Mount & Blade: Warband Part Two

Hello! And welcome to another exciting adventure of …. me trying to work out how to use methodology. When we last saw our hero, I was trying to organise my ethics application which is now (finally!) about to be submitted and I can get onto my literature review and methodology chapter.

While some methodology I’m using is pretty easy, auto-ethnography, fan studies/cyberethnography (think, reading forums or blog posts where fan discussions are had), what I’m doing with these videos is really taking from a few different styles of other ethnographies and trying to apply them to video games. Usually, these are things like “walking with” or “tour videos”, but applying them into a game context can be difficult for a variety of reasons.

The reason why I’m doing this in a weird and new manner is because I feel that some of the stuff I have read so far give very little agency to the focus of the study: the gamer themselves. For example, think of a multiple choice personality test. You’ll get questions where you aren’t sure whether you better fit one or two, or even more, of the answers available, but you can only pick one even though it is not quite right. This is so not my style. Instead, my research will be guided by gamers themselves and what they choose to say or show. It is about the gamer FULLY choosing how to represent themselves, not being some pawn. They create their own context.

And with that rant out of the way, here is Part Two wherein my friend (who I nicknamed Paladin) films his gameplay of one of his save games.

Paladin starts at the save game menu and takes us to one of them, day 423, with his avatar Washihane. The first thing he does is show the personal character progression with the statistics screen, comparing it to his last video wherein the character was new, this one has been played for much longer. Washihane is level 35 with “an ass-tonne of experience” and “awesome armour”. While the first video showing the character creation lets the player set up the character’s backstory (which in turn affects skills), Paladin either chose not to show this (if it can be shown after creation) or discuss it as relevant to Washihane’s current status.

His focus on showing progression by specifically mentioning experience and armour makes sense in a gaming context. Many games work on a leveling up system through the earning of experience points (although in this game, it seems that this is not the main goal, as I’ll explain soon). The more levels your character achieves, the higher the experience requirements are to reach the next level. The aesthetic appearance of armour is also a feature in many games, where low levels have ragged, mismatching or plain armour designs, and higher levels can access more unique designs of armour, or armour that looks more bulked up, or in Paladin’s words, “awesome”.

washihane

Paladin then zooms out to the world map and, with a sweeping motion over certain areas, describes how factions moved across the map and conquered zones. Each colour represents a different faction, of which his kingdom is in red.

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As it has been some time since he played, he goes into another screen to check on which factions he is at war with. He laughs as he recalls he named the kingdom Anvilania, and explains that he did this because of the tv show – briefly forgetting the name of the show, recalling the characters Yakko, Wakko and Dot, and finally recalling it is Animaniacs. He offers to the audience that they may get that as a reference. Continuing to read through the screen, he announces that he is at war with the Nords (which is light blue on the world map).

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This is when Paladin starts the game, and watches as his little Washihane moves across the world map. He hovers over to Rubuns, saying that he could take the town but he won’t. His image of himself within the game is one of a benevolent dictator (although he admits these don’t really exist in real life), and that he doesn’t want to be mean to the peasant folk. Instead, he is aiming to assault the larger town nearby, Suno. It is curious that for a game that is about conquering other lands, town by town, he sets himself/Washihane (Paladin describes the game mostly in terms of what he believes, he doesn’t explain it as being Washihane’s beliefs) to specifically avoid attacking what would seem to be an easy takeover.

I’m not sure how this plays out in terms of the games mechanics, as I am unfamiliar with it and am only relying on his description, but my guessing from my own experiences: he would either eventually have to conquer the smaller town, or if he takes over the main towns and replaces the leadership of the Nords, those smaller towns would fall to his control anyway.

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He skipped fairly quickly through the next few screens, but I’ll lay them out here. He first chooses to besiege the town, in which the screen shows how long the siege will last is he takes no further action. It seems like 100 days is a significant period of time to wait, from my reckoning (given he has played 423 days already and conquered quite a few sections of the map).

Paladin, however, has planned for this. To make it easier, he is building ladders to attack the walls of the town. He mentions he has a specific recruitment of an engineer, which will lessen the time in which is takes to build city improvements or siege equipment. The game gives him a five hour time for this action. After this, it returns to the world map screen to wait until the ladders are built, and the world map has turned dark.

w1

After waiting the required game-time of five hours, Paladin then chooses to lead his army into an assault. He doesn’t explain this decision, or what the other options are. From the types of games I’ve played, I can assume that he can also: dictate terms for surrender (which may or may not be accepted), continue the siege, or order his soldiers in (which means the fight would take place with the computer AI deciding in seconds who would be the victor). Instead, he chooses to go in himself which means he plays through the sequence as his avatar Washihane. Perhaps this is because he wants to show off his avatar, since that was the focus of my instructions, or because he normally plays this way and takes control of the army rather than letting an AI decide for him.

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This is where we finally see Washihane up close. Paladin points out that she is a female. As from the last video, he described that choosing gender was almost like choosing difficulty, that the goals are the same for either gender or class, but playing as a female made it harder to reach those goals, one of which is marrying. Paladin also says she has no shield, and that he wants to get up the ladders as soon as possible which takes some time in heavy plate armour.

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While he does not explain this, I read this next scene as him electing to stand at the top of the ladder and uses the crenel (the gap in the battlements) to narrow the number of people who can attack him at once. I assume this in part because he says he is using a long sabre weapon which gives him long reach attacks. Moving Washihane onto the wall proper, Paladin explains that these are low level units, so they are falling down easily before him. Most of them are peasants, although sometimes they can have better armour.

