#LOTRO #MOOC Week 5

Week 5 coursework

This week’s both gameplay and reading were a challenge. Spenser’s The Faerie Queene is a tricky passage written in Renaissance English and contains multiple pronunciation and spelling obstacles, especially for the non-native speakers of English such as myself. However, it is regarded as a fundamental narrative poem, one that greatly influenced the romance and subsequent fantasy literature genre. Out of six books we were asked to read the first Canto of Book III.

Follow the "light". Then kill it.

Follow the “light”. Then kill it.

Another instance which troubled the players/students in this MOOC was going against the boss Thadur in the Great Barrow which was not as easy as “Retaking Weathertop”. I should mention here that the turnout on Sunday’s event was quite large in scale. Three groups were formed and to balance the odds high leveled players were matched to equal numbers of low leveled ones. During our group’s encounter  two kinnies died – myself included –  something which rarely occurs in dungeon type instances, especially when you have level 90 players tag along. Tacts (aka tactics) involved killing some wights and then killing “lights”  in a sync mode.  First there was one of them, then two – both of which you had to kill at the same time – then three – again simultaneous kill – then four. In the end, we faced a level 28 elite boss (I was level 23 at the time).

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Facing Thadur with members of “Eagles of Thorondor”

 

 The free-to-play model: a personal rant

My avatar, Uiril, reached a ridiculously low gold cap this week, meaning I couldn’t have access to more than 2 gold despite having earned more. After finally getting enough Turbine points – in-game of course – to unlock the Auction house I thought to myself: “finally, I ‘ll make some money to buy an “x” vanity item, etc“. That sum of money ended up in a repository to which  I could get access ONLY IF I upgraded my account (which meant paying good money). You see, that’s the way MMORPGs work, they are based on a virtual economy that enables the player to earn and spend virtual money. Free-to-play modelled games such as LOTRO and WOW(free trial) only give you the impression of actually being free. Do you want to acquire the riding skill? Turbine Points. Do you want to have more slots in your  – pathetic – bank vault? More Turbine points. Do you wish you could have that wonderful rectangular table for your home in the Shire? You guessed well, buy some more Turbine points. Now farming for those points is nerve-wracking and pointless since the award system in-game is painstakingly slow. That’s when Turbine offers you the chance to get those points you covet for a mere “x” $$$$. It then hits you that becoming a VIP member (paying a subscription) is well worth it.

My kinship members striking a pose

My kinship members striking a pose

MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft have long been accused for their pay-to-play strategy, involving a monthly fee for logging into the game, regardless whether you show up or not in said month. Much as I hate making Blizzard more affluent, I get their logic. You see, I don’t have to pay for anything else. Storage, unlimited money cap, auction house, patches and new content are all there. Just pay the subscription and that’s it.(Of course, regarding WoW, you do need to buy the game and its subsequent expansions but that all adds up to the price of a new Assassin’s Creed title). What strikes me as bizarre, though, is that I thought free-to-play LOTRO was doable. Not paying for LOTRO  is pretty much ok up until you reach a certain point. If you do want to enjoy gameplay  – not to mention raiding content or new quest zones – you have to pay.  The whole free-to-play tag is just smoke and mirrors. What about World of Warcraft free-to-play? That’s just an urban legend, folks.

#LOTRO #Mooc Week 4

I have to admit, not being a gamer or having no experience whatsoever with MMORPGs, would make it quite difficult to accomplish this week’s task. We were asked to compare three mediums – book, movie and game – regarding the scene that takes place atop the Weathertop mountain.

 

 

To make it to Weathertop in-game one must first complete Book 2, Chapters 1-4  from the epic quest chain, which involve level 22-25 nasty orcs and birds in the area.Then you get to form a fellowship and enter the instance “Retake Weathertop”. As proof of having done the game part of the assessment, we were also asked to post a screenshot of our adventures. Uiril – my char(acter)- made it thanks to the help of my wonderful kinship, Eagles of Thorondor at the Meneldor server. This is a guild which boasts plenty of Coursera members and has people from the previous course session participating as well.

Weathertop. In-game.

Weathertop. In-game.

