About the Study
The purpose of this study is to determine whether and in what ways role-players (RPers) in WoW communicate differently through in-game, text-based chat during roleplay (RP) than during other in-game activities and than non-RPers. Through textual analysis, we aim to use the disparity between RP conversation and other conversation to test the assumption by researchers and players that RPers constitute a distinct group from “mainstream players.” We will run quantitative, textual analyses on the chat logs of RPers and non-RPers in order to investigate any communicative or narrative differences. We will also survey players to gauge their perception of RP and RP communication in-game.
What this Study is Doing Differently:
Despite forays into examining the narrativity of games themselves and a few studies looking at individual groups’ or a single person’s chatlogs, there has been very little examination of player-created narrative in games. The existing research on RP in video games selects RPers based on self-identification, and it focuses on games that have since waned in popularity. Our game of choice is World of Warcraft (WoW), the most popular Massively Multiplayer Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) and therefore potentially the richest and most useful source of player data.
In this study, we will examine in-game, text-based communication of WoW RPers through quantitative textual analyses to investigate whether and how RP as a practice is distinguished by language, and qualitative analyses in order to determine what players add to, and gain from, the game with their RP.
In order to identify RP within the player-created text of WoW, we will perform textual analyses seeking predetermined narrative language use and styles in the chat logs WoW RPers share with us. Other differences and specific linguistic identifiers of “RPing” as opposed to “game-playing” will be determined from the content analyses of the logs. To further elucidate potential differences between the communication styles of RP and other play within WoW, we will analyze the chat logs for these other linguistic identifiers. The study hopes to also compare player interviews with their chat logs in order to determine whether players accurately estimate and intentionally create those differences that do exist.
RP in storytelling and theatre is a historic and present practice, dating as far back as ancient Greece (Corsini, Shaw, & Blake, 1961). In the 1970s and 1980s in the United States, face-to-face RP surged in popularity with renaissance fairs and tabletop games such as Dungeons and Dragons (Barton, 2008), and today, MMORPGs enjoy over 47 million collective subscriptions (White, 2008). Research on RP communication in a MMORPG such as WoW will provide insight into one of the most common modern examples of this long-running narrative and representational practice. In particular, it will generate knowledge about the medium’s unique possibilities for storytelling and interacting in an increasingly digital age.
What Other Relevant Studies Have Done:
The literature on RP in video games has generally focused on the prevalence of RPers in relation to the mainstream gaming population, interactions between RPers and non-RPers, the demographics of RPers, the reasons people RP, and the effects that RP may have on its players. Even in “RPing games,” RP in the sense of acting as one’s in-game character is rare (Taylor, 2006; Park & Henley; Martey & Strom-Galley; Williams, Kennedy, & Moore, 2011). Moreover, there may be segregation and tension between this subpopulation of RPers and the general population of players (Burn & Carr, 2003). Demographically, these studies have found that RPers tend to be younger, more female, and more often from marginalized social groups (Williams, Kennedy, & Moore, 2011). Despite the widespread recognition and study of social interaction within WoW and other MMORPGs, studies on RP have conspicuously not considered this most common player-given reason to RP (Nardi, 2006). What they have considered is whether RPers play to experiment with their identities, to express their true (suppressed) identities, to confront personal issues, or to escape from day-to-day life (Turkle, 1995; Williams, Kennedy, & Moore, 2011). They also find that RP may influence either positive or negative psychosocial outcomes (Turkle, 1995).
Literature Reviewed Prior to Beginning the Study
Visualization of Expert Chat Development in a World of Warcraft Player Group examined the chat channels visible to the player-researcher during their group’s first failure to defeat a specific major enemy and one of their first victories against it, and exposed the potential for differentiating emotive text content by its location within a specific chat channel designed for typing descriptions and emoting (Chen, 2009).
