I've spent a lot of time taking notes and documents and trying to put things together.
This is still an early draft, but I forgot how fun research and writing was! Its fulfilling to see your study start to come together (even if only a little).
Below is an early draft of my analysis on League of Legends as a social space and how people experience it!
All participant names have been changed from their original names to preserve their anonymity
Summoner’s Rift is the most common game mode in League of Legends played by the participants in my study. In the Summoner’s Rift game mode an individual player is placed on a team of five and this team of five is matched against a second team of five with a comparable skill rating. Due to LoL being a team game the individual players are offered tools with which to communicate in order to ultimately achieve victory. These tools include the option of text based chat and pings .
The text based chat can be used to communicate with teammates, friends, or opponents during the course of a match. The inclusion of a chat system results in individuals communicating with one another within the virtual game space of LoL. Providing individuals with the opportunity to communicate with one another allows for a social space to develop similar to other games in the MMORPG or MUD genres (Bartle, 1996; Kolo & Baur, 2004; Taylor, 2006).
The social space of LoL exceeds the virtual space within which a match occurs which is consistent with the existing literature. According to Kolo and Baur (2004) three structurally distinctive layers exist in relation to video game play and the resulting social space. These three layers consist of the offline world (existing outside of the game itself), the virtual world (the game itself) and the world of data (interface commands and code). Recognition of these three layers is not limited to these authors. Taylor (2006) describes in her book Play Between Worlds her experiences as a member of the EverQuest (EQ) community. Taylor’s (2006) ethnography examines the virtual social world of EQ and her experience at an EQ convention called Fan Faire. According to Taylor “the very notion of being able to bound off what is game and not game is not a particularly fruitful way of understanding these spaces” (2006, pp. 18).
Social interaction within the LoL client is mediated solely through a text chat between two or more people who are online simultaneously at any time. Within a match a player has the option of sending messages to either their own team or all players in the match. The game client also offers players the option to add individuals to a ‘friends’ list within the game.
Michael experienced LoL as a place where he could interact with others within the virtual space the game making new friends and meeting others within the game space using the built in chat system. He describes the way in which he was able to make new friends during the early years of LoL. When LoL was a new game people that Michael met in matchmaking queues were generally very friendly and positive. Often they would engage in discussions surrounding optimal choices for skill progression, decision making surrounding item choice, and strategies regarding how to win a match. He also describes how due to a lack of well-defined meta-game and set of generally accepted ‘best strategies’, discussion was common, thoughtful and often very fruitful. In his own words:
“Back then the game was still developing so you could basically play anything you want and, um, it would be fine. You can take any position. It was also, there weren't set item builds at the time. People were still working that out. So if you bought the wrong item, so if you bought the Sword of the Divine, which back then, it wasn't useful but people wouldn't say "oh you suck I don't want to play with you" and then quit. They would be like "`that item's not good you should try this instead". So the community was more helpful and I was also able to play with four or five other people, so it made that a lot more enjoyable.”
Bartle (1996) describes a typology of MUD players which can be expanded to multiplayer games in general (Taylor, 2006). Bartle’s typology includes: achievers (people who focus on game related goals), explorers (people who attempt to discover as much about the virtual world as possible), socialisers (players who prefer to communicate with others) and killers (those who prefer to cause distress to other players). As a part of this typology, Bartle describes how players who fit into a particular typology are interested in the game only so long as their core goals and motivation remain intact. Furthermore, some typologies are in direct opposition to others and when one typology becomes dominant, those of other typologies quickly lose interest in the game.
According to Bartle’s (1996) typology Michael could be described as both a socialiser and an explorer. Michael’s enjoyment of game is based on his ability to converse with others and explore the virtual world and its limitations. His description of how LoL was a game in constant flux is proof of this. He enjoyed exploring multiple roles and items and later engaging in discussions regarding those items. Michaels also greatly enjoyed the simple act of socialising.
This fact is exemplified through his description of how he spent two hours speaking with someone he had just met online regarding the reasons behind choosing not to trash talk others. He described the ensuing two hour conversation as surprising by saying “because you can do that – apparently”. This implies that he didn’t previously believe that one could have a two hour conversation with someone he had met online.
With time however, as the number of players grew, Michael described a shift in the nature of the community (a shift in player typologies). The social space of LoL at large slowly changed and the community shifted away from being exploratory and collaborative in nature, according to him. The community slowly began to focus more on “proven” strategies, and item build choices which were defined by the meta-game set at the higher professional levels of play.
If a player attempted to explore his or her choices outside of this meta-game, they would become the target of TT. This is described in the quote above where he compares the once helpful community to the current community he perceives as negative. Back when he played “if you bought the wrong item, so if you bought the Sword of the Divine, which back then, it wasn't useful but people wouldn't say ‘oh you suck I don't want to play with you’ and then quit”.
With time Michael distanced himself from the game and ultimately quit one year prior to participating in my study. He described a general lack of interest once the community began to change, and how those who chose to TT others made the game environment unenjoyable. With the relative lack of exploration as time went on, Michael lost one of his main motivations behind playing LoL. No longer an explorer, he became almost entirely a socialiser, preferring to play with friends. Ultimately the “negative” community that focuses on trash talk became too much for him and the game stopped being fun. According to Bartle (1996) the killer player typology is in direct opposition to the socialiser. Michael’s perception of the rise of killers in LoL can help explain his waning interest in the game which heavily influenced his decision to stop playing.
