Monday, March 29, 2010

Bots = People?

I was having an interesting conversation this evening about Team Fortress 2.  The man I was speaking with was describing his experiences playing against bots (essentially a single-player version) versus playing multiplayer against other people when he uttered the phrase, "It is really no different from playing against people."

I interrupted him right there to ask if him if he had actually said that... he had. The dumbfounded expression on my face must have asked every question running through my head at that moment because without further verbal provocation on my part he went on to explain why.

The bots were programmed to be funny and interactive and so it was just like playing with people, he told me. 

I continued to stare at him in confusion.  I just couldn’t wrap my head around this idea.  I have played single player games that I have enjoyed, but never have any of them felt the same to me as playing a multiplayer game against or with other people.

It reminded me, however, of something a friend had once told me.  This friend had spontaneously gquit while I happened to be sitting behind him chatting.  I was aghast and asked him why he had done that after having played with this group of people for so long.  He calmly explained that these were really just characters in the game to him and that he had only stayed with them for as long as he did because they had provided him with the game support he needed. He left in that moment because he didn’t think he needed them anymore. 

I asked him whether he had any friends in the guild, and responded by reiterating the point he had made earlier - these weren’t really people as far as he was concerned and so he really didn’t care if they had any reaction to his sudden gquit.

Both of these people were casual gamers and not particularly what one would colloquially call a "social butterfly." Maybe that has something to do with the attitude.  I certainly did not find anything like this in any of the WoW guilds I played with, but then again all of them were either hardcore or based on irl social connections.  So maybe being hardcore is a positive thing? The more one plays the more social they are.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Do Taipei Expats = FFXI? Part 3: Temporality and Social Risk

I think it was the lack of a long history of shared experiences with my FFXI guild that accounted for some of the social patterns that I witnessed there. When guildmates arranged meetings with each other they were essentially making arrangements with strangers or very new acquaintances.  Therefore, there were little to no feelings of obligation or any real accountability to encourage people to follow through. Whereas in my WoW guild, there were both obligatory feelings and accountability that could potentially follow a person through the game and beyond.

In Taipei, the vast majority of foreigners I have met fall into just 1 of 2 categories: Chinese language student or English language teacher. The students are mostly here for 1 semester to a year, and the English teachers often sign one year contracts. On occasion someone will stay longer or talk about settling in Taipei permanently, but most often a foreigner’s time here is expected to be temporary. This expectation is reaffirmed frequently in the way in which people talk about “back home.”

The temporary nature of this community then is not unlike the FFXI guild. The guild, being a very new community, lacked deep interpersonal connections. In Taipei there has been an expat community for years, but any one given foreigner is likely to be a new arrival and is not likely to stay. So not only does a foreigner here lack roots, but it is known (or assumed) that they will not stay here to establish roots. This may then explain the lack of a sense of obligation to others in the community and a lack of accountability.  Whatever bad blood may come between two people, the likelihood that either one or both will leave at anytime reduces the social risk to both.

Going back home becomes akin to logging off. At anytime a player can log off and walk away from their computer if they are having a problem. This is not to say that this is how people in my FFXI guild always dealt with their problems, but the possibility existed and was sometimes used. Many of the expats I have met keep just enough money set aside to buy a plane ticket home, thus always having the option to leave. This in turn further supports the temporality of the community. 

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Do Taipei Expats = FFXI? Part 2: Foundations and Expectations

The first MMO I ever played was FFXI, and being the newbie that I was, I joined with a social guild that had no hardcore aspirations. Even though this guild was social in nature, people still preferred to team up with guildmates rather than join pugs, and so I would occasionally make plans to be online at a certain time to group with guildmates for whatever particular goal we were all after (usually simple grinding).

I quickly learned, however, that just because someone says they will be online doesn’t mean that they will be. In fact, the act of making plans seemed only marginally more useful than randomly logging on and hoping there would be people available.

This was very different from my next guild experience in WoW, where I joined with a long established group of people (the group was centered on a website and collectively moved from game to game).

In this guild, when someone said they were going to be somewhere it was safe to assume that they would be there. If something unexpected came up to prevent someone’s presence, the group would be informed through one of the various communication channels the guild had available.

