Unfinished Story

Storytelling is a vital component within human functioning, or as Lunenfeld (1999) writes, “human beings are hardwired into the storytelling process” (p.13), and are either storytellers or the listeners. World of Warcraft stories/narratives have no endings. The only possible way an ending could be accomplished is if the user “completely exhausted the content:...delved every dungeon, murdered every harmless woodland creature and gone through its pockets…opened every chest, [broke] every vase and completed every quest” (Rolston 2009 p.120). Even if a player were to accomplish all these feats, the player can begin the game anew, “explore the dialogue and plot branches that he/she missed” (p.120). Lunenfeld’s unfinished story is found in World of Warcraft narratives such as stories of everyday game play, interactive narrative and self-experienced narrative.

Stories of Game Play

As boundaries within narrative begin to “dissolve in the…universal solvent of the digital” (Lunenfeld 1999 p.14), new narratives come to the fore as gamers interact with the game and the gaming community; narratives that are defined as “sequence of events focused by one (a few) living being(s)…events…based on simulations of experiences in which there is a constant interaction of perceptions, emotions, cognitions and actions” (Grodal 2006 p.130). In World of Warcraft this definition of narrative is found in stories told and listened to through headset; narratives typed and read through chat channels.

The use of the headset in World of Warcraft focuses on talk with people during raids or instances. A player can narrate to another player only if the player is invited to talk. Since raids and instances are done most times with players familiar with each other, the use of the headset helps for easy narrative during action. Typing is reserved for unfamiliar players and more so in passing each other during the game or when in the same area. Talking or typing takes place within channels. There are four official channels established by World of Warcraft: general, trade, Local Defence and LookingForGroup (World of Warcraft: chat overview). The general channel is province wide. The trade channel is used for trade. The Local Defense channel, depending on the faction area, will give a warning of an enemy within the area. The LookingForGroup channel is reserved for players needing a group to do raids or instances with. There are other channels that players create; however, these four main channels are maintained by Blizzard administration. The channel moderation tool controls narrative between players. The control features are:

Players, through these means of narrative, interact with each other to sell and exchange items, fight together in small or large groups and find common ground through raids or instances. All of this is “social space…enacted within a common environment” (McGregor 2006 p.7) and create narratives that further mold the identity of the singular player or group of players.

Interactive Narrative

Popular culture and technology, with its constant forward motion, move stories into the unfinished and “the limits of what constitutes the story proper are never to be as clear again” (Lunenfeld 1999 p.14). This is definitely true with the narration that is created by guilds. Narration is tied into the success of a guild, especially when the “abilities of different characters complement each other, meaning that the success of the one player often depends on the abilities of others” (p.1). For this to happen narrative in and outside the game must take place. Guild narration comes in “short messages, banter, questions/answers…but there is often a narrative element in players’ chat about experiences in the game” (Albrechtslund 2008) through raiding and instances experience or bizarre in-game play.

Guilds are created for various reasons. Some guilds are created to accomplish goals and others for no purpose at all. Guilds often times create their own websites that contain updates, personal information about members’ avatars, guild pictures, and organize group activities from raiding to remote control racecar races and gnome runs. The gnome runs seems to be quite popular. Guilds or groups of friends, out of boredom make gnomes and upon a set time and place line up these avatars and race across a particular landscape scenario. Several conditions are considered before racing. The gnome race takes place in the Player versus Environment (PvE) server rather than the Player versus Player (PvP) server. The PvP environment allows players to kill other players and a group of racing gnomes would be too great of a temptation.

Another condition that must be met is protection for the gnomes during the races by higher-level avatars. Since the gnomes are only created for the race, none have experience points. Thus when running across landscapes that have higher-level non-character players, gnomes have to avoid being attacked. Hence, when watching video clips of running gnomes, a viewer should not be surprised at several large avatars running alongside the pack. Dialogue before and after such a happening continues on when members post video clips on YouTube, and inadvertently allow narrative to continue as outsiders comment on the video.

Self-experienced Narratives

The boundaries that once defined stories are disintegrating and are becoming “markers within an ever-shifting nodal system of narrative information” (Lunenfeld 1999 p.15). Story components of beginning, middle and end are becoming something entirely different. One approach to narrative within gaming is not “verbal representation” but the “ability to “hold” the story in the consciousness” as the player experiences the game in the moment (Grobal 2003 p.132). Skills developed during the gaming experience help to develop the story further and since “story development in video games is driven by the player’s motor action, its central story format is linked to first-person perspective…” (p.152). This helps to explain why observers are “out of synchronization with the player of the game” (Atkins 2006 p.135). Since the player is in constant motion, is in neither past or present but “firmly fixed in a future-orientation and not on the realized or rendered image” (p.130), the player’s narration is internal and constantly moving. Before stories are told they are experienced (Grobal 2003 p.135). Hence, outside viewers cannot comprehend the game and indirectly the narration of the person involved in the game.

Written by ANBecker. This project is adapted from the final paper for the LIS 585 Multimedia Literacy for the LIS 600 Capping Exercise. March 9th 2010.