A Year of Blogging

TP Blog Trophies

Today is the final day of my first year of blogging at Thinking Play! My first post was published on Oct 17th, 2013, though I was working on the site for a couple of days before making everything public.

I’ve had previous attempts at blogging about various subjects, but I don’t think I’ve ever kept going for a whole year before. The difference this time around is undoubtedly due to the excellent advice and wonderful community provided by the Newbie Blogger Initiative.

Thanks NBI!

The NBI of course is actually people… so most especially thanks to Roger Edwards of Contains Moderate Peril and Doone Woodtac of XP Chronicles who ran the NBI 2013.

Thanks also to everyone who’s taken the time to follow the blog, comment on posts, tweet or share them, or just hit the “Like” button from time to time. Without that bit of encouragement and feedback, quite likely I wouldn’t have persisted in my blogging efforts.

It’s knowing that there are people finding the posts interesting and enjoyable, and wanting to have conversations about the topics, that makes the whole thing worthwhile.

A Year in Numbers

As of drafting this post on Thursday October 16th, there are 25 posts, with 151 comments, 52 likes and 47 blog followers on WordPress.com. There have been just over 6,000 pageviews recorded by WordPress. I wish I knew about the amount of reading that happens via RSS feeds, but if there’s a way to discover that, I haven’t stumbled on it yet.

There also 6 draft posts that were started but not finished yet, including this one.

Page Views by Month

One Year WP View Stats

Top Pages for the Year

One Year WP Top Pages

Followers

One Year WP Follower Stats

Planet Pasduil

One thing worth mentioning is that I’ve also started a second blog, Planet Pasduil. The jury is out on whether it’s actually a good idea to have two blogs rather than putting everything in one! Planet Pasduil covers everything I feel like writing about that doesn’t belong here. So far the topics most covered are books, reading and technology, but in theory any topic is fair game. The posts there tend to be more frequent and shorter than here. If you like what you read here do pop over and see if Planet Pasduil appeals to you as well. If you share any of my non-game interests I’d enjoy having your company in both places.

The Future

One year over, the blogging journey continues. And it continues among the fellowship of bloggers, which is what makes the journey possible, enjoyable and worthwhile.

Survey: The State of LOTRO

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Following a couple of fairly gloomy posts on the present and future of LOTRO over at Contains Moderate Peril and Paste Magazine, I’ve been wondering what people generally think about the state of LOTRO. Personally I’m more upbeat than those posts, despite my post The Shadow of the Future back when Turbine announced layoffs in February.

To find out what people generally think, I thought I’d create a survey.

Part 1 – How much you’re playing now

Pick the category that applies best below…

Pick up to 4 reasons that fit best…

Part 2 – Your server

Pick up to 3 choices if you play on multiple servers…

Part 3 – How do you feel about the future?

Pick whichever is closest to your feelings…

Part 4 – What kind of player are you?

Choose whatever fits best…

Choose what fits best…

Choose as many as fit what you like…

Choose whatever fits best…

Please comment and share

Thanks for filling out the survey! If you want to expand on your answers, please do comment below. Also it would be great if you could share the survey so we can get lots of answers and find out what people are really doing and feeling.

GW2: Free Trial Impressions

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Guild Wars 2 (GW2) recently had a free trial week, along with a 50% off sale, so I decided it was finally time to go take a look at this game that I’ve been hearing so much about for so long. These are my quick impressions about the trial and the game.

Background

The trial lasted a week, which for someone like me who wants to play pretty casually is not really a very long time to try it out. I had to make a conscious effort to try to get in enough play sessions to form an idea about the game, and I’m not sure I really succeeded.

I tried out one character, a human of the engineer class, and I think I’d only just hit level 9 by the time the trial ended. By that point I had four weapons skills available.

I heard that with the GW2 megaserver technology, you can easily hop to other servers to play with friends, but only within your own region, i.e. North America (NA) or Europe (EU). That was a tricky choice for me, because there are probably people I’d like to play with in both regions.

There are no designated RP servers in GW2, which I normally prefer to roll on, despite not being much of an RPer myself. From Googling it seemed that RPers have decided to make Piken Square and Tarnished Coast their unofficial places to congregate. It turned out Tarnished Coast was closed to new signups, so I went for Piken Square.

