Artificial Intelligence

For me I’m not scared of mythical beings, I’m not afraid of vampires, werewolves, monsters, daemons, ghosts and ghouls. I’m not afraid of if, buts and maybes, I’m not afraid of the invisible. There is but one creature, which can truly leave me with shaking knees and a quivering lip-, the beast with two legs, a sharp tongue. A person, someone you depend on, a friend, family. As humans we develop relationships with those who care for and support us, an unspoken promise of love to nurture and be nurtured. What happens when this promise is broken and trust begins to decay. Abandonment is my only fear that loved ones will go away.

     I typically avoid films, which spark an emotional reaction from this fear because it’s not a fear, which I wish to relive. Despite this I have found a scene in from Artificial Intelligence, which provokes such a reaction it’s hard to ignore. David becomes abandoned in the woods, left alone to fend for himself. There is one frame in particular that illustrates his desperation when the realisation sets in that he’s on his own. Then typically he blames himself and pleads for a chance to change. I cannot watch such a scene without feeling a profound sadness in seeing myself in that little boy. I feel what he feels, I see the emotion on his face and it’s so interesting that a clip about a child like android can resonate so deeply with oneself.

 

World of Warcraft: Digital Subjectivity

It’s important when researching any particular subject to take into consideration the social context of the researcher because it could implicate and create biased findings. Taste is inherently subjective and my feelings towards the virtual world of World of Warcraft are too subjective. I myself as a White, British, Feminist Female means that my view of the digital world as a player and a researcher is going to be completely different to the way in which my peers will experience the game. I myself have a history of involvement in gaming, this means that I myself already know certain controls and may find the operation of the game easier than others. I have somewhat projected my identity onto my avatar which makes our relationship very important whilst playing and researching the game.

My subjectivity meant that I made my avatar to fit my aesthetic; my avatar is female and has long red hair. Nakamura (2010) argued that ‘Digital profiles and avatars that are produced by users, encourage the sense that one is producing one’s self […] avatars have often been celebrated […] as entrepreneurial spaces for identity formation’. I both disagree and agree with Nakamura’s point, although yes I want my avatar to portray who I am as an individual, I use red hair to recognise my avatar as myself but I also find this slightly problematic due to the fact that one may not like to explicitly identify with features that might make users uncomfortable. Despite the fact I myself identify as a cis female that does not mean that I fit the general aesthetic. I myself, until recent years, have never been explicitly feminine in my appearance. This can be reflected in the portrayal of my current avatar, my avatar has heavy armour and looks intimidating, (similarly in real life due to stature and height). Although when previously creating my avatar (I have made many across the years), I noticed that when I was younger in age and more insecure about my height and weight I would always try and make my avatar to be smaller and more feminine. In a world where I can be anything I choose, why would I choose an aesthetic which although would be true to myself, makes me insecure. During my time playing World of Warcraft, I have had experiences in meeting characters that portray themselves as being larger than average – I found that it is typically for comic effect and that other players in the game would use this as a prompt to make a joke at their expense. I personally found that if I created an avatar that is smaller in stature I would avoid any ‘sizeist’ jokes or comments because players only see my avatar and not me behind the screen.

When creating my current avatar my racial subjectivity became part of her too, I automatically without thinking created a white skinned avatar. In Richard Dyer’s (2005) book, ‘The Matter of Whiteness’, he calls out how whiteness is understood as the invisible race and I have completely underlined his point by impetuously choosing white skin.

To recall Nakamura’s previous point, when users begin to create an avatar for World of Warcraft, they enter the game with the predictions of creating an avatar that would represent themselves in some way, free from stereotypes and prejudices. Yet, this is not the case, the ‘Create a new character’ framework of World of Warcraft is limited. There is only two gender options when creating a character, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’, nothing in between, this is problematic for people who identify as being gender fluid as they are being excluded from having their identity being portrayed within the game. I also couldn’t help but notice that the bodily appearance options for a female character could be very explicitly sexualised. I understand that some women heavily identify with their sexuality and their sexualisation, but for that to be the initial character framework that I was presented with as a young teenager was quite damaging to my self-esteem and no doubt other female gamers.

Stereotypically the male gender characters had more muscles and scarier faces, where as mentioned before, the female characters were more sexualised or had lack of muscle. It’s apparent from what I have seen that the game of World of Warcraft is perhaps audacious in highlighting the patriarchal discourses that society has placed onto gender. Nakamura (2010) goes on to address stereotypes when choosing an avatar:

‘Gender and race identity choices and the reception of difference are strongly shaped by interface styles, player culture and stereotypes from both social life […] there is no such thing as perfect freedom when creating an avatar’

I understand that virtual and digital worlds are not utopian like the real world and perhaps me being so critical of the way in which World of Warcraft presents these rigid discourses makes me an Idealist and it’s explicitly evident that we don’t live in an ideal world.

