In case it isn’t obvious, the title of this post should be read to the tune of Madonna’s Material Girl. A fun and carefree 80’s pop song is a pretty accurate representation of my experience in Field Experiment 3 in which I played Chore Wars, World of Warcraft, and Canasta. Although I did not gain equal measures of happiness from all of the games, I did learn that playing games is a great alternative to passive entertainment, prone to creating enjoyment and not just moments of pleasure. A fantastic stress reliever, I plan to continue to play games during my leisure time and look forward to exploring this genre.
I had the least success of all three parts of this experiment with the Alternate Reality Game. The ARG I chose was Chore Wars, and although the game has potential to foster lively and fun competition among roommates, nobody was interested in playing with me. Determined to make my gaming experience a success, I attempted to turn it into a competition against myself. But arbitrary currency was not enough to motivate me to return to the game. Still, it was satisfying to submit the chores I had completed. Since this game revolves around things I would have done with or without the game, I did not mind at all the work required to play. In addition, it was very satisfying to sit down at the end of the day and recall how productive I had been in my apartment. But after submitting my chores and receiving some virtual rewards, I did not return to Chore Wars.
One reason for my lack of interest in this ARG may have been the lack of playfulness within the game. The premise of Chore Wars does not abide by all of John Huizinga’s Homo Ludens’ 6 Rules of Play. Huizinga explains that “play is not ‘ordinary’ or ‘real’ life…’only for fun’”(8). In addition, play should be secluded and limited by time and space, but Chore Wars is both ordinary and the parameters for completing the chores are relatively unlimited. Perhaps the lack of structure and overwhelming freedom to create your network and choose how you participate is why I did not gain much enjoyment from my Alternate Reality Game experience.
My experience playing a Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game brought me much more enjoyment than the Alternate Reality Game. For this part of the experiment, I played World of Warcraft for the first time. I was skeptical of the violence and combat, but decided to play anyway, and was very impressed by the low barriers to entry. After studying this game in a variety of classes throughout my Media, Culture, and Communication career, I understand there to be a serious and well-developed culture surrounding this game that I did not think I could break into without a mentor. However I was happy to learn that after creating an avatar and entering the world, you are lead through a training process. I was also nervous about this game because of the intense social element. Not only was this my first time playing World of Warcraft, but my first time playing anything besides Super Mario or Tetris on my grandma’s Nintendo. I was so relieved when the beginning of the game consisted of only game-generated characters acting as my trainers and sending me on missions. It is easy to accept instructions from a computer, but intimidating to interact with other players when your inexperience could be detrimental to their mission and overall game experience.
My inexperience was a bit of a hindrance to my own game experience, since it became frustrating and then boring when I did not know how to move forward in the game. I utilized other resources like the World of Warcraft website to gather information and searched on Google for tips related to the specific problems I had. Still, breaking away from immersion in the game to find out other information discouraged me from continuing to play. But when I was not inhibited by those difficult sections, I had a great time playing World of Warcraft and was surprised to notice some lasting happiness due to the game. I looked forward to playing, and excitedly anticipated the next chance I would get to play. While playing, there were various small triumphs during the tasks and exciting rewards when each task was complete. As I completed each mission, my avatar received rewards and built her inventory of tools. At the same time, there were emotional rewards as I completed the missions and built more confidence in myself and my identity as a player.
For my experience playing a non-mediated game, I accompanied my mom to her weekly cards night where I played Canasta with her and her friends at her country club. The evening began with dinner, and the group dynamic was purely social. However, when we moved downstairs to begin playing cards, everyone became much more serious. I learned how to play the game this winter break when I was on vacation with my family, but had not played in two months when I attended the cards night. Once again, I was nervous about entering the environment where those around me identified as players, and I identified as a novice. However, asking for help in the physical space was much easier than asking for help from a stranger online whose real face I could not even see. My mom’s friends were nurturing and motivational, giving me advice both when I did and didn’t ask for it. It got to be a little overwhelming and annoying when they would make corrections or suggestions, and it got me thinking about how gameplay is all about the choices you make to advance.
While playing Canasta, I noticed a lot of the factors we have discussed that are important to lasting happiness that we discussed from Daniel Gilbert’s “Stumbling on Happiness.” Every move asks you to think about the future, and plan for your future success, which is very exiting. This game also requires you to play in pairs, and the experience of having another player rely on me for her own success was a concrete example of Gilbert’s point about the benefits of being important, and feeling that you matter. With each successful hand, I was not only succeeding for myself but also for my partner, Judy. I felt added lasting happiness because playing this game asked me to work hard to remember the strategies I had learned previously, and resulted in me recalling a lot about my mood and experience from my last time playing.
Jane McGonnigal’s Reality is Broken really speaks to the my social experience playing Canasta, and helped me to draw some conclusions about the difference in experience when playing with close friends versus playing with acquaintances. Perhaps it was because I was playing with an older group of women, or maybe it was just because I did not know most of these women very well, but expressing fiero during our Canasta games felt awkward and inappropriate. Celebrating my success felt like celebrating my competitors failure, and I was not comfortable teasing them the way McGonnigal describes can make us very happy during game play. However, in all of the moments when I held myself back from that explosion of emotion that happens with success during game play, I recalled the experience of playing with my parents and sisters while we were on vacation. Not only did we loudly celebrate our own success, but we were happy to tease and put down those on the opposing team. The happy embarrassment that resulted was a unique opportunity for my family to experience different social hierarchies. McGonnigal states “by letting someone tease us, we’re also helpling them feel powerful. We’re giving them a moment to enjoy a higher status in our social relationship–and humans are intensely attuned to shifts in social status. By letting someone else experience a higher status, we intensify their positive feelings for us” (84). This was especially rewarding for my sisters and I as we got a chance to feel a higher status than our father, who likes to think he is dominant since he is our sole financial supporter.
Through my experience of playing these three different games, I felt I developed a new identity as a gamer. I found myself excitedly anticipating the next opportunity to play, and even brought my experience into my social relationships with friends I knew are also gamers. Despite some momentary frustrations, in the MMORPG and non-mediated game I felt the benefits of eustress, fiero, and real accomplishment. My preconceived notions and anxieties about entering a social dynamic I felt no relationship to might have prevented me from ever attempting to broaden my horizons by becoming a social gamer, but I intend to continue to try new MMORPGs, and attend my mom’s cards night whenever I can. Although gamers do take the medium very seriously, playing is always centered around fun. Despite any struggles players may face, I now know first hand the benefits of the lasting happiness gaming can create. And I am happy to say that I now identify as a bit of a gamer myself.