The trial wasn’t long enough for me to try any instances, or to see if I could find a guild I liked hanging out with.

What I liked about GW2

  • It ran very smoothly on my PC, always an important consideration for newer games.

  • Graphic quality and overall visual style is very good and to my liking. I don’t like overly cartoony worlds, but this has more of a grown-up graphic novel vibe than a kids’ cartoon feel.

  • There seemed to be plenty of people around in the starter area. Of course it’s hard to say whether that’s normal or a function of the one week trial period bringing lots of people in to take a look.

  • Dynamic events were pretty fun. For example, there’s one where a big ox cart carrying a bunch of trade goods makes its way from one town to another, a sort of group escort quest. It feels like a meaningful thing to do, and it’s nice to be doing things with other people.

  • I found it’s possible to enjoy playing this game in very short bursts. As an experiment I tried a 15 minute play session. That’s 15 min from clicking the icon to launch the game, right through to signing out. It helps that there aren’t a lot of hoops to jump through to start and end the game! (In TSW I seem to have to click through about 4 screens just to get the heck out of the game.) In GW2 the content also tends to be bite-sized enough that you could do a couple of things from beginning to end in that time. At least that was true in the starter areas, I guess it may change at higher levels.

  • I was intrigued by what I saw of the story. But I didn’t get to see very much really.

What I disliked about GW2

  • I was often confused about what I should or shouldn’t do next. Are there things that are vitally important to do while I’m in this area? Is it time to move on? Is that place too high-level for me? Too low-level? What’s happening with my personal story arc, it hasn’t been mentioned in quite a while?

  • Although you have some of the pleasures of grouping with dynamic events, it’s watered down compared to traditional grouping. There’s not much talking or coordination, and the relationship – such as it is – only persists for a short while until the event is over.

  • Events seem to become a zerg fest, where sheer numbers of people and spamming skills at random is sufficient for success.

  • The chat channels (from the admittedly little I saw of them) were on the childish side, somewhat depressing and immersion breaking.

  • Dodging is an important thing in GW2, and I’m never particularly fond of that mechanic. Maybe with some classes and builds you can avoid having that as a big part of your playstyle, but there’s no way to tell from the limited trial experience.

What I noticed

  • I always forget how much of a learning curve it is to get to grips with a new MMO. Take basic things like “How do I take a screenshot?”, “What happens when loot won’t fit in my inventory?” etc and multiply by all the things you routinely need to know, and you realize there’s a lot to learn before you even get to anything of tactical importance, like stats, builds or whatever. Learning any new MMO to my own satisfaction would take a lot of time.

To buy or not to buy?

Overall I felt I didn’t have enough info from the trial period to really tell if I would like this game long term or not. Maybe it could have a place in my life as a game to go to when I want a short session of undemanding, chill-out fun. On the other hand, if it’s not just going to wind up on the pile of bought-and-barely-played stuff, it’d take a fair investment of time for me to learn its ins and outs to my satisfaction. Knowing me, if I don’t take the time to dive right in and dive in deep at the start, the game will inevitably end up on the unplayed pile.

Right at this moment, I don’t want to be putting in that time to dive into learning a new MMO, so I decided to skip it. Maybe I’ll pick it up in a future sale sometime.

See also: Inner Adult, Inner Child

LOTRO: Quest Pack Recommendations

Quest Pack Sale

This week there is a 50% sale on LOTRO Quest Packs! (Note – the headline on the linked sale page says it’s only a 20% sale, but the body says 50%, and the prices in TP back up the 50%-off figure. The picture above is a screenshot of the actual store prices today.)

Back before I had all the packs I used to love sales like this, and look forward to them. But in the early days when I didn’t have a lot of TP to spare it was always a conundrum which packs to get next. How would I know which I’d enjoy without trying them? Of course I Googled around, and checked out what info I could find to help me.

Now that I’ve been around a bit more, and seen a lot of the content for myself, I thought I’d offer my own brief reviews and recommendations for the latest generation of LOTRO players.

List of Quests Packs

Here’s the list of Quest Packs from the ever helpful Lotro Wiki, along with their regular prices and the level range they’re for.

Quest Packs LOTRO Wiki

I needed the list to refresh my memory, and make sure I did them all in a sensible order!

Level 30-40

Your options are North Downs, Trollshaws and Evendim.

