By Brodon Young
Over the past decade, the video game community has come under scrutiny for the promotion of violent games and indecent acts. They have been attributed as the linking causality of atrocious mass shootings, cyber bullying and more. However, there is much left unknown about the depths and complexities that surround video games today, which have developed far from the old days of simplicity such as pong. Just a small minutia of individuals has the potential to derail public perception of a community, and much is the same case for online video games. Although these communities are well-known for anti-social behaviours, these communities can actually foster and reinforce positive social behaviour. By examining the complexities of video game development and genre and using frameworks such as Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics with a new fourth addition of nurture, the communities can be recognised as a force of good if fostered correctly by a game’s developers through the case examples of World of Warcraft (WOW) and Final Fantasy XIV (FFXIV). Before this analysis can be conducted, we will look in both prosocial and antisocial behaviours within video game communities to provide some context.
Behaving in a game
Like all types of communities around the world, prosocial and antisocial behaviour is present within online video game communities. Prosocial behaviour can be described as empathetic behaviour that has the intention to help or benefit others with no to little reward returned (EisenburgNancy, FabesRichard, SpinradTracy 2007). On the other hand antisocial behaviour illustrates the type of behaviour that infringes on the rights of others, and is disruptive to society (BergerKathleen 2003). Video games have been documented to have an impact on an individual’s behaviour, and has the potential to have a long lasting psychological effect (AkikoRachel, DrennanJudy, LingsIan 2019).
The community of the massively multiplayer online video game (MMO) Final Fantasy XIV displays prosocial behaviour. In celebration of the holiday season, a group of players put together a theatrical play inclusive of a production team, actors, special effects and a bouncer within the virtual world for no reward (IanBoudreau 2016).This demonstrates prosocial behaviour on multiple levels. They were willing to volunteer time towards the project, cooperate collaboratively in a large group, to provide content for the benefit for the community and the game developers.
Antisocial behaviour has been well documented and analysed as a form of cyber bullying within these communities. In general, it can range from verbal abuse, physical abuse through the mechanics of the game. Verbal abuse has been recognised as a major issue in all forms of online video games (PhilippaWarr 2015). Thus, much like reality, the virtual world consists of people who behave both in a prosocial and antisocial manner.
Manifestations of Prosocial Behaviour
Players develop prosocial behaviour typically through becoming a member on an in-game organisation. These organisations can exist for different purposes dependant on the nature of the video game itself. However, despite the context, they all share similar values of cooperation and coordination (Williams, et al. 2006). Each guild has different cultures, which also has an impact on the type of behaviour encouraged within the community. Casual oriented guilds are more likely to have higher levels of comradery and sociability in comparison to those organised in a more militaristic fashion to achieve higher levels of gameplay (Steinkuehler and Williams 2006). Members of these online communities have also been known to extend their relationship offline. For instance, Trepte, Reinecke and Juechems (2011), discovered that some players are able to extend their social support networks through in-game relationships. This is beneficial for players that may suffer from low self-esteem or other personal issues offline. Moreover, the foundation for a majority of these organisations are the same as those found in communities of practice. These groups are characterised by the shared understanding of their interests, knowledge generation, and frequent interaction with each other ®. Therefore, members are more likely to develop and display prosocial behaviour towards one another due to being part of the same community. Players who decide to volunteer their own personal and in-game time to perform official roles in a guild provide a great example of the development of prosocial behaviour, as these individuals may lack the courage to undertake such a commitment offline ®.
Antisocial behaviour in the community
A vast range of antisocial behaviour can be observed in online video game communities. This is due to interactions between players being highly intensive, and extremely unpredictable, all the while maintaining the players anonymity. Teng, et al. (2011) outlines five forms of significant antisocial behaviour as account theft, cheating, bullying, profanity, and the hoarding of advantageous locations. They have identified that two of these behaviours have the potential to reduce their victim’s willingness to continue playing.