Role-play vs. Gameplay: the Difficulties of playing a role in World of Warcraft established that the high regulation of a game world, in which the extent and results of every action are determined through programming, makes it difficult to RP, and yet some players are drawn to tell their characters’ stories in this manner. While it takes a special effort to RP in this environment, there are also socio-linguistic cues of RP that replace some instances of the “l33t-speak” more convenient to fast-paced gaming (MacCallum-Stewart & Parsler, 2008).
Through the Azerothian Looking Glass: Mapping In-Game Preferences to Real World Demographics analyzed play and achievement matched against self-report surveys to confirm the intuition that players more pressed for time, such as those with careers and families, would spend less time in the game and be less likely to participate in raids and other activities that required large-scale planning and certain times and lengths of participation, while younger males were the most likely demographic to engage in PvP (Yee, Ducheneaut, Han-Tai & Nelson 2012).
Behind the Avatar: the Patterns, Practice, and Functions of Role Playing in MMOs examines who engages in RP and why. It finds that RP in Everquest II is uncommon, according to the answers players selected in surveys, but is more likely to be practiced by members of a minority subgroup or those with some disability. This study’s findings that RPers are more likely to use text chat compared to non-RPers informs our expectation of a higher proportion of RPers in our study than are found in the general population (Kennedy & Moore, 2011).
Real Boys Carry Girly Epics: Normalising Gender Bending in Online Games examines the normalization of cross-gender play in video games through a history of female avatars offering different skillsets, story completion, and simply a cosmetic variation (MacCallum-Stewart, 2008).
Introverted Elves & Conscientious Gnomes: the Expression of Personality in World of Warcraft finds a relationship between “behavioral cues” in virtual worlds such as WoW’s Azeroth and personality characteristics, using the information provided by Blizzard through the WoW Armory to link the Big 5 traits to behaviors such as “ninja looting” and achievements (Yee, Ducheneaut, Nelso & Likarish, 2011).
Doing Gender in Cyberspace: The performance of Gender by Female World of Warcraft Players is an ethnographic study of a dozen female WoW players that finds them to choose female avatars for reasons of identification and to be able to obtain help from other players who believe they are female in real life, while it finds that the wider community tends to assign traditionally feminine roles such as healing to female characters in-game (Eklund, 2011).
What’s ‘Choice’ Got to Do With It? Avatar Selection Differences Between Novice and Expert Players of World of Warcraft and Rift determined that stereotypes, community norms, and stylistic representations of avatars guided selection. Further, avatar gender-based assignation of tasks and roles within WoW occurred more with veteran players, suggesting that they learn within the game itself to expect certain in-game roles and behaviors, such as healing, to be feminine, while other roles, such as “tanking” or drawing the enemy’s attacks so weaker companions aren’t killed, are viewed as masculine (Bergstrom, Jenson & de Castell, 2012).
The Words of Warcraft: Relational Text Analysis of Quests in an MMORPG runs a quantitative analysis on the text of all possible WoW quests, finding very little difference between the aggressive language with which the game presents Horde and all-players quests but finding Alliance quests less likely to stress the opposing faction and more likely to suggest defense as a motive. However, these differences were visible in only a small subset of quests, meaning that overall, the patterns of the provided quest texts were similar (Landwehr, Diesner & Carley, 2009).
Defining the Virtual Self: Personality, Behavior, and the Psychology of Embodiment finds that rather than being extensions or idealized representations of the player, avatars are chosen in accordance with the characteristics permitted and deemed necessary within the framework of the avatar’s particular environment and the player’s goals (McCreery, Krach, Schrader & Boone, 2012).
‘‘I’m Attached, and I’m a Good Guy/Gal!’’: How Character Attachment Influences Pro- and Anti-Social Motivations to Play Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games differentiates player attachment to a controlled character from audience attachment to a read or watched character, and determines that players who are attached to the object of their agency are more likely to engage in prosocial behaviors, while antisocial gamers are less likely to feel attached (Bowman, Schultheiss & Schumann, 2012).
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