Wednesday, October 15, 2008

WarJammers Proposal

Digital Game Studies
MMORPG Experiment Proposal
October 13, 2008

Warjammers: Culture Jamming Warhammer

WarJammer Team Members:

Adam Merber Brendan Scully Zsuzsanna Mitro
Scott Henning Anna Lotko Joseph Apathy
Danielle Arostegui Hillary Preston Qianqian Zhao
Linden Vongsathorn Robert McAvinue Michelle Earhart


We propose to perform a twelve person, personal-immersion experiment investigating the state of massively multiplayer online computer gaming and its effect on the real world through the medium of the newly released Warhammer® Online: Age of Reckoning. The experiment will involve the participation of volunteers who will commit to certain long-term documentations while performing smaller anthropological experiments within the online gaming world itself. The group of students will be divided into two camps, one composed of MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) veterans, and the other composed of players new to computer gaming altogether. They will be stationed in two locations and assigned to opposing “armies” within the game world: the veterans will be in Thayer Engineering School playing on the side of “Order”, the novices in Sudikoff Lab 003 playing on the side of “Destruction”. They will play whenever they will during the week, meeting certain leveling deadlines along the way, (Level 10 by October 19th) and will meet up at prearranged times on Sunday nights to face one another in player vs. player combat and hold investigative experiments in the game-world. Some of these in-game experiments may include:

1) Forming/managing a successful guild (Tiltfactor a.k.a. [TiLt]) through which to coordinate activities with gamers inside and outside of Dartmouth.
2) Organized attempts to alter in-game economies.
3) Holding demonstrations against digital violence and offering in-game addiction counseling/interventions.
4) Creating of an in-game, and potentially internet-based movement preaching digital moderation, offering aid to gaming addicts.
5) Interviewing professionals, including gamers and gold farmers alike.
6) Team-building and group competitive trials between the two groups to measure learning curves, group dynamics, the advantages of voice-communication and the mechanics of the game.
7) Alteration of the game world itself, i.e., attempting to gain the attention and support of the game’s administrators or publishers and potentially improving or exposing the game’s moral/psychological/social flaws.

Ideally, we would like to document the entire process by recording both our thoughts and actions in several locations:

1) Audio recordings of discussions between the two sides hosted on our Ventrilo server.
2) Video from the real-world game labs and video confessionals.
3) Video from the game-world battlefields, recorded via Fraps (real-time video capture and benchmarking.)
4) Personal thoughts, time logs and group discussions on our project blog,

These recordings will be edited into both a professional-grade blog and an accompanying documentary. The documentary will follow the two groups as they immerse themselves in Warhammer’s alternate reality. By observing themselves and those they come into contact with, the experiment team hopes to understand the way people experience MMORPG’s and how those experiences in turn affect the real world.

Letters have been sent to both individual Dartmouth professors and to the publishers of Warhammer® Online about the nature of the experiment in an effort to gain support and garner publicity.


12 PCs split between Sudikoff and Thayer computer labs- We appreciate the conditional support of both the Dartmouth Computer Science Department and the Thayer School of Engineering. Their generous recognition of Digital Anthropology as an important field of study will help bring attention to a new and otherwise uncharted branch of academic study and hopefully facilitate meaningful change in human digital interactive practices.

We have respect for the computer science and engineering students whom we will be sharing these spaces with. Their need for both labs takes precedence, and our progress may be impeded should demand for the space increase. Scheduling discussions have begun in conjunction with both departments, and we thank them again for their patience.

Ports- We will need both labs to allow us access to the following ports so that we may connect to the Warhammer and Ventrilo host servers:

12 Warhammer® Online Accounts- Subscribed to at a $15/month rate and charged to a validated credit card. Warhammer provides the best-suited world for our investigation at the moment because it is three weeks old, critically acclaimed and it’s developers (Mythic Entertainment) seem to be moving in the right direction, trying to make their game inspire “imagination” rather than “immersion”.

12 Copies of Warhammer® Online- Necessary software was been acquired and installed in Sudikoff, and is being looked into at Thayer.

