Sunday, April 15, 2007

Thoughts on the Online experience (long post)

Just in case you're getting a bit jaded with my terse session summaries of online performance (or, lack thereof), here's a few observations about the socio-anthropological aspects of the experience.

There is a different but real sense of community in the online gaming matrix. Individuals have formed themselves networks of meaning, with functionality to the individual measureable in terms of identity, expression and self development (both utilitarian and meta). What do I mean by this.

Flyers 'tag' themselves with relatively perament names online, they use these names within different flying environments to make themselves identifiable to other over time and spaces. This is good in itself. As part of their tags, those who belong to formed up online squadrons (I'll post on this topic in itself one day) often prefix their personal tag with the identifier tag of their squadron (eg. Bob who flys with Jag squadron might tag himself to Jag_Bob). Not only allowing these individuals that share squadron membership to identify and co-operate with each other more easily, it leads also to discourses on the concurrent 'chat' facilities with which players communicate to some degree relating to their 'out-of-space' identities and agendas. It also allows other flyers to recognise them as 'serious' and more likely to be competent flyers (it takes dedication to remain in a squadron). Thus, they carry credibility. The beauty is - players are able to protect their credibility by defending the integrity of their squadron call sign against interlopers online. Thus.

Thus, people that prefix their tag with a squadron identifier that they don't legitimately have a 'right' to use are soon identified and warned by gathering clusters of chatting legitimate members. If the individual doesn't correct the situation, they will be marked players in any game they play in in which their are members of the afronted squadrons (and remember, these guys do tend to be the better flyers). Can get quite heated, but once the issue of honour is resolved things seem to calm down quickly. In about 15 hours online, I haven't seen any flamewars of serious nature.

The utilisation of the Pacific Fighter online flying multiverse for 'expression' can be as simple as putting a 'skin' on your plane which you designed, or that bears your national insignia - to flying particular types of planes or doing particular things within the game. For example, in sesion 9 I had Imperial Jap Army insignia on my jap plane, and did sneak bomb runs over pearl harbour. This to me in some way expressed my humour and created meaningful patterns to events within the game to those that noted it. The fact that I was shot down in my last several missions shows that various players did notice my activities and took advantage of it to lay ambushes and do other enjoyable online actions (giving them a bit of break from the raw adrenalin rushes of constant open skies dogfighting). Thus, through my choices we built a little sequence of connected events. Expression.

Finally, Self development. In a utilitarian sense, I used my pearl harbour bombing missions to sharpen up my flying skills. Having other players around who'd shoot me down if they saw me added a fair bit of spice to the experience, more fun than on the standalone game. More fun = probably learn quicker. I am also to use the 'chat' if I need advice on particular problems.

The other aspect of 'self development' I will mention that happens through participating in these online adventures is the long term extension of self through the online conversations and friendships that one has. When these are stretched beyond the confines of that particular universe (eg. from being members of the same squadron, to being old mates offline), we have added another facet of,and means of expression of, those friendships. And that's self development.

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