This is a beast of a post (although not as long as some others).  I am attempting to make some sense of my argument for my paper, so I am being thorough in the hope that I can get some good feedback.  Thanks in advance if you read all this. :)  Enjoy the journey:

In making my thoughts and assumptions explicit, I have very strong opinions about how World of Warcraft favors certain playstyles over others.  I feel that the design and “loudest” player groups have created a game culture that favors ambition, aggressiveness, and a focus on certain achievements over others.  (Warning: The following sentence might be highly subjective or half-baked).  High level or “epic/elite” activities, raiding, or player vs. player are seen as “better” than any-level activities like exploration, pet collection, or crafting.  While these any-level activities are not seen as unimportant, they don’t have near the prestige of the other activities, and are often treated as a means to an end.

So for my paper, I am analyzing FigurePrints, a service offered by Blizzard that allows World of Warcraft players to create a custom 3-D statue of their avatar in the game (for the mind-boggling price of $130).  After my first attempt at doing a semiotic reading, I have a vague sense of a thesis.  This is something along the lines of: The FigurePrints interaction favors dominant, aggressive, and high-level players over players that are low-level or less concerned with aggressive or competitive play.  I am trying to be careful that I don’t twist the evidence into saying what I want it to say, so I am posting this in the hopes that someone might tell me if I am just making stuff up, or if there is some legitimacy to what I am saying.  Or perhaps I just need to word my thoughts a different way.

I begin with a statement about what the figure itself represents.  It is a text that represents the player’s time investment, their attachment to the character and the character’s place in the history of the game lore, the character’s (and player’s) growth over time, the character (and player’s) growth in a larger social context of friends and other players in the game, and on and on.  It is a text of rich and personal meaning, and the choices that FigurePrints provides limit players to only certain kinds of meaning.  I will illustrate this with a syntagmatic and paradigmatic analysis of the choices provided to players in the creation of the figure.

Syntagmatically-speaking, the creation of the FigurePrints statue consists of choosing from a Pose, a Base, and a set of Armor.

FigurePrints main editing screen

I think I need to explore the importance of limiting players to these 3 choices, but as of yet I haven’t analyzed it that much.  However, I currently can adequately speak about what each of these paradigms represent and what choices are given.

Pose as a representation of body language

Players can choose from 44 different poses, 33 of which involve the use of a weapon and depict the character in battle.  This leaves 11 poses that could reflect the character out of battle.  Of these 11 poses, 5 are gestures that depict behavior that is aggressive or negative in the culture of World of Warcraft.  There are the character poses of yell, chicken (taunt), rude (making an obscene gesture), train (a gesture that represents a despised activity in which a player or players, on purpose or on accident, lead a large group of monsters to another player resulting in chaos, game lag, and death), and beg (perhaps an even more despised behavior than a monster train).

The remaining 6 poses are stand, walk, wave, kiss, kneel, and sit.  Out of 44 possible representations of body language, this seems to be a very limited range of choices for creating a character figure that is NOT fighting or calling attention to the negative cultural aspects of the game.  Granted, the game is called World of WARcraft, not the World of Politeness and Compromise.  However, there is much more to a player’s character and gameplay than fighting.  Players engage in arguably more social/helpful scenarios than they do in fighting, and they collect plants, mine for metals, go fishing, craft items, and engage with storylines.  But there are no poses for any of these.

Base as a representation of [something]. < I don’t know what to put here yet.  It is a symbol of elevated status, of standing on top of something, of being built upon something.  I don’t know.  Anyway:

There are 4 choices of statue bases:

Choices for figure base

Marbled Floor: The “plainest” of all the bases, but represents a material of luxury and importance.

Horned Stand: Horns are aggressive, bestial, and associated with violence

Gold Mound: wealth, greed, achievement

Onyxia Base: This one is interesting in that it cost an extra $10, perhaps due to printing constraints.  However, more cost is usually associated with a “premium” or “superior” product, which in this case is the base that represents a large, epic battle against a dragon.  This particular battle is a well-known (relatively-speaking) raid in World of Warcraft, and is sort of a rite of passage for players that begin raiding.  Here the “premium” product is reserved for players concerned with raiding.

What is missing from this assortment of bases is the choice to have your character standing in a meadow, or at a crafting station, or near a fishing hole, all of which are places that exist in the game and can have very special meanings for players.

Armor as a representation of fashion and achievement

Choices of armor are limited to the armor you have actually collected in the game.  In the analysis I did, a level 80 character that has done many raids and player vs. player fights has 10 armor options as opposed to a level 20 character who has 3.  Additionally, 2 of these options are for Christmas outfits that every player has access to.  If you remove those options the armor choices are 8 to 1 in favor of the player that engages with game activities that reward players with special armor.

As I mentioned before, there are an incredible amount of activities that players can engage with.  Players can follow the storyline, harvest materials, craft items, play the stock-market on the auction house, explore the game world, collect pets, teach other players how to play, help out other players with difficult situations, make new friends, and on and on.  However, these activities in themselves are not rewarded with special sets of armor.  Special sets of armor are reserved for players that engage with high-level game content, and are successful in killing “epic” monsters, or defeating other players in tournaments.

Since FigurePrints only allows players to “dress” their character in the armor they have acquired in the game, this places a much higher value on high-level players concerned with raids and player vs. player activities.  This is most evident in the words used in the instructions:

Instructions for choosing what armor to put on the character

These are the instructions shown to all players, regardless of if they have 8 sets of high-level armor to choose from or 1 low-level set of armor.

Any player without high-level armor could be described as either not interested in those aspects of the game that provide the armor, or as not “advanced” enough to have acquired it.  By not providing this player with as many options to “dress” the character, the player is limited in the ways he or she can create a meaningful representation of his or her character.

FigurePrints situated amongst other texts

And then I can also talk about FigurePrints as a creative activity concerned with creating an artifact that represents the player’s character.  In seeing FigurePrints as this, I can compare it to many other artifacts that are created to represent the character:  costumes, drawings, forum signatures, fan fiction, and the WoW Armory just to name a few.  In exploring these artifacts, I have seen an interesting occurrence: artifacts that are created from scratch by players have very different qualities than artifacts that are generated using information from the game.

Some future design implications?

Namely, game-generated artifacts seem to focus on achievements, statistics, armor, and items.  Player-generated artifacts seem to focus on personal stories and social elements.  Some of this is discussed by Silvia Lindtner, Bonnie Nardi, and Fernanda Viégas.  This will be more important in the future as representations based on digital data become a source for decision-making.  If social spaces like World of Warcraft use their digital data to reduce the rich experience down to statistics and equipment, what implications does that have for the ways in which we value others and ourselves?

My next step will be to go back to my readings and start pulling out stuff that either explains in better detail what I am talking about or helps support my claims.  From there I will start constructing some sort of coherence.

Anyway, thanks for reading this.  I welcome all feedback, and I am especially concerned about:

  • Am I twisting the evidence to support a bogus claim?
  • Is there a better way to word this claim? (I think there is)
  • How might I construct this argument for my paper?
  • What have I missed?  Am I lacking something critical to making this argument?