Narrative and Conceptual Expertise in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games

Narrative and Conceptual Expertise in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games

Javier Alejandro Corredor (Universidad Nacional de Colombia, Bogota, Colombia) and Leonardo Rojas Benavides (Institución Universitaria Politécnico Grancolombiano, Bogota, Colombia)
DOI: 10.4018/IJGCMS.2016010104
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Abstract

This article aims at investigating the differences among three groups having distinct levels of experience in massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG), when solving a character design task in the videogame World of Warcraft (WoW), and when planning how to use the character during gameplay. These groups consisted of inexperienced players, general experts in MMORPGs and specialized WoW domain experts. The evaluation showed that MMORPG experience developed character design abilities that could be applied to other videogames (e.g., general expertise skills). Such skills were related to the ability to identify deep features related to particular types of characters (e.g., Rogue). The results also showed that there are domain expertise specific abilities, which only experts in WoW have. Such abilities were related to building game descriptions that could be considered narrative in the cognitive sense of the term, because they include time, intention and interaction, and also to identifying WoW-specific variables.
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Narrative And Conceptual Expertise In Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games1

Videogames are emergent narratives (Salen & Zimmerman, 2004). The story emerges from the concatenation of events created by several characters/players. Each time the game is played, a different story unfolds depending on decisions made at the micro level by different participants. In this context, the skill to understand change in time and to predict and act according to other players’ intentions, plans and actions represents a valuable asset. In this article, we show that while beginners describe the way they will use a character within the game through a static description, experts produce descriptions that are temporally located and related to other players’ goals and actions. Narrative becomes then a suitable mean to understand the game and legitimate space for the study of expertise.

Multiple game scholars propose that games have, to some extent, a narrative nature (Juul, 2011; Murray, 1997). From a design point of view, this fact implies that videogames, although they emerge from a set of formal rules, produce interactive narratives that emerge from game mechanics and players’ decisions. On the other hand, psychological and educational research on expertise has focused on differences on conceptual elements, such as categories and knowledge structures that underlie reasoning (Chi & VanLehn, 2012; Day, Arthur & Gettman, 2001). From this point of view, expertise depends on the organization of information in a non-narrative format in which goals, intentions, and time-dependent interactions are not included. Several domains, such as videogames and history, are narrative-driven (Ostenson, 2013; White, 1987), although they include also conceptual and formal elements (Juul, 2011; Steinkuehler & Duncan, 2008). This study explores the characteristics of expertise in videogames aiming at showing that, besides superior conceptual structures, experts in this area also acquire a better understanding of narrative elements.

Narrative has different meanings. In the context of videogame studies, the term has been associated with the presence of fictional elements and storytelling, and opposed to definitions of games as formal rule systems with quantifiable outcomes (Juul, 2011). In cognitive psychology and education, the use of the word has been related to text structures and event accounts that are time-dependent and focus on agents’ goals and actions (Bruner, 1991; Graesser, Murray & Trabasso, 1994). In this context, narrative texts, such as short stories, produce clearly different cognitive representation than argumentative or conceptual texts, such as essays. We do not imply that videogames are equivalent to written texts and we acknowledge the fact that videogames include complex rule systems, beyond the storytelling elements in which they are embedded. As a result, we expect expert gamers to display superior comprehension of both conceptual elements, related to game rules, and narrative elements, related to temporal change and players’ goals, actions and intentions. This point of view is consistent with literature in game studies that recognizes both the role of fiction and story and the specific characteristic of games that make them different from other narrative genres (Wibroe, Nygaard, & Andersen, 2001). However, we do not make claims on the definition of videogames as cultural objects or on their nature as a creative genre. We focus on the cognitive structures derived from the interaction with massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) and therefore the results of this study need to be located within the realm of cognitive psychology.

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