While Michael played the game to meet new friends, for some of my participants LoL is a social space that allows existing groups of friends to gather to enjoy themselves in relation to the social activity of playing LoL. This meeting of offline friends within a virtual space is described by other authors as well (Taylor, 2006).
Due to the fast paced nature and complexity of LoL the text chat feature can sometimes be limiting, as it is often much simpler to speak to your teammates than it is to type sentences to them discussing tactics and decisions being made during the game. In order to overcome the limitations of text only chat individuals often turn to voice over IP (VoIP) programs such as Skype or Mumble. Unlike the built in text chat which allows strangers to interact VoIP programs are used by my participants to mediate the interactions between friends. This is another example of how there is no clearly delineated boundary between virtual and offline worlds.
For these participants, Skype is used in order to play the game while using voice chat. Indeed, in addition to actively playing, for some participants Skype can be used in a large voice chat where an individual not playing in the ongoing LoL game can idle, waiting for the next match to begin.
John explains his experiences with friends while playing LoL well. When he began playing LoL, John would play with his brother and his brother’s friends who were all a higher level than him, which led to his decision to stop playing because “they started before I did so they were all level 30s and I was still only like level 12ish. So when I played with them I would lose a lot because I wasn't that experienced. ” The skill gap between them was unfortunately, perceived as too large at the time. He continues on: “a lot of other friends started playing shortly after that, so I would play with them because we were all kind of equal level. And, yeah, now I can say 80% of all my friends actually do play and we play with each other kind of over skype”.
Ian best describes the way in which Skype and LoL converge as a social space in his interview. While he does not outright describe the way in which the two converge, he describes the way he and his friends approach LoL while on Skype in comparison to how they approach other games in person. Ian likens the way in which he plays LoL with his friends over Mumble, to the way in which he plays other games on console, such as Smash Brothers, with his friends while sharing a couch. The same social experience is reproduced, with him and his friends trash talking and making fun of one another.
When playing Smash Brothers he describes: “if they kill me they're like 'yes, I got you Ian! You suck!' you know, like, stuff like that because it’s a challenge to kill me right? ‘You suck' and stuff like that it’s in the context of the game right? It doesn't make me feel bad, but, you know, it’s, it’s just like friendly it’s just competitive.” When asked about who Ian plays LoL with he says “Oh with my friends too. Because I really like talking with my friends over mumble so we go on, have fun, talk to each other about stupid stuff while playing league of legends.”
More than this though, Ian enjoys teaching his friends how to play LoL, and introducing new people to the game. By introducing friends of his to the game, he is not only expanding the existing community, but also expanding the number of people he can experience LoL with as a social space. Ian changes the place to hang out from a coffee shop into LoL and mumble instead. The setting and context for social interaction changes but the core experience of spending times with his friends does not. Video games for people like Ian are a means to be with others who share similar interests (Malian, 2009).
John, Michael, Frank, Kyle and Ryan also describe how they enjoy playing LoL with friends they already know. For John, the ability to stay in touch with friends from High School is an added benefit of playing LoL. For him, the social aspect is very important when it comes to playing the game. Similarly, for Kyle, LoL was a way to spend time with his older brother and a mutual friend. The game itself was something that could bring them together to socialise. Unfortunately, his brother has not had as much time to play LoL, however he continues to play with his friend because the core experience of playing LoL remains fun and intriguing to him: “I think we [he, his brother and his friend] just enjoy playing together and having something, you know, like, a play come together and you get the kill or win or whatever."
In addition to interactions with friends, there remains a more macro level of interaction with strangers outside of the game itself which is mirrored in other games through the use of online communities (Jakobsson & Taylor, 2003; Taylor, 2006; Newman, 2005). It became clear in the course of my interviews that the social space expanded beyond the virtual space when all my participants referenced the official forums and Reddit in their interviews. Two participants in particular asked me specifically to examine the forums as another source of data.
Online forums and communities, the worldwide LoL professional scene both influence the social space of LoL as a whole and by extension, the interactions within individual matches as well. The mere existence of a meta-game (generally accepted strategies) established by a professional scene shapes the interactions of the players as described by Michael earlier. Choosing to buy the incorrect item, or play the wrong character can result in backlash from team mates and the assumption that due to a subpar strategy the game is lost. In addition to these external sources of influence, the game itself – its game and character design (Kolo & Baur, 2004), and physical and graphical interfaces (Apperley , 2006) also influence the social experience of any game including LoL.
This social space with its various influences mediates the interactions individuals have with one another when playing LoL. Within the social space of LoL are particular social constructs and norms individuals are expected to follow according to my participants. So much so that some of these norms are enforced by the game developers and punishments doled out to those who act against them. In order for punishments to be handed down however, the players themselves must report these activities as being anti-social in game. In addition to core social norms are norms governing the use of the report function, complicating what is perceived as an acceptable and unacceptable action in LoL.
Trash talk is a punishable activity which is clearly against the rules enforced by RIOT, the game’s developer. According to my participants, within the social space of LoL, trash talk is a complicated and nuanced part of playing LoL. Trash talk becomes a part of the experience.