I’ve been thinking of what community to use in my documentary.
a) Smogon University
b) Addicts of WoW (World of Warcraft)/retirees of WoW/ Alcoholics Anonymous equivalent
Dean has been advising to use WoW as my community, as it is closely related to my minor thesis that I’m working on this semester. It is tentatively called “Is there a world after WoW?” What I’m trying to do is explore the motivations, pleasures, and frustrations of playing WoW, and what leads people to quit the game. Essentially why I’m doing this line of research instead of a more obvious question such as gender and identity construction is because I have to cover a gap in the research. And not much research has been done on just why people choose to retire from WoW. It’s not as straightforward as simply getting tired of playing this game, there are a myriad of reasons and motivations, because playing WoW is not the simple activity one might envision about playing computer games.
The average WoW player spends twenty hours a week playing, with the more dedicated players perhaps spending twenty hours a day on the game. The average age of MMORG players is around 26, 50% of them work full-time, 36% of them are married, 22% of them have children, and contrary to popular stereotype, only 25% of them are teenagers. Basically you have a bunch of people (8.5 million of them in 2007), choosing to spend significant amounts of time and money in a virtual world, in which conventional definitions of play such as Salen and Zimmerman’s that games must have a “quantifiable goal or outcome” are overturned in favour of a system that strives to be open-ended and never-ending.
Deep and intricate social systems are needed to tackle the higher end of WoW gameplay, with your group raids (basically an attack on a specific level or dungeon typically stuffed with extremely powerful monsters for the chance of obtaining rare equipment) and your massive Player vs Player (PvP) fights, both requiring an incredible degree of group coordination and timing. Hierarchy is very significant here, with guild roles such as leader or other administrative roles bearing heavy responsibility. To reach a high level in WoW, not only will you have to invest months and months of dedicated play, but you simply cannot get anywhere without building up a substantial social and support network. What then, motivates a player who embraces the nature of all this, to walk away from it?
Some motivations I have discovered involve the collapse of hierarchies, sometimes when members of a guild “executive boardroom” chooses to leave, the guild collapses because efficiency and ability has been compromised perhaps beyond repair, and a multitude of people simultaneously quit as a result. Why not join another guild? The idea of collective knowledge is one that does not just apply to power gamers, and it roughly means a group of people being active and progressing in a game because of their shared knowledge and experience. Quite often, they move in packs, and simply move around from game to game. Another reason to quit is the time previously taken to establish a social network, and when this network starts to degrade, people decide that they do not want to start from zero, and quite often after playing for so long their principal pleasure in playing is derives from social networking.
So you can see there is a multitude of questions to ask, and now here’s a transient spaces related question.
What is a community?
Between my two choices, Smogon and WoW-related communities, I can define Smogon as a community with much greater ease. It is many things, a bureaucracy, a governing democracy, a forum, and an economy. Basically Smogon is the premier competitive Pokemon battling community in the English-speaking world. They discuss strategies, analyse the state of the “metagame” which is their term for the shifts and flow of power, trends and status quos in the battling world.
Smogon is the most comprehensive and accurate online resource for competitive Pokémon battling. They offer articles and advice via community forums to help fans of the game compete at every level while honing their skills in every aspect of competitive Pokémon from team building to battling tactics. The players involved go into extreme depths in what is generally seen as a kid’s game, hacking into game code to obtain data such as:
Damage Formula = (((((((Level × 2 ÷ 5) + 2) × Base Power × [Sp] Attack ÷ 50) ÷ [Sp] Defence) × Mod1) + 2) ×
CH × Mod2 × R ÷ 100) × STAB × Type1 × Type2 × Mod3
It’s not just battling, the community spills over into other areas such as breeding, where people spend hundreds of hours trying to breed the perfect Pokemon, trying to get the last digit on the random number generator to hit 32. It is pretty mindboggling the amount of effort people put in, and the degree of number crunching involve, just to squirt what is essentially just a nugget of digital information
Here’s an example of the numbers involved, taken from the Smogon breeding guide. Warning: please skip this section if you find this kind of thing incomprehensible. I know I do.
How to discover the IVs of your Pokémon
(Italics are my notes attempting to make things a bit more comprehensible)
You might think that the IVs (individual value numbers that determine the statistics) of a Pokémon can be found rather easily among that particular Pokémon’s stats. The truth is, the game conceals the IVs of your Pokémon, and rather well at that. So how can we discover the IVs of our Pokémon?
When you breed a Pokémon and the egg hatches, the Pokémon will hatch at Level 5. (In DP, it hatches at Level 1. To make it Level 5, give it 4 Rare Candies (An item that raises the level on your Pokemon.) Even at this low level, you can have a rough estimate of your IVs by looking at the babies’ stats if you know the base stats of that Pokémon.
