Enter At Your Own Risk

After reading Andrew Hinton’s article, “We Live Here: Games, Third Places and the Information Architecture of the Future,” I had to sit back for a moment and think about what I had read. He writes, “By understanding how a game is essentially a systemization of human behaviors toward some common enterprise, we can better understand the nature of what the Web is becoming.” Although I do agree with this statement, if the Web can be foreseen based on the interactivity between individuals in online games, I have both positive and negative outlooks for the future of the Web. Hinton’s article covers the positive aspects of the online community in various different programs, but doesn’t cover possible negative scenarios or downfalls to social interaction in particular games.

In the article, Hinton makes reference to some players in a Quake game telling him, “We live here,” in regards to familiarity of a particular map. Regardless on who made the game map, if players are that familiar with all the items, secret routes, and workings of a map, they have spent an excessive amount of time in that level. Now, for anyone who may have no familiarity of the game, Quake, it does resemble its predecessor, Doom, which is a game about having weapons and killing opponents. Even though a player can interact with others through textual chat during the game, most of the time, people don’t stop to make general chat about life, but rather send insults via macro-messages about a player’s death.

There are more games with this same concept, but since technology has greatly changed since Quake, players can do more easily than before. One game that has grabbed people’s attention in the online gaming community is the popular Halo gaming franchise. Halo 2 for the Xbox gaming console connects Xbox Live subscribers, which has reached over two million users last year and has since grown (as noted by ZDNet), to one another in hunting down and killing each other. Now, with headset abilities with the Xbox and Xbox 360, people can now talk to each other without interrupting game play. Although some games do have elements of teamwork and positive communication between friends, ultimately, they are there for the same goal of taking out another set of players. Now, instead of textual insults, players can express themselves verbally how they feel about another player’s death. With all this, the icing to this cake is that players are willing to pay a fifty dollar a year fee to continue their Xbox Live services and to keep playing Halo 2 online.

Both Quake and Halo may be fun, but players are not thinking about the advances in communication abilities when playing them. They’re thinking about raising their kill counts and gamer scores. While simulation games, like Second Life, give a player the ability to be open and free to create and do whatever they please, it’s hard to attract ‘hardcore’ gamers to that kind of genre, mainly because those kinds of gamers want to connect to popular games with fantasy and violent behaviors attached to them. With Second Life, people don’t even have to pay to play in the game, but because it isn’t what is ‘popular’ to play and there is no clear goal to the game, those gamers are turned away from communicating with others in a friendly environment in favor of heading back to running around with guns and killing people.

Even a fantasy based game, like the popular World of Warcraft (WoW), can have very social and openly friendly atmospheres, where people can have the same style of interactivity that Second Life has. However, the main purpose of the game is still the ultimate goal, and that is to take out enemies and other players. My own sister had been talking to me on this issue, and made the statement, “Yeah, you can meet up with friends in World of Warcraft, but all you do in the end is kill people and level up. That’s it.” She had also mentioned to me from her experiences playing in WoW that people interact with others very differently depending on how much they disclose about their true selves. If she kept her real gender a secret from other players, the game went on as if no one noticed or cared. However, if she were to tell someone she was a female, players will either be overly friendly and sometimes flirty, or she would get special treatment, such as being given rare items or invites to groups she had been denied entry to before. When a player’s perception of the fantasy gaming has been altered, their behaviors alter too. Communications through a gaming medium, at least, serious communications, is very hard to accomplish, because people’s behaviors and attitudes reflect the activities they are performing, and in this case it is still “killing stuff.” (Huizenga) Plus, because this game is very popular, gamers do not mind paying fifteen dollars a month to connect to their friends to go around and kill things, yet playing a game like Second Life for free with the same friends wouldn’t nearly be as interesting to them, because of a lack of things to kill.

Even though there are programs designed with positive interactivity in mind, the majority of online gaming revolves around two major factors: violence and money. Even though each of the mentioned games does include a connected social environment, the main reason people go online to play these games is to complete a particular goal, such as killing another player, and they are willing to pay real money for the experience. Marketing teams and developers for games like these know that violent games are the top selling games on the market, and will keep developing these games to make money off of these violent behaviors, instead of being innovative with game play and communication in online multiplayer games. If our outlook on the future of the Web is determined by programs such as Second Life, then we can expect a promising advance in technological communications. However, if we look towards Quake, WoW, and Halo for insight into the future, we can only expect more online negative behavior and chaos.

Resources:

Hinton, A. “We Live Here: Games, Third Places, and the Information Architecture of the Future.” ASIS&T Bulletin August/September. http://www.asis.org/Bulletin/Aug-06/hinton.html

Huizenga, H. Verbal conversation. October 3, 2006.

ZDNet. “IT Facts: 2 mln XBox Live subscribers.” December 30, 2005. http://blogs.zdnet.com/ITFacts/?p=9820

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~ by Cliff Huizenga on October 3, 2006.

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