By Cassidy and Peter
As Jane McGonigal says during her talk on TED TV, “We like people more after we’ve played a game with them.” Games build trust with another person and function as shared experiences. In many cases, the interaction born out of games is most important, not who wins or loses. Take two games that are seemingly unalike: Geocaching and World of Warcraft. Geocaching is the outdoor game of using GPS coordinates to find hidden caches while exploring important or interesting areas of history. World of Warcraft is an online multi-player computer game where the forces of good and evil clash. But these two have something in common: the journey or quest involved, which, for the players, is typically more rewarding than actually coming to their destination. In both, hard work, cooperation, and a few tips and tricks from peers are what help players succeed and what builds a strong, tightly knit community.
WHAT IS GEOCACHING
Geocaching is a GPS based treasure-hunting game that is played throughout the world by going outdoors to locate hidden containers, called geocaches. A player finds a geocache that he or she wants to explore on Geocaching.com and inputs the coordinates. Though the GPS device will bring players close to the hiding spot, the description and hint on the geocache website can help bring players to its exact location. After the cache is found, the geocacher should sign the logbook. If the player takes an item that can be found in some of the larger caches, he or she must leave something of greater or equal value. Upon finishing, the geocacher is supposed to hide the cache exactly as it was found, in effect resetting the game.
From the rules and goals stated above, it appears that geo-caching fits well within the ludus genre of games. As Cassidy will mention, ludus is a word used to describe a game with clear goals and a defined delineation between winners and losers. Ludus games normally are composed of a three act structure in which rules are acknowledge, a second act where players perform, and a third act that concludes the game and draws the line between winners and losers. Paidia games, on the other hand, rely on manipulation rules that do not state a winning scenario but instead allow tolerance towards an option by allowing the possibility (i.e. The Sims). Much like the overall goal of The Sims is to build a city, the overall goal of geocaching seems to be to create an adventure. A user does not need to find the cache to ‘win.’ The discovery of a unique locale or learning something previously unknown is itself rewarding.
The paidia elements of the game have led to the creation of a unique and ever changing experience. Certain cachers take pleasure in crafting creative hiding places or creative containers (start video at 2:00). Their goal in geocaching is to create a unique and memorable experience for those that attempt to find the containers. Another player minted his own geocaching coin to leave in the caches that he visits. He spawned a whole new dynamic to the game that even changed the standard form of play. While most items that users take from caches are then passed along and relocated to other hidden containers, the coins became a collectible item meant to be kept by the finder. Caching for coins became more competitive since the first person to get to a coin would be the one to keep it. In another evolution, hiding a geocache in an unreachable spot can itself be a reward. Richard Garriot placed the highest and lowest caches.
Some of the paidia elements of the game have actually led to direct social change, achieving Jane Mcgonigal’s stated goal in her TED Talk. Cache In, Trash Out encourages users that cache to pick up trash in the surrounding area to help ensure the protection of the environment.
I wanted to start my geo-caching experience earlier in the day so that I could avoid being swarmed by ‘muggles.’I woke up at 9:00 AM and headed towards the coordinates, N 40° 42.240 W 074° 00.634. The initial part of my trip felt relatively mechanic; I submitted to the GPS and followed its direction to the coordinates, which brought me to the Financial District. As I got closer to the destination, however, I began to feel a tensing excitement.
Though the GPS placed me within the vicinity of the cache, only the hint and riddle I had printed would allow me to zero in on its location. I read the information and uncovered that the street I stood on had been created in the 1600s and the buildings of the area had been preserved since the mid-1830s. At this point, the game began to reveal its ability to create a simulated experience. It had influenced the model with which I perceive the world and made normally routine occurrences lead to a unique set of reactions because of the game’s effects. My surroundings no longer served merely as a background. Each bench, nook, and sign directed my focus because of their potential as a hiding spot for the cache. The search experience also altered the way I interacted with other people that would pass by. When a man walked by looking at his phone, I immediately assumed that he too must be on the search for the same cache, and I therefore stared at him with a knowing anticipation. The more I searched, however, the more I realized people began to fade from focus and had become the background to my game, creating a stark inversion that contrasts with how I usually interact with my surroundings. While not a virtual simulation, I found that Geocaching creates a distinct model through the source system of real life. While on the hunt, regular inputs such as passersby and static environmental objects took on a different meaning than they usually do and led me to interact with the inputs in a unique way with the expectation of a distinctive result.
