Michael B. Duff

Lubbock's answer to a question no one asked

Archive for the ‘Warcraft’ Category

Designers reveal their favorite memories as World of Warcraft turns five

World of Warcraft turned five last week.

By way of comparison, heroin is 135, cocaine is 154 and we’ve been making alcoholic beverages for 9,000 years. I would put the debut of World of Warcraft on par with these events, comparable to when the first caveman fermented the first grape.

But this isn’t another tedious game addiction column; this is a tip of the hat to a game that has brought thousands of hours of reasonably-priced joy to people all over the world…

http://lubbockonline.com/stories/120409/col_531824720.shtml

Written by Not Jaffo

December 4, 2009 at 09:32

Posted in Columns, Games, Warcraft

Red Raiders rock ESPN front page at halftime

Written by Not Jaffo

November 1, 2008 at 21:02

Posted in Humor, Movies, Polls, Warcraft

Stores fear Hot Pocket shortage as Blizzard reinvents Warcraft

Warn your boss and make peace with your girlfriend; World of Warcraft has an expansion coming and it looks really good.

Dangerously good. Take a week off work good. Stay up until 3 a.m. and wonder where your life went good.

Blizzard released its 3.02 patch on Oct. 14, giving us a preview of what we can expect from Wrath of the Lich King. Warcraft maintains its popularity by reinventing itself every so often, and 3.02 looks like the biggest change yet.

Blizzard has altered game mechanics and revamped talent trees to an unprecedented degree. Most of the changes are good. Characters have become cooler, sleeker, and more powerful, while many raid bosses have been nerfed.

These changes have generated a wave of euphoria in the community, and relatively few complaints. The changes have a rough, unfinished feel to them right now as we wait for the full expansion, but people are already flocking back to play with the new toys.
Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Not Jaffo

October 22, 2008 at 12:13

Posted in Games, Warcraft

Confessions of a gender-switch gamer

My name is Michael Duff, and I am a gender-switch gamer.

That means although I am a man, I frequently create (and play) video game characters who are female.

I can imagine an army of amateur psychologists now, nodding their heads sagely as they smirk. “He's a guy who likes to pretend he's a chick, and we all know what that means.”

But it's not quite that simple. Most male gamers have “crossed the digital divide” once or twice, for a variety of reasons. The stock answer is to blame it on aesthetics, in a way that reinforces the masculinity of the gamer. Most video game characters are viewed from the back, so men naturally prefer looking at female backsides while they play.

This is a great answer, because it throws the insinuation back on the questioner. “So you really like looking at male buttocks all day? Maybe you're the one with the problem!”

Although the majority of game players are male (84 percent according to one World of Warcraft survey) the character distribution is much more even. So for whatever reason, a lot of men are out there playing female characters.

I can't answer for all of them, but I'll tell you why I do it.

The first thing to realize is that I don't think of my character as me. My character isn't really a stand-in for Michael Duff. I don't picture myself doing all these cool things as I play. It's more like a story I'm watching, the same way you'd watch a movie or a play. I think of my character as an actor in need of direction. I watch her about her the same way you'd watch Luke Skywalker or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

My character isn't a costume I wear; it's more like a car I drive. And just like a car, I want my character to look cool, move fast and run over anything that gets in my way. I pick out equipment and fine tune all kinds of settings to make my character perform better.

So when you ask me why I prefer female characters, it's kind of like asking why do you drive a Corvette instead of a Jeep?

On one level it's a pure aesthetic choice, and on another level, I like watching female heroes kill stuff. Probably the same reason Joss Wedon writes “Buffy.” You don't have to be female to appreciate female heroes, just like you don't have to be male to enjoy “Star Wars.”

I don't have any deep psychological reason for choosing female avatars, but I've certainly learned a lot. All the stereotypes are true. Male players treat you better when you're wearing a female face. I've had random strangers whistle at me, flirt with me, invite me to groups and give me free stuff, just because I was playing a female. I still get very uncomfortable when this happens. Usually I just say, “Sorry, I'm a guy.”

I've been hit on while playing a male, too, but this is much less common.

World of Warcraft has been widely criticized for the way it presents female avatars – with exaggerated body types and revealing clothes. As you climb up in levels you realize the more powerful the armor is, the more skin it is likely to show when you put it on.

I always thought people who complained about this stuff were nitpicking, until it happened to me. The first time I took my female warlock to Outland, I got some outstanding quest rewards that were much better than my previous equipment. I put on my new magic pants and looked like I was adventuring in a piece of sexy lingerie. My regal, dignified warlock character was walking around with her hips exposed, attracting whistles and catcalls from all across the zone.

It got so bad I actually sacrificed some attack power and put on a weaker pair of pants, just so I could cover myself.

I've always been a quiet supporter of women's rights, but I didn't really understand the issue until I put myself in a woman's shoes. The game experience has made me more careful about how I talk to women online and made me more conscious of women's issues in real life.

