World of Tweetcraft?
Since the development of Internet, humankind has been exposed to various new ways of communication: Starting from peer to peer chat, shifting into electronic mailing and blogging, enabling of large chat rooms hosting hundreds of people, and finally reforming into social networking sites. In time, each of the forms of social expression drastically evolved, advancing both in quality of use and in quantity of accesses – making those easy to handle and affecting still more and more users.
The emergence of MMO gaming and virtual reality, especially the largest artificial worlds such as Azeroth in World of Warcraft, gave us a new way of socializing with people from around the globe. Twitter is one of the most popular microblogging websites, and as a social networking system it covers most users in its domain, but this aspect is not the only one that links Massively Multiplayer Online games to social networking platforms.
This short entry will aim to answer the question: Why should we think of communication in virtual reality worlds not in terms of chatting, but perceive it rather as a social networking entity? I will do it by analyzing Twitter and World of Warcraft ingame communication mechanism, exposing similarities in structure and social usage.
Structure of Communication
The way in which both communication platforms are built is one of the main important aspects by which this comparison should be analyzed. The following part will therefore cover similarities between the game’s communication mechanism and Twitter by the terms of structure.
One of the most important points when it comes to the structuring of an online conversation is real time chatting within a large ecosystem. Enabled in both examples, this issue provides some points to the discussion on how to perceive WoW chat system. Similarly as in Twitter, a user of World of Warcraft is notoriously exposed to chat channels that include either familiar/nonfamiliar or friend gamers. The user is always placed in the environment in which he is exposed to both spam and chat with various amounts of other users having diverse relations with the player. Following this notion, chatting in various artificial spaces with various people from different social groups will be first and most obvious point linking MMO chat system to social media sites.
The large number of channels in the game carries the same notion as social media portals. It enables the flow of information such as real time reporting on specific events, collective knowledge, feeling of belonging to particular groups, and other multiple social aspects of such a constant information stream. Similarly as described by Scott, Twitter and WoW users tend to rely on real-time information flow, reporting on events as they are happening:
“Smart editors and reporters update blogs and media web sites in seconds. Consumers post videos and photos on the web anytime where the media can see them. Reporters now rely on Twitter for instantaneous leads from citizen journalists – who are often reporting from the scene as the events unfold.” (Scott, 2010: 52)
WoW gamers that update the channels on events that are happening ‘now’ use a very similar tactic. The events may occur either in the virtual world, such as sieges and raids on allied locations, forcing the spam of Local Defense channel, or real-world happenings such as various world news either game related or IRL oriented.
Other important fact that makes these two examples similar is that people are connected to multiple chat rooms at a time. Similarly as for Twitter, WoW chat system reveals to you vast amounts of short text messages, approaching the user from various channels and evoking the necessity of multitasking. The game channels allow you to communicate with people on various levels. Similarly as on Twitter, a user can send a message either from the personal level of whispering to someone, or approach an entire virtual city with his message. The channels vary on the location of the gamer, which can be matched to the tweeting sites having an option of talking to someone within a certain range. Furthermore, some of the channels may be embedded onto the gamers character, such as the officer chat, which narrows down the amount of chatting people to a few particular players.
More similarities can be easily found, such as the creation of Friends lists, or Block List in both of the platforms. Focusing on the first of them, WoW communicating system enables sending messages to Friends no matter if they are in this particular game. This gives the user the power to contact both his in-game and real friends, even if they are playing a different game of the battle.net platform.
Similar tactic can be found while analyzing the social networking example, and can be compared to the availability of Twitter for mobile phones, where the user can still access his friends in cases of being not in front of the computer screen. All this is followed by the release of World of Warcraft Mobile Armory that gives the user certain features such as communicating in the Guildchat channel via a cellphone.
Both the in-game communication system and Twitter allow creating groups to discuss certain topics. This gives the users power of microblogging on topics of choice. In both examples it can be done by creating/joining a channel or by making another account.
