Embodying the Avatar: Experiences in WoW

In my search for a good methodology, I’m trying out different techniques of gathering information. Some theory, some gathering player responses, some visual analysis. This one is some interviewing. I interviewed two friends, one over skype, the other through Facebook messaging, about how they relate to their avatars and experiences in WoW. The first one was entirely unstructured, I just kept asking questions. From what I asked them, I narrowed down the main topics of conversation and the second interview on FB was more semi-structured. For sake of convenience, let’s call the friend on Skype Grumpy Gills and the friend on FB Goat Herder.

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Both players log on WoW multiple times a week, primarily for raiding. Grumpy Gills has been playing since the first expansion pack, Burning Crusade, and Goat Herder started playing consistently around the middle of the fourth expansion, Cataclysm. Both players also have a history of gaming, but while Goat Herder continues to play other games, Grumpy Gills has become so involved in the social structure of WoW that he doesn’t play any other games anymore. Despite time played, and hours per week, neither player really identified themselves by the binaries casual/hardcore.

Character Creation

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Character creation seemed to play a significant role for both players. Goat Herder referred to her earlier gameplay of Warcraft 3 influencing her decision originally to create a Night Elf druid, whom she first leveled on. Partly this was due to the aesthetics of liking the druid shapeshift forms of the Night Elf, and partly because of her combination of earlier gameplay and prior knowledge of the Night Elf leader, Tyrande Whisperwind. However, Goat Herder changed faction to Horde and decided to change her main to a shaman. Of all the Horde races that could be shaman, Goat Herder decided on Pandaren for the aesthetics of the race and because she had not played the opening story line for a Pandaren before. Goat Herder was already going to use a Troll for a druid, and the other races that could be shaman, the movement and actions of Orcs and Tauren were annoying or clunky, and she did not mention goblins. While Goat Herder still considers her druid as better Night Elf than Troll, her gameplay concerns became paramount when she chose to move factions for raiding. The now Troll druid was chosen because of their interesting shapeshift forms, and again, Goat Herder reiterated that she did not like Tauren, describing them as clunky and slow and getting stuck on corners. While Goat Herder admitted that this wasn’t an actual gameplay aspect of them, but rather her perception, other races were really chosen for the aesthetics. Goat Herder had tried to play a Tauren before, but the awkwardness of movement for her (compared to the cute and adorable Pandaren) and that transmogrification works easier with Pandarens than Tauren really made up her mind.

~

Grumpy Gills also started in the Alliance, but as a Human warrior. Like Goat Herder, Grumpy Gills had decided on what class to play before considering what race. For his choice, Grumpy Gills felt he could relate more to the warrior than a caster. There were multiple reasons for this choice. First, the body aesthetics came into play, where he considered a Human to be built more like himself in real life, although the other options for face and hair he chose to look like Mad Martigan from the movie Willow. The choice of Human was also for the human racial ability, which Grumpy Gills admitted was superior to others. That guild, however, decided to move to Horde, and thus he had to race change. Grumpy Gills was primarily tossing up between Tauren or Orc, as he felt both body types fit the role of a warrior better (unlike Troll, which he said was too long and gangly looking, he felt a solid and ‘beefy’ build was better suited. Finally, he decided on orc, although he would have gone Tauren if he had been playing a tank spec as the Tauren racial was slightly better. Since I knew he also played an Undead mage as a sort of first alt, I questioned him about this choice as well. Grumpy Gills repeatedly mentioned his preference that the body style should suit the class, even though there are few actual game restrictions on class/race combinations. Grumpy Gills decided that the undead appealed more than others, he already had an Orc, and wasn’t so fond of Troll racials. Having previously mentioned his bias against Trolls, Grumpy Gills did admit that a Troll would be very suited to the hunter class. Apart from his main warrior, Grumpy Gills had a number of other alts that he really only created so he could fill in for whatever was required during raiding, although he had not tried every class yet and he was not interested in healing roles.