First of all, let a be the base stat without its last digit, and b be the last digit of this base stat. For example, if the base stat is 105, then a = 10 and b = 5.
Now, at Level 5, if a particular stat is unaffected by the Pokémon’s nature, that stat always has the following minimum and maximum numbers:
If the stat is not HP (Hit points denoting your vitality):
Minimum stat is a + 5
Maximum stat is a + 6, if b is between 0 and 4
Maximum stat is a + 7, if b is between 5 and 9
If the stat is HP
Minimum stat is a + 15
Maximum stat is a + 16, if b is between 0 and 4
Maximum stat is a + 17, if b is between 5 and 9
If the stat is boosted by the Pokémon’s nature (a particular trait of the Pokemon that affect its statistics) and the stats above has more than one digit, add the first digit of that stat to it. For example, if the minimum stat calculated above is 8, then it stays 8. If, however, it is 16, add 1 (the first digit of 16) to 16, becoming 17.
If the stat is hindered by the Pokémon’s nature, first subtract the stat by 1. Then, if that resulting number has more than one digit, subtract it further by the first digit of that stat. For example, if the maximum stat calculated above is 10, then subtract 1 from it, becoming 9. Since 9 is a one-digit number, it stays 9. If, in another example, the maximum stat calculated above was 13, then subtract 1 from it, becoming 12. Since 12 is a two-digit number, we subtract it further by 1 (the first digit of 12), becoming 11.
Also, if your Pokémon has a maximum stat at Level 5, then:
If b is between 0 and 4, then the IV for that stat is between 20 – 2×b and 31.
If b is between 5 and 9, then the IV for that stat is between 40 – 2×b and 31.
The above information can be used to see roughly if the Pokémon’s IVs are bad, so that you can release it immediately if they are not good enough before proceeding to find the IVs more exactly.
Let’s give an example. Suppose you have bred a Magikarp (a fish Pokémon), and want to check if your Speed stat has a good IV or not. Let’s assume that your Magikarp has a Jolly nature.
Magikarp’s base Speed stat is 80. In our case, a = 8 and b = 0. So the minimum speed stat is 8 + 5 = 13. Since the stat is boosted by Jolly, we add 1 (first digit of 13) to 13, becoming 14. The maximum speed stat is 8 + 6 = 14. Again, since the stat is boosted by Jolly, we add 1 (first digit of 14) to 14, becoming 15. So, if the Magikarp’s speed stat is 14, you can dismiss that Magikarp out of hand.
If the Magikarp has a maximum Speed stat of 15, then its IVs are in the range 20 – 2×0 and 31, i.e. between 20 and 31.
Let’s give another example. Suppose you breed a Timid (a specific speed boosting nature) Treecko (a tree Pokemon) and you want it to have a high Special Attack stat. Treecko’s base Special Attack is 65, so a = 6 and b = 5.
Its minimum special attack stat at level 5 is thus 6 + 5 = 11. Its maximum special attack stat is 6 + 7 = 13.
If your newborn Treecko has a special attack stat 11 or 12, then you dismiss it. If it has a Special Attack stat of 13, it means that its Special Attack IV is between 40 – 2×5 and 31; i.e. between 30 and 31 – a very good IV indeed.
End of Excerpt and Death on your Eyes
So, some people in the world spend their waking days breeding the perfect Pikachu. And in turn, there is a virtual economy that exists, of trading Pokemon. The aesthetic beauty of a Pokemon, the novelty of the move set (attacks that a Pokemon carries), the perfection of its battling statistics, and the simple fact of whether any other person has chosen to devote weeks to breeding a perfect specimen of a perhaps unremarkable species.
There is a sort of irony that exists in this economy, in which the greatest sin is that of hacking, as that defeats the whole time-consuming exercise of breeding, if you can hack it in seconds. However, the whole virtual Poke-economy is based around a tenet of hacking that is condoned, which is cloning. After all, you cannot have an economy if you cannot manufacture your product, or in this case, reproduce your prized Pokémon.
This creates an interesting quandary; how far does one take this “necessary hacking”? Is the instant hatch hack, which cuts down breeding time immensely, an ethical choice, from the viewpoint of a breeder?
At the same time, you have underground Pokémon black markets, in Germany and Italy, where unethical hackers trade hacked Pokémon for the prized “legitimate” Pokémon of other economies. This unsurprisingly creates outrage in communities such as Smogon, and the community goes to great lengths to hack check, as well as delve into game source code to further innovate measures to ensure breeding legitimacy. This raises another question; if a person is willing to take the time, or rather willing to take the shortcut to save time, to hack a Pokémon, what on earth is he or she doing actually trying to trade for legitimate Pokémon when it could be hacked with less time and effort?
I suppose it is for the prized commodity of certain community-famous Pokémon that a hacker might go some lengths to obtain, but it is interesting to question the motives of the so-called Pokémon black market.
