Minecraft and Social Constructs

I’ve been meaning to discuss the idea and applications of social constructs of Minecraft for a while now. When the game comes up in conversation I’m very used to friends and colleagues not only telling me a bit about what they have achieved through Minecraft, but also that they find there are social constructs and a sense of community at play in addition. Kids reaaaally seem to like it.

This post will untangle the idea of social constructs within the game by looking at qualitative and social analysis from research groups that are aiming to define how and why participants regard the game as providing an affinity of space. It’ll also discuss some ideas about how traditional social constructs are now being translated through servers.

A basic theory within the idea of social constructs is that of affinity of space. This speculates that certain spaces, whether they are physical – for example within a city – or virtual, can offer certain traits. These range from the positive such as welcoming and nurturing of social connections, to exclusive and elitist.

There are a number of studies that have published strong evidence for Minecraft being a positive medium for affinity of space, and also in education, creativity and other desirable applications. The interesting aspect is why the game has advanced in virtual social constructs where others have not.

Certainly in MMO’s and RPG’s there will always be some kind of social order – after all we are still individual human beings controlling what happens in a virtual environment. In social orders participation is the first key, as there must be participation to develop a functioning social structure. Further aspects required include:

– Personal contribution

– The sharing of information

– Social support and guidance

– Discussion with other members

– Individual assignment and completion of tasks to fulfil larger planned goals

An excellent representation of social structures within Minecraft can be illustrated by Pellicone and Ahne (2014) who applied qualitative analysis on forum threads to generate visualisations of structures that may also be present within the game. An example is shown below in Figure 1.

Source: Pellicone and Ahne (2014)
Source: Pellicone and Ahne (2014)

Additional theories of online structures, most notably Butler (2000), argue that structures similar to figure 1 are applicable to larger volumes of games. He argues that the presence and usage of servers are most likely to have a defining role in this as they allow for greater levels of communication and delegation of resources, therefore resulting in more complex social structures.

This ties in neatly with the affinity of space theory, connoting that servers are constructive and encourage positive space and social interactions. Dedicated players are usually content in their constructs. Dave is happy to farm, Brian enjoys doing magic, Larry likes to build. No-one is sure where Colin went. They work together for a common cause, and usually because a social connection has been formed between them in the physical world.

However, in addition to the immediately visible contours of the affinity space, there also exists a broader community of people who identify as Minecraft players, with some further identifying with the elite level of producer found within the larger Minecraft meta-game (Maccallum-Stewart, 2013)

Minecraft unfortunately is not exempt from the way that a perceived gamer culture often results in unwelcoming attitudes towards those who fall outside of that culture (Pellicone and Ahne, 2014). The difficulty is identification of gamer culture norm’s in comparison with Minecraft norm’s. Norm’s in themselves are defined by the actions and interactions translated into the virtual environment, which provide a level of anonymity for players.

A critical aspect of the social structures within Minecraft is whether the game or indeed any social orders within it can overcome physical social inequalities (for example race, gender, income, upbringing) of players. This is pretty difficult thing to analyse on a scale that is representative of the whole Minecraft gaming community, but it’s certainly a focal point for social-based research in the future.

Assessment whether there is a connection between the overcoming of social inequalities and the production of positive space within Minecraft can certainly be inferred. The game features very few negative aspects that would impact the development and sustainability of social networks, which in turn lend to the continual production of affinity of space.

creeper

Counter-Strike and DOTA2

Have you ever wondered why professional gamers (Pro-gamers) are dominated by young males? Have you ever considered why they have little age difference, or difference in nationality?

