World of Warcraft

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Nov 14, 2013 (3 years and 11 months ago)

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It's Not All About the Words:

Non
-
Textual Information in
World of Warcraft


Caroline Whippey

The University of Western Ontario

Faculty of Information and Media Studies

North Campus Building, Room 240

London, Ontario, Canada, N6A 5B7


cwhippey@uwo.ca



A
BSTRACT

In this
exploratory study, the use of non
-
textual information
in
World of Warcraft
, a game played over the Internet with
a focus on fantasy, is examined. To date, very little
research has focused on the visual and audio elements of
video games fro
m an informational perspective. However,
video games incorporate elements of video, images, music,
audio, and text to create a rich and complex environment.
Through utilizing the ethnographic method of participant
observation, the ways in which non
-
textual

information is
presented and how it affects the information received by the
player was examined.

In
Wo
rld of
W
arcraft
, visual elements
such as colour, shape, size, orientation and motion are
brought together to create the visual experience. Audio
elements

include ambient sounds, sound effects,
vocalizations, and music. Visual and audio elements work
together to provide players with important information
about how to play the game, as well as the game narrative.

They work together as an information system
that provides
usability information, as well as an immersive experience.

Keywords

non
-
textual information, World of Warcraft, audio, visual,
video game
.

INTRODUCTION

Video games have become an increasingly important part of
the academic discourse in recen
t years. There are a number
of areas that have been researched, including the political
economy of gaming (e.g., Dyer
-
Witheford & de Peuter,
2009), gaming as consumption (e.g., Castronova, 2007),
culture and identity within gaming (e.g., Corneliussen &
Ret
tburg, 2008), and user
-
created modifications for games
(e.g., Kow & Nardi, 2010).
Nonetheless, the information
aspects of gaming remain understudied. Both Adams (2009)
and Nardi (2008) have begun to explore games as
information spaces, however, the topic o
f the presentation
of information in games remains overlooked.

Non
-
textual information is ubiquitous in video games. Each
game combines elements of video, images, audio, music, as
well as text, to create a rich and complex environment. This
poster will pr
esent the results of a recent study, providing
an overview of how visual and auditory information is
presented in World of Warcraft (WoW). WoW, a Massively
Multiplayer Role Playing Game (MMORPG), is a full
-
scale, three
-
dimensional virtual world where peopl
e interact
and play through the use of an avatar over the Internet. The
world is made up of a three
-
dimensional graphical
environment,
with visual special effects, cinematics, audio
speech, background music, and sound effects, as well as
textual elements.
When engaging in the game, players are
in a constant state of learning, and are always in need of
new information (Nardi, 2008). Information is presented in
a variety of ways through video, images, sound, music, and
text.

In this
exploratory
study, WoW wa
s examined in order to
determine how non
-
textual information is presented, as well
as how it affects the information the player receives during
the game. Through examining the player e
xperience using
the ethnographic method of participant observation, the
ways in which non
-
textual information is used

in both
design and play were studied. This research will further the
discourse of video games in the field of information
science, as well as aid in the understanding of non
-
textual
information.

This poster pr
esentation also includes an interactive
component: viewers will have the opportunity to experience
WoW in a real
-
time environment. A laptop will be used to
provide access to WoW for those interested in seeing or
experiencing the game. It will also help to
highlight the
elements of non
-
textual information in WoW.





This is the space reserved for copyright notices.


ASIST

20
1
1
,
October

9
-
13, 2011
,
New Orleans, LA
, USA.

Copyright
notice continues right here
.



LITERATURE REVIEW

Visual Information

A
multitude

of information, in both the actual world and
virtual worlds, can be obtained through the visual senses.
Visual experiences are dynamic, as there
are many factors
at play such as shape, colour, light, size, and movement
(Arnheim, 1974).

Each of these elements affects how we
perceive visual information, which allows us to obtain
knowledge about our environment. We make a visual query
each time we se
arch for visual information that we require
to carry out a cognitive task (Ware, 2008). These queries
provide information which is then used to form a perceptual
whole of our visual environment.

When designing visual objects, it is important to create
dis
plays that encourage correct and rapid processing for all
important cognitive tasks that the display is intended to
support (Ware, 2008). In video games, there are a number
of factors that affect the design of an MMORPG. Virtual
worlds are primarily made u
p of polygons (shapes) and
textures (colours), with the addition of effects or filters for
particular instances. MMORPGs employ intricate 3
-
D
architectures, objects, and characters that move and interact,
creating a complex sense of place (El
-
Nasr & Yan, 2
006).