Refrences

Dyer, R (2005, 3rd Edition) ‘The Matter of Whiteness’ in White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism Ed. Rothenberg, P. London: Worth Pub

Nakamura L (2015) “Race and Identity in Digital Media,: for Mass Media and Society, 5th edition, p336-345 Available at: https://lnakamur.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/nakamura-curran-article.pdf [Accessed 1. Dec. 2016]

 

 

 

World of Warcraft: Affect

When we as humans are affected by something we typically feel an emotional response towards a subject in ‘The Affect Theory Reader’ by Seigworth and Gregg (2010) they explain how, ‘Affect, at it’s most is anthropomorphic’ (2010:2). The way in which we can be affected can be through many different senses, for instance, auditory, smell, taste, touch, social and visual. The senses are a key aspect in how we can be affected through different mediums, Sara Ahmed (2010) in ‘The Promise of Happiness’ explains that ‘We are moved by things. In being moved, we make things’. When a subject moves us, we create an emotional response to that subject. When an emotional response occurs be it positive or negative, it’s important to note that our social context as an individual is key in how we interoperate such feelings. A subject that might provoke a positive reaction from one could revoke a starkly different reaction to that of another. This is all because of how we encode and decode the signs and signifiers, Hall(1973). Wetherell (2014) summarizes Reicher (2001):

‘social identity and identification are a key […] We seem to be drawn to, empathise with, and are most likely to copy, imitate and share the affect of those we affiliate and identify with, and those whom we recognise as authoritative and legitimate sources’ (2014:16)

As an avid media consumer, from films, books and of course games I’m familiar with how easily one can be affected through consuming media texts. Playing WoW is no different in the way it provokes emotion from me than a way in which a film would do. I believe the music within WoW is very powerful in the way it can sway emotion, I recall a time of intense fear after coming across this incredibly rare creature, a bone golem as I recall (Rare because I only discovered it after three years of playing the game). The creature was large and structured entirely of bones and skulls that had huge scythes, I remember meeting it somewhere near Western Plaguelands. This is probably the first time I felt very strongly affected by the game, I was in awe of such a magnificent creature but also horrified and scared due to the creepy music and high level. In the end I didn’t defeat such a beast, it killed me and I never seen it again. I think to be completely affected by the game you have to completely immerse yourselves within it, If you’re playing whilst watching television or playing whilst listening to the radio or other forms of music, or experiencing other forms of entertainment alongside WoW it will directly impact the way in which the game affects the player. Components to the game like the music and sound effects are important to provoking emotional response, if these are removed the player is the less immersed within the game.

I believe the aesthetics of the game are also important, because of the fact I have played World of Warcraft on and off for a long time. Silvermoon City is the capital city of the Blood Elves, and although I have changed avatars and created different accounts across the years I’ve been playing, Silvermoon City has always felt like ‘home’. It’s strange how some pixels on a screen can emulate feelings of nostalgia towards when I first began playing World of Warcraft, but it really does. Playing World of Warcraft on this module has also sparked feelings of ‘Déjà vu’, after a break of not playing WoW and then returning to it with a new account as a ‘noob’ takes me back to when I first set up the account many years ago.

Despite still feeling affected by the game, I think it’s important to point out that I have in some ways been slightly desensitised to the game because of how familiar I have become. After observing my classmates screeching or screaming when a beast approaches them, or seeing them physically covering their eyes to hide from the beast I recall a time when I was too experienced those kinds of reactions.

I think that embodiment and affect must directly correlate with each other when talking about World of Warcraft. I can’t see it being possible to be affected by the game unless the player is embodied. Perhaps players can be affected negatively by feeling bored or despondent if they are in fact feeling disembodied and feel a barrier between them and the game. I also think that I am strongly affected by what happens my avatar, as it’s a digital extension of myself, I ‘care’ about that happens to her, of course I want her to do well and of course I do not want her to die. I want us to work together and succeed every endeavour.

 

References

Ahmed, S (2010) The Promise of Happiness. USA: Duke University Press

Gregg, M. and Seigworth, G. (2010). The affect theory reader. 1st ed. Durham, N.C. ; London: Duke University Press.

Hall, S. (1973). Encoding and decoding in the television discourse. 1st ed. Birmingham [England]: Centre for Cultural Studies, University of Birmingham.

Wetherell, M. (2014). Trends in the Turn to Affect: A Social Psychological Critique. Body & Society, 21(2), pp.139-166.

Reicher S (2001) The psychology of crowd dynamics. In: Hogg MA and Tindale S (eds) Blackwell Handbook of Social Psychology: Group Processes. Oxford: Blackwell.