This post compares pro-gamers using the examples of DOTA2 and Counter-Strike, and assesses in what ways they are similar, and how this may be explained using human geographical statistics. So let’s begin…

Counter-Strike is a first person shooter game first released in the year 2000, and was rapidly developed into a series of games with versions ranging from 1.0 to 1.6. Tournaments of Counter-Strike have been running for nearly 13 years, and offer competitive gamers the opportunity to win large sums of money. According to http://www.ongamers.com, the list of top ten pro-gamers of all time by prize money won are as follows:

  • 01. $858,872 – ‘f0rest‘ – Patrik Lindberg (Sweden), 26
  • 02. $798,506 – ‘cArn‘ – Patrik Sättermon (Sweden), 29
  • 03. $777,772 – ‘dsn‘ – Harley Orvall (Sweden), 28
  • 04. $631,251 – ‘NEO‘ – Filip Kubski (Poland), 27
  • 05. $626,251 – ‘TaZ‘ – Wiktor Wojtas (Poland), 28
  • 06. $609,106 – ‘RobbaN‘ – Robert Dahlström (Sweden), 29
  • 07. $597,092 – ‘Loord‘ – Mariusz Cybulski (Poland), 27
  • 08. $593,528 – ‘kuben‘ – Jakub Gurczyński (Poland), 26
  • 09. $531,921 – ‘zonic‘ – Danny Sørensen (Denmark), 28
  • 10. $508,571 – ‘walle‘ – Dennis Wallenberg (Sweden), 27

There are three immediate points we can recognise: all of these pro-gamers are male, all originate from Europe, and all are aged mid to late 20’s.

Similarly to Counter-Strike,  DOTA 2 (Defence of the Ancients) has had increasing availability of prize money and was also produced by Valve Corporation. The game is an online multiplayer battle arena, which was released in 2013 as the sequel to the original DOTA. According to http://www.gosugamers.com, the top ten pro-gamers of all time by prize money won are as follows:

  • 01. $280,600 – ‘Dendi’ – Danil Ishutin (Ukraine), 23
  • 02. $278,100 – ‘Puppey’ – Clement Ivanov (Estonia), 23
  • 03. $277,300 – ‘XBOCT’ – Alexandr Dashkevich (Ukraine), 25
  • 04. $266,490 – ‘LightOfHeaveN’ – Dmitriy Kupriyanov (Russia), 25
  • 05. $240,000 – ‘Ferrari’ – Luo Feichi (China), 23
  • 06. $231,500 – ‘Zhao’ – Chen Yao (China), 23
  • 07. $229,000 – ‘Faith’ – Zeng Hongda (China), 21
  • 08. $221,700 – ‘YYF’ – Jiang Cen (China), 26
  • 09. $216,000 – ‘ChuaN’ – Wong Hock Chuan (Malaysia), 21
  • 10. $204,000 – ‘ArtStyle’ – Ivan Antonov (Ukraine), 24

Once again all of the top 10 are male, but are on average younger than the top ten Counter-Strike players, aged early to mid 20’s. Additionally there are players from Russia, China and Malaysia, which challenge dominent European title holders.

Despite the addition of Chinese, Malaysian and Russian pro-gamers and a shift in age range, little is different between both games top 10. What makes these pro-gamers the best at their respective game then?

Do different nationalities think differently or have different traits? Why do only male players dominate the top 10 in each game? Why are they so closely similar ages?

The first part of these questions can be answered by the availability of the web, and percentage of population that use the internet in the countries of origin of the pro-gamers. The table below illustrates global statistics of internet usage and population statistics (2013).

internetstats

The table above shows that the number of individuals of the population who have access to the internet was 566,261,317 in 2013. This means that nearly 69% of the population has access to the internet.

It is reasonable to conclude then that the ease of access to the internet is not the singular defining characteristic of pro-gamers, as both North America and Australasia record similar and higher percentages of population usage.

Another theory that had weight throughout the early 21st century was that male pro-gamers became dominant due to the effects of gaming addictions. This would manifest itself in a way that allowed the individual to concentrate solely on the game they were playing for long periods of time.

It also speculated that males were able to concentrate on singular aspects for a longer duration than women, who were argued to be better at multi-tasking. Thus, a reasonable assumption for how male players thought differently, and were able to excel in that particular game.

In 2012 this theory was contested by a research paper by Han et al (2012) who used MRI scanning to monitor brain activity between Pro-gamers and persons with online gaming addictions (POGA’s). In this they discovered that there were considerable differences between the two groups: concluding that a gaming addiction did not differ wildly from any other type of addiction, whereas pro-gamers showed heightened levels of problem-solving regardless of gender.

Alongside this there are countless other studies, especially in psychology, that produce evidence for the balance of genders in problem solving. To put it simply, males are not scientifically proven to be better at games.

