A Geek Anthropologist’s First Time: A MMORPG Experience

Photo by Author

Elder Scrolls Screenshot Photo by Author

By Rayna Elizabeth

Elder Scrolls takes place in the world of Tamriel. Published by Bethesda (who also develops Fallout and Dishonored), the series has progressed since 1994. Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) is the latest release from the series. Like the previous games, ESO centers around medieval and fantasy themes involving mages and magic, warriors and swordplay, elves, goblins and trolls. So if you are a fan of fantasy and gaming, then this series is for you.

I enjoyed Skyrim and Oblivion (both non MMORPG’s), so when I heard that another Elder Scrolls game was to be released, I was excited to play, though somewhat intimidated once I learned it was online. Once the game loaded, I was ready for my first online gaming adventure. After I finished my character creation, and escaped the prison, I found myself in a town. Not used to the controls yet or the gameplay in general, I was exposed to many unusual sights and sounds. Even though I have plenty of experience with table top, LARPing and solo RPG video games, I had never played an MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) until this point. The new ESO was released for consoles June of 2015.

At the start of the game, I saw other people’s characters running around the town of Devon’s Watch. In other solo RPG’s, I would have a town to myself and interact with other NPC’s (Non-Player Characters) as I saw fit. In this new MMORPG setting, I also didn’t know how to mute other player’s voices. When I first got into the town, I kept hearing other players. One boy said repeatedly, “I will pay 8000 gold for someone to bite me as a werewolf.” As I continued playing, I heard other people and their conversations with each other. Sometimes, I overheard a parent scolding their child, quite reminiscent of Robin Thorsen’s character Clara, who often, comically, leaves her children unattended as she games online.

From an anthropological perspective, I was intrigued by the conversations between players who knew each other, and others who were strangers looking to buy, sell and trade items. Some interactions were civil, while others were not. I hesitated to use voice chat for a few months into the game because of experiences that other gamers have had online, especially women, as this was just after much of the Gamergate controversy. One study reported that only 28% of girls who game online use the voice-chat feature. Elder Scrolls Online offers different channels of communication; you can chat with guild mates or any other players who happen to be in the same area that you are. The voice chat feature is not necessary to move forward in the game, but does help if you want to interact with other players. All characters simply stand there, with a bit of sway and predictable hand motions; they don’t have facial expressions or body language to communicate with others like we do in the real world. Voice chat allows for people to clarify their actions, meet new people and participate in game functions like trading.

Women may not chat online for reasons other than harassment. Unfortunately, harassment isn’t just limited to the online world, as my fellow colleague Emma wrote in a previous post. Experiences outside of the gaming world may inform the choices of women online. Despite hearing other feuds between players, I decided to give voice chat a try. For my first experience, I had just finished defeating a boss when a player approached. Instead of running away, I stayed to help him defeat the boss once it re-spawned. During the wait, I activated voice chat and we had a conversation about our characters. I didn’t learn anything new about the game, but I can see how interaction with each other on a regular basis could improve their mastery of the game simply by bouncing ideas off one another. The interaction was polite, non-threatening and gave me the confidence to use the feature in the future.

One other area that needs mentioning: having never played a MMORPG before, I wasn’t sure of the etiquette. Despite Elder Scrolls being an online world, there seems to be an unspoken set of rules. Some people follow them, while others don’t. Since the rules are mutually understood, it becomes difficult to navigate this social world without direct communication and an emergent understanding of the proper mores and behaviors of the space. One has to become vigilant and observe how others typically react in different situations.

The open world format of Elder Scrolls means that certain items and bosses are there for the taking. For example, killing a boss just before someone arrives isn’t too big a deal as the bosses re-spawn fairly quickly, giving the other players a chance to fight them too. Treasure chests, however, are not so quick to re-spawn. For example, while I was fighting a boss to get to a chest, someone else came by and decided to sweep in and take my loot. This happened on more than one occasion. Yet, this behaviour is not the norm, as most players seem to be respectful. Elder Scrolls represents an alternative social space, yet certain rules and etiquette still apply from real life situations.

"Sweet Roll" Photo by Author

“Sweet Roll”
Photo by Author

Overall, my MMORPG experience has been both enlightening and frustrating. I still prefer the solo gaming experience. Firstly, I find that I become more immersed in a world when I’m not distracted by other players running around (sometimes naked), which can be fun, but can also take away from the aesthetic and mood of the game. Secondly, I have a hard time with the dependency on other players in order to finish a quest. There are several caves or “delves” that you cannot complete without grouping up with other players. As a player, it becomes frustrating knowing that there are more quests and experience points to be had, but you can’t access them without a group. The process also takes effort in finding other players around your level, but becomes easier if you have voice chat enabled.

Until I get a chance to start Witcher 3, however, I will grab my horse “Sweet Roll” and ride back into Tamriel’s public gaming sphere with hopes of not getting swindled by other players opening treasure chests.

I’d like to hear from our readers as to their experiences with MMORPG’s and whether or not they prefer multiplayers or solo gaming! Tell us in the comments.