Play

boatAs mentioned previously, both Grumpy Gills and Goat Hunter played primarily for raiding, but there was difference in what they preferred to do outside of raiding. Goat Herder didn’t log on much outside of raiding, just for garrisons (daily quests/crafting type activities) and for running old raids for mounts and transmogrification. Goat Herder felt that she related to her character in that she was protective of her shaman and wanted to wear transmogrification that works for how she perceives the shaman as a character. By being protective, Goat Herder elaborated that this meant not wanting her shaman to die in game, or other players commenting negatively, because it reflects Goat Herder herself as a player. Goat Herder did not feel that the shaman had a personality or was like herself in real life; the shaman is just a character in the game and Goat Herder did not roleplay. However, Goat Herder did express that some time and effort went into creating the vision of her shaman, through the use of transmogrification, matching titles, pets and mounts – usually as early as level one. These things had no effect on game play, but the look of the character was very important to Goat Herder.

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For Grumpy Gills, his reasons for playing other than raiding tended to be for socialising and sometimes achievement hunting, which he would only do on his main character. When socialising, Grumpy Gills felt there were minor differences in personality but that this was more related to how other characters perceived him. Being in the guild leadership, Grumpy Gills main character was well known and often sought out, but as one of his alts such as the mage, he could be more quiet and people would respond differently in guild if they didn’t know it was him. However, Grumpy Gills did mention that he felt his main character was a bit more of a smartass. As well as different races matching up different classes aesthetically, Grumpy Gills felt that different classes also had different personality traits. Grumpy GIlls did not feel the compulsion to match transmog and pets and mounts like Goat Herder did, but he does take advantage of the different titles he has obtained, such as using the title Jenkins when he is feeling silly. Grumpy Gills stated however that he would not use that title on his undead mage, as he considered mages to be more serious.

Factions & Lore

garrosh (3)As both participants had faction changed, I asked them about their perceptions of the factions and if they had changed. Both had also played previous Warcraft games – Goat Herder had played Warcraft 2 and 3, and Grumpy Gills had played Warcraft 1-3, although differing on how much campaign he did, in 2 and 3 he was more likely to play multiplayer.

Grumpy Gills felt at first that he didn’t like the Horde. Alliance stood for good, and Horde stood for evil, but after having played in WoW as horde for a few years, he does not feel this way anymore. Grumpy Gills didn’t really pay attention to the story line much at all. When questioned about what had happened at the end of the last expansion, Grumpy Gills knew and remembered the cut-scenes at the end of the last raid, but was not really sure about what had happened that led the game to the latest expansion. Grumpy Gills only exposure to the story of Warcraft is through the game itself, and even then he doesn’t consider it a priority to pay attention: his focus is on gameplay and socialisation.

blackmorassGoat Herder, on the other hand, was more involved in the storyline and lore. She never really cared about the faction distinction before, having chosen the night elf originally because she had a soft spot for them from her days playing Warcraft 3. But having been horde for over a year now, Goat Herder enjoys the horde story lines a lot more. For her first play-through on both Horde and Alliance, she paid more attention to the story lines from each quest, but doesn’t anymore. Goat Herder also sought information about the lore and history of the game outside of gameplay, reading information on the history of each race on the main World of Warcraft website and the fan maintained WoWWiki, and she also reads novels. However, Goat Herder tends to be selective about what lore she reads, by following particular characters or authors she likes rather than just reading everything that is available.

External influences

bayThere was also a small distinction between how the players talked about the game. Goat Herder only referred to the Warcraft series while talking whereas Grumpy Gills kept including references to non-Warcraft games and movies. As mentioned in character creation, Grumpy Gills had initially designed his human to look like Mad Martigan from the movie Willow. Grumpy Gills also selected his character name from out of another movie, but had misremembered the name. Grumpy Gills didn’t the morals of the game that much (such as killing others or looting corpses) as he felt the game was about mythical creatures and events, although admitted he would probably feel differently if playing a more realistic war game, of which he hasn’t really played before. Most of Grumpy Gill’s experiences was with role-playing games, Bard’s Tale, Dungeons and Dragons and the earlier Warcraft series.

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