World of Warcraft: Digital Embodiment

Digital embodiment enhances the way in which we as humans are able to feel, it may sound peculiar to some, but through playing World of Warcraft our avatar is an extension of the self which means as players we are able to feel beyond our physical bodies. As players we immerse ourselves into a virtual world perhaps so much that our ideas of ‘the real and ‘the virtual’ could become cohesive and impact in the way in which we things. Crick (2011) explains that to be embodied through gaming we must feel something physical whilst being immersed in these virtual worlds, typically from first hand experience I have had a physical reaction whilst gaming. Whilst playing games its typical that we can feel certain anxieties or frustrations if something isn’t going our way, similarly we can feel enjoyment and happiness if a quest is achieved or we have managed to go up another level.

Through my experience of playing World of Warcraft I feel like I emulate Harraway’s (1991) concept of the ‘Cyborg’ as I can see how my avatar is an extension of myself. In a chapter of Zylinska’s (2002), ‘The Cyborg Experiments: The Extensions of the Body in the Media Age’, Edward Scheer (2002) quotes:

‘As the Avatar becomes more autonomous (i.e. develops more artificial intelligence) the relationship will become more complex. I looked at the avatar as a kind of viral life form, dormant in it’s computer state but able to generate an effect once it is connected to a host body. (Stelarc interview)’

I’ve been playing World of Warcraft on and off for years and due to this I have somehow managed to bond and form a relationship with my avatar as adopting it as part of me. Like Scheer quotes the relationship is indeed complex, through dressing my avatar and changing her appearance I know that it’s directly relatable to me. When I look at my avatar I can see part of myself, this is probably due to such extensive playing of Wow. In a virtual crowd I recognise my avatar as myself as the long red hair I’ve given to my avatar I directly correlate to me and how I recognise myself. If I look back I don’t think this relationship would have grown as prominently as it has without such extensive gameplay. Playing alongside my avatar and experiencing quests and battles together means that my avatar has been with me through highs and lows of gameplay and I believe that has somehow developed our relationship. Again I know how strange this concept can be to people who haven’t had such a visceral relationship with their avatar. I as a player could be considered to be experiencing feelings, which aren’t explicitly natural to humans, as we know it. Despite others confusion to the complexities of this embodiment Braidotti (2013) explains that as long as we remain to have these feelings, which are human, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t correlate to what is traditionally means to be human. Braidotti explains how the concept of humanity itself is forever growing and changing with new trends in how we are embodied.

My explicit embodiment through gameplay has led me to disagree with the concept of disembodiment. Stoll(1995) argued that due to external factors that are inevitable whilst gaming can prove to be a distraction from achieving total embodiment and prevents users from attaining that emotional and physical connection that I have achieved with my avatar.

Although I disagree that I myself feel disembodied by playing World of Warcraft, I can see how users wouldn’t achieve such a reaction. Watching classmates engage and playing with World of Warcraft, I can visibly see that factors that I see as enhancements towards embodiment, the lights and sound can be a deterrent and can get in the way. Perhaps this again is due to how much I have played games throughout my life, I have had a heavily involvement playing games on a PC and similarly on other platforms. Because of this I do not see the keyboard as a barrier between myself and the virtual world, I’m so used to it’s presence whilst gaming that it’s easier to suspend my disbelief and successfully achieve embodiment.

Despite feeling a relationship with my avatar it’s unavoidable to deny that she is in fact a virtual character, a tool I use to play the game, I control her. Gee (2008) explains how:

‘In the real world, we humans receive our deepest pleasure—our most profound feelings of mastery and control—when we can successfully take just such a projective stance to and in the real world… This is, indeed, one of the deep sources of pleasure in gaming’.

Despite the fact I am fully aware that my avatar is a tool I do not see this as preventing embodiment within World of Warcraft. Yet I do know the very difference between my physical body and my digital body(avatar). For instance a player is a lot more likely to put the avatar in dangerous situations like battles and raids. I myself would never in a million years go charging into battle with against a group of goblins (firstly because they don’t exist yet in the human world in which I live) but also because I am not the most agile person in the world and although in World of Warcraft I might be seen as having very good timing, dexterity and coordination. In real life I’m still trying to correctly put one foot in front of the other in winter without looking like bambi.

 

 

References

Braidotti, R (2013) The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press

Crick, T (2011) ‘The Game Body: Towards a Phenomenology of Contemporary Video Gaming’ Games and Culture Vol 6 (3) p259-269.

Gee, J. (2008). Video Games and Embodiment. Games and Culture, 3(3-4).

Haraway, D. (1991). Simians, cyborgs, and women. 1st ed. New York: Routledge.

Zylinska, J. (2002). The Cyborg experiments. 1st ed. London: Continuum.

Stoll, C. (1995) Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway. New York: Doubleday.