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While explaining the ease in which these enemies are being killed, Paladin accidentally moves Washihane to falling off a wall, and interrupts himself, saying “Oops! …. Took some damage there”. To most people, it will seem like an obvious sort of thing, but it makes me wonder: just saying “oops” says to me that its rather negligible damage, and that perhaps he might not be as into the avatar. Paladin as been referring to himself and she as separate entities. I looked a bit at this in the previous post, elaborating on James Gee’s identity theory.

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Paladin continues that the AI level has been set as pretty stupid, both referring to his enemies and his own troops. When Washihane goes back up on the wall, Paladin assures the audience that although it looks like she is getting ganged up on, she is taking very little damage. Also, Paladin muses that Washihane probably took more damage from the fall than any of the attacks.

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Paladin zooms the camera into first person and back to third, explaining that the game can be played either way, but he prefers third person to have a greater situational awareness.

So far throughout the video, Paladin has mostly been explaining the mechanics of the game and how it works, but he has small flashes of insight into how he personally prefers to play and how he thinks of himself as an actor within the video game world. This may be because he knows I have personally not played the game, and so adjusted how he shows the games and discusses it (I suppose, looking back on this, the closest game I’ve played to this is perhaps Rome:Total War, where you have an army, conquer territory and can go into the battleground itself, although you don’t have a singular avatar with traits or a background, or take quests).

Paladin states that Washihane is not married yet – which from his previous descriptions, is a part of gameplay itself. The way he describes her is particularly telling, she is “showing all the boys how it is done”. As explained before (as far as I understood it from these videos), choosing gender is almost like selecting difficulty. Some men have declared their admiration for Washihane, but Paladin says they are all probably trying to ride his coattails. So for Paladin, none of the suitors have been particularly suitable yet, as it would seem to be that they were all lesser than Washihane herself. Paladin then exclaims “they can put up or shut up!”

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Paladin declares “Suno is mine!”, but after another short screen, it appears there are some holdout enemy forces. Washihane moves in to tracking these down. Taking out the bow, Paladin aims it and says “Headshot. Boom”.

This is not an uncommon thing (although personally, I’m terrible at aiming, probably because the only game I’ve played in which I’ve had is is Left 4 Dead 1 and 2). Some games  have had sort of disembodied voices over the top of combat, declaring a headshot or other finishing move. Perhaps the more better known is Mortal Kombat’s “FINISH HIM” or “FATALITY” by the announce. Halo (from my vague memory… I should play it again) also did “headshot” and “killing spree” announcements within multiplayer mode. Checking with another friend, they believe that this declaration of headshots came from the game Quake.

So it is an established voiceover in some FPS games, and it is curious that Paladin repeatedly makes his own voiceover and sound effects for this game, which reflect the sounds of other games. washi8

The last scene before he ends the combat situation, he uses a bow and arrow again, but explains it was pretty pointless for that particular enemy as they blocked his arrow with a shield, and it works “pretty true to physics and all that.”

The following screens are the post-combat operations, including the taking of prisoners, upgrading of units, looting, and finally he can decide whether Washihane herself will take over the town or one of the vassals who have gone over to his own faction. Paladin says Rochabarth is a “pretty cool guy” and appoints him as leader.

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w6Paladin then zooms out at the world map and declares Suno is now under his control (and it appears that the small town he didn’t want to take over is now in red as well). washi12

~

Thoughts

So overall, while it might not seem like much to you, dear reader, this has actually helped me out immensely in thinking about how I structure my methodology and about how I can approach these videos.

There’s a few features I’d be curious to see how they develop in other people’s videos.

  • I didn’t expect it, but perhaps because of his prior knowledge about my own gaming history, he made this video much more in the concept of an instructional video of how the game works and the mechanics of it. Perhaps more like a combination review/Let’s Play. I expect that people will be very familiar with Let’s Play type videos. I also say review style, because at the end of the video, Paladin says that not many people will have heard of Mount and Blade, and it is a bit outdated, but that it is fun. The way people film in itself is an interesting case.
  • I do find it interesting that while Paladin has a very clear cut idea of his main character, her history and background, he speaks mostly as himself and not her, although the language tends to blur sometimes. Comparing it to myself, I usually talk a lot more in the first person as the avatar, “I hate rogues” (when my hunter gets ganked by one in PvP), “I died again” (when I’m not paying attention and die to something stupid).
  • The use of sound effects by the player themselves and sounds they make (and swearing!). I haven’t come across this yet in my own autoethnography (which I’m filming and then watching to try to see the incidental sounds I make, as well as my thought processes while playing), but this could be something interesting to look for. The progression from making a mistake and saying “oops” to getting angry or frustrated and going to full swearing.
  • Also the references to external media that is not connected, such as Paladin naming his faction after a cartoon. When I decide to turn away and run from an enemy, if I think I would die if I stayed, I find myself singing from Monty Python “Brave Sir Robin ran away!”.
  • While the game does have a single avatar that you advance, this was not the sort of game I was expecting. This is pretty much why I want people to be able to choose whatever game they want though (it would be pretty boring to see the same type of WoW/Dragon Age over and over again). What they choose as important is important in itself, even (especially!) if it is not something I would choose myself.
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