Introduction

Don Norman’s Affordances and Design, particularly his discussion about perceived affordances is useful when thinking about World of Warcraft‘s interface and about the customizability of that interface. While I have discussed the ways in which players might move through the network, via my own ANT reading of two different interfaces that I use while playing and through considering the ways the Hypertext plays such a heavy role in the experience of gamers, I haven’t necessarily considered the interface in terms of design and the affordances and constraints are present through the use of the interface, default or otherwise. I think talking from Norman’s work also allows me to discuss the ways in which WoW’s commercial success and domination of the MMO market for over a decade allowed them to make design choices that are now seen as the norm among MMOs and other MMOs are often expected to conform in certain design ways or risk players becoming frustrated with the user interface and experience.

Literature Review

There is ongoing work focused on the interface/design aspects of World of Warcraft, even with focuses on affordances. There is particular interest in the ways that players engage with the customizable interface and the use of addons in World of Warcraft.  In my last case study I pointed to a survey study conducted by Targett et al in 2007 and again in 2011 that was interested in the World of Warcraft users that were creating and using user interface modifications or UI mods.  The goal was “to study the effect that user created interfaces have had on WoW and its community of users” (Targett et al). Prax takes a more qualitative approach in how he looks at the addon community as a whole, interviewing several key members of the addon community. Prax is interested in the ways that addons have influenced changes that Blizzard has implemented into the default interface. I’ve considered these issues myself as I’ve played World of Warcraft and have experienced patches that included changes that Prax discusses.  For example, Prax discusses the standard implementation of Power Auras, or visual cues for when a character in game experiences certain effects (buffs or debuffs, for instance). Originally this was an add on, but later was implemented into the default UI by Blizzard for all players. Other work, such as that by Crenshaw and Nardi examines the social affordances in World of Warcraft, specifically focused on the ways in which the interface allows players to use social features of the game. They also discuss some of the changes to social affordance that have come about over time. One example they use is the Group Finder interface. This allows players to queue for dungeons and find other players to collaborate together much more quickly. This was implemented in 2006 and has been updated several times to make it faster and easier for players to group up together.

Analysis

Norman’s Affordances and Design allows the OoS to be looked at as both a whole or in pieces, depending on what aspects of design the researcher is interested in looking at. For my purposes, I’m looking at the typical default interface provided by Blizzard and what the perceived affordances and constraints are.

Similar to the last case study using ANT, the network nodes act as the small pieces of the interface that can be rearranged, clicked on, or change due to the player’s activities.

wow
My default WoW interface. Screenshot taken in-game in March 2016.

Examples of nodes include spell buttons that players can click on with the mouse cursor or by pushing specific keys on the keyboard bound to specific spells or buttons. These appear at the bottom of the default interface, the action bar. Some of these are created for the player by the Blizzard default UI, however, players can customize this through the macro interface. Other nodes include hyperlinks that are part of the interface that allow users to access parts of the game like a character sheet, a list of pets that the player has collected, or social tabs that allow the player to queue for dungeons or see who is online in their guild at the time. Players also have some choice as to where specific spells are placed on the action bar, though addons are necessary to do more complex customization.

In using Norman’s affordances and constraints in terms of design, humans, or users are the those privileged with agency in the network. He writes, “for in design, we care much more about what the user perceives than what is actually true” (1). We rely on conventions that users are familiar with, as well on the individual users’ perception of the design to make decisions about layout. This is certainly the case in World of Warcraft, in a number of ways. One of WoW‘s interface design has become a cultural constraint for other MMOs   because the interface design has become a convention among MMOs, due to when the game began (over 10 years ago now) will a large following. Many MMOs have tried different kinds of interfaces or battle systems and have been met with critique, usually comparing that MMO to WoW. There are expectations of the MMO interface that fit solidly within WoW’s interface design style. While there are constraints involved here, it is one that Blizzard placed upon itself, but left loopholes for additional changes for its own interface. They have used player innovation to allow them to make small changes over time without disrupting player experience. The interface has not remained static for a decade. Rather, WoW developers have turned to addons and the features that addons give to the interface to help them figure out how to adjust their interface in order to provide a better user experience for their players. Prax discusses this in his article, “Co-creative interface development in MMORPGs- the case of World of Warcraft add-ons.” He gives a variety of examples. As a player, I’ve seen examples of this first hand. In 2009, during the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, a new addon became very popular, called “Gear Score”.  The addon would rate your gear with a number. Players started using these number as a way to determine if players had good enough gear to enter raids with the group and be helpful members of the raid. (I’ll say this now: I hated the add-on and I hate that it was basically added into the game by developers). By the following expansion pack, Blizzard had added item level into the game directly. Players could inspect each other to see item level. The add on was no longer necessary. The use had become so widespread that Blizzard had adopted it into the interface for all players.

The relationships between nodes using Norman’s affordances and designs theory is mediated through the player and the types and directions of the relationships between the nodes depend on the play style of the player, as well as through how the player has modified or chosen not to modify the user interface. While developers provide the interface, it is vast enough that two players doing a similar activity will interact with the nodes in very different ways. To be able to confirm this, I’d likely need to do more research. I thought particularly of the work Dan and Alex are doing with the eye tracking software, especially Dan’s recent video of him playing WoW. Think aloud protocols would also be helpful here, to determine how players are navigating the interface and how their intentions move through the network between nodes, specifically in regard to how their avatar moves through the network between the nodes.