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Evendim is highly recommended. It has a huge amount of content, an interesting storyline, some fantastic scenery, and a bit of lighter fun stuff. There’s so much there that I ran three or four characters through the zone before I’d done everything there is to do. A few highlights worth mentioning:

  • The ruined city of Annuminas is crawling with invading forces from Angmar while being defended by the rangers. Lots of challenging fights to figure out how to win. At first there don’t seem to be a lot of quests there, but there’s one that gives you a ranger companion and then lots of quests open up from that.

  • There’s a hobbit at the glass-blowers’ camp who is an in-game tribute to Tolkien himself. I’ll leave you to find out more.

  • Nothcotton Farm makes a nice change from combat quests. You can gain a whole level just helping them get everything ready for the market day. Be warned, first time I tried to do it I got so frustrated at getting lost in the maze-like farm complex I gave up. Second time I made a map to figure out the layout, and had fun seeing how fast and efficiently I could tick things off. Now I always enjoy taking an alt there.

  • You get three scalable instances, and they’re good ones. I don’t see them being run too often mind you.

North Downs was revamped earlier this year, and I haven’t run it since then, so some of what I’m going to say may not apply any more. (Anyone who’s done it recently, please add your thoughts in the comments.)

Overall I found North Downs pretty disappointing. The area didn’t have too much of a distinct character, the stories didn’t add up to anything coherent, and the quest flow didn’t make a lot of sense. A few things that ND does have going for it…

  • You can go there in the low 20s, so if you’ve already done Lone Lands enough times and want a change, ND is the other option.

  • You get the Fornost instance cluster. There are four scalable instances, though you might have trouble finding a group to do them because I don’t see them being run very often. Personally I also like soloing instances, but you need to have high-level chars for that.

  • There are a lot of deeds to be had to help with getting your virtues, and being a relatively low-level zone, the slayer deeds are less painful to do here than in most places.

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Trollshaws was also revamped earlier in the year, so the same caveat applies – some things may have changed since I last ran it.

I’d say Trollshaws is more enjoyable than North Downs, but not as good overall as Evendim. Some of the upsides of the region:

  • You get to hang out in Rivendell. And while you’re there, you can play some games of riddles with Bilbo Baggins himself. If you love your Tolkien lore as much as me, that alone might be reason enough to get the Trollshaws!

  • There’s some good questing at the higher end of the zone around Tal Bruinen.

  • Music and scenery are very good in this zone.

On the downside, Trollshaws is a region that is very hard to get around. The map is almost useless, and I spend a lot of time getting lost and backtracking. And that’s even after having been through the zone several times on different characters. Even when you don’t get lost, you spend far too much time getting to quest objectives.

It also seems to be a very hard region in which to complete deeds or get reputation. Part of the reason for that is that you don’t get any instances with this quest pack, so none of the kills and rep that you might get from instance runs.

My Recommendation

Overall, if you’re only going to get one region in this level range, I’d say Evendim is the standout choice. Trollshaws comes next, and North Downs is for when you’re looking to complete your collection.

Level 40-50

This is the hardest level range to make your choices, not least because there are four regions to choose from:

  • Angmar covers the whole range from 40-50
  • Misty Mountains used to cover the whole range, but was revamped earlier this year and now seems to cover just 40-45.
  • Forochel covers 44-50
  • Eregion covers 45-50

Angmar has big pluses and big minuses.

The biggest minus is that since the place is basically Mordor-lite, hanging out there for any length of time is liable to get you down. It’s dark, desolate, devoid of greenery, and crawling with nasty creatures. And no sky should look like that.

On the plus side, there is a heck of a lot of content, and plenty for all tastes and playstyles. That includes so many good instances that I struggle to remember them all. Urugarth and Carn Dum in particular are some of the best instances of all time. Sadly they haven’t been made scalable yet, apparently because Turbine has yet to figure out how to do that while still keeping their original flavor which people like so much. But if you like doing instances then I’d say definitely get Angmar.

If you’re going to do the Epic you’re going to spend a lot of time in Angmar anyway, so that’s another reason to get the zone. While you’re there, you might as well quest, and rack up deeds. (And the Angmar part of the Epic is one of the best parts of all, so if you’ve not done it before, it’s highly recommended not to skip it.)