So what defines this community? Common interest: Pokémon battling and everything related. It’s a virtual community, and lacks geographical localization. Another common denominator is English. It is a rule on Smogon to speak English, and grammatical correct English on their forums.
Dabbling on their site for a few minutes, I was infracted after five minutes for two instances of improper grammar!
Smogon also carries several institutional and social functions. It is a governing body, determining tournament tiers and rules, and the methods it uses to resolve issues of dissent are highly democratic. For example, take the banning of a simple hammerhead shark like dragon Pokémon called Garchomp.
Garchomp had been seen as a certainly powerful, if not particularly versatile Pokémon at the outset of the newest generation of Pokémon games. He had access to a move that essentially doubled his attack statistic, called Swords Dance. This was however, balanced by the fact that he had a hybrid Dragon-Ground typing, which meant that he took quadruple damage from one of the most common attack types in the metagame; Ice. The fact that he could knocked out easily by virtually any ice attack ensured that he was never seen as a top-tier competitor.
People soon figured out that if you stuck a certain single-use item to halve the damage of said Ice attacks on Garchomp, with his great speed and access to an attack boosting move, he would become an uncounterable Pokémon. Smogon was quick to this trend, and their October report showed that nearly 80 percent of Pokémon teams in the Standard tier had a Garchomp on it. It was time to get the land shark banned.
Administrators set up a separate, Garchomp-less server for players to play test a metagame without the looming shadow of the dragon Pokémon, and set up a voting process, in which players had to build up a sufficient competitive ranking to be able to vote. They also set up multiple discussion boards where the pros and cons of banning Garchomp was debated endlessly. Having previously gone through a more open-ended voting system that proved to be very problematic, Smogon decided to let their best and most experienced battlers have the final say.
The debate raged on for weeks, with a new generation of battlers weaned on quick success with their Garchomp-centered teams arguing that Garchomp played a central role in the metagame by keeping other certain top tier threats in check, and that a good competitive battler would automatically build several Garchomp fail-safes into their teams. They pointed out to ban Garchomp would shift the entire focus of the metagame, which was becoming increasingly fast paced and offensive, in an unnatural manner.
The argument against Garchomp was that of “overcentralisation”, that it was not good for the metagame to have virtually every team built around, or built to counter Garchomp. And that Garchomp broke one of the central dynamics of Pokémon battling, that of rock, paper, scissors. With only one (albeit highly glaring) weakness that could be remedied with an item, Garchomp could simply kill anything in front of it. Sure you could kill it with an ice attack after your first ice attack had been softened from the single-use item, the Yache berry, but you had to let something die to Garchomp. The fact that Garchomp dictated that you had to sacrifice at least one Pokémon just to stop him, was felt by many to be a direct contradiction to the central philosophy of Pokémon battling.
In the end, the vote was cast with an overwhelming 72 percent voting for the banning of Garchomp. All this was done in a month. Imagine, if in the world of soccer, that foreign takeovers of football clubs were banned, for the economic inflation of transfer rates and salaries created by the whims of billionaires buying their favourite clubs and splurging hundreds of millions of dollars on star players. Obviously takeovers such as Roman Arkadyevich Abramovich’s buying of Chelsea F.C., create huge inequalities in financial power, and make the idea of equal competition in the modern game almost unthinkable.
Smogon has other functions of debate, but I think my post has gone long enough, and I have said a lot about a community that I already choosing to not cover.
Perhaps a post in redundancy.
I have a small grasp of the inner workings of Smogon, having studied the community for a feature story for another elective, but I will probably go on to do a documentary on a WoW community, perhaps The Truants, a WoW Guild made up entirely of academics, or perhaps WoWdetox, a volunteer-run web site aimed at people with a gaming addiction to WoW, where gamers and ex-gamers can share their testimonies freely and anonymously.
There are several limiting factors such as the fact that I do not play WoW, and am trying to educate myself about the game this semester.
WoW is general is a huge community, and I need to narrow it down, and it presents a huge variety of ways to attack it in terms of theory.
For example WoW is certainly a community of shared activity, and one activity defined by Lisa Nakumara in Cybertypes: Race, Ethnicity and Identity on the Internet (2002) is “identity tourism”. The world of WoW is divided into two factions, the Alliance and the Horde, and she suggests those who play the Alliance choose to slip into roles that follow Western fantasy and video game conventions, and those who play the Horde are choosing to appropriate an identity that is informed by a “otherness”, a opposite to white Western value, or colonization. Horde players may also do so in order to challenge the normativity that gives rise to this dichotomy, and is an example of the hybrid identity of the WoW player/avatar and how it can be used for “identity tourism”, and well as subversion of expected norms.
I guess I will need to further narrow my approach to community within WoW, and more thoughts will follow. I know that long posts are discouraged, but somehow I seem to fall into this trap inadvertently, (or perhaps stubbornly).