Archive for the ‘Social Dynamics’ Category

Fishing On An Acid Trip

Friday, January 27th, 2012
We're not in Kansas anymore.

In anthropology there are two terms used to refer to how someone experiences culture: etic and emic. Similar to the concepts of objective and subjective, if you’re talking about your own culture, you’re probably giving an “emic” account. If you’re attempting to describe Final Fantasy XIV, you’re doing so from an “etic” perspective.

Or you’re a nitrous oxide-sniffing space alien. I get the two confused.

Full Disclosure: I have no experience with the first Final Fantasy MMO (FF XI), nor have I played any of the single-player titles (FF’s I – XIV). I’m not sure why I have avoided the franchise for so long. I suspect I may be intimidated by how the games are chronologically ordered: Some sort of Roman numeral, base 23, pentadecimal system?

So yes, I freely admit that I may not be this Japanese MMO’s target audience. But regardless of how etic my perspective may be, a game’s story and characters need to have some universal elements that are easily identifiable to any audience, regardless of their cultural background. Or at least I would expect an MMO of this caliber and budget to try to aspire to that level of appeal? Instead, my first hour with FF XIV was filled with enough incomprehensible psychedelic weirdness to make Hunter S. Thompson think he was Gomer Pyle.

After creating my dark-skinned, but distinctly Asian-featured fisherman (why is it almost always impossible to create a black female character in a fantasy game?) I was immediately subjected to a rather long and involved cut scene. Followed by another cut scene. Which was immediately followed by yet another cut scene. And another one. This long series of cut scenes was only briefly interrupted by a very protracted and awkward fight sequence in which I threw rocks at a pack of wolves for over 10 minutes, (seriously, it took me 10 minutes to kill three wolves!) and the 15 minutes I spent doing a boring and unintuitive fishing sequence.

My entire time in this game felt less like a game and more like an interact-able movie. The art design was gorgeous, but I rarely had time to explore it as I was yanked from one cut scene to the next. At every turn the game seemed to be yelling, “Look at this magnificent story we have created for you!” Never mind the fact that the story they were trying so hard to impress me with was nearly incomprehensible. Treants. Moogles. Woodsin taint. Greenwrath. Dance lessons? After a while I gave up trying to make sense of it, as the game didn’t seem to care whether or not I was actually having any fun.

I often complain about the fact that many MMO’s don’t have children in them. Lord of the Rings Online and Dungeons & Dragons Online are two notable offenders. This omission is always a bit immersion breaking for me, as I begin to wonder just how the inhabitants of a given world exist if they don’t procreate. But Final Fantasy XIV has the weird distinction of having too many children. And not just regular kids, but also adult humanoids who look like kids. This was further compounded by the fact that it was impossible for me to create a female player character who looked more than a day over the age of 17. As an adult woman I’m not interested in having a teenage avatar, but the game’s rather creepy fixation on young, scantily-clad girls dictated otherwise.

“Yes we’re sexist and ageist, but isn’t that flying, flute-playing marshmallow kitten thing just adorable?”

Ain’t Misbehavin’

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

The other day I was playing Allods Online. I had a quest to kill a mob that required a group. Not wanting to wait in what could have been a very long respawn conga line, I formed a raid to facilitate the process.

The terrain of the area had a small but steep hill where players could stand on top and hit the mob with ranged attacks. Since the mob could not path to them, it would automatically reset. Players quickly recognized this exploit and used it to grief others. Soon the situation devolved into a profanity-laced 3-ring circus, with the griefers taunting the raid members, the raid members yelling epithets at the griefers, and the mob yo-yo-ing between the two. All of this in an effort to get credit for completing an incredibly ill-conceived quest.

Oh, did I mention that I was level 5 and this took place in the beginner area?

But this post isn’t about the game’s questionable design choices. Goodness knows I could rant about that for paragraphs. This is about the behavior of the players.

I felt as if I was wrangling a bunch of 6th graders on a playground as I tried to cajole and placate everyone involved. Based upon the amount of verbal abuse and general lack of emotional maturity exhibited, I wondered afterward if perhaps I was dealing with kids. And it got me to thinking about why bad behavior is so prevalent online.

Mike Krahulik of Penny Arcade attempted to explain this phenomenon with his Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. Although the online disinhibition effect does account for much of it, I think there is also a generational component.

We have all kinds of social constraints in place to facilitate co-existence. We learn at an early age the consequences of stealing someone’s lunch money or lying about our homework. But our rules of etiquette haven’t caught up to our technology, which has resulted in a technological generation gap. Parents may be concerned about their children being exposed to objectionable material online, but they fail to realize that controlling their child’s own objectionable behavior is equally important. I doubt that many parents have the time or inclination to closely monitor how their children interact with others online. Many probably aren’t even aware of the significance of establishing some form of online etiquette.

It’s unlikely that a child will be traumatized by seeing a pixelated ass cheek. Bullying and name-calling is far more damaging, especially when it’s done anonymously. Until we create consequences for bad online behavior, or remove anonymity completely (which I am in favor of doing), 12 year-olds will be typing “gaywad” and “STFU” without any recognition or concern for the harm they’re causing.