After 15 minutes of searching, I had begun to give up and hopelessly wandered the same areaover and over, telling myself that if I didn’t find the cache by the 30th minute I would give up. At around the 27th minute, I blindly stuck my hand up behind a tall street sign and felt a loose object. I had the unforeseen victory that Jane Mcgonigal would describe as an epic win. I opened the nano cache and pulled out the log to sign it (but it was completely full) and read the names of some of the people that had found it.
I then interacted with the paidia elements of the game. I participated in Cache In, Trash Out. I enjoyed an area of Manhattan that I rarely visit and saw a commercial filming at the stock exchange and the Wall Street bull.
Though the geocaching community is quite massive with over 1,333,953 active caches and over 5 million players, the experience of going on a cache hunt does not rely on direct interaction with other individuals within the larger population of cachers. Geocachers rarely meet each other in person, instead limiting their contact to indirect actions such as signing the paper log in the cache. The indirect actions, as Jane Mcgonigal discussed, also help build trust within the community. It is expected that players return the cache to the same location, placing any rocks or leaves the same way they had been before the cache was found. If the individual takes an object, he or she must place one of equal or greater value, again assuring the consistency of experience for other players. Gamers trust each other in the act of playing the game by agreeing to follow certain rules. If a cache has been missing, however, it often takes multiple users to confirm the cache’s disappearance because if only one player didn’t find it, it could have been because of a lack of skill. Users then post to the online log (scroll near the bottom of the page to see log) that cache has been missing and the individual that placed the cache can give someone permission to place a new one or replace it themselves. Geocachers also post a brief log of their experience online, discussing the experience of finding the cache (scroll to the log, my ID is pan257).
GEOCACHING As NEW MEDIA
While geocaching relies on new media elements such as a website and GPS device, it seems that the elements do not serve a central purpose of the game but instead facilitate the play of it. A GPS makes finding the cache more accessible to users who can’t use a complex system of maps; but, it is still possible to use maps to find caches. The online website, however, serves a central purpose of allowing a bottom to top hierarchical approach as discussed in Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody. Any player can hide a cache and then post the location online, making the cache an accessible adventure to all geocachers. The short logs near the bottom of the page help provided users with an idea of how to find the cache, the experience of finding it, and about the area around the container. The logs, therefore, rely on the large community to provide information on the experience of the hunt that allows the player to decide whether he or she wants to go searching for the particular cache. By sourcing information from the community, this lowers the player’s risk of having a negative caching experience.
WORLD OF WARCRAFT – PLAYER INTERACTION
You’re a level 23 Night Elf priest. In your realm of Aerie Peak, the goblin horde is corrupting the wildlife and attacking your people. As a priest, it is your duty to become the best healer and sorceress to protect other Night Elves fighting on the front. To do this, you must fulfill quests given to you by higher-ups. The objects of these quests are to discover unknown places and resources, therefore increasing your experience, and to locate items that may be vital to fighting off the horde and protecting yourself.
This is World of Warcraft, an online massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) with over 12 million subscribers as of October 2010, according to its developer Blizzard Entertainment. Every day, thousands upon thousands of players of every age, in dozens of different countries, log in and hunker down to play their favorite avatars. In a game with such a huge number of players where the virtual space of Azeroth—the world in which World of Warcraft takes place—rivals our own, it seems intimidating and nearly impossible to meet other players. However, Blizzard does a good job of breaking players down into smaller groups—first by the realm (or server) that their character is placed (or stored) in; then by guilds, which players are invited to join and receive certain perks for agreeing to deposit a percentage of their lootings into the guild bank (looting occurs when your player kills a member of the horde and takes money or desirable objects from the corpse). For example, my character, a Night Elf priestess named Malagatha, is part of the WTF Guild, which boasts a membership of 267 players and grows every day. With each quest completed, your character’s relationship with the guild improves. If you complete enough quests, you can become an esteemed leader of the guild and be the person that less experienced players look to for advice. Much in the vein of the American dream, if you work hard in Warcraft, you’ll be acknowledged and rewarded for it.
