Thursday, June 14, 2012

Social Skills in Video Games

I recently came across this video:

I'm not sure how I feel about the overall point of the video. My impression is that he's probably describing a real phenomenon but overstating it's importance. But at 6:07 he starts trashing video games.
I take exception to his comment that video games are all about the present (what about grinding?) but that's not the worst bit. He says video games don't develop social skills. Since he tossed out Warcraft, I'll discuss the mopst popular game in that series - World of Warcraft - to challenge the idea that you can't build social skills through a video game.
World of Warcraft is an MMORPG - Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. This means you play on an online servor along with thousands of other players. You'll see other players wandering around as you walk through the world. Each one of those is another real person, who could chose to interact with. I'd say these incidental interactions are about as common as incidental interactions between people walking down the street. So not common, but it happens.
But World of Warcraft also has more structured multiplayer content, and to succeed at this, you have to interact. I'll talk about all the structured multiplayer content that I have personal experience with, one after another.
Trade
Sometimes players have items that other players want. You can make a lot of gold by trading items to other players. There are two ways to do so - trade chat or auction house (though some people combine the two by advertizing auction house products on trade chat).
Trade chat is a special chat room you enter whenever you're in a capital city. If you want to buy or sell something you can just ask repeatedly on trade chat until you get a taker. People also use trade chat to ask for advice, and to vent when they're frustrated, and occasionally to engage in some of the most bizarre and entertaining conversations in the game. A lot of these conversations take the same skills as the verbal part of real-life conversations.
The auction house is sort of like an ingame version of EBay. You put an item up for auction for a set period of time (usually 24 hours). You post a minimum price for bid, and you can also chose to set a buyout price for people who want the item immediately.
Whether you're trading through trade chat or the auction house, you need to use perspective-taking to make money at it. You have to think about what they will or won't want, and how much they'll be willing to pay for it. The easiest way to answer the second question is to see what others are selling that item for, and price yours near the cheaper end of that range. (I usually set mine as slightly cheaper than the cheapest.)
The way to decide what will sell is to think of what you'd want to buy. Stuff that can only be used by the same people that make it (like arclight spanners) will not sell. Stuff that can be used by a different profession than the one that makes it (eg enchanting rods) will sell quite well. So will raw supplies for professions, because although most people can get the raw supplies they need themselves, it's a lot more convenient to buy it if you have the gold. There are some characters referred to as 'gold farmers' because they'll spend ages gathering supplies that they can sell to others.
Dungeons and Raids
Some zones are designed to be impossible to solo. These fall into two categories - dungeons involve five players, raids take larger numbers. Both dungeons and raids have a team of players fighting very difficult non-player character opponents. And both have designated roles for specific characters, consisting of tanks, healers and damages (a dungeon team is one tank, one healer and three damages, most raids have a similar ratio).
You need to work cooperatively to do dungeons or raids. Firstly, many people may be at different levels of experience with the game, and some bosses have special tricks to them. Very often people will stop before the start of a tricky fight and ask if everyone's played that fight before. If you haven't, they'll explain that you need to get into the shiny triangle when the boss calls for Al-Akir's aid, or two players need to get a stacking debuff on themselves but not let it get to 100, or some trick like that.
You also need to manage conflict. Many people, admittedly, are not very good at this, and many dungeon teams fall apart as a result. But when teams work well together, you can have a very enjoyable experience, and people will often do several dungeons in a row if they have a good team.
Besides the size of teams, dungeons and raids have another difference. Dungeons have a tool for letting the game find you teams, either queueing for a specific dungeon or for a random queue. Raids don't have this system, so you have to find your own team. (You can find your own team for a dungeon too, if you want, or find part of a team and then queue to fill in the missing roles.) There's another city chat room besides Trade chat - it's called Looking for Group. I'm not sure exactly what skills are involved in finding a raid group, but there certainly are skills involved, because I find it really difficult to attract anyone to join my raids. One thing it does take is patience (who said video games are instant gratification?). You're going to have to stand around a long time, repeating your request for a raid group over and over, until you finally gather enough people. And if you decide to try it with the minimum number, you may end up with a frustrating series of whole-team wipes (deaths) because you misjudged your teammates' power.
Battlegrounds
World of Warcraft has two factions, Alliance and Horde. Most of the multiplayer content is for one faction only (there are two trade chats, single-faction dungeon teams, etc), but battlegrounds involve both factions forming raid-group-sized teams to fight each other. There's a capture-the-flag game, a capture-the-bases games, a defend-and-switch game, and a bunch with combined elements. Each require some degree of cooperation to succeed. Like dungeons, you can queue to play with random players, although there are also 'rated battlegrounds' (which I haven't played) which involve guild teams against each other.