There are many visual elements in a video game, such as
the game environment, health indicators, maps, timers, and
ammunition counters (Nitsche, 2008).

Through utilizing
primary visual channels, including colour, shape, size,
orientation and motion
, displays can be designed to
promote particular elements of visual objects. The game
space is presented by a camera, similar to a film, but allow
the player to participate in the world directly, as opposed to
being a passive observer (Nitsche, 2008).

In
most cases,
the avatar acts as a main point of visual interest within the
game space, and the camera refers to this avatar to establish
its position and orientation in the game (Nitsche, 2008).

Audio Information

In audio
-
visual contexts, we may have the i
mpression that
the use of audio is simply ornamental, present only for the
purpose of supporting a specific atmosphere (Jorgensen,
2008b). However, in video games, audio may also provide
important information about an environment or
circumstance, or have
a direct influence on player actions.
Audio in games has the ability to support a specific mood
and sense of presence, as well as multiple usability
functions (Jorgensen, 2008b). Egenfeldt
-
Nielsen, Smith and
Tosca (2008) identify four different kinds of au
dio in video
games. Ambient sounds are non
-
specific sounds that
contribute to the game atmosphere. Sound effects are
defined as sounds made by in
-
game objects. Vocalizations
are the voices of characters in the game, both those
controlled by the player and
Non
-
Player Characters (NPCs).

Music is the soundtrack of the game. Ambient sounds,
sound effects, and vocalizations can be grouped together as
game sounds.

Game audio acts as a support for gameplay by providing
different kinds of information (Jorgensen, 2
008a). Much of
this information must be understood as a part of a specific
context, providing an understanding for how the game
should be played as well as how to act in a specific context
(Jorgensen, 2008a). Sounds in games can be affected by a
number of

factors, including the environment, spatiality,
and physics (Egenfeldt
-
Nielsen, Smith, & Tosca, 2008).

Music has a different function that dialogue, sound effects,
or ambient sounds. Much of the music in video games can
be seen as ambient pieces (Wood, 2
009). These pieces are
used to create a general emotional response or sense of
place without distracting the player from gameplay (Wood,
2009). It
may also contribute to the narrative of the game
(Zehnder & Lipscomb, 2006). The music must be out of the
way

without being dull, intrigue and encourage without
being obnoxious, and withstand repeated listening (Wood,
2009). Music is also used to underscore cinematic
sequences, or non
-
interactive movies.

Ultimately, sound effects, music, and speech have to be
co
mbined into one consistent soundscape that has qualities
of its own, such as balance and timing between different
elements, and their relation to the moving image (Nitsche,
2008).
The soundscape must also relate to the visual
landscape. In video games, sou
nd and image work together
as information systems, contributing to the meaning
-
making process.

METHODOLOGY

This study utilizes ethnographic methods, in particular,
participant observation, to examine how information is
presented in WoW through non
-
textual

means. In
participant observation, ethnographers observe the culture
in which they are situated, and also participate to varying
degrees (Nardi, 2010).
The data collection was
unobtrusive
,
allowing for observation of the game as it naturally
occurred, and

first
-
hand experience of gameplay.
Participant observation is particularly helpful for exploring
research questions about which little is known, as it allows
themes and trends to emerge during the research process.

For this study, a new player avatar wa
s created in WoW.
When creating an avatar, players must first select one of
two opposing factions in the game: the Alliance or Horde.
The next step is to select an avatar gender, race, and class.
These choices influence the kind of game that a player will
experience, as different races and classes provide a variety
of opportunities and play styles to the player. The character
used for this research was a Worgen Mage. Worgen are a
wolf
-
human hybrid

race
, and can appear in either form
(wolf or human).
Mages a
re a magical class that use arcane,
frost, and fire spells to fight from afar. This race and class
combination was selected due to my own unfamiliarity with
it, and the accompanying starting area.
This allowed me to
experience the game as a first
-
time play
er might,
highlighting information that is important for players
learning how to play the game.


Eight hours were spent conducting this in
-
game research.
During my time in WoW, I played through the opening
story for the Worgen race
in their starting area
.
During this
time, no other players were encountered. Observations were
made regarding the visual and audio elements occurring
during game play, in order to examine how non
-
textual
information was presented. Audio information was
recorded with a vo
ice recor
der, screenshots were utilized to
record

visual stimuli, and
field notes

were taken. The data
collected was
then analyzed in order to determine the
various kinds of visual and audio information present in the
game.

