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.
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.
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