I'll focus on the first battleground you can play, a capture-the-flag scenario called Warsong Gulch. In this game, if you aren't strategically inclined, you're likely to end up in the middle of the field, bashing on the other newbies. The more strategically inclined people either hang back to defend their own base, or run in to steal the flag from the enemy's base. When someone has the flag, they essentially have a huge target painted on them, so other people must defend the flag carrier. In addition, you can only capture the flag if your own flag is at your base, so if both teams are running around with the enemy's flag, you need to kill the enemy flag carrier and return the flag (by clicking it) before you can capture their flag.
Strategic behavior also requires knowledge of what other players will do. While several players hanging back to defend the base is good strategy, one or two hanging back are liable to just get killed when a huge horde comes to take the flag. In lower-level Warsong Gulch, virtually no one hangs back at the very start, so you're better off just rushing forward with everyone else. In addition, while a lone character grabbing the flag can make a pretty good distraction, they have very little chance of capturing unless a group comes to defend them.
Another skill in battleground involves the battleground chat, which can be used to communicate to your entire team. If you just use it to scream about how newbie your teammates are, you won't accomplish much. But if you give simple, clear suggestions for how to play more strategically (eg 'kill the enemy flag carrier' or 'everyone rush the green gate') you can often get many of the less skilled players to follow your commands, thereby improving the entire team. (I've been one of those less skilled players myself, so I know what kinds of commands are easier to follow for newbies.)
The battleground chat can also be used to report on the enemy's movements. 'The enemy flag carrier is on their roof' sends everyone who's paying attention rushing to the roof of the enemy's base. In another battleground, 'farm lost' tells everyone that a huge enemy army has taken the farm and we can't get it back, so it's better to go to other bases instead. Whereas 'farm needs help' means we still have a chance to fight them off, but only if more people come to defend it.
And even the simple battles involve social skills. The enemy players are people, and they require a different style of attack than a computer does. For example, if you use a skill that makes you invisible as long as you stand still (night elf racial skill), players know to check for you where they last saw you. They also know to go for the weaker, high-damage characters or the ones who are healing teammates, so the tank role, so effective in dungeons, is obsolete. Stealthy characters can often be found by area of effect attacks, unless the stealthy character successfully predicts where the AoE will be targeted and avoids it. Certain classes are weaker to certain strategies, such as silencing a paladin so he can't heal himself, or ambushing a high-damage ranged character. One of the most key skills to learn is to keep moving - stationary characters are easier to kill, especially stationary ranged characters.
Guilds
Most of the multiplayer content I've described so far is short term, primarily involving interactions between strangers. Not so with guilds. Guilds are long-term cooperative groups of players, who get their own shared bank, their own chatline, notification when a guild member comes online, and a calender to arrange guild events.
Each guild has it's own culture. Some guilds interact very little, others quite a lot. Guild chat can rival trade chat for bizarre playful conversations. You can ask guild members to help you with difficult solo quests, or give you advice or guidance. Guild members may give other guild members useful items, such as profession supplies or larger inventory bags. Guild members of the same level as you can also be recruited for dungeons, raids or battlegrounds, and some guilds have an established raiding team so they don't need to search for people to raid with. Guilds each have their own rules about things like who gets to remove stuff from the guild bank and whether it's OK to ask guild members for gold.
With a guild, you have long-term contact with the same group of players. If you don't like each other, one or both of you may end up leaving the guild, along with possible friends you've made. You may even be forcibly removed by the guild leader. As a result, it pays to be friendly to your guildies. If you get along, you can easily end up becoming friends, or in rare cases even lovers. (There are married couples who met through World of Warcraft.) In some cases, guilds can become extremely important to people. They are a community, just as much as any real-life community such as a PTA or a sewing circle. The one difference is that the demographic is much broader, including peoples of all ages and from different countries.
So anyone who thinks video games don't build social skills has not played World of Warcraft.

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2 Comments:

Blogger Unknown said...

While I do agree MMO's require a great amount of interaction (and people have made legitimate friends over such games), it's still not the same as genuine interaction.

In the same way it's easier to talk to someone over Facebook chat (or back in the day MSN and AIM messenger), online game interaction removes the subtleties. On top of that, it removes much of the "consequences".

People act much differently, openly, and awkwardly when they're playing a game because they can. If they make to many enemies, they just move to a new server. The world, even though it's filled with real people, is still a fantasy.

That isn't to say I am against such games. Personally, I play videos for the story and experience (in the same way people read a book or watch a movie). When I do play online, I typically like to play with people I already know. That way the interaction transfers into the real world. It carries actual weight.

I think the important thing to remember is balance. Between life and imagination. Between work and play.

8:43 AM  
Blogger takeshi007 said...

MMORPG games are now popular these days and some of those games are RPG and strategy games and MMORPG is like social media because you can communicate with other people or players.

Play Kill the zombies

3:20 PM  

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