Griefing is a more commonly experienced form of antisocial behaviour within these communities. It is described as actions that are intended to be disruptive to other player experiences, and can take on many different forms (Rubin and Camm 2011). This can range from just casual griefing (refusal to comply with rules), to the more excessive (through scams or harassment). World of Warcraft has many historical accounts of grieving most notably the account of a player named Angwe, who devoted ten hours each day for four months blocking off a primary travel point by killing for low levelled players who attempted to pass (N/A n.d.) (Messner 2017). Eve Online provides an account of an alternative version of greifing, where a player created an in-game global bank for the community with the promise of adding interest to their deposits. After several months they simply vanished with the accrued 790 billion in-game currency, (Drain 2011).
Genres and the MDA framework
How genres impact player behaviour
Genres are used to help players navigate through the myriad of games by using a generalised phrase as their lantern. However, the genre space in video games is more complex than elementary, with seemingly endless categories and sub-categories to choose from. Accordingly, it can be expected that a player who prefers action-shooter games psychographically segmented differently than a player who prefers a driving-simulator.
Differences between market segments can extend to cognitive abilities and physical behaviour. Dobrowolski, et al. (2015) provides a case where the tested the cognitive abilities of FPS (first person shooter) players, and RTS (real time strategy players), finding that RTS players have greater cognitive capabilities, vis-a-vis multiple object tracking, and reaction speed. Furthermore, players who preferred playing games that fall under sports and racing genres, displayed higher levels of physical activity in comparison to players who preferred strategy or roleplaying games (Floros and Siomos 2012). Thus, it is clear that players of different genres both perform differently and behave differently. This provides the foundation of understanding the community of a video game; that they can differ based upon the genre/s they are associated with.
Yet, this does not explain why games of the same genre can have different communities. Take the case of WOW and FFXIV, both categorised as MMO’s. Despite the similarities the community of FFXIV has been regarded as a more vibrant, engaging and collaborative community in comparison to WOW where players tend towards more serious engagement with the content, alienating many others . So where and why have the behaviours of these communities diverged to one leaning heavily more prosocial and the other more antisocial.
Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics, the developer’s tool for creation
The MDA framework (Mechanics-Dynamics-Aesthetics) assists developers shape their video game into what they envision it to be. Mechanics refers to the rules and boundaries that provides the foundation of a game (Kusuma, et al. 2018). The base line code that structures what is and is not possible in a virtual world. It determines how much damage a sword will do, how much it is worth and how you can equip it. Dynamics refers to how the player interacts with the mechanics (Kusuma, et al. 2018). For example, a player may use the sword to damage a monster, sell it to another player, or simply do not equip it at all. This is the area with the greatest amount of variability as it is dependent on semi-controlled player interaction. A player may use the sword to protect a weaker player, or they may sell it to the player far higher than the buying price. Thus, ethical use of the mechanics is up to the player and not the developer, yet the developer can introduce mechanics that limit what actions are available to the player. Aesthetics describes emotion responses to the video game (Kusuma, et al. 2018). More simply put it is a player’s feeling while playing a game. It can be broken down into feelings of discovery, challenge, fantasy, fellowship, freedom, immersion, devotion and much more (Kusuma, et al. 2018). However, the MDA framework largely accounts for single player experiences, and does not factor in the life cycle of online games that have a consistent development team constantly altering the mechanics and aesthetics. Thus, a fourth category is required: nurture. This category can describe the ongoing process of improving aesthetics, balancing mechanics, and most of all manage the community.
How the MDA framework can promote positive social behaviour – A case of Final fantasy XIV and World of Warcraft
The persistent worlds of both games have shaped their communities. Many players have aged from their teenage years into adulthood alongside these games, leaving a lasting impact on their values. Yet despite being similar games, their lifecycles have varied differently which has turned their communities into what they are now.
The Trials of FFXIV
Final Fantasy XIV was developed by Japanese studio Square Enix. The game was released to extremely poor reviews citing countless bugs, repeated content and lack thereof, poor optimizations, user interfaces and many more mechanics that were poorly or not even implemented. Three months later director Hiromichi Tanaka removed from the project due to the overwhelmingly poor reception and replaced with Naoki Yoshida who was given the task to completely redesign the game within 2 years. It typically takes 5 years for a full development cycle to complete, however this Yoshida was faced with the arduous task of developing in just half the time, while supporting the established in-game community simultaneously. He focused on establishing trust with players as he recognised its critical contribution to the longevity of the series (N/A, Web Cite 2012). Thus, the development team interacted more vibrantly with the community up until the launch date of the redesigned game. Leading up to the release of the games new facelift, an event was introduced secretly within each patch to signify incoming changes, a moon would draw ever closer. This culminated with an invasion of all major cities and the end of an old world (N/A, Seventh Umbral Era 2020). The new version, “A Realm Reborn” introduced completely new mechanics, and aesthetics into the game, to an overwhelmingly positive response from players old and new.
