Article Analysis #2 by Ben Noble

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March 26, 2012 by bnoble6

http://www.gamestudies.org/0202/wright/

For my second article report, I will be focusing on the article “Creative Player Actions in FPS Online Video Games” written for the “Game Studies” website by Talmadge Wright, Eric Boria, and Paul Breidenbach. These authors felt compelled to write this article because they feel online FPS (first person shooter) gaming produces an environment that allows participants to “reproduce and challenge everyday rules of social interaction while also generating interesting and creative innovations in verbal dialogue and non-verbal expressions.” For the study, they focused their attention on the interactions gamers had in the online FPS game Counter-Strike, examining the data compiled from 70 hours of gameplay on 50 different servers each. The world of online FPS gaming is a subculture unto itself, and within that subculture, various types of communication lead to an innumerable amount of problems and possibilities.

The authors have given the name “game talk” to describe the various types of communication players use in Counter-Strike. This is usually just the textual conversation that takes place between various players back and forth (reproducing everyday rules of social interaction). But it can also include creating maps, logos, and banning players from servers (generating interesting and creative innovations in dialogue and expression). The authors have broken the types of game talk into 5 different categories, and then these categories even further into subcategories depending on the medium and subject matter. The most frequent type of discourse the authors encountered in the game was related to game performance and/or conflict, such as accusations of cheating. However, they focused more on the creative game talk since it shows a greater insight into the complex ways the “game technology is used to mediate popular culture and social interactions.” The creative game talk category is broken down into five subcategories: 1) names, naming and identity talk, 2) joking, irony and word play, 3) map creation, judging and logo design, 4) changing game rules and technical limits 5) popular culture uses and references.

Of these five, I feel most are fairly self-explanatory, and with this paper’s word limit, I will not be able to evaluate all in the detail they deserve. But I found number three, map and logo creation and judging to be the most interesting. Players create maps from popular culture imagery, like a Wal-Mart, while others borrow from more generic settings such as villages, airports, and sports stadiums. Maps are first judged on their ability to produce good gameplay, meaning no side has an unfair advantage and sound strategy and tactics are required to come out victorious. Thousands of new maps have been created for Counter-Strike as well as theme modifications for existing maps such as horror, science fiction, and fantasy. The authors of the article argue that the aesthetics and organization involved in the arrangement of virtual space around play, and judgment of that space, is not far removed from the creation of other works of art and is a non-verbal means of communication on its own. As someone who has (unsuccessfully) spent countless hours trying to build a simple, symmetrical, and entertaining multiplayer map I completely agree with this assessment. It is extremely difficult to find that perfect balance between pulse-pounding excitement while not sacrificing anything in terms of balance. But, when that is accomplished, it truly is a work of art. In addition to maps, custom logos can also be created and “sprayed” on just about any wall on any map. Initially created as a way of self-identification for players and clans, these logos are often custom images of an offensive nature. The use of porn as logos became such a widespread problem that most servers had to prohibit the use of these erotic images. Another interesting use of these logos as self-expression is when players adopt images of popular culture. For example, one player, playing on the side of the counter-terrorist in game, sprayed images of the destroyed World Trade Center in New York City all over the map. This provides an interesting juxtaposition of real and virtual worlds and a meshing of the two.

The diversity and complexity of the subculture of online FPS gaming make it very difficult to summarize or draw overarching conclusions from. Even throughout the article, the authors state that various aspects of the subculture deserve further study, such as how more experienced players teach others how to do certain things in game. This article does a very good job of tackling a monumental task in summarizing such a complicated issue. Although, even for someone like me who is very immersed in the subculture, it does get somewhat confusing with it’s large number of very similar categories and subcategories.

In conclusion, I believe the authors of the paper definitely accomplished their goal of “keeping the debate concerning the social forces that make such game playing attractive open.” But one of the most important aspects of this debate I feel was too quickly glossed over. The world of online gaming is a world almost completely free of restrictions and punishment for your actions. It is a world where you can say and do as you please, and running around putting pictures of the destroyed World Trade Center has no consequences. I would have liked the authors to delve deeper into the psychology of this and how gamers may see and use this virtual world as an escape where they can release with no repercussions. The authors appear to have very strong and enlightened opinions on the things they do cover, so I would have liked to hear more on this topic, specifically.

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One thought on “Article Analysis #2 by Ben Noble

  1. dbfeder says:

    In my experience with online games of any kind, the lack of social restrictions seems to be a negative aspect of the experience. It’s a phenomenon best represented by the online community Anonymous, but I think we’ve all run into similar things in games – people, freed from the social conventions that we use in day-to-day interaction by the mask they hide behind use these online games as a platform for all forms of antisocial behavior.

    Of course, the opposite side of things is the direction XBox Live has taken – censoring as much as possible, attempting to remove anything that could be considered offensive, to a point of detriment to the users. There are all sorts of horror stories about accounts being deleted because people’s initials (which they use in their gamertag) can be interpreted as offensive.

    With a game like Counterstrike, where these images can be posted on the walls (and thus misused, as shown in the article), how should the designers confront the problem? What if, in a game where terrorism is a prominent factor, someone created a custom map of the London subway system or Ben Yehuda Street in Jerusalem, both recent sites of actual terrorist attacks? The issue of the freedom granted to gamers in an online arena is one that hasn’t been solved yet in my mind, but I’m not sure I see viable ways to move forward with it.

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