Ventrilo- A Ventrilo server has been set up to allow for continuous communication between the two labs. To listen in on the experiment go to Port: 5388
Fraps- Fraps screen capture software will be used as a way to record in-game events. Copies of the program have been acquired, and we will need to make sure that our computers are able to run it. Should this be a problem, a machine offered at Tiltfactor’s game lab can be used.

Video cameras- Requests for rental video cameras have been sent to the film and media departments. Individually provided digital camcorders will be used in the event that campus cameras cannot be obtained.

Blog- Our blog, is being used to record individual responses to the experimental process and as a place for the students to post their documentary, public statements and relevant academic papers.

Gold- In order to fund our movement and interview gold farmers, we will need to purchase large quantities of in-game currency. This may be expensive, as Warhammer Online has already banned thousands of accounts for selling gold. Hopefully, we ourselves are not kicked from the game.

Primary Experimental Purpose:

Over the past twenty years, mankind has rapidly gained the ability to craft alternate realities for itself in nonphysical, digital spaces. We fill these with imagined forms and inhabit them for hours at a time. We should be celebrating, embracing our new creative abilities and using our new communicative technologies to bring the world closer together. Yet this very important development is being expanded, populated and perfected and an increasingly rapid pace without the world community noticing or becoming concerned.

Yet we believe that something is wrong. (click below)

750,000 people are currently playing Warhammer Online . 17 million people are currently subscribed to MMORPG’s worldwide, 10 million of who are playing World of Warcraft. These players become estranged from reality by committing an average of 22 hours per week to their online experiences, giving up real-world society and replacing it with a digital existence. These human losses, while mainly ignored or laughed at n the west, have been recently addressed in eastern societies. China has banned children under 18 from Internet cafes and last year ordered internet cafĂ© owners to enforce time limits on adult customers in the wake of several cases involving obsessive players dying of fatigue after marathon game sessions. Recent figures released by the state-owned Xinhua News Agency estimate that over 40 million people in China play online games.

A study published by the British Psychological Society suggests that people who are addicted to games display similar personality traits as those with Asperser’s syndrome.

Dr. John Charlton of the University of Bolton and Ian Danforth of Whitman College conducted the study. The researchers polled 391 gamers and found that the more addicted they were to video games, the more likely they were to exhibit "negative personality traits".

It would seem that the first steps into digital habitation are having negative effects on those who choose to expose themselves. They lose touch with reality, embrace their new, alternate world, and become lost. Game addiction is a serious problem that is not taken very seriously by the media, academy and population at large. Games are viewed as being childish wastes of time.

But these are 17 million accounts subscribed to MMORPG’s in the country today, 10 million dedicated to World of Warcraft alone. Who are these people, and why do they play? How disassociated have they become? To what extent are the games engineered to be addictive, and has societal disassociation become a profitable industry?

Project Tilt hopes to obtain a better understanding of the MMORPG phenomenon by placing a team of 12 observers into the game, having them complete a series of experimental tasks and monitoring not only how they can affect the game world, but also how it in turn affects them. They will keep mandatory online journals, logging their hours played and commenting on the in-game events they witness after every gaming session. We believe this is necessary because gamers tend to forget their time spent in-game, as the Warhammer world and real world, being completely separate from one another, share few associative links; the two worlds do not comment on one another. Does this lead to feelings of disassociation, anomie, and memory loss? We are going to study why, how, and how quickly MMORPG’s affect our players, and at the same time investigate the positive potential uses of virtual reality.

For all the sub-experiments, recording, observations and commentaries, the most important question we will ask is quite simple, and extremely unnerving for those involved: Will we be able to give it up? Our main experiment hinged on this question. How addicted will we become? What is the difference between those who can step away, and those who can’t? If we can document our progress in enough detail, we may be able to uncover what hooks people, and suggest ways in which to moderate the addictive nature of these otherwise healthy, enjoyable multiplayer experiences.