Works Cited

Lenhart, Amanda, Aaron Smith, Monica Anderson, Maeve Duggan, and Andrew Perrin (2015). “Teens, technology and friendships.” Pew Research Center http://www.pewinternet.org/files/2015/08/Teens-and-Friendships-FINAL2.pdf

About raynaelizabeth

My name is Rayna and I am currently an M.Ed. Candidate at York University and my background includes knowledge in the fields of Anthropology and Psychology. My research interests include death studies, human factors in space, homelessness, poverty, stigma, ethics, and science and technology studies.

There are 4 comments

  1. Merrell

    I’ve played MMO’s since 2005 and world of warcraft, which ran the risk of consuming far too much of my life and had to be put down forcibly. After that I dabbled in DC Universe Online, which was way more casual-oriented. I picked up ESO for the PS4 this week and I’m pleasantly surprised by how detailed and interesting it is.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. epicipseity

    I think most MMORPGs are at least adequately accommodating to those who prefer to solo, but it seems like, more and more, a solo player is going to miss out, where someone who groups up has a greater potential for maximizing their experience. I tend to be a completionist and not so much a gear junkie, and that’s where I find what I think is an unfair wall barring me from content. I don’t care for PVP (in an MMORPG at least, I can dig shooters on occasion), but I’m not missing anything content-wise by not participating in arena combat. But in dungeons and raids where the story might continue, I’m cut off unless I’ve got a group. Not all MMOs are story-driven to the point where it matters, and certainly not every gamer really cares about story, but I like the immersive experience. Elder Scrolls Online offers a good amount of content to satisfy my solo needs, but I inevitably run into the same disappointment when I’m forced to group up to get the full experience.

    My MMO of choice at the moment is Star Wars: The Old Republic, which is VERY story-driven, and a good deal of the main story arc reaching across expansions cannot be fully experienced solo. I think they did something cool in the last expansion though, perhaps realizing that future content would be better enjoyed if everyone got the whole story, by allowing you to run a few group flashpoints solo with a beefed-up bodyguard to help you through to catch you up in the narrative that previously was only experienced by people in groups. I appreciated that. I’d give up XP and gold and gear in a dungeon or raid if allowed to solo it (at a necessarily decreased difficulty) just to get the full experience.

    While I’m on the subject of groups, a thought: Social gaming is great, I get it. I tend to be introverted and keep to myself IRL, but that didn’t always carry over into the online realm. I’ve gamed with some great groups over the years through some great games–Ultima Online, WoW, Anarchy Online, World War II Online, City of Heroes, Tribes, etc–but lately it’s become more difficult for me to do so. This is partly because in recent years my social anxiety has increased, and unfortunately it’s begun to carry over into the online realms. It used to be that the anonymity of playing a character in an online game was enough to break that pattern of anxiety and I formed some pretty strong bonds with random people from all walks of life. I was able to express myself and carry a conversation in ways I wasn’t always able to IRL. In recent years, for me at least, it’s grown increasingly difficult to find a group that matches my play style OR my personality. I’ve tried, and I’m always thinking “Okay, tonight I’m going to roll through with some randoms and maybe find a few people that I’d want to group with again” but I’m typically disappointed. It’s disheartening to me when I realize my anxiety is creeping into gaming, and sometimes I wonder if I’m alone in this. Am I the only one? And then it gets really profound, because I reverse the scene. In real life, I’m the one that solos the content, I’m the completionist grinding for 100%, not out for money or status, but just wanting to learn and experience as much as possible. I’m the guy at the bar passively role-playing until someone joins in. The parallels are, as should be expected, rampant. Example: SW:TOR … The other day I really wanted to run some content that required a group, but I backed out because I felt I wasn’t good enough at the game to put myself out there with other people that were. Well, duh, I’m not going to be an effective group member if I don’t group up! Parallel: The gym … I’m thinking, I really don’t want to go to the big gym until I’m fitter, more muscular, thinner, etc. Well, duh, you’re not going to get there if you don’t go to the big gym!

    And so, I sweat quietly in my apartment complex’s inadequate fitness room on off-hours. And so, I wait until I’m at a ridiculously high level to where I can solo a group mission (though I’m three planets away from that storyline, which now really means nothing in the narrative flow).

    I prefer solo … but there’s always that me inside that really wants to enjoy being part of a group.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. raynaelizabeth

      Thank you so much for your reply!

      “I tend to be a completionist and not so much a gear junkie” Agreed, I feel the same way. I prefer the immersive feeling and storylines over tinkering my gear for hours on end.

      As for the social anxiety, I understand, you are not alone in that. I’m not sure if this is out there, but what about putting parameters on finding other gamers? For example, if I am looking for others to group with, maybe I can set specific criteria for what I am looking for i.e. older age group. Perhaps players could write a blurb/bio of themselves that others can search through (like a dating site) or something to that effect. Maybe then it would be easier to find people that you gel with and become less disappointed. I’m sure there are a lot of us out there who just want to play and have a good time.


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