The History of WOW
World of Warcraft was developed by Blizzard Entertainment, known for popular franchises such as Diablo and Starcraft. It was developed with the intention to be a different experience to its competitors by being an easy to learn more casual gaming experience, allowing it to be more accessible to a larger market of players. It enjoyed explosive growth until 2008 When Blizzard merged with another video dame developer, Activition. Over the years it experienced modest success with subsequent expansions. In recent years, these discrepancies have been more loudly expressed to developers and executives of Blizzard-Activision. They perceive a continuing decline in the quality of the in-game experience and treatment of the community. This is heavily attributed to the growing disconnection of developers and the community, between corporate executives. In 2019 executives saw it necessary to cut the development team by 800 employees, much to the chagrin of the team’s core members (Shutupodarrie 2019). The controversy surrounding the prize pool for the 2019 WOW championships further grew discontent. Marketing for two new toys was performed through content creators and the company, with 25% going toward the prize pool of the event (then at $1.1M from toy sales). Yet blizzard turned their back on the community who were led to expect them to contribute, by removing their portion of the funds for the prize pool ($500 00). The community felt mislead, as though they were the victim of a bait and switch.
Reinforcing and Fostering a positive community
There are fundamental mechanics within both games that determine how players can interact with each other. WOW is well known for having a player-versus-player (PVP) centric player base, although there are servers that provide shelter for those who do not enjoy player generated combat. This creates an aesthetic for the player that promotes competition and aggressive playstyles, with many of the most notable antisocial actions occurring from this mechanic. This involves preventing players from accessing certain locations, or engaging players who cannot defend themselves for little or no return. FFXIV holds the opposing viewpoint with limited PVP opportunities, most notable being open world PVP. This eliminates the possibility of certain antisocial interactions and promotes friendly encounters between players as they cannot perform hostile actions upon each other. Furthermore, FFXIV introduced a mechanic that places a small sprout icon next to a new players nametag. People who join a group together with these players can earn experience points at an increased rate, thereby promoting greater collaboration and prosocial behaviour within the community. A higher value is then placed upon assisting these new players “get into the game” due to increased rates of experience gain, allowing the player to level up faster as opposed to playing with other experienced players.
These are just a few of the mechanics that promote positive social behaviour within the community. Furthermore, the relationship between the developers and the players helps reinforce this behaviour. Naoki Yoshida continues to interact with players through livestreaming events and online forums, further growing their trust, and the development team pays close attention to issues within the game mechanics, promptly fixing them. The community is nurtured to be friendly and engaging, which produces a positive community.
WOW players receive limited contact with their developers. Mechanical issues in the game at times go largely unfixed due to developers themselves being rushed to produce content. Each expansion is met with more unfavourable responses by the community who already feel over tasked with daily quests and requirements, culminating in turning the game into a chore and removing the fun aesthetics from it. Moreover, the reputation of the company as a whole puts a damper on the community and their behaviour. A disgruntled player is more likely to act out resulting in more antisocial behaviours.
Through the analysis of MDA framework, it can be observed that video games can reinforce positive social behaviour. This is done through what mechanics are present within the game, coupled together with how nurturing the development team is of their community. The genre also influences how this behaviour occurs, with more competitive games focus on player-versus-player content driving more aggressive and antisocial behaviour. While games more focused on cooperation helps drive more prosocial behaviour. The lifecycle and history of a game is also important to consider, as it shapes the community just as it would to one in reality. Hopefully, it can be realised that not all online video game communities exhibit high levels of anti-social behaviours and can be incredibly positive social environments.
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13 replies on “Fostering a Positive Social Environment: Comparing the World of Warcraft Community and Final Fantasy XIV”
I thought your paper was very well put together and the direct comparison of WoW to FFXIV really brought home your points with clarity.