Besides realms and guilds, players also meet and interact with each other through randomdungeon raids. To participate in a raid, you are placed within a group and expected to work together to defeat the horde and earn extra goodies that you wouldn’t otherwise find during your usual quests. Another way that players meet each other is through forums on World of Warcraft-related sites and WoWWiki, a Wiki that recounts the history of the game and each of the races involved in it. Players form bonds through choosing sides (with the alliance or with the horde), and their races. The races for the alliance range from human, dwarf, night elf, or gnome, and the races for the horde are orc, undead, tauren (a weird bull-like creature), or a troll. Players can also identify with each other through their classes—as warriors, priests, rogues, hunters, shamans, warlocks, or druids (described as a shape-shifting hybrid class by WoWWiki).
I conducted a survey on SurveyMonkey.com and posted it to two World of Warcraft forums and one Warcraft LiveJournal community. The survey was mostly focusing on quantifying how many “friends” players make in the virtual environment and how they go about meeting these other players. Thus far, 20 players have filled out the survey. These are some of the results:
“I get to enjoy a fantasy world through the interaction of my own and other players’ avatars.
the years that I’ve played, I have made friends on a variety of levels. Some I only interacted with through the game and that friendship only lasted while playing together in the same guild, others I interacted with through the game and am currently still friends with, and lastly there are a select few who I’ve met through the game and then got the pleasure of meeting in real life and become closer friends.” -Male, 17-23, U.S.A.
“Started playing WoW to keep in touch with friends elsewhere in the country, as my husband is in the military and we move a lot. They run a guild, and yes, I’ve made friends with other people in the guild.” – Female, 24-30, U.S.A.
WORLD OF WARCRAFT – GOING DEEPER
In Gonzalo Frasca’s “Simulation versus Narrative: Introduction to Ludology,” he defines games with set rules and clear goals as ludus, and games lacking structure in which the player is given more leeway as paidia. For example, a game of chess would be representative of ludus, as there are rules that must be followed to win; something like the Sims would be likened to paidia, in which the player has different paths he or she can explore, with none of them necessarily being wrong. I argue that World of Warcraft is a blending of both paidia and ludus. There is a set-up to keep players on track and advancing (quests), but the players decide if they want to fulfill those quests. If a player’s heart so desires, he could spend the rest of his time in Azeroth killing and skinning deer to make weapons and armor for other players, instead of sticking to the plan of defeating the horde.
So, what exactly does World of Warcraft teach us then? Jane McGonigal, a game designer, discusses the social good of games and how they teach us important skills that can be used in the real world—namely “urgent optimism (extreme self-motivation), creating a social fabric, blissful productivity, and epic meaning (awe-inspiring mission).” I believe that while World of Warcraft does have its pitfalls—like apparently being “more addictive than cocaine” and being named as a cause of a 13 year old boy’s suicide—it is effective in creating a very tight knit community that is more than willing to trust each other and work together to accomplish a shared goal. Of course, if players fail, there are no consequences in the real world. However, many studies have been done which link World of Warcraft to real life productivity, like WoW making a person more intelligent and helping to build better workforces.
For the players of World of Warcraft, the reasons they keep playing are similar to Clay Shirkey’s ideas about the blogosphere in Here Comes Everybody: “As the author and activist Cory Doctorow puts it, ‘Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.’ The conversation that forms around shared photos, videos, weblog posts, and the like is often about how to do it better next time.” For World of Warcraft players, it’s the tips, tricks, and useful items that are shared. The game almost fades into the background and the interaction with other players during raids or helping with quests that receives the most attention. In many cases, conversation about the players’ real lives spills over into the game, showing that it is a place to find people with shared interests.