It's Not All About the Words:
Textual Information in
World of Warcraft
The University of Western Ontario
Faculty of Information and Media Studies
North Campus Building, Room 240
London, Ontario, Canada, N6A 5B7
exploratory study, the use of non
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
presented and how it affects the information received by the
player was examined.
, visual elements
such as colour, shape, size, orientation and motion are
brought together to create the visual experience. Audio
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
usability information, as well as an immersive experience.
textual information, World of Warcraft, audio, visual,
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 &
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.
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
dimensional virtual world where peopl
and play through the use of an avatar over the Internet. The
world is made up of a three
with visual special effects, cinematics, audio
speech, background music, and sound effects, as well as
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
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
the ethnographic method of participant observation, the
ways in which non
textual information is used
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
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
elements of non
textual information in WoW.
This is the space reserved for copyright notices.
New Orleans, LA
notice continues right here
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
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
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
architectures, objects, and characters that move and interact,
creating a complex sense of place (El
Nasr & Yan, 2
There are many visual elements in a video game, such as
the game environment, health indicators, maps, timers, and
ammunition counters (Nitsche, 2008).
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).
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).
visual contexts, we may have the i
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
Player Characters (NPCs).
Music is the soundtrack of the game. Ambient sounds,
sound effects, and vocalizations can be grouped together as
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
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,
may also contribute to the narrative of the game
(Zehnder & Lipscomb, 2006). The music must be out of the
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
Ultimately, sound effects, music, and speech have to be
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,
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
This study utilizes ethnographic methods, in particular,
participant observation, to examine how information is
presented in WoW through non
participant observation, ethnographers observe the culture
in which they are situated, and also participate to varying
degrees (Nardi, 2010).
The data collection was
allowing for observation of the game as it naturally
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
, and can appear in either form
(wolf or human).
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
highlighting information that is important for players
learning how to play the game.
Eight hours were spent conducting this in
During my time in WoW, I played through the opening
story for the Worgen race
in their starting area
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
information was presented. Audio information was
recorded with a vo
der, screenshots were utilized to
visual stimuli, and
were taken. The data
then analyzed in order to determine the
various kinds of visual and audio information present in the
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
. In the following discussion, the visual
dio aspects of the game will be examined
examples from my play experiences.
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
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
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,
WoW is cartoon
like in appearance, and can be viewed as a
caricature of the actual world, as well as fantasy worlds
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
treasure for the player.
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
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
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
that are located out of the player's line of sight
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
functions as background music
. Each area in WoW has
distinct music, as well as the introductory game menu.
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
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
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
enues aids in the creation of a more
experience for the player, and assists them in learning about
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.
Adams, S. S. (2009). What games have to offer:
Information behavior and meaning
making in virtual play
Arnheim, R. (1974) .
Art and visual perception: A
psychology of the creative eye: The new version
Berkeley: University of California Press.
Castronova, E. (2007).
Exodus to the virtual wo
online fun is changing reality
. New York: Palgrave
Corneliussen, H. G.
& Rettburg, J. W. (Eds.). (2008).
Digital culture, play, and identity: A World of Warcraft
. Cambridge: MIT Press
& de Peuter, G. (2009).
e: Global capitalism and video
Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Nielsen, S., Smit
h, J. H., & Tosca, S. P. (2008).
Understanding video games: The essential introduction
New York: Routledge.
Nasr, M. S.
& Yan, S. (2006). Visual attention in 3D
16, 2006. Hollywood.
Jorgensen, K. (2008a). Audio and gameplay: An analysis of
PvP Battlegrounds in World of Warcraft.
Jorgensen, K. (2008b). Left in the dark: Playing computer
games with the sound turned off. In K. Collins, (Ed.),
Man to pop music: Interactive audio in games
and new med
, p. 163
176. Hampshire: Ashgate
Kow, Y. M. & Nardi, B. A. (2010). Culture and creativity:
World of Warcraft modding in China and the US. In W.
Online worlds: Convergence of the real
and the virtual
McGregor, G. L. (2006). Architecture, space and gameplay
in World of Warcraft and Battle for Middle Earth 2. In
Proceedings of the 2006 international conference on
Game research and development
06, 2006, Perth,
Nardi, B. A. (2008). Mixed realities: Information spaces
then and now.
Information Research 13
Nardi, B. A. (2010).
My life as a night elf priest: An
anthropological account of Wo
rld of Warcraft
Michigan: University of Michigan Press.
Nitsche, M. (2008).
Video game spaces: Image, play, and
structure in 3D game worlds
. Cambridge: MIT Press.
Ware, C. (2008).
Visual thinking for design
MA: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers.
Wood, S. (2009). Video game music: High scores: Making
sense of music and video games. In G. Harper (Ed.),
Sound and music in film and visual media: An overview
New York: The Continuum International Publishing
Zehnder, S. M.
& Lipscomb, S. D. (2006). The role of
music in video games. In P. Vorderer & J. Bryant (Eds.),
Playing video games: Motives, responses and
258. Mahwah, N. J.: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates, Publishers.