Would you say there’s a big difference in the attitudes of a game’s community dependant on the studio the game comes from? When reading your paper I was wondering whether other Square Enix games encouraged the same kind of prosocial behaviour. It’d be interesting to see if a player’s prosocial behaviour follows through to different games from the same studio if they have built some respect for the studio.
My paper also touches on prosocial/antisocial behaviour online by pseudonymous users. If you’re interested, I’d love your opinion on it: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/15/authentic-selves-how-facebooks-push-for-real-names-causes-users-wishing-to-explore-their-identity-to-invest-in-alternative-platforms/
Thanks for the feedback. To answer your question, i think the studio does have an impact on the community, however it is very small. It is usual for studios to have their own fanbase, however these days communities are more influenced by genre and mechanics. In the past the stuido had more influence over communities, but due to their diversification into different genres their effect has diminished. for example, Square Enix produces a few other well known franchises such as kingdom hearts and the Final fantasy single player games both relatively more accommodating for younger audiences. While on the other hand have published titles for other franchises such as Hitman, Just Cause etc, both more mature in nature. So you can see a community type is split even within the sudios fanbase. Another thing to note is that some sudios, like square, are more focused towards publishing single player games with just a few multiplayer in their portfolio. Some studios such as blizzard or valuve, almost exclusively develop and publish multiplayer games. This has an evffect on the community through the type of interactions they can have. More multiplayer leads to a more competitive in-game interactions. While single player leads to interactions in forum where players provide advice for different sections, or perhaps none at all.
I also had a look at your paper. It was a good rad. The issue of using real identification has also come into the video game community aswell due to antisocial behaviour. Though there are arguments to both the pros and cons of implementing such a system, there majority is against it as it does take away the ability to explore identity, much like the case with facebook.
Really interesting viewpoint on gaming and communities. I liked how you compared two large MMO games to show how they each have similar play styles but show contrasting points in terms of their development with the MDA framework. I never would have really looked at the developers specifically and their impact in creating an area for toxicity to be present, but now that you mention their varying involvement you can see the contrast of the environments of the games!
If you think about it, as you mentioned, there will be antisocial/prosocial behaviour in real life, with bullying etc. and there are “moderators” in real life, like friends, family or even teachers at school for example, so similarly, in gaming, the developers play a role in controlling that. It’s good to note there are options in games such as blocking or reporting, but I personally find it frustrating if I don’t know if anything has been done about it. As much as it is easy to block someone, with the anonymity and ease of creation of profiles, they can always just return. Do you think the developers could do anything further in regarding to management of toxicity in games such as WOW?
I also had no idea about the fact that collaborating with new players in FFXIV can gain you experience points at a higher rate. I feel like that is such a smart way to combat harmful environments for new players, especially in games where levelling up can be so time consuming and beating down new players can be so easy. Its almost an unspoken/subtle way of removing toxic environments without blatantly informing people. As you compared with WOW and how their developers don’t really get in contact regarding the game and play experience you can see how the developers have a large impact in antisocial/prosocial behaviour, something I would not have notices before, so thank you.
Overall, really smooth read, enjoyed it.
Feel free to have a read of my paper, it speaks more broadly into MMORPGS (touching on WOW) and how it helps foster relationships between people. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Thanks for the feedback! really appreciated it. I think that the developers have very limited ways on how they can manage toxicity without becoming a defacto police force. Of course they are able to manage it through account or IP banning people (something WOW has attempted many times), but it usually dosen’t abate the issue much. I think where the developers can manage it best would be in the player experience and communication with the community. For instance, if a game is poorly optimised or has bad mechanics etc, players would be more likely to vent frustration onto other players, creating an atmosphere that is highly negatie. I don’t think many new players would enjoy walking into a world chat that is only people complaining about the game. Of course, all this negativity slowly turns more and more toxic.
Yeah that makes sense, theres only so much you can do being online. Theres always ways around creating new accounts to continue to be toxic.
I can imagine. If I played a game where it was all negative comments I would also not want to play that game haha.
How would you suggest that the developers best connect with the community though?