RESULTS

Audiovisual elements of informati
on are important for
players learning how to play the game. The game graphics,
cinematic sequences, sound, and music help the player learn
about WoW, both in terms of how to play as well as the
game narrative
. In the following discussion, the visual
and
au
dio aspects of the game will be examined
, utilizing
examples from my play experiences.

Visual Information

In WoW, the primary elements of shape, colour, size,
orientation, and motion are used to create the visual
environment. For example, Worgen players b
egin in the
city of Gilneas. The colours are dark and drab, and the
buildings are tall and easily recognizable as similar to
Victorian era design. The orientation and physics of the
virtual world are akin to those we are familiar with in the
actual world.
In WoW, the standard point of perception (or
camera view) is third
-
person: players view their avatar in
the landscape. However, players are abl
e to adjust the in
-
game camera and may
choose to utilize a first
-
person
perspective. The camera assists in narrat
ing the space for
the player: it aids in the gathering of information by
selecting, framing, and interpreting the visual (Nitsche,
2008).

WoW is cartoon
-
like in appearance, and can be viewed as a
caricature of the actual world, as well as fantasy worlds
s
uch as
Tolkien's

Middle Earth.
The visual environment is
extremely rich, with detailed landscapes, architecture, and
objects. The landscapes and architecture provide an
immersive spatial experience (McGregor, 2006). Players
journey into buildings and citie
s, through forests, across
hills and mountains, and through lakes and streams into
underwater realms. All terrain in WoW may be entered by
players, with usability expressed to the player as a function
of simulated physical properties (McGregor, 2006). WoW
also incorporates a visual use of weather, adding to the
sense of realism and immersion for the player.

The game uses elements of colour and motion to identify
objects in the game that are of particular relevance to the
player. For example, objects that t
he player has been asked
to find will be surrounded by moving yellow sparkles,
drawing the player's visual attention. The colour and shape
of the cursor also changes when the player moves it over
objects of particular interest, such as a defeated enemy wit
h
treasure for the player.

Audio Information

The audio in WoW makes an important contribution to the
information that a player receives from the game. Game
audio functions as a support for the game world, as well as
contributing to its usability. Players
rely on audio to
determine what may be
occurring

around them. Ambient
sounds, sound effects, vocalizations, and music contribute
to the information that a player receives, as well as to the
overall immersive effect of the game.

Ambient sounds in WoW tend
to fade into the background.
These include the sound of a paper drifting down a cobbled
street, or the sound of rain hitting the ground. Sound effects
are an essential part of audio information in games, as they
provide the player with cues of what is
occu
rring

in the
space around them. For example, sounds indicate how close
an enemy may be, providing information about what to do
in a combat situation. Sound is useful in situations where
the visual system is not available, providing information
about events

that are located out of the player's line of sight
(Jorgensen, 2008
b
).

Vocalizations are also a valuable source of information.
NPCs may provide information to players through spoken
dialogue about a situation in the narrative, or tasks the
player must c
omplete. Player avatars also have
vocalizations in the game, notifying players of actions they
cannot make. These notifications provide instant feedback
to the player, informing them that they hav
e not been
successful in perform
ing an action.

Music is ano
ther form of audio that, in WoW, has a
different function than ambient sound, sound effects, or
dialogue. Much of the music in WoW is orchestral

and
functions as background music
. Each area in WoW has
distinct music, as well as the introductory game menu.
The
music often assists in setting the mood for a particular game
area. In WoW, players can choose to have the music fade in
and out according to where they are, or to loop so that it
plays continuously.

CONCLUSION

In WoW, the visual and audio information

work together to
provide valuable information to the player. The visual
information is essential: it would be incredibly difficult, if
not impossible, to play WoW without the visual elements.
While the audio is not essential, it adds
substantially

to the
experience and provides information that cannot be gained
through visual means. Both visual and audio information
work together as an information system that provides
usability information, as well as immersion within the game
world. The information that i
s provided through non
-
textual
av
enues aids in the creation of a more
holistic, enriching
experience for the player, and assists them in learning about
the game.

This research is both beneficial to the field of

information science as well as the games indu
stry, as it
provides further information concerning the design and
usability of virtual and interactive environments.

REFERENCES

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-
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