’ MOOs

It’s amazing to me how much social interactive environments I’ve never even heard of. MUDs and MOOs, for example, I never knew existed. I do admit, however, to catching some co-workers of mine in years past typing away at Telnet-like interfaces. When I would ask what they were doing, they’d simply say something like, “Oh, just playing a game, an older one that just uses text; you probably wouldn’t be interested.” And that was it. I’d move on with my life. But now, I realize that the game was probably a MUD or a MOO of some kind. So, I related when the Cherny (1995, p. 2) article stated, “users are well-practiced at MUD conversation, spending several hours every day online, often while working. The community views the MUD as an extension of real life, rather than an escape from it.”

This medium is different than other social environments, like blogs, threaded discussions, and fanfictions. In my mind, the main difference is that people in the community can interact with each other through artifacts. In the previous environments, the members of the community interacted one with another directly, either synchronously or asynchronously. In MOOs, users can interact, create, and affect artifacts which can then be discovered later by a different user. That artifact can be changed or moved in such a way that it communicates a message to another user who encounters.

Unlike my co-workers, I do not view these environments as games. But, thanks to the Bartle (1996) article, I understand how I view them. I am more of an explorer/socializer, to use his terminology, instead of an achiever or killer. I tend to like just roaming about MUDs and MOOs sort of as a pastime or as passive entertainment. I do not really have a goal in mind (maybe, in part, due to my lack of experience in the environments), so it cannot really be considered a game for me, and I certainly do not view the experience as a sport, like hunting or fishing. Maybe there is a hierarchy of levels in a MUD or MOO: as a user gains more experience, they move from being a passive explorer to an aggressive killer. Just a thought.