What makes MMORPGs so unique when compared to other games is the fact that they must be played with other people. Sure, lots of other kinds of video games allow you to play with other people, but it is usually in small groups (usually ranging from two thirty people), and there is usually some kind of single player mode or campaign mode for those who wish to play by themselves. In World of Warcraft, thousands of people are playing the game at the same time and there is no option to play offline. Even players who define themselves as “solo” will find that their experience of the game will be inevitably influenced by other players; whether you’re selling something at the auction house or you find that someone is hogging all the resources at your favorite farming spot, World of Warcraft is a game that demands interaction with other players. The fact that players are forced to interact with each other creates a sort of mini society within the game, where players form their own set of rules and customs that are not imposed on them by the game itself.
These player created rules are what Torill Mortensen focuses on in “Humans Playing World of Warcraft: or Deviant Strategies?” In the essay, Mortensen talks about how rules, deviance from those rules, and punishment go far beyond the coding of the game. In the essay, Mortensen discusses two main types of deviance: counterproductive deviance, which hinders your own personal progress through the game, and destructive deviance, which hinders the progress or enjoyment of others.
Mortensen uses role playing as an example of counterproductive deviance. Being chivalrous and merciful to the opposing team in battle is not the most efficient way win. Likewise, taking time to enjoy and explore the scenery is time players could be using to train or gather resources. Players who wish to role play will likely be excluded from groups whose main goal is to win the battle or get through the raid as quickly as possible.
Mortensen uses bots (using a computer program to farm for you while you are away) and buying gold with real world money as examples for destructive deviance. They give lazy players an unfair advantage over the players who are willing to put the time and effort in by grinding and farming for their resources and gold. Some players will actively try to root out and disrupt the activities of those they suspect of being controlled by bots. If it gets out that someone has bought gold with real money, that person will be shunned by other players and reported to Blizzard in hopes that their account will be banned.
For the most part, I agree with everything that Mortensen has to say about deviance in MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. Although I have not put enough time into WoW yet to observe all of these issues firsthand, I can recall countless instances where these issues arose for me playing RuneScape as a child. However, all the examples of deviance that Mortensen describes are intentional. Role Players choose to stop and smell the roses instead of farming and grinding. Players who use bots must willingly circumvent the need to farm and grind. I suggest however, that there is a third type of unintentional deviance that can be both counterproductive and destructive: player skill.
I must admit that I am not very good at WoW. I die fairly regularly and I am not very efficient when it comes to grinding or farming. Thankfully, my performance does not affect my grade, but it certainly comes into play within the game. During my time in WoW, I discovered while going through dungeons with other players that my lack of skill is a form deviance. For starters, I unwittingly locked my character into the role of tank , which is apparently a very important role when going through dungeons. They are expected to be at the head of the group and the first ones to charge into battle so that the monsters attack them instead of their teammates. During dungeons, I often got disoriented and lost, preventing not only my own progression through the dungeon, but my teammates’ progression as well. My fellow teammates were quite vocal in their disapproval whenever I got separated from the group or failed to hold a monster’s attention. In addition, I also garnered disapproval by wasting time attacking nonessential or nonaggressive monsters, or ignorantly stumbling into traps. Sometimes, my teammates would get fed up with me and disband, leaving me to go through the dungeon by myself (a task I discovered is virtually impossible). By lacking skill and familiarity with the game I broke a social norm: the game itself might not demand that you be a skilled player, but other players do. As such, I received punishment for deviating from the norm: verbal chastisement and eventually exclusion from the group.
We discussed in class that World of Warcraft enforces corporate ideology. The game encourages players to work long and hard in order to rise through the ranks. The players themselves further enforce this ideology with player made rules and punishments. Players who might not be necessarily breaking the rules of the game, but are instead being “poor workers” are shunned and excluded. The counterproductive deviant is seen as the lazy worker who would rather spend his time hanging out by the water cooler or playing minesweeper. The destructive deviant is seen as the worker who gets promoted over others just because he and the boss are drinking buddies. And I argue that there is a third type of deviance that was not discussed in Mortensen’s essay: player skill. Skill less player can be both counterproductive and destructive and will be punished by the game through death and by other players through exclusion. They are seen as the incompetent workers who mess up the entire project for everyone. As a skill less player I can assure you that neither my employer (WoW) nor my coworkers (other players) tolerate incompetent employees.