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Implications for Integrated Voice Communication in Massively Multi Player Online Role Playing Games

Implications for Integrated Voice Communication in Massively Multi Player Online Role Playing Games

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Implications of Integrated Voice Communication inMassively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games
By Benjamin Worrel
The videogame industry is a massive enterprise in today's world, with budgets for some gamessurpassing those of Hollywood block-busters. Featuring photo-realistic graphics, physics based objectinteractions, and compelling story lines, today's games draw players into the virtual world as never  before possible. One particular genre of game, Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games(MMORPGs), has seen a spike in popularity in recent years. Tracing their heritage back to early text- based games, the modern MMORPG continues to evolve in capabilities and features. One recentaddition to several of the more popular games is an integrated voice communication feature, allowing players to speak to one another using microphones connected to their computers. As of yet, there has been little or no research on what implications this might have for the players of these games. This paper presents a preliminary examination of what impact the feature may have based on themotivations users have for playing MMORPGs.
 Avatars
Players interact with the virtual game world through fictional characters known as avatars.These avatars will be the player's representation in the world, allowing them to interact with other  players, complete quests, and generally “play” the game. Avatar creation is becoming increasinglycomplex as with each successive generation of games, the customization possibilities open to playersincreases dramatically. Initially, players may have been forced to choose between a few, predefinedavatars. In more recent games, players have been able to craft a truly unique character, choosingclothing, hair, tattoos, scars, and even sculpting facial features.In addition to being a player's gateway to the virtual world, avatars have been shown to have asignificant impact on player to player interactions within the game, affecting both self-behavior andtreatment of others. Just as stereotypes continue to persist in the outside world, virtual worlds can alsosee the effects of appearance based expectations due to avatars. These generalizations can be as simpleas “good” characters dressing in light colors while “evil” characters dress in dark. Althoughundocumented at this point, one can find anecdotal evidence of the differences in how male and femaleavatars are treated by players. Players using female avatars, not necessarily female themselves, reportreceiving preferential treatment from others. Some even say they have been the recipient of in gamegifts or in game protection that male avatars don't receive. This type of treatment may only beaggravated by the idealized forms that in game avatars take. Male avatars evoke Herculean images,with overly developed muscles and handsome features. Females are overly sexualized, with minimalclothing and gravity-defying figures.Beyond such tales, reactions to an avatar's appearance are measurable, as in Yee and Balinson(2007).
1
 Players with attractive avatars were more likely to stand closer to other avatars and were morewilling to disclose personal information. Similarly, participants with taller avatars were moreconfident. Dubbed the “Proteus Effect” by the authors, the results were attributed to self-perception
1Yee, Nick, and Jeremy Bailenson. "The proteus effect: the effect of transformed self-representation on behavior."
 Human Communication Research
33.3 (2007): 271.
 
Worrel, 2theory. Pena, Hancock, and Merola (2009) found similar results, but suggested that primingmechanisms better explained participant behavior .
2
Specifically, the ability of self-perception theory “toexplain the inhibition of positive thoughts.” Unsurprisingly, a large number of players chooseattractive, taller than average avatars.The Daedulus Project, a site facilitated by Dr. Nick Yee of The Palo Alto Research Center, hascompiled a surprising amount of data on MMORPG players, their avatars, and just how and/or whythey play.
3
Among the project's findings: 30% of surveyed players prefer avatars with above averageheight and over 40% of men and 60% of women prefer attractive avatars. As inherent avatar attractiveness in MMORPGS often seems related to the race/species chosen, this might indicate whywomen seem more likely to play the “good” races, as they are often given more attractive appearances by developers.
In Game Communications
Gameplay in a MMORPG consists of much more than a player and their avatar, as implied bythe “Massively Multiplayer.” These games are defined by the large numbers of players co-existing inthe virtual space. As such, effective player communication is a vital aspect of the game. This need hasled to the development of several methods of communication players can use to interact with eachother.
Communication Channels
Communication within online role playing games is a rather unique situation. Combiningelements of both face to face and computer mediated communication, there are several mediumsthrough which players interact. Until recently, players were restricted to text-based communicationmethods, but even these took several forms. Traditional “chat” channels allowed both public and in-group communications, while instant messaging allowed private one on one conversations.. Thesemethods do not necessarily require their respective avatars to be located near one another, althoughsome public channels are based on geographic location by default. On the face of it, in gamecommunications would seem to merely be a specialized form of computer mediated communication(CMC). The use of avatars in the game world, however, brings another level to player interactions,allowing a form of face to face communication.Gestures and facial expressions are undoubtably a key component of understanding in face toface interactions. Capable of expressing a variety of messages in both subtle and not so subtle means,non-verbal communication has traditionally been impossible for online communications. While avatarsaren't nearly advanced enough to allow a complete non-verbal vocabulary, they have given rise to aninteresting development in the concept of emotes. Predefined sets of commands available to the player that cause the avatar to perform some type of physical movement otherwise unavailable, emotes createnew communicative options. Typical choices include waving, apologizing, sleeping, dancing, or eventelling a joke. Additionally, these emotes are performed on other characters or objects, such that in
2Pena, Jorge, Jeffrey T. Hancock, and Nicholas A. Merola. "The Priming Effects of Avatars in Virtual Settings."
Communication Research
36.6 (2009): 838-56. Print.3Yee, Nick. "The DAEDALUS PROJECT: MMORPG Research, Cyberculture, MMORPG Psychology." Web. Oct. 2009.<http://www.nickyee.com/daedalus/>.
 