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Misty Mountains was also revamped this year. Again I’ve not re-run it since the changes, but this time I’m more worried that the changes will have taken away what I loved about the zone than I’m wondering how much they improved things. Anyone who knows more, please do comment.

Pluses of the zone, as it was:

  • Nice mountain environment, with snowstorms and such.

  • It’s hard to figure out how to get around through the mountain passes, but very satisfying once you do. Unlike Trollshaws, once you discover your way around it’s fairly easy to remember and find it again the next time.

  • Goblintown. Opinions were mixed on this place, some people loved it, some hated it. I was one of those that loved it. The people who hated it found it too hard and too confusing. For the confusing part, you definitely need a really good map. As for the hard part, I think it was made with duos and trios in mind, and it’s fun to do that way. Like a lot of small group content it is also very enjoyable to solo if you like a challenge, especially if you’re playing a class that can cope well with crowds. Sneaking around with a burg is a blast!

  • There’s some Tolkien lore, via meeting Gloin and from exploring Goblintown. Who wouldn’t want to find Gollum’s Cave? (Not that it was easy to find!)

  • As far as I can remember you only get one instance, the Goblintown Throne Room, but it’s a good one. A lot of it can be done in a trio or even solo, though it is officially a full fellowship instance.

I understand the Misty Mountains changes have made the zone a lot easier, reduced the level of the mobs in there, and added easier travel options. Some might like it that way, but I’m not sure on that. One day I’ll go back and see.

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Forochel is very pretty. The Northern Lights that are often playing there are wonderful, and sometimes it’s more tempting to just gawp at them than to do any questing.

Overall there are some nice storylines and some good questing in Forochel, but the main downside is that there’s just less content than elsewhere. Which includes a total lack of instances with this pack. It feels a bit unfinished, like a good TV show that was inexplicably canceled before it got to the finale.

Eregion is a sort of middling zone, with nothing either outstanding nor anything horrible about it. In theory it should be a lore-fest, but the opportunity has mostly been missed. I’d have loved to hear all about the Noldorin elves who once lived there, and made the three Elven rings.

The high points for me are:

  • There’s a quest to save Bill the pony from wargs.

  • You get two scalable small fellowship instances, known to all as “School” and “Library”. They’re good instances, are pretty quick to do, and give good rewards. That might be why they still seem to be popular to this day, and you probably won’t have a hard time getting a group for them.

My Recommendations

In summary, in this level range there are pros and cons to each of the options depending on what you most like to do, and what you most want to avoid. Personally I’d say get Angmar as the default choice. It’s by far the most bang for your TP buck, and has fab instances. If you can’t bear to hang out in all that gloom for so long, pair it with one of the others for a change of scene.

After that, Misty Mountains and Forochel both have a lot going for them. Unless you like to play instances often, in which case Eregion has the edge.

What about Level 50+?

I’m not going to give you my thoughts on the quest packs above level 50 in this post. I might well do that another time, but there are a couple of reasons to skip them for now:

1) This is already a rather long post… at the rate I write I may never get finished! Or everyone will have already spent their hard earned TP, and my recommendations for the sale will be moot!

2) Over level 50, there aren’t that many choices of what to get at any given level. Basically you will want to get Moria, Mirkwood, Isengard and Rohan, because that is the main path through the game. The other packs were originally added to keep people going in-between expansions, and for anyone that doesn’t have them yet, they are somewhat of a sideline. Enjoyable maybe, but not the priority if you don’t have TP to throw around.

Final Thoughts

By now I have all the quest packs, and I don’t regret getting any of them. Unless maybe I regret that I don’t have enough time to play through all the good stuff that I’ve got!

While I mentioned various irritations and frustrations with some of the zones, if you like LOTRO you’ll probably find lots to enjoy in each zone. But I do remember what it was like when I was first getting into the game, and especially at sale time, when I was tempted this way and that, but didn’t have a lot to spend. I hope my recs will help people that are where I was a couple of years ago.

As for the old LOTRO hands, I hope you found the post entertaining. If you feel like vehemently disagreeing, wantonly agreeing, or just want to add something, esp about the updated zones, please do!

I’d love to know what zones are your favorites and your pet hates too.

To Boldly Blog…

Planet Pasduil

If you like what I write, you might be interested to know that I’ve started a second blog.

