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15 Minutes of Fame: Liz Danforth, page 2


Liz Danforth's character Winter
It doesn't sound as if Cataclysm has been your cup of tea. Thoughts?
I encapsulate a lot of it in my remarks [on my blog] about the Therazane dailies -- migrant worker and chain gang convict jobs, and yes, my mage (and all our toons) are too good for that kind of pointless humiliation. I don't care if we killed her daughter ... we did far worse in Northrend. It humbled us, but it did not humiliate. Big difference.

The parts about what I think is fundamentally wrong with Cata's basic design, and the way it has changed since late Wrath days is deep into things like Daniel Pink's Drive and other business management and motivation analyses, also linked with current discussions of gamification (gamifornication, as a friend says). The rewards of WoW have become extrinsic. Flog yourself through dungeons to collect the emblems that are not an intrinsic part of the exercise, and not about what the bosses inside are doing that threatens us on the outside. No one seems to give a damn about the 5-man content except as an emblem mill, and the players all seem to hate what is in there and being obliged to do it.

I can recall at least two separate occasions people have told me (different servers -- they don't even know each other) that they've run the Troll dungeons for the emblems repeatedly -- up to 18 times in a row -- and don't even like them, even when they've been invited to do something more "fun" but less emblem-critical, like a T11 raid where guildies without min-maxed gear would have benefited, and which would have been a more sociable occasion. Others say that they can't play more than one toon to raid ability in four hours per day, and therefore have to play what the guild needs and not necessarily the toon they'd like to play. I ran into a bit of that in Wrath, because a bear tank was more essential than Yet Another DPS Mage, but it wasn't egregious -- and I could still play both and keep both in gear.

Both the guilds I am in brought down Arthas after weeks and weeks of wipes -- on normal. (I had switched servers after resigning from the guild I ran -- it was too painful to log in and not see all my friends in one place. I was the first Kingslayer among our circle because the guild I joined had it down cold. There were four new Kingslayers the night I got it, and -- as I expect you know -- that is not a fight where you can make many mistakes. I was soooooo eager and so determined; I played an almost flawless game that night, but it was bittersweet not to do it among old friends and not to be able to celebrate with them.)

During your studies for your Master of Library Science degree, you did some research 21st-century skills acquired in WoW that translate to real life. What can you tell us about what you found out?

I found out that the community of WoW was hugely varied but most cared deeply about the game on a non-trivial level -- at least, those who responded to the survey did, all 1,600 of them from around the world (but predominantly from English-speaking countries, since the survey was conducted in English).

The quantitative questions I asked were intended to identify circumstances and situations in which players engaged in specific kinds of actions within the game. Then they were asked about whether they did similar kinds of actions in real life because of, or related to, having done them in the game. All the "actions/behaviors" I asked about were among those identified by the Partnership for 21st Century Skills as essential knowledge for tomorrow's citizens, employees, and entrepreneurs.

I could have asked about many others but I inquired about: sharing knowledge, problem solving, creative arts, social computing, computer skills, and cooperation.

Librarians explore World of Warcraft
In each case, people said they did these things during the game about the game, to some degree or other. They all said that the game had some impact on how they did these things outside the game, about subjects outside the game to a lesser extent -- except for the creative arts, where people felt they expressed themselves more vigorously outside the game (but because of the game) than inside it. The game inspired players to make art, compose new music as well as create mashups, dance, machinima, cosplay, fiction, playwriting, public speaking efforts, knitting projects, and inventing recipes based on foods and dishes described in-game, often served up as potlucks of real-life meetings of guild members who might have travelled across town or from around the world.

Gamers modded their tabletop games to be able to play WoW-like games when the "official" games didn't satisfy them. People used WoW conceptually to improve their lives in other ways. Several mentioned using it as a model of complex project management (chain quests) or self-improvement like weight loss programs or smoking cessation. They often spoke of having it as social glue among co-workers, and between employee and employer.

Although the quantitative questions were the backbone of the study, I had a number of open-ended questions where I asked people to simply tell me how elements from within, things they learned or experienced from within the game had affected their real lives. Troubled people found supportive friends, disabled people found somewhere they were not affected by their disability. Women who never experienced what it meant to step into a leadership role discovered they were great guild masters or raid leaders, earning the respect of complete strangers. Fathers and sons found common ground, a place they could interact without the conflicts of real life and thus, in time, learn to interact in better in real life. Grandmothers got to "visit" their distant children every day.

The answers to those open-ended questions are the anecdotes we now know are pretty common. At the time, I little recognized just how much impact, positive impact, the game could have. There were certainly stories recounted about WoW causing problems in people's lives too, but the vast majority of those who took the time to respond to my survey had wonderful, inspiring, and happy stories to share.

Art by Liz Danforth
Where can we read all this?

The study was never published because it was, in truth, too little too late. It was really never intended to be more than a place to start, and my advisor hoped I would take it on for Ph.D. work. I wasn't really interested in pursuing a Ph.D. then, although if I were 30-something instead of 50-something, I might have.

In truth, Nick Yee and Constance Steinkuhler are doing more and better than I could have. I worked with an academic up at Arizona State University for a time, seeing if we could whip the data into publishable form, but in the end, it was too much work for data that was really nothing new by then.

What a shame!

I did get in as one of Nick's study subjects, in the last research set, I am happy to say. When I note that only 10% of female players run male mains, I'm strangely tickled to note that I'm one of them. I remember one of my first raids into Naxx, the RL (a female GM on a female toon) said, "Winter!! You're a DOOD!!!!!!" which led to much amusement among the other 23 people -- including the men, who were pleased to find out that their delight in watching an attractive female toon on the screen was not actually an incomprehensible or unbelievable idea to at least some members of the female population who were, in turn, enjoying a handsome, studly guy. Even if he does wear a dress.

Read part 2: More from gaming insider Liz Danforth

"I never thought of playing WoW like that!" -- and neither did we, until we talked with these players, from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's Aron "Nog" Eisenberg to an Olympic medalist and a quadriplegic raider. Know someone else we should feature? Email

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