Norman’s discussion of “perceived” affordances is particularly useful when thinking about World of Warcraft’s interface because the affordances can be different depending on the player, which is important for design purposes, but also in terms of tracing the network. The ethnographic work conducted by Crenshaw and Nardi specifically focuses on what they saw as social affordances within World of Warcraft. One of the affordances they discussed was through interface design change with in the inclusion of Group Finder starting in 2006, later including the Random Dungeon queue. They discuss that the group finder allowed players to find groups quicker, which should mean more interaction socially between players. Though the researchers spend little time talking about it, they do mention that some players were unhappy with how this change affected how players interacted in group situations. So while there is a perceived social affordance, in terms of how the relationships between players were built and sustained changed significantly between the initial launch of the game and implementation of the group finder. This likely seems confusing, so I want to provide an example. When I first began playing the game, the group finder did not find random players and put you in a queue. You listed yourself there if you were currently searching for a group. It took time to invest into doing dungeons, even at low levels. It took time to find players and cooperate together successfully to complete a dungeon. While this was often frustrating, it also meant that players worked hard to build up reputation and capital with each other so that everyone could become friends in the game and help each other out in the future with less hassle. This often developed into friendships that lasted beyond the specific dungeon. It led to me joining a guild, as well as a large list of friends I could call on whenever we had a myriad of challenges we were facing in game. Since the implementation of the dungeon finder, cultivating these relationships happens less frequently and is often more difficult. Players often enter dungeons with others and do not even greet each other, let alone trying to collaborate or get to know each other. While there is a convenience in the system, and dungeons take much less time (due to upgrades in gear for low level characters, as one reason for this), it becomes harder to find players to interact with socially in a sustained way. These experiences end up acting as both perceived affordances and constraints, just depending on the particular player.

Another perceived affordance of WoW’s interface is that it is customizable. This allows players to change design elements in order to make their user experience better depending on their individual needs. The interface provides an array of information about the avatar so that the player can interact with the game, and the customization allows the player to receive this information in preferred ways.

Some of the affordances the interface provides players is the ability to communicate with other players through various chat channels located in the bottom left of the interface. Key bindings, typically through “r” allow players to quickly respond to other players that message them without needing to click on the chat box and allows them to continue playing while they talk with other players. The chat box also alerts players when their friends log into and off the game, as well as when guild members come online. While all of these features can be adjusted or changed by the player in certain ways, the perceived affordance is that it allows players to interact with other players easily and conveniently. Maps, could be another perceived affordance that the interface provides. The interface provides several maps– both the mini map in the top right corner of the screen, as well as a larger map through the “m” key. This brings up a large zone map. Players can also zoom out to see the continent, the planet map, as well as a further map that shows multiple planets.The maps allow players to be aware of the place they are currently in, such as being able to see where quest objectives are in relation to their current position, but also situate themselves within the larger continent for when they are traveling between zones or continents (especially useful with the ability that players now have to fly independently through zones on a flying mount). Players used to be constrained by predetermined flight paths, but once players reach a certain level now they are able to fly using a mount between zones at will.

I think that Norman’s theory allows me to discuss a lot in terms of design within the interface, probably so many things that I need to narrow it down. I actually think that the discussion of perceived affordances and constraints actually works very well in tandem with Case Study 2, where I used hypertext and ANT. The case study has helped me make decisions about my synthesis.

Works Cited

Crenshaw, Nicole and Bonnie Nardi. “”It Was More than Just the Game, It Was the Community”: Social Affordances in Online games.” HICSS. Web. 14 April 2016.

Norman, Don. “Affordances and Design.” Jnd.org. 1-6. Web. Class Google Drive.

Prax, Patrick. “Co-creative Interface Development in MMORPGS- the Case of World of Warcraft Add-ons.” Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds 4.1 (2012). 3-24. Web. 14 April 2016.

 

Synthesis Pregame

As I mentioned in my conclusion to this case study, Norman’s theory allows me to discuss what the interface allows and does not allow the player to do, which would fit well in with my discussion of ANT and Hypertext that I used for Case Study 2. At first I looked at the larger aspects of the game in terms of genre. I thought it was productive, but later theories led me to look closely at the interface instead. Looking specifically at the interface has allowed me to recognize the layers of networks even within only one part of the gamer’s experience, the interface, while playing World of Warcraft, something I hadn’t considered previously.

For, for the synthesis, I will be using Actor Network Theory, with Joyce’s Hypertext and Norman’s affordances and constraints discussions to help me fill in the gaps and provide vocabulary for me to use when doing the Actor Network Theory analysis. As a scholar within Game Studies as well as in Rhet/Comp, I think I can bring these together to discuss issues of visual rhetoric, as well as larger discussions of social interaction and communication between players that would be both useful to scholarship in Game Studies and Rhet/Comp. I think that’s why I ended up turning towards World of Warcraft, because while I am interested in it as a player and as someone within Game Studies, I also often come at my scholarly work through a rhetoric/composition lens. I’m interested in the composition practices of players, even through visual composition, or non-traditional texts like the coding and dissemination of addons.

 

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