Planet Pasduil will be a lot more varied in style and topic than Thinking Play, and I’ll probably be posting there much more often than here. Longer and more thoughtful pieces on games and related topics like fantasy fiction will stay here, and hopefully continue at about the same pace of a post or few per month.

On Planet Pasduil, you can expect to find things like…

  • Shout outs to interesting things on the web
  • Snippets of data I want to share or discuss
  • Quotes, photos or videos I liked
  • Short pieces on games
  • Short and long pieces on non-game topics
  • Personal observations on life, the universe and everything

My twitter timeline probably gives you a good idea of the kinds of things that might come up. Possibly topics like….

  • What I made of the Apple launches today

  • Charity giving

  • The irritations of life

  • The culture of sports fandom

  • Data dorkery

If you might like to read or chat about such things, please follow the new blog!

Thinking Names

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I’m not the best at naming things. I was going to call this post “A Blog By Any Other Name”, but then I saw Rowan got there ahead of me! Darn, that was a good one and now I’m stumped again! This of course is more or less what usually happens when I have to name anything, say a character or a blog. I ponder, I agonize, I reject a bunch of so-so ideas that occur to me, I come up with a good one somehow… then I find someone’s got there ahead of me anyway and I can’t have it!

Names are Important!

According to Shakespeare:

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

No doubt he’s right, but what about a blog? Names are a big part of the first impressions of a blog, at least for me, and do affect how likely I am to read it, and what expectations I bring to my reading. It’s true that after I’ve gotten to know the blog the name won’t matter so much.

Ideally a blog’s name along with its design (fonts, pics, colors, layouts etc) will help to express the blog’s personality and topics. If the name and style chimes with me, that’s often a good indication that the content will too.

Let’s talk about some great names and why I like them:

  • Bio Break – It’s a common MMO term, so it clues me in that the blog is about MMOs and MMO culture. Also given what the term means it sounds like the blog doesn’t take itself too seriously, and is friendly and approachable.

  • Contains Moderate Peril – While I’m not familiar with the exact phrase it obviously comes from some rating system for movies or games or such, and you easily can imagine what kind of movies or games would contain moderate peril! Sounds like it’s going to be about genres that I like then. And the playfulness of the title leads me to think the posts will have a touch of humor too.

  • I Have Touched the Sky – I like the poetic phrase with its hint of sci-fi and fantasy. I scratch my head to figure out why it seems familar… then work out it comes from a Star Trek Original Series episode title. Anyone who likes TOS and that episode is probably going to be my kind of guy, and I want to check out what they have to say.

Since I like names of that kind, you might wonder why I didn’t choose something like that for my own blog. I wonder that myself, and I can’t remember! Probably I couldn’t think of anything I really liked along those lines. At least not anything that wasn’t already taken on WordPress.com. I do remember I had to pass up several ideas because of that, but I don’t now remember what those ideas were.

Thinking Play

I settled on Thinking Play for a number of reasons. Firstly I used to think a lot about the games I was playing, from what made them fun or not, to their communities and culture, to the business angles etc. The blog was going to be a place to put those thoughts into writing.

Second there is a kind of pun or set of multiple meanings there. Not only is it thinking about play, but the kind of play I like calls for enjoyable thought, so maybe the topic is actually “play that involves thinking”. On top of that, thinking tends to be fun for me, so thinking about anything is a kind of play. I also believe that playfulness is crucial for any kind of creative thinking, serious or otherwise. So the blog is also a playground for having fun with kicking around ideas. I don’t imagine anyone else picks up the various possible meanings I give to the blog title, but I like them.

Finally I wanted a fairly clear scope for the blog, but also a fairly broad one. My “playtime” is not all about MMOs or videogames, and I wanted to at least have a title that would allow me explore topics like for example gamification in life, or how grouping in MMOs compares to playing team sports. So “play” in a broad sense rather than just “games” was the idea.

If I had a do-over?

I’m pretty happy with the name I chose, but I do sometimes wonder about the scope of the blog and whether I should open it up to more topics and more styles of post. I might make a second blog to accommodate that.

The “Gamer” Label

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What exactly is a “gamer”? Is it even a useful label?

The topic has been doing the rounds on the MMO blogosphere lately, and the very fact that so many people have felt compelled to comment tells us that people have strong feelings about labels, one way and another. (Either that, or they are just glad to have a topic to seize on for Blaugust!)