Given the differences in these two guilds, I believe that was the deeper level of shared experiences (i.e. the longer history) of the WoW guild that led them to be more socially (and emotionally) interconnected and accountable to each other. This is not to say that the FFXI guild did not have shared experiences, but this particular social group was very young and thus had not yet had enough time to establish strong bonds.

This is not unlike the culture of the Taipei expats that I have met. Granted, I have different expectations of different people, established over time as I get to know them; but it is often the case that if I have plans with someone, the chance of them following through is only marginally better maybe.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Do Taipei Expats = FFXI?

I came to Taiwan under the delusion that I would be (that I should be)spending all of my time with local gamers. That is, after all, what my dissertation is going to be focused on. There were two factors that hindered this goal, however. First, I stayed in a guest house and second, I went to school to study Mandarin. These two factors dominated my early social life in Taipei and both necessarily meant that I was predominantly meeting foreigners.

Interestingly, my first Mandarin teacher often commented on how this was a natural development (and once even suggested a romantic prospect for me) based on the idea that since we were all Americans (we weren’t all Americans, but locals will sometimes, I have noticed, use ‘American’ as synonymous with ‘foreigner’) we all shared a common culture and therefore could more easily relate. What my teacher could not have known was that the expat culture is not the same as the culture back home.

This fact became blatantly obvious to me very shortly after arriving in Taiwan, but it took me sometime to fully digest what this meant. This was in part because it took me sometime to become adequately acculturated, and I needed to do that before I was able to start seeing the differences between people’s actions within this culture and people’s discursive descriptions of this culture.

After I got over the initial novelty of Taiwan, Taiwanese culture, and expat culture, I came to realize that the expat culture here bugged me. It was a partially subconscious annoyance, however, that I couldn’t quite put my finger on, until I realized that I have been through this before… when I was first being acculturated into the MMO culture of FFXI.

Ok, this blog post is way too long as it is. I’ll flesh this out in the next post.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Taipei Game Show


The Taipei Game Show was actually last month, but prelim prep and a bad cold prevented me from posting about it earlier.

I went with a friend from school and we had a great time.  In addition to doing some serious work of course.

Watching WoW PvP Tournament  I stopped to watch a couple of tournaments, though I didn’t stay to watch the whole contest of either one due to time constraints.  This picture on the left is the audience of the WoW PvP tournament, and below is a shot of a fighter game contest.

PS3 Tournament 3

I did manage to network a little, but unfortunately, my Chinese language skills are still not where I’d like them to be (on par with my English).

All in all this convention was just like the ones I have been to back home.  Lots of games and stuff to buy, mostly males of various ages (though there were more girls there than I would have expected) and booth girls everywhere.

Me   Booth Girl 1

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

First Impression of the Newbie "exotics"

When I first came to Taiwan I was struck by the women here. It was August and it was hot and they were, in general, wearing very little. I too wore very little, coming from what I would now describe as a chilly Wisconsin summer. Walking the streets in my neighborhood those first few weeks was a little depressing. I did not see myself as even comparable to the women I now walked amongst. Those first few weeks I thought it was just me.

After 6 months living in a hostel with a constant ebb and flow of foreigners passing through, I have come o realize that it was not just me. All of the American white women I have met coming through Taipei have expressed similar feelings of awe and inadequacy upon arriving in the city. After 6 months living here though, the feeling fades.

Upon first arriving in Taipei we look around and see so many women thinner than we are, shorter than we are. They are dressed fashionably and in combinations of clothes that one does not see back home. We look down at our legs now scarred from scratching the incessant mosquito bites. We know we shouldn't scratch them, but it is impossible to resist. They all seem to have a man on their arm - or beside them carrying their purse/puppy/shopping bags.

We go to the night clubs and see women dressed to the nines. They seem to be able to command the room. We are in awe. The white men whom have come with us from the hostel or school are being approached throughout the night by these women. No man comes near. It is easy to be a white man in Taipei. After a long night at the clubs we return home and gossip with amazement at how popular our housemates/classmates seem to be. In Taipei we think, it is not easy to be a white woman.

We are, however, mistaken. Some of us learn this because we are fortunate enough to find a veteran resident who explains the joys of the Taipei dating scene. Some of us learn this by mistake, like I did, by smiling to some man while passing through the metro station.

This is not America. This is Taipei and the rules are different.