One of the bigger issues that may account for the gender divide in pro-gaming is the the difference in embodied work. Women are far less likely to be recognised in a competitive gaming environment, especially in games that are heavily dominated by male gamers, fans, marketing, and judging panels.

Certainly recent ethnographies of the female role in competitive gaming has highlighted the different expectations of female gamers based on Bryce and Rutter’s (2005) call to change the perceived roles within the community.

Taylor et al. (2009) summarise that the dominance of young male gamers is not a result of a specific set of traits held only by certain people, but as the perceptions and preconceptions maintained within a community that most commonly reads female participation in sexualised terms.

Heightened marginalisation of females in pro-gaming tends to focus around games with higher violence and objectification. As such, games like Counter-Strike and DOTA2 not only disparage women, but have a self-sustaining community whose perceptions are difficult to change.

Do you think this type of communal thinking can be changed surrounding DOTA2 and Counter-Strike? How do think it could be done? Why do you think marginalisation exists in the first place?

Civilization 5 – Perfect World 3 Walk Through

In a previous post I talked about the usefulness of geographical knowledge for strategies in some of the Civilization 5 mods. This included ‘Extended World Map’ and ‘Reforestation’, but mainly focused on ‘Perfect World’.

Perfect World is a mod based on map elevation data to create landforms, and a simplified model of geostrophic and monsoon wind patterns to generate climate. This post will be in a walk through style, and will show you the decisions that I made in the early stages of the game in order to apply geographical knowledge to my advantage.

Game set-up was set to random. (Unless you are like me, who selects random, then restarts several times to get a leader I actually want to play as). 

edited 1

 

Firstly, plonk your first city down. Next, take a look at the resources and terrain around you to get a better idea of what sort of climate you’re in. For this scenario I looked to the top red circle and saw incense, desert and an oasis. Already this implies a tropical climate. My initial guess is something akin to Africa. Left shows shallow seas which have higher chances of shallower resources such as crabs and pearls. 

Below, a citrus plantation leading down towards forest. This implies the further south is going to be generally wetter and more fertile, providing more plantation type resources. Finally the circle to the right indicates dunes with flat desert above. As the size of the desert above is fairly large already, I concluded that the dune was a singular boarding formation (as it is large and angled toward the sea, so formed by wind deposits) rather than a continuing feature East.

Right, North and South seem like good bets for exploration to find resources in the fastest way. South first, as the biosphere is more sustainable, and therefore more likely to hold a higher amount of resources in a smaller space.

edited 2

 

As predicted, the forest is pretty bulked up with resources. The red circles show where mountains occur, the circle to the left illustrates how mining resources tend to now tailor mountainous features, rather than at random which tended to happen in the original game. This area is very close to my first city however, and probably doesn’t warrant building another as my boarders will expand.

The second circle indicates another mountain feature. The forest only occurs on one part of the mountain alone, meaning that precipitation (brought upwards off of the water by orographic lifting) is only occurring on one side, and is blocked off from the other by the height of the elevation. As the side that is bare is the South West, it suggests that further south the fertile forest will give way to more savannah and wheat type resources, as the rains aren’t able to make it that far down due to the natural barrier. Time to look North.

edited 3

 

As predicted, there are some tasty shallow sea resources in the two smaller circles to the left.The large circle to the right is not only indicating a mountain region, but one that is obviously a different colour. This tells me that the geology of the area is different to the mountain we saw down South. The formations are much larger, darker, and ridged so they are most likely metamorphic and/or igneous rocks. This will cause a greater rain shadow South (rain that only falls on one side of the mountain). 

Mountains this large and ridged tend to span formations rather than singular features, so I’m betting that they continue further East. They could span further North, but I decided that that wasn’t as likely seen as below there is flat desert most likely caused by adiabatic compression (lost moisture and heated, creating arid conditions) on the leeward side of the mountains. Therefore, the most likely formation must be a barrier spanning the length of the desert bowl, clearly indicated by the build up of dunes at the base of the mountain.

Now I can see that the desert has been created via water deprivation, rather than wind patterns. Now I know that although the desert will be just as big, it’ll be flatter and more of plain, so won’t hold any mining or durable plantation type resources such as incense. 