I don’t think it’s entirely a storm in a social media teacup, it’s something that is on people’s minds without the promptings of Twitter or questionnaires. For example…

Whether or not I would call myself a “Gamer” (let alone a “Real Gamer”) is something I do think about now and again. It’s not a label I usually apply to myself, even though I’ve played video games for thirty-five years almost without a break.

Bhagpuss

Are Labels Useful?

One school of thought is that labels like “gamer” are arbitrary and of little use.

Another topic going around has been an attempt to define what a “gamer” or a “real gamer” is. While I am not as dismissive as some, it does seem to be a futile effort to expand or contract a label to fit an imperfect and varying set of assumptions. I play video games. Isn’t that enough?

Wilhelm

Personally I think labels can be fairly useful, depending on what use you intend to put them to. Dividing the world into categories is a basic part of everyday thinking, even when most such categories are fairly fuzzy and vague. What exactly constitutes a “geek” or a “gamer” or “fantasy” is necessarily loosely defined. All the same, labels like that are important for thinking and communicating. For example we can make pretty meaningful statements that would otherwise be difficult to put in words, like:

  • Game of Thrones is fantasy that is enjoyed by more than just the usual geeks.
  • Raspberry Pi was meant to be for kids, but most of them are bought by adult geeks.
  • I play LOTRO, but I’m not much of a gamer otherwise

While labels make people bristle sometimes, it’s hard to think, talk and function without using them.

The Trouble with Labels

As essential as labels are, they can also be problematic. From what I can see, there are several major ways in which they cause problems.

Simplistic Understanding of Categories

Understanding the world through simple categories is where we all have to start. Whether it’s as children learning about life newly, or adults coming as newbies to some field of knowledge, the full complexity of any field is not something we can handle to begin with. And if we don’t need to progress beyond the beginner level, it may be that simplified understanding is all we’ll ever need or ever have.

Some of the over-simplistic thinking that we’re liable to:

  • Imagining there is a hard-and-fast cut off point, and the label neatly divides the world into two groups. You’re either a gamer, or you’re not.
  • Underestimating the diversity of the group. We have a picture of what a “gamer” is, and don’t realize that even if that picture might fit a sizable chunk of people who play games, there might be even more that don’t fit that picture.

Stereotypes – Good, Bad and Ugly

Gollum mural

Is there such a thing as a good stereotype? I’d suggest there kind of is, though perhaps it would be best to not use the word “stereotype” for it!

Dividing the world up into categories and having a picture of a representative member of the category that is used for thinking about the whole group is one of the basic ways the mind works. If for some reason you need to think about students, families, seniors or pets, your starting point at least will be some picture of a typical student, family, senior or pet. You might know perfectly well that there are all shapes and sizes of families, that some seniors run marathons, and some people have pet tigers, but for most everyday thinking and talking, it’s reasonable to go with the simplified stereotyped picture. If someone asks if a hotel is suitable for seniors it would be odd if you replied: “Absolutely, the rock climbing around there is great!” If they asked “Do they allow pets?”, it would be bizarre to reply: “Only dogs and cats, no chimps or tigers.”

A good stereotype is one that is fairly accurate and fairly representative of the group as a whole. It’s a simplification, but a useful one when you need to think or talk about the group and don’t have lots of time and energy to spend on sophisticated analysis.

A bad stereotype could be one that is inaccurate. For example if we imagine that the average age of MMO players is 17 when in fact it is 30, our stereotype is grossly misleading, and our thinking based on it will be deeply flawed.

More subtly, a bad stereotype could be one that is insufficiently representative. If the average age of MMO players is 30, but the age spread of players is so large that we’re nearly as likely to come across a 15 year old or a 65 year old as a 30 year old, our mental picture of the 30 year old player could still be seriously unhelpful.

In practice a lot of us have bad stereotypes in these senses in a lot of areas of our lives. This is for the simple reason that we tend to only come across skewed, highly unrepresentative cross-sections of the groups we talk about, and never know what the group as a whole looks like. That goes even when we are actually members of those groups ourselves – for example the people we hang out with in MMOs can be totally unrepresentative of MMO players as whole. Maybe we started playing with a bunch of our school or college friends, and as they’re all of the same age group, we imagine that age is the typical age of players. Or maybe we always gravitate to guilds with more mature players, and imagine that is the typical age. Or perversely maybe we imagine the players we know personally are unusual, but they are actually pretty typical of the player base.