 

Weathertop. Film

Weathertop. Film

Truth is that without having help from a decent guild / kinship in most MMORPGs, one is missing the whole point. Raids, instances, dungeons, everything revolves around parties making a decent effort together. There are those who like to “solo” – even when things are not meant to be soloable – and those who turn to “pugs”, i.e. random grouping with strangers via the game’s AI. However, the latter is often disappointing and/or frustrating. Hence, the social aspect of MMORPGs (discussed in weeks 2 & 3) is indeed all about finding other people to play with; people with whom you can actually communicate and get the job done.

As for this week’s assignment, I submitted the following:

Option One: Write an essay that compares the scene in the novel, the film, and the game with respect to one of the following aspects: the actions or events in the scene; how characterization occurs; dialogue; setting / mise en scène / game space; point-of-view; and your experience of reading, viewing, and interacting with the scene. Include a screenshot of your character’s experience at Weathertop in LOTRO.

 LOTRO Threefold: Tolkien’s Weathertop scene across film and game

J.R.R. Tolkien has Strider describe Weathertop to Sam as a hill that “commands a wide view all around.” [Tolkien 2012: p. 471-472, 499]  Thus, the fellowship heads for that vantage point in hope of finding Gandalf there and assess how they will continue their perilous journey. Upon the hill, however, traces of “cloaked and booted Riders” [p. 513] caused much despair to the Hobbits, for it seemed that the enemy has been here. Strider informs the group of their abilities and heightened senses [p. 514-515]  as well as reminds them that fire can prove to be an exceptional weapon,since “these Riders do not love it and fear those who wield it” [p.515]. Interestingly, Peter Jackson opts for presenting fire as a fatal mistake that Sam, Pippin and Merry commit in order to satisfy their hunger; Frodo wakes up from his slumber only to yell at the starving Hobbits “What are you doing? Put it out, you fools, put it out! “. The panoramic shot of Weathertop with a tiny lit spot from the camp fire validates Frodo’s fears. The Nazgul know that someone is there; their shrieking sound fills the air, approaching from the misty foot of the hill.

Kinship Members, Eagles of Thorondor @Meneldor Server

Kinship Members, Eagles of Thorondor @Meneldor Server

In the book, Strider has not left them. In contrast, they all sit around that same camp fire telling stories like the tale of Tinuviel [p. 519] and trying to stay warm. Suddenly they feel them coming – just as Strider said it happens with humans – and under Strider’s command they gather close to the fire with their faces outward. [p. 527] Jackson does portray the chilling shrieks and the ominous look of the five dark figures true to the original, even when Frodo puts on the ring and sees them for what they truly are. Terror overcoming the Hobbits is also evident, though Sam is first to fall in the movie, not shrinking to Frodo’s side, as stated in the book. [p. 528] The director also retains Frodo’s desperate eagerness to put on the ring and Elijah Wood captures Frodo’s agony when “a pain like a dart of poisoned ice” [p. 530]pierced his left shoulder. The Elven words Frodo uses in the book to scare them away are not used in the movie. Finally, Strider appears out of nowhere in the film to save the day with lit torches, setting the enemy ablaze. The book’s final scene presents Frodo clenching the ring in his right fist, again as in the movie. Peter Jackson however gives Viggo  Mortensen plenty of screen time battling the forces of evil. Aragorn concludes that Frodo needs Elven medicine for his wound because it’s beyond his skills ; Nevertheless, in the book there is a whole chapter where he exhibits some knowledge of medicinal plants and offers the young Hobbit a mixture of Athelas himself [p. 534] Notably, Jackson’ s touch of having the blade vanish into thin air like  smoke is inspired by the book [p.534].

Fighting the troll.

Fighting the troll.

Regarding the game, the narrative involved fails to become a loyal reenactment of the scene. After having received Book 2, Chapter 5 quest from Candaith the Ranger in his camp, the player and his fellowship are being transported to the foot of the mountain. Battling mostly orcs and goblins along the way, the party makes it to the top where an elite mob, a gigantic troll, appears. Despite observing many scenery details that closely resembled both the book’s and film’s venue, the instance itself felt more like a boring fight (probably due to the fact that my kinmates were high-leveled and it was relatively too easy). Still, there was some agony felt when battling the last boss but the pressure was on me personally so as not to make a mistake in combat. Given these facts, my reaction to the finale of the instance, sharing the “job well done” moment with the kinship members almost reminded me of the first time I watched Aragorn saving the day: rejoice.

References:

The Lord of the Rings Online. Westwood, MA: Turbine, 2014. Computer game.

