Posts tagged LOTRO

ONLINE Northwest Conference & a step back from gaming

I just got back from the 2009 OLNW conference. I love this event. The people and content are always strong and the focus on technology in libraries makes it a very focused single-day event. This time, I did not present on games and learning in libraries and it was a nice change of pace. My colleague Lorena and I gave a little talk on teaching Zotero (a citation manager plugin for FireFox). I enjoyed our talk and working with Lorena (of course!). I recommend OLNW for any librarian who has a bit of the geek in their personality.

Anne-Marie & Rachel gave an interesting and personal talk about how Twitter & other social tech are influencing civic engagement. The conversation was interesting and engaging, plus I think the metaphors really worked. Next, I attended Anna Johnson's  2, 4, 6, GREAT: Handouts they'll appreciate. If it hadn't been Anna, I don't think the presentation title would have lured me in the door. That would have been a HUGE mistake. This was the high point of the conference content-wise. Anna combined Edward Tufte's printed handout design methodologies with a ready-made workflow for a library's instruction program. Chapeau, Anna, Chapeau. Next I attended a nice little bit on a collaboration at Clark College. Clark is our friendly neighbor and parter in educating Clark County students. I was a bit pre-occupied with my upcoming session, so what I really took away from this one is that I'm jealous of librarians who have faculty hungry for partnerships. The last event of the one-day conference was my presentation on Zotero w/ Lorena O'English. I'm pleased with how it went. I did forget to use my favorite metaphor and neglected to say "jiggery-pokery" but it did go fairly smoothly.

This is an insanely stessful and busy time for me at work. I've got my third-year review (part of the tenure process) pending and I'm presening three times in six weeks. This means that my gaming has been strickly limited to playing LOTRO w/ N. and mostly with mundane MMORPG tasks such as collecting resources and grinding my crafting skills higher. There is hope for some new blog content coming up, however. First, I have an idea to write about Alasdair MacIntyre's virtue theory of ethics in relation to games. He uses chess to explain how virtue theory works, and I think most gamers would recognize what he's talking about, even though he uses a different vocabulary. We often hear of politicians or business leaders "gaming the system" or following the letter of the rules to achieve ends that are outside the spirit of the rules. Gamers have a word for that, we call it an "exploit", and in a good game it quickly leads to the exploit in question being "nerfed" or weakened to balance game-play. That is a conversation I'd like to explore further.

Also, Henry Jenkins mentioned a fork in game studies academics. He classifies us as either ludologists or finding a game's central meaning in game-play mechanics or narratologists who find meaning in the story being unfolded/invented by the player(s). You'll find this kind conversation every day on gaming blogs, but I find the application of labels to the taxonomy of gamers to be interesting.

Finally, I started playing Tomb Raider: Underworld this weekend. I bought the game a while ago on Steam, mainly because I'd never played a Lara Croft game and J.P. Gee has interesting things to say about some of the series. I'm really enjoying it, but I'm not sure how far I'll go. I'm using an Xbox 360 controller and finding the control scheme and third-person viewpoint to be very different from the keyboard and mouse WASD control I'm used to. Still, it seems new and fresh to me and I'm sure I'll have things I want to say about it after I play a bit further into the story.

Lord of the Rings Online

At least once a year from when I was around ten years old until some time after I went away to college, I read through J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. I read as much of Tolkien's work as I could find in the local library. I loved the Silmarillian and delved happily into the history of Middle Earth, Valinor, and Westernesse. When Peter Jackson made his wonderful films, I was very happy, but the films didn't kindle the same love for Middle Earth I remember from childhood. I enjoyed the films tremendously, but my enjoyment stemmed more from nostalgia than from fresh affection.

Recently, I have been playing the Lord of the Rings Online (LOTRO), a computer game where thousands of players log into a computer-generated simulated Middle Earth and role play at being hobbits (or elves, dwarves or humans. I prefer hobbits.) I'm surprised by how much I enjoy immersing myself in Middle Earth. My enjoyment, both of the game play and returning to Tolkien's Middle Earth, is real, fresh, and first hand. I'd like to figure out why my experience playing a game feels so different from watching a film based on the same source material. Perhaps trying to answer this question will tell us something about the nature of games as media.

It can be easy to dismiss games as literature or texts since it is rather difficult structurally to tell a story with a game. Books are a linear media, we start in the upper right-hand corner of page one and read left to right through the pages sequentially until we reach the end of the last page. Films start on the first frame of reel one and continue frame by frame in sequence until the last reel has played. Writers and filmmakers have to work very hard to escape the linear constraints of their media. Not so with games (or digital video). There is nothing in the structure of the media that forces a game to start at the beginning and move through a series of events in sequence until the end is reached. At least, not necessarily so. Certainly many games are linear or they use linear devices and techniques to tell a story. Perhaps this is because writers and creative talent have polished their art creating for linear media. Perhaps this is what audiences have come to expect. Traditional rules for creating a plot involve linear motion: introduction, conflict, climax, denouement. Stories happen in a certain order. Games don't have to happen in a certain order. In fact, the interactive nature of games may make them a less-suitable vehicle for conveying a plot than traditional story-telling methods.

In many ways, this has been seen as a disadvantage for games. Creative minds have tried to tell stories with games and often when familiar stories have been re-told in games they have been less compelling than the books or movies that spawned them. If Peter Jackson had tried to make a game out of Frodo's quest to destroy the ring, I have no doubt it would have been beautiful and technically impressive, but I am not certain it would have been fun to play. Being locked into the choices made by Frodo or the other characters doesn't really take advantage of the freedom that interactive games offer. Game players have come to expect the ability to affect the outcome of their games. The story quite likely would have felt wooden and forced when it forces them to follow the pre-scripted plot.

This is where LOTRO shines and this is why I find the game version of Middle Earth so much more compelling than the film version. Instead of connecting me to Middle Earth by placing me inside of the story, the game allows me to create my own stories inside the world that Tolkien created. I can make choices and interact with an environment that feels true to the world I read about as a kid. Larger themes such as tragedy and loss from decline of civilization, the pleasures of rustic living, and moving forward by looking back come through much more clearly.

This is also where many points of contemporary art and thought converge. Textual critics have long asserted that literature and art are greater than the author's intent. MMORPGs are a new kind of literature that move away from being determined by a single author and empower the reader to actively participate in creating the text. Web 2.0 is changing the mass media from one-way transmissions to global conversations. Games scenarios played online with other people do not play out the same each time. The audience helps write the script. Perhaps games, especially massive online role-playing games, are part of the logical progression of literature. I'm not ready to make that claim just yet, especially since the things that I love most in LOTRO are echoes of what I read in Tolkien's books. I can say that interacting inside of a re-creation of Tolkien's world is a much more satisfying experience than watching someone's film recreation of the same world.