addition to the physical action, a special text appears in the players' chat display indicating what hashappened, e.g. “Player 1 waves hello to Player 2.” The available range of emotes continues to grow, being limited only by the time investment developers are willing to make in order to facilitate their creation. Methods of automatically inserting non-verbal messages into interactions are being explored, but as of now are not in use.
4
Restrictions of Text-Based Communication
Being limited to text-based communication impacts players in several ways, mostly due to therequirement for manually typing messages. As players utilize their keyboards both for communicatingand “playing” they are forced to choose between the two, as it isn't really possible to do both at once.When your avatar is being attacked by a fire-breathing dragon, the last thing you want to do is stopmoving in order to ask your group for help. The benefits of such a message must be weighed againstthe costs the time taken to type will incur.Similarly concerning to the player is the loss of focus that occurs when a player must shift their eyes to read incoming messages. Even if the ongoing game action is still visible, there is definitely aloss of attention, even if only momentarily. Just as it only takes a split second spent reading a textmessage to lead to a catastrophic loss of control while driving a vehicle, a lost moment in acomplicated group maneuver can lead to virtual oblivion for a player and their group mates.To minimize these costs, players have adopted certain communicative practices. The mostnoticeable to an outsider is the specialized form of shorthand many players utilize to convey commonlysent messages. Each game often develops its own particular “dialect” of this shorthand in order toaddress its own unique features and situations.
Although it is mostly made up of a large set of acronyms, the shorthand can still form an impenetrable barrier to the outsider. For example, in TheWorld of Warcraft, “LF2M SFK need DPS” is a perfectly understandable message. Specifically, itindicates that a group of players is
L
ooking
F
or two additional
M
embers to join them in traveling to
S
hadow
F
ang
eep, and that in particular they need players that cause high amounts of 
D
amage
P
er 
S
econd, such as a mage (a type of wizard), hunter, or warlock. Furthermore, as noticeable in the abovemessage example, proper sentence structure and punctuation are mostly ignored, if not removedaltogether. Used correctly, these methods can significantly reduce the length of in-game messages,hopefully reducing dragon related deaths.
 Addition of Voice Communication
With the increasing availability of high-speed internet came the possibility of reliable voice chatover internet connections. One of the results of this occurrence was the introduction of Voice Over IPsoftware which allowed users to utilize their internet connections for voice communication with oneanother. While some programs, such as Skype, have become popular as alternatives to traditionaltelephones, other programs seemed particularly suited to adoption by online gamers. Two of the more popular programs, Ventrilo and Teamspeak, became the default option for use in online first-person
4Breitfuss, Warner, Helmut Prendinger, and Mitsuru Ishizuka. "Automated generation of non-verbal behavior for virtualembodied characters."
 Proceedings of the 9th international conference on Multimodal interfaces
. InternationalConference on Multimodal Interfaces, Japan, Nagoya. 2007. 319-22.5"World of Warcraft Terminology."
World of Warcraft universe guide - WoWWiki
. Web. Oct. 2009.<http://www.wowwiki.com/World_of_Warcraft_terminology>.6"EVE online PVP Glossary." Web. Dec. 2009. <http://www.bukisa.com/articles/206036_eve-online-pvp-glossary>.

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