The Lord of the Rings the Fellowship of the Ring. New Line Home Entertainment, 2001. DVD.

Tolkien, J. R. R. The Fellowship of the Ring: Being the First Part of The Lord of the Rings. Boston: Mariner /Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012. E-Pub. 10 Aug. 2014.

 

***Screenshot from the game – Kinship:Eagles of Thorondor – Server: Meneldor – Character: Uiril, Elf Hunter

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#LOTRO #MOOC Weeks 2 & 3

Moving on with this summer’s gaming Mooc at Coursera involved leveling the character I created in LOTRO. Due to lack of time I managed to take it up to level 17. That meant being able to buy a house of my own – yeah!! –  as well as spending the amount of Turbine points I gained through gameplay to purchase the riding skill. Still, no riding horse at the moment, I am afraid. I am also trying to figure out the auction house dealings; things in World of Warcraft were so much easier, in my opinion… Please note that for week 4, you need to be a level 20ish player to accomplish the peer assessment tasks, so it’s best to level up well in advance. Anyway, here’s a screenshot of my lovely house:

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During questing, especially when it came to instances joined by other NPCs, some glitches were present but nothing too problematic. The narrative in the game draws ample reference from the books and Tolkien lore, something which renders the gameplay enjoyable. Still the tedious “kill 20 boars” and “fetch 20 bat feathers” tend to spoil the fun. Moreover, I found storage options rather frustrating. Apart from your bags, you will soon see your bank slots and house vault filling up quickly.  Now, here’s a screenshot from a rather tricky quest:

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The summer festival was on during the second week, so we were given the chance to opt for a screenshot in those surroundings. The other option was to participate in our kinship’s fixed gatherings which took place twice so as to accommodate the needs of almost all kinship members. I chose option 1, because I couldn’t make it to the kinship games:

 

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Furthermore, we were tasked with writing a short essay on the topic of the social aspect of MMORPGs. During week 3, peer assessment ensued and that meant having to review 3 such essays along with their screenshots and proof of gameplay. Here is my take on the subject:

 

Write an essay (200 to 400 words) on your impression of the social dimension of MMOs.  If you’ve played other types of online games (shooters, RPGs, etc.), feel free to compare the nature of the social interactions you’ve had in these formats. Do social interactions enhance or diminish your experience of the narrative? Do you feel a bond with other players, and if so, how would you compare that relationship to others in real life?

 

 

The social aspect of MMMORPGs – a short testimonial

Being a gamer in pop culture is at times depicted as having “no-life”.  Unfortunately, a gamer is commonly regarded as rather being anti-social, kept in a confined room all day and having minimum contact with peers by many. Questionably, MMORPGs, such as World of Warcraft or LOTRO immerse the player in a virtual environment so much, that interactions seem “fake” or simulated to the outsider.

Speaking from personal experience, not only is this not the case, but recent scientific studies have also shown that online gaming is increasing, not limiting, the social lives of players (Taylor et al. 2014). The nature of social interactions in-game is mostly chatting or what one would call “small talk”. Interacting in a virtual massive world with complete strangers means wasting no time, however. Therefore, most of these discussions are usually practical or helpful ways of understanding gameplay, e.g. asking for advice regarding a particular quest. Nevertheless, once part of a kinship or a guild, the framework rapidly changes to sharing more personal insights on one’s life and daily routine. In essence, you make “friends” within the game and much to one’s surprise these friendships can be long-lasting and profound. It so happens that often social relationships of the kind extend to real life circumstances; people from game communities meet up in person, even when they hail from different countries.

Room with a view... The landscape around my house in LOTRO

Room with a view… The landscape around my house in LOTRO

The experience of the narrative in-game is often enhanced by virtual social gatherings like large-scale raids. Taking down a “boss”, takes a lot of energy, effort and explaining, thus  all members of a party must be up to speed, whom they are fighting and why. In addition, people extend their knowledge of lore and storytelling to people outside the game, describing their gaming experience much like they would do with a movie or a TV series. In retrospect, talking within the game becomes talking “about” it, as well, influencing relationships to others in real life, regardless whether they are themselves gamers or not.

References

Taylor, N., Jenson, J., de Castell, S. and Dilouya, B. (2014), Public Displays of Play: Studying Online Games in Physical Settings. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 19: 763–779. doi: 10.1111/jcc4.12054