Overview of Secondary, In-Game Experiments

The following are short abstracts outlining the major experiments we hope to conduct and goals we hope to achieve within the framework of the primary experiment:

Anti-War Demonstrations, Gaming Addiction Counseling, Interventions and The Creation of Movement:

We believe that the central message behind our project may be simply described as “digital moderation.” MMORPG addiction may be brought about by a long list of issues: unchecked dependency, emotional fragility, perhaps even a lack of real-world human concern for those playing. We plan to hold in-game “interventions,” choosing random players in game, halting their PVP combat by coordinating between across the Order/Destruction divide and asking them why they are playing, how long they have been playing and whether or not they have considered giving up the game. We also hope to hold rallies encouraging large groups of people to value their real-world lives, warning against the pitfalls of digital hallucination much like the doomsayers of modern extremist religious faiths. A more moderate approach may involve city-based counseling sessions, keeping a certain area staffed with WarJammers, advertising to the in-game public and offering game currency prizes in return for discussion.

All of these experiments will be made more interesting and effective by our holding positions on both fronts of the war. We will be able to throw a wrench on the game system, refusing to kill each other and teaming against those who disrupt our actions. Hopefully gamers will view peaceful, skilled coordination between the two armies with interest rather than anger. In order to spread our message and test our assumptions, all we really need for them to ask is, “why?”

If we gain enough publicity, may become the locus for an internet-based movement encouraging digital moderation, gamer rehabilitation and MMORPG reform.

Weekly Competitive Skirmishes:

In order to measure team dynamics, the learning curve gap between veteran gamers and novices, and to further addict ourselves to the in-game world, we will hold twelve-person player vs. player sessions and record the results with video and statistics.

Bounty Hunting Services / Manipulation of Economy including Scams and Item Monopoly:

Given the realm versus realm (Empire vs. Chaos) nature of Warhammer Online, there does not appear to be any framework for two members of the same realm to attack each other. Player versus player (PVP) activity occurs as an allied battle against a common foe—the opposing realm. However, since players will be interacting with players of their own realm for the large majority of their online time through quests and other non-PVP elements of the game, it is conceivable that players of the same realm may develop grudges against one another. It is here that we saw an opportunity for an in-game experiment.

Since we will have six accounts on each opposing realm, we will have two separate forces to be reckoned with, capable of attacking any player on the server between the both of them. Students participating in this experiment will be encouraged to be on the lookout for disgruntled players who may be interested in paying for the death of a fellow realm-mate. The client would inform us when and where the target will be in a specific location and a financial arrangement could be worked out. Our team of six on the opposing realm would then sweep in and eliminate the target player. Half the sum could be paid up front, half the sum could be paid after the hit is carried out. In some cases, the client could even arrange to make an appearance just as the target is killed for a final “gotcha” moment. We believe if this is carried out effectively, this could grow to be a reputable service that few others could replicate, given our unique arrangement of having a group of allied players on both sides of the server.

Can an in-game mafia be formed? With enough gold, we may be able to inflate the price of a certain good, hold an economic system hostage, hire out assassins, scam players, and commit otherwise illegal actions. We would do this only to observe the gaming community’s reaction, discover loopholes in Warhammer’s finely tuned system and strengthen our presence in the world.

We will, of course, return everything obtained by questionable means back to the players who took part in the experiment.

Interaction with Gold Farmers

According to a study from Manchester University reported by ShackNews, “the [gold farming] industry currently employs an estimated 400,000 people --80% of which are in China-- making an average of $145 per month… Steven Davis, the chief of online game security firm Secure Play, claims that the criminal underworld has gotten involved. ‘These [gangs] pay for their accounts with stolen credit cards, take money from players and do not hand over gold or goods in return and fill chat channels with adverts for websites hawking game gold.’

An entire economy has developed around the in-game needs of MMORPG players, changing in the real world in a drastic way. Who is running these digital factories? Who is acquiring the gold? By teaming up with some Dartmouth Chinese students, we hope to communicate with the Gold Farmers, inquire as to their quality of life and perhaps aid them in their activities. Then, by interacting with and purchasing gold from these laborers of the digital divide, we will better understand the effect of MMORPG’s on the real world, and potentially raise awareness / encourage labor reform in the industry. Hopefully, we don’t get anyone banned or fired.

