Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Espen Aarseth's "A Hollow World" and Experiencing Games

“The notion of a ‘gameworld’ is a tricky one, since it implies that what we are looking at is actually a world. Games have carefully constructed arenas optimized for gameplay, and their resemblance to real worlds is usually second to their function as playground and social channel.” (Aarseth 121)

In “A Hollow World: World of Warcraft as Spatial Practice” Espen Aarseth examines the gameworld of World of Warcraft and argues that the primary function of this constructed space is not a sense of realism but a mediation of the pleasurable experience of the game. That is, space in WoW is designed to be quick to navigate while giving the illusion of complexity. He proposes that space is artificial or “slick” meaning that while it appears fantastic, it only functions to channel players through the world; players never have ability to actually change physical space of the world or leave a mark on it. Instead of responding to the players the world only changes and expands as a the game is updated, which Aarseth suggests is a marketing model intended to attract new players and to keep old players coming back, similar to theme park expansions.

A second aspect of his analysis examines the space of WoW in terms of distance. He writes “not only are the distances absurdly small, but the curious adjacency of glaciers, marshes, jungles, deserts, and agonistic ethnic groups and wild life challenges the critical explorer to take the world seriously.” (Aarseth 120) Aarseth uses the size of objects in the game world to evaluate the size of the world itself, what he argues is that in terms of real world equivalents the gameworld of WoW is only about several miles across. This diminished space has two functions: first, it makes travel more feasible and, second, through non-linear exploration it allows for an exaggerated sense of scale. Obviously the compressed space of Azeroth allows players to move between points in a timely fashion. Aarseth compares exploration in WoW to the distances traveled by characters in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, where places are hundreds of miles apart. He proposes that while these distances pose no real problem in literature, where the reader is not actually forced to endure the duration of this travel, in the gameworld travel times must be compressed to preserve enjoyment. This demand for quick navigability necessitates that the gameworld be small. In order to then preserve the illusion of space the navigation of this space is regulated and non-linear. Instead of allowing players to simply walk across the map, their movement is regulated by quests and high level monsters which limit access to particular zones.

So, this regulation of compressed space coupled with the fixity, or hollowness of the gameworld produces what Aarseth identifies as a theme-park-like environment. This study is interesting as we consider digital labor and play because it suggest that the gamewold is designed in order to diminish the labor of play- the effort and time spent traveling, and to maximize the sense of exploration and progress. Furthermore, by considering game-space Aarseth presents an interesting approach to the study of player experience in games. We can begin to see the psychological (maybe affective?) relationships players form based on the space of the gameworld.

Monday, March 14, 2011

There is a paper proposal in here somewhere...

So I’m killing two birds with one stone here, I said I would mention this article I read in Wired last weekend and I also need to come up with a paper proposal, this is me doing both.

The article that I am referring to dealt with the Wiki-Leaks labor model and suggested that what provides the website with content is not a paid labor force but rather a collection of individuals working and providing information out of a shared ideology or shared support of the site’s revolutionary project. The article went on to suggest that despite the community effort which keeps Wiki-Leaks provided with information, the actual control of the site and its content is reserved for its founder, Julian Assange, who retains final say over what gets posted and what doesn’t. So, while the work which powers Wiki-Leaks is done as a shared community project, the regulation of the sites content is closely monitored by one person.

The author of the article goes on to suggest that this structure must become more egalitarian or Julian Assange will quickly become one of the elite his website seeks to challenge. While this challenge to Julian Assange is interesting, what is more compelling is this articulation of the model of labor employed here. The work done by Wiki-Leaks contributors reflects a number of free labor practices employed in digital space. Obviously the Wiki model itself is predicted on community participation and contribution but taken more generally forum participation, YouTube posting, Blogging, Facebooking are all examples of free labor provided out of a shared community interest.

(Paper Proposal!?)
Considering this participation as an example of free labor it seems that beta testing also functions as a space in which free labor from a community of users is channeled for particular corporate endeavor. Indeed, in beta-testing the link between free community labor and private benefit is more apparent than in forum participation or wiki contribution. Considering that beta testing has become a fixture in contemporary product development a study may consider the development of beta testing as a form of free labor essential to digital product development, a labor which changes the relationship between tester and product and consumer. (Patching and use as perpetual test/labor cycle? Maybe. Affective relationship to labor? Less sure about that.)  

Friday, March 4, 2011

Schiller Chapter 1

In “The Neoliberal Network Drive Originates in the United States” Schiller provides a historical discussion to the emergence of network technologies, associated companies, and the laisseze-faire attitude towards regulation which these companies proposed. What Schiller suggests is that while originally closely regulated, telecommunications and network technologies became increasingly unregulated; the result is a business model for communications technologies which become the norm both within the US as well as internationally.

While the historical discussion of the development of communications technologies itself is quite useful as it outlines the development of the internet and modern network technologies, this concept of a laisseze-faire approach to communications business and technologies is particularly interesting. Speaking anecdotally, this idea of network technologies as un-regulated space seems to extend in many was to the way that we conceive of network content, that is the internet is seen as a space of un-mitigated cultural expression and like a hands off system of economics, the assumptions made regarding web content suggests that this content respond naturally to extant demands or markets. We also see this concept of the internet as a self-regulating or free market manifested in current debates around net neutrality. The idea being that individual service providers could determine what content is made available as a means of marketing, similar to the way certain countries limit content. Schiller’s discussion provides an economic based genealogy for this concept of information technology while simultaneously revealing the very real corporate and government structures that do control these networks.