Idea and the Social Level
The second aspect that I find most important to analyze while comparing Twitter and the in-game chat mechanism is the idea that lies behind the actual usage of the platforms. In this part of the essay I will try to compare certain patterns of user behavior, focusing on similarities between the two examples. Cheong and Lee, while discussing Twitter, explain a few of the most common concepts of tweeting:
“Comm wrote about the concept of “mission accomplished” tweets to inform followers of accomplishments or milestones achieved (extending the findings extending the findings on online presence), and picture distribution tweets (extending the concept of URL sharing). O’Reilly and Milstein discussed the need of ambient intimacy with friends and family as a result of presence maintenance on Twitter by answering the “what are you doing?” question. Lastly, McFedries and Comm also highlight a current trend of Twitter usage – ‘live tweeting’ – which is to tweet about events live as they unfold, e.g. conferences, trade shows and exhibitions.” (Cheong, Lee in Alhajj, Memon, 2010: 356)
Similarly as in Twitter, the ‚Milestone‘ aspect can be found in WoW chat system: either as an automatic message telling your friends and guild that you reached a certain level. It can also appear automatically when a player scores an achievement as a similar message appears. Additionally users tend to tell about what they achieved to other players. When it comes to online activity sharing of knowledge and URL, the game communication system is also very active in those fields. This is enabled by the linking system, which makes possible sharing of knowledge about the virtual environment in which the gamer is placed. It covers both URL as well as ingame knowledge such as quests, items, achievements etc. The „what are you doing?“ question is probably one of the major spamming problems in World of Warcraft. Both the general and trade channel are filled with messages such as LFM Onyxia25 1Tank 2Healer 3DPS link gs and achi which are telling what a person is about to do and informing other players observing this particular channel what perspectives do they have in case if they want to join in a group. According to Java, Finin, Song and Tseng, all this is extremely similar to what Twitter users tend to write about:
„From our analysis, we find that the main types of user intentions are: daily chatter, conversations, sharing information and reporting news. Furthermore, users play different roles of information source, friends or information seeker in different communities“ (Java, Finin, Song, Tseng; 2007: 2)
But there are also other similarities between Twitter’ers and MMO Gamers. One of the most important point connecting the two groups is the development of shortcuts, both on the interface level, as well as in the language of use. While taking a look at the interface, both platforms have some similarities, such as hitting the ‚r‘ key for replying. The raising simplicity can be also found in the language that users of both platforms tend to develop. Shortcuts such as ‚imo‘ and ‚brb‘ are a pretty common theme of expression.
Another point linking the game communication platform to the social networking system is the idea of having a socio-virtual self. Either by having a specific nickname, or in a wider context, creating your virtual self or a virtual image of a group/brand/team. Basically what differs a social network from a chat is that it is based and built around user profiles. While looking at your profile people may assume what your interests and actions are, and what follows: you are not anonymous. Each user has his name, he stands for various ideals, and he has a voice in a community and is willing to share his thoughts with other within the environment.
The point that links Twitter and WoW is the way in which people tend to gather around various environments. Examples can be found in following someone on Twitter and listening to his messages, or even getting to know that person/institution and having a conversation or debate. All this is described by Comm (2010), where the author gives various uses of Twitter, such as creating specific groups:
“Twitter can help us to keep together a team that’s already been established. It can do that by helping scattered members to understand that they are working alongside each other and that thay are not alone. And it can do it by providing an online clubhouse where thay can get together to keep everyone informed.” (Comm, 2010: 155)
Similar mechanism can be found in World of Warcraft, where users tend to gather around various, more powerful, more experienced players. Examples of such a behavior can be seen best in the forming of guilds, where people gather around powerful players to lead them through various game content. Similarly as in the diversity of people being followed on Twitter, WoW groups can also be based on various interests: player vs. player gaming, arena matches, player vs. environment guilds, trading guilds, leveling guilds, achiever guilds, specific raids etc. The list is practically never-ending and dependent on the size of the game itself, so groups of people that are linked with a common interest are nearly as diverse, as the ones formed in the real world.
Even though Twitter is meant to work within the real world, and WoW communication programme is supposed to enhance the gameplay in a virtual environment, both of the samples tend to reveal similar ways of construction both in terms of the way they are built, as well as in terms of social communication usage. I believe that while analyzing Virtual Worlds we should refer to chatting systems as to in-built social networking platforms, where real time strategies, large ecosystem and the dynamics of an internet conversation have power over the actions of the user. To what extent are we going to be overloaded with spam, news, messages and requests during our daily activities such as work or play?
Reda Alhajj, Nasrullah Memon (2010); “From Sociology to Computing in Social Networks: Theory, Foundations and Applications”; Springer;
Joel Comm (2010); “Twitter Power 2.0: How to Dominate Your Market One Tweet at a Time”, John Wiley and Sons;
Akshay Java, Tim Finin, Xiaodan Song, Belle Tseng (2007); “Why we Twitter: Understanding Microblogging Usage and Communities”, University of Maryland;
David Meerman Scott (2010); “Real-Time Marketing & PR: How to instantly Engage Your Market, Connect with Customers, and Create Products that Grow Your Business Now”; John Wiley and Sons;