Based on the information above, I’m going to scout North rather than East, as the rain shadow South means that North should be where the warm moist air, probably brought off of the sea to the left by prevailing winds will be trapped. 

edited 5

 

Boom. Finally, we have found the highest concentration of resources, shown in the larger circle. In this area there is a resource in every single land plot, spanning 6 in length and with others noticeably near by. Perfect for settling near and getting a head start on the resource race.

I’ve left the walk through here, because as useful as this kind of tactical knowledge is, it really only gives you a considerable edge in the first age when you need to optimise where your cities should be. Also, this becomes far easier once you have scouted out all, or at least most, of the map. In that case it becomes as simple as ‘I have eyes and I see gems. I am going to go to those shiny, shiny gems’. 

There are other tactical applications to using the geography of the map however. For example how to pick the best strategically placed and more defensible city or unit locations, or how to identify the places with the highest chance of having a Barbarian encampment. In the next post I’ll go into those a bit more. Maybe it’s time for killing some things, geography style. 

 

Civilization 5 – Mods and Virtual Geography

Civilization, Sid Meyer’s first born son birthed on a hill with rainbow and gods present, has become one of the most renowned and highest grossing turn based strategy games of the past decade. Civilization 5 especially has elapsed all of its predecessors in terms of popularity, expansions, mods and profits.

Naturally, there are a plethora of mods available for the game. In fact, more than 1500 on Steam alone. These range in usefulness and practicality. For example, after a couple of hours the novelty of being able to play as races of Middle Earth, Avatar, or Westeros wears pretty thin. You are after all, running around and doing the same old clicky thing.

However, what makes some of the Civ 5 mods interesting, is their ability to change a game by modifying the game mechanics to suit both the map development, layout, and the geographical area. Using the same example of the popular books/TV mods, the detailing in the respective maps not only replicate their originals, but are geographically tweaked to represent physical geography more so than the original set of  Civ 5 maps.

By this I mean, where you see different biomes or geographical features on the map, they are designed to reflect the natural formation based on the earth environment. Marshlands must be adjacent to bodies of water, grasslands transition to shrubbery and eventually forest etc. This is simple environmental formation, which is lending to the development of thinking geographically when playing a tactical strategy game.

Obviously, the original untampered Civ 5 represents geography exceptionally well. The subsequent expansions, such as Gods and Kings, or Brave New World certainly build on this very effectively. But this is where the finer detailed mods come in – those including ‘Perfect World’, ‘Reforestation’, and the ‘Enahanced World Map’ saga.

A great example of this can be seen when playing in the ‘Perfect World’ mod. It uses map elevation to create landforms, then uses a simplified model of geostrophic and monsoon wind patterns to generate climate. In simple terms the map represents real meteorological patterns, real geographical formations, and tailors the chance of resources to occur more often in areas where that resource is found in the natural world.

So, geographical knowledge can be applied to much greater affect than simply ‘there is a large body of water here, therefore I can infer there will be some sort of water-type resource such as pearls or fish in that area’.

Instead, using this mod, combined with a working knowledge of geography one can infer much greater detail, and consequently utilise the map in a much more tactical way. Civ 5 takes this to the level that few other games can dream of.

For example, in desert biomes, knowing the algorithms behind dune formation, and being able to recognise the difference between dune type allows the player to realise that ‘this type of dune is formed as a result of high winds and the availability of particles, so it wont boarder a coast any time soon. I should probably utilise my units by only sending scouts into that area, and leaving settlers for more sustainable biomes’.

Or one may recognise ‘the path of this river is meandering, meaning that it’s in middle to lower stages of its course. There wont be mountains nearby, and the availability of farming luxuries, such as cotton and dyes, are statistically higher’. The new map takes into account the correct probability of where a resource should be, rather than randomly attributing them throughout the map.

In the next few posts Ill go into more detail regarding how I personally have applied geographical knowledge during games of Civ 5, and how that has worked out for me. This will include discussing the merits of other mods also, and the general differences between them and the original game.

Eventually Ill look at some other virtual geography in other games, and why its becoming more available in game design.

Looks like its time to put my shades back on and play some Civ.