 

World of Warcraft: Community

In previous years on any evening or over the weekend you would find me on World of Warcraft, headphones on with Snoop Dogg blaring. What I loved about World of Warcraft was how you could reinvent yourself online through your avatar. I myself always related to the Blood Elves, I’m not sure if that’s because I was trying to emulate myself as an extension of The Lord of The Rings franchise with a vampire twist. Being a typical teenager, I was a prominent night owl and found myself wandering around different realms tackling quests into the wee hours of the morning. The only thing that saddened me is the fact that on the EU server there was typically no one around at that time, so I decided to broaden my wings and travel a bit further afield and play on the US server from time to time.

My best friend of the time and I, used to meet up on World of Warcraft after school and tackle quests together as a team. One of the problems we faced was how difficult it actually was to try and locate your friends in this online world. For two weeks we tried to find each other, we were in the same realms and still couldn’t find one another. Until I discovered that playing on a different server meant that although you might be in the same realm, or even the same spot, but you are in a completely different world with different players. This meant I had to switch back to the EU server so we could play together again.

When I found out we were going to be playing World of Warcraft as a class I knew straight away how difficult it was going to be to try and find other class members. I felt like I had an upper hand because I already knew the controls and the most beautiful realms to go to. It was interesting for me to watch my classmates embarking on their on World of Warcraft excursion. Many had never played games like this in an online setting and I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself with amusement at how frustrated people would get at their avatars because I know exactly what it’s like to be a ‘n00b’. Despite the frustrations it was great to experience the majority of the class enjoying this new world as a community. Hearing my classmates roaring with laughter was endearing, laughing at themselves as the avatar within the game and also externally as they try and control the avatar by tapping away at the keyboards.

Deborah Ferreday (2009) argued that playing online in a community, like we have been playing World of Warcraft in class, can enhance how we form our identity and it can directly relate to how as players we sense online community, online connection and a sense of belonging. Brignall and Van Valey(2007) states that:

‘Many of the social components within WOW facilitated the adoption of neo-tribalistic behaviors by many players. Making friends, socializing, cooperation, and the creation of new tribes are all components of WOW.’

The concept of neo-tribalism originally coined by Maffesoli(1996) is described as being ‘without rigidity of the forms of organization…it refers more to a certain ambience, a state of mind.’(1996:98). Bennett (2006:112) elaborates on this and argues that: ‘young people…are not rigidly bound into ‘subcultural’ community but rather assume a more fluid neo-tribal character.’(2006:112) This could relate to our online community, the shared mentality of WoW gamers creates a neo-tribal community. Jameson’s (1991) concept of postmodernity explains how culture has become a second nature to the human world through connectivity, the internet and online communities do make us more connected but does this online engagement modify the way in which we see ourselves as human?

Despite all the benefits that playing WoW can have in initiating and creating an online community and relationships, from first hand experience (I have two younger brothers), I know how gaming can be incredibly additive and can in fact prevent loved ones engaging in a real life community of the home. In a forum for OLGA, (Online Games Anonymous), one user had a completely different experience of Wow and believed this game in fact had negative effects on her and her relationships. ‘I found out that he had a serious gaming addiction. He was playing WOW about 50-60 hours a week.’, this user began feeling isolated and symptoms of depression due to her boyfriends heavy use of WoW. Although addiction is not directly correlated to WoW itself and is another entity on its own, I still think it’s very important to mention while discussing online community. Similarly Jameson(1991) also believed that we could be in fact too over connected to the world and that in turn could prevent us from thoroughly experiencing and enjoying the ‘real world’. I believe the access to these online communities could prove to be very beneficial for people who struggle with face-to-face communication or for people who struggle to leave the house due to perhaps mobility or a certain phobia. But I believe that gaming, like all forms of pleasure that we experience, should be done in moderation to prevent individuals becoming isolated from the real world and real physical relationships. The shared experience of playing together, although enjoyable to an extent in a classroom setting was not as enjoyable as a debate or discussion. I still think that facial expressions and tone of voice are very important to relationships as a whole and despite the good that can come from online communities it’s still not physical and if a laptop broke or a server went down, individuals who were heavily reliant on these online communities could become lost with feelings of loneliness and the realisation that there is a big difference between the virtual and the real.

 

References:

Bennett, A., Shank, B. and Toynbee, J. (2006). The popular music studies reader. London: Routledge.

Brignall, T. and Van Valey, T. (2007). An Online Community as a New Tribalism: the World of Warcraft. IEEE The Computer Society.

Maffesoli, M (1996) The Time of Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society. Trans. Shields, R. London: SAGE Publications

Olganon.org. (2016). Depression, Gaming, & Relationships | On-line Gamers Anonymous®. [online] Available at: http://www.olganon.org/forum/i-need-help-spousessignificant-others-open-forum/depression-gaming-relationships [Accessed 1 Dec. 2016].

Jameson, F. (1991). Postmodernism, or, The cultural logic of late capitalism. Durham: Duke University Press.