Scenario-based Variable Manipulation Experiments

The scenario aspect of WAR will provide the best possible "lab" setting for our group to experiment. Statistics are tallied and certain aspects of the battles will always stay the same, e.g. number of players, Order vs. Destruction, etc. Given what constants we know, we can proceed to manipulate variables within our lab setting in an attempt to draw conclusions about game play.

1) With group members on both sides, we will be able to participate in battles where each side can identify the best leader on their team (a WAR player not affiliated with our experiment). We can study how the group dynamics change when the best leader from a certain team is "taken out," e.g. repeatedly attacked by the opposing team so they become a non-factor.
2) We will conduct enough scenarios with recorded win-loss totals and other statistics to be able to tell what the best composition of races and careers is for scenarios.
3) We can identify which players perform better in a PVP environment vs. a PVE environment. Once we discover who these players are, we can conduct interviews and more in-depth research to try to find out exactly why certain people perform more or less favorably when competing against other humans.
4) We can potentially offer incentives for non-group-affiliated WAR players in scenarios and determine whether, as in the real world, people perform better when they have concrete (or virtual in this case) incentives.
5) We can continue to manipulate different variables when questions arise over the course of the experiment.

Video Documentary

Three hours of Aden Evens changing facial expressions in response to his favorite Beatles songs.


The following is a rough approximation of the deadlines set for many of the goals and experiments that we hope to conduct throughout the term. Dates are subject to alteration as issues arise and are dealt with. Those experiments not assigned to particular dates are to be implemented when time and circumstances allow and as we gather more information about what is or is not possible within the game world.

Group Sessions are mandatory and will take place Sundays and Thursdays from 11pm-2am.

First group meeting

First faction meetings
Blitz campus to locate potential in-game supporters

10/14 – 10/16
Guarantee access to Thayer and Sudikoff game labs.
Acquire necessary software (game, Ventrilo, Fraps, etc.)
Rent external hard drives if necessary
Begin filming (preliminary interviews)
Create separate Addiction Counseling website/blog

Avatar creation
1st Order vs. Destruction skirmish
Begin individual blogging

Draft grant proposals for Tucker Foundation and
Begin working towards level 10

2nd Order vs. Destruction Skirmish
Stage first wave of interventions
Decide on economic target item to manipulate

10/19 – 10/25
Individually target at least 1 intervention candidate
Try to find and interview gold farmers
Acquire drones/followers for help with later experiments
Reach level 20 (not mandatory)
Begin implementing economic manipulation.

3rd Order vs. Destruction Skirmish
Second wave of interventions
Continue individual contribution to experiments (through term)

4th Order vs. Destruction Skirmish

5th Order vs. Destruction Skirmish

6th Order vs. Destruction Skirmish

7th Order vs. Destruction Skirmish

8th & Final Order vs. Destruction Skirmish
Wrap up any unfinished experiments

11/30 – 12/2
Consolidate experiment results
Finishing stages of documentary editing

Documentary screening

Budget Breakdown

Amount Cost Total
Warhammer Online 11 $ 50.00 $550
Warhammer Guide 1 $ 18.00 $18
Subscription for October 12 $ 15.00 $180
Subscription for November 12 $ 15.00 $180
Microphones (for Ventrilo) 12 $ 5.00 $60
Headsets with microphones 12 $ 20.00 $240
Total Budget required $988 or $1228

Hopeful Conclusions

The potential philosophical possibilities offered by alternate realities have been a topic of heated academic discussion for centuries; today, they exist. Yet these alternate worlds are populated by an unnerving number of socially unhealthy individuals seeking refuge from their daily lives. These new worlds are in turn created by profit-minded game developers who hold educational and socioeconomic advantages over those they monitor/entertain/enslave.

Research has been conducted, but largely held back by the private companies who run MMORPG worlds; their information is private, and remains that way.

Thus, by stepping into a new world and observing it from the inside with a critical eye Dartmouth’s Project “WarJammers” hopes to discover how humanity is choosing to embrace the digital, how that choice is affecting the gamers and their real-world lives, and how these games might be changed to offer more positive gaming options to their players. In order to report back appropriately, however, we will have to navigate a thin line between immersion and addiction, entertainment and hallucination, this world, and the next.

We are the WarJammers, and nothing like this has been attempted before.