I think maybe the best way devs can connect to players could be done through the use of other platforms like twitch, discord or youtube streams. Another way would be through in-game interactions. Some developers are know for having characters in games and such. The best way though I think, is through constant updates and regular update blog posting. This is where most players tend to interact with devs since changes to the game is important to them. Recently, a game call Mount and Blade Bannerlord came out. The devs for that game posted an update everyday for about 4 weeks, everytime someone came up with a bug or multiplayer issue it was fixed by the next day. This kind of connection is the strongest.
What you think Alana?
While reading, I found myself questioning the very points you cover. I had not considered, until now, why games like Final Fantasy and WoW, so seemingly similar in terms of the ability to create a second life and nurture that life with social relationships, would have entirely different social ecosystems.
Your explanation made a lot of sense, and I couldn’t help but imagine both of these communities in the framework of child rearing. A developer with a higher degree of interaction with its playerbase and a more hands on approach to solving problems within its community leads to more harmonious gameplay (a well-rounded child). However, when left to its own devices, a community can become toxic and the only way to survive is to adapt (a typical brat!).
I really enjoyed this read – it made me reconsider the points I had made in my paper.
Thanks for posting.
Thanks for the feedback, really appreciate it.
Now that I think it, developers are kind of like parents xD.
As a gamer myself, I can related to how toxic behaviour can result from intense games therefore, I agree with your statement. I do believe that aggressiveness comes from anonymity that online gaming provides, what are your opinions on it? and do you think gaming communities would benefit more with anonymity removed?
if you like to have a read, my paper says a lot about the benefits of anonymity online for people who experience social anxiety. https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2020Curtin/2020/05/10/online-games-provide-a-safe-space-for-individuals-with-social-anxiety/?preview_id=216&preview_nonce=d00f10d8d6&preview=true
I do not agree that aggressiveness comes from anonymity, it is just a feature that provides a pathway for antisocial beahviour, but also prosocial behaviour aswell. Anonyminty is just a feature, simple as that. however, my article focuses on creating a positive social environment through the combination of various variables. Anonymity is just a minor variable in my opinion, has as little impact compared to the other variables at play such as developer communication, the MDA framework, the game lifecycle, and the formation of in game communities such as guilds.
Cheers for the feedback
Thank you for the response. I would like to ask, in a prosocial environment that Is encourage by anonymity, would you say that it will benefit people that experience social anxiety in real life to feel more comfortable to speak up and carry out roles (eg. leadership) that they can’t in real life?
I think it would benefit people that experience social anxiety. The key thing in these communities are shared interests in the game itself, which provides a pathway for more relaxing and friendly environment for the socially anxious. The provides the foundation which ultimately allows them to seek greater social interaction through the desire of shared their experiences and knowledge, just like in a community of practice. However, in real life, their interests cannot be mirroed to the same extent. It is possible through the use of internet cafes to foster these environments, but this is largely based upon accessibility, with countries that have higher densitiy (South Korea, Singapore, Russia etc.) having greater access to these venues. These place can help benefit people that experience social anxiety in real life.
In regards to the anonymity aspect, I do think it plays a role, but it is not that of significance. In some ways it lessens the anxiety one would feel because it cannot be connected to their personal or offline life. However, i think players suceptable to social anxiety still tend to project themselves through their avatars, and thus they would feel as though they are still held accountable even though they are anonymous. They are held accountable through their in-game reputation which diminishes the benefits anonymity has for people struggling with social anxiety. On the other hand it is a benifit for antisocial players because they do not care about their reputation.
What a wonderful and well researched read you have put together in this paper where you compare to vastly successful online MMO’s.
I would also like to argue that the use of such anonymity also encourages people with anti-social behaviour a safe space to gain friends when ingame. When playing games, such individuals are given the chance to ‘Go out’ and talk to all kinds of people whom they may shy away from in the real world. For these individuals, their computers serves as a ‘Safe Space’ or comfort zone where they are able to involve themselves in online communities while not compromising their discomfort in having to physically talk to other people in order to gain friendship.
If you be so kind, my paper is also regarding how some people may misuse such online anonymity and instead use it as a weapon for racism towards Asians. I truly hope you have a great day!