The concept of “ugly” stereotypes meanwhile lead us on to the topic of the social dynamics of labels.

Labels and Social Dynamics

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Apparently, there was much discussion yesterday on Twitter about trying to define the term “Gamer” and specifically, who gets to claim the term.

Rowan

It seems that someone was spouting off in their lack of knowledge that tablet and mobile gamers were in some way lesser gamers than the those on the console or PC. This once again gets back to the definition of what exactly a gamer is. Over on the Moderate Peril blog he questioned exactly why we need a label at all. In other hobbies, you don’t see the attempt to exclude people the way that we do within gaming.

Belghast

As human beings we are social animals, with many drives and concerns that take precedence over thinking clearly or understanding the world accurately. In particular we are often preoccupied with matters of belonging, identity and status. Things like…

  • Am I really a part of this group?
  • Am I accepted by the others in the group?
  • What is my place in the pecking order?
  • What is the status of my group in society?
  • Does being considered part of this group mean kudos or derision for me?
  • Is my group better than group X?
  • How can I present myself so as to look good to the people around me?

I think Belghast was wrong in the quote above that: “In other hobbies, you don’t see the attempt to exclude people the way that we do within gaming”. On the contrary, with most kinds of activity that people engage in from watching sports to drinking wine there are all kind of snobberies, reverse snobberies, social hierarchies and ways in which people use labels to look down on others, or to give themselves a sense of superiority. In pretty much any hobby or activity you’ll find groups of people that match descriptions like:

  • Hard-core and proud of it
  • Casual and apologetic about it
  • Casual and feels superior to those they see as “taking it all too seriously”
  • Casual but tries to give the impression of being pretty hard-core
  • Hard-core but tries to give the impression of being pretty casual
  • Insecure about whether they deserve the label
  • Reluctant to accept the label because of negative associations
  • Eager to claim the label because of positive associations
  • Highly engaged and looking down on the less committed
  • Highly engaged but maintaining everyone is equal regardless

This kind of adding on layers of judgments goes with just about any factual label that can be applied to a human being. Any fact about you, someone somewhere will judge you based on it. And some will judge you negatively for the very things that others judge you positively for.

A Useful “Gamer” Label?

A couple of properties are probably important for a label to be useful.

  • Differentiation… the label identifies a somewhat distinctive group. There is not much point in having a label of “movie watcher” in a society where the vast majority of people watch movies to some degree. But a label like “movie buff” has a place.
  • Broad Agreement… while we’re all free to define terms however we want, for the purpose of holding sensible conversations and communicating our ideas, we need to have reasonably broad agreement about what the label means. It doesn’t have to be universal agreement, as long as most of the time most of us have roughly the same idea of what a movie buff or a gamer might be.

Defining anyone that’s ever played Angry Birds as a gamer is therefore not going to be useful. That’s not a judgment on Angry Birds or the people who play it, just a recognition that since nearly everyone has played games of that sort, it is not particularly useful to focus on those people as a distinct group. It also seems likely to be a recipe for confusion if we decided to call them gamers, because there are plenty of people that won’t be thinking of the term in that way, and we’ll be talking at cross purposes all the time.

I’m inclined to use “gamer” as a term similar to “movie buff”. That would be someone who is especially interested in games, and for whom they are a particularly important part of their life. That could be someone who plays a good deal, or someone who follows the scene with interest. They could be into PC, console or mobile games, but they do have to be “into them”.

So… am I a gamer then?

It seems blindingly obvious that I am a gamer, but I do cringe somewhat at the label.

While I’m undoubtedly more casual than many gamers, I do have a number of MMOs installed, a Steam account, a bunch of PC games etc. I follow game blogs, listen to game podcasts, and even have a game blog of my own, albeit that I don’t post here all that frequently. Any jury would find me guilty as charged.

If I resist the label, it’s only for reasons of the social dynamics and stereotypes alluded to before. There is still some stigma associated with being a gamer, at least in some circles. And there are probably few if any circles in which being a gamer is going to positively arouse anyone’s admiration and respect.

Being a gamer is an aspect of me, but not one that I would want to be principally defined by in anyone’s mind.