Don't believe me? Roll up a female blood elf and walk around Orgrimmar for a while. You'll see what I mean.

Written by Not Jaffo

November 16, 2007 at 09:15

Posted in Games, Warcraft

Duff: When a person is flirting with addiction, praise can be harmful

Duff: When a person is flirting with addiction, praise can be harmful

This is the third installment in my continuing series about gamers and game addiction. You can find previous columns, along with links and supplemental materials at the Internet Buzz blog on Lubbockonline.com.

Last week we talked about Eloy, a well-known podcaster who, inspired by Morgan Spurlock, forced himself to play Warcraft 10 hours a day for 30 days.

Eloy won’t use the word addiction to describe how he felt in the second and third weeks of his experiment. He thinks of addiction as “something you can’t walk away from” and ultimately, he did walk away.

After 17 days of constant play, Eloy gave up. There was no single moment of clarity here, no grand event that made him quit. Thinking back on it, Eloy says it may have been as mundane as looking in a mirror.

Eloy had always been an active person – running, hiking and exercising regularly. The sedentary gamer lifestyle caused rapid weight gain and took a real toll on him physically. Eloy suffered headaches, backaches and muscle twitches before he decided to quit.

That’s what drew me to this story in the first place, the notion that a group of active, healthy people – people who didn’t necessarily fit the gamer stereotype – could devote so much of their time and energy to a video game.

Everybody expects this behavior from introverts and computer geeks, and Eloy is quick to defend his nerd cred. He’s proud to be the kind of guy who can discuss both “beer and Star Trek,” crossing between worlds that most people get stuck in.

So with all this going for him in real life, how did Eloy get stuck in the game? There was clearly a point in the latter stages of his experiment when the goal (leveling a character to 60) took on a life of its own. What started out as a matter of scientific curiosity started to consume his life.

Eloy gave up his active lifestyle, stopped returning phone calls from family and friends, and kept himself rooted to a chair, even when back pain caused him to take handfuls of ibubrofen.

What could make a person do something like this? Eloy says the games are designed to be addictive, and they are designed very well. World of Warcraft is a perfect feedback loop, a perfect balance of effort and reward.

The game is set to give you exciting new rewards, just when you start to get bored. In Warcraft, there’s always a pot of gold over that next rainbow. The victories come fast when you play fast, and with a guild, those victories are shared.

There’s always a comrade to congratulate you when you reach a new level, always a well-meaning friend who will urge you to clean out one more camp or earn one more bar of experience. This culture of shared accomplishment can be very powerful, and very destructive.

The congratulations come from genuine affection and goodwill, but when a person is flirting with game addiction, that praise can be the hook that keeps them in. Words that are meant to be lighthearted cheerleading can lead a person deeper into denial and self-destruction.

Eloy is careful to draw a line here and make a distinction between group and personal responsibility. People are ultimately responsible for their own decisions. The game has an off switch, and no one can force you to turn it on.

But there’s a strong group component here, and a player who falls behind the curve or misses an important raid can feel like he’s letting his friends down. Ultimately, Eloy thinks people need to keep a closer watch on their friends, and be willing to call them out when their gameplay seems to be excessive or destructive.

Next week we’ll talk about how Eloy’s experiment affected his friends and about what you can do if you suspect one of your friends is developing an addiction.

Written by Not Jaffo

November 2, 2007 at 14:07

Posted in Columns, Games, Warcraft

Addicted to Warcraft, or was it just an experiment?

Update 10-26: My audio interview with Eloy and the Taverncast crew is available for download here!

Last week I talked about The Pod People, a World of Warcraft guild run by and for fans of the various Warcraft podcasts.

In their June 4 episode, one of the hosts of Taverncast spoke candidly about the game and his personal experience with game addiction. The host, known by the name Eloysius or Eloy for short, subjected himself to a grueling experiment where he forced himself to play Warcraft for 10 hours a day.

The experiment started with a conversation Eloy had with a couple of people who were starting to describe Warcraft as a lifestyle — not just a game they played, but as a world they lived in. Like some folks who play golf constantly or follow sports teams across the country, these people had embraced Warcraft as a permanent part of their lives.

World of Warcraft had taken over their lives and they described it as a positive thing.

“This was all they wanted to do.” Eloy said, “WoW is who they are. It defines them.”

Inspired by Morgan Spurlock, the film maker who made “Supersize Me!” and “30 Days,” Eloy decided to turn himself into a hardcore World of Warcraft player for 30 days and see what the lifestyle did to him. He forced himself to play 10 hours a day. He didn't have to play consecutively, and he didn't have to give up the rest of his life.

“I didn't have an 8-hour workday that was going to get in the way, so I was free to try it,” he said.

So Eloy went from playing two or three hours every other day to playing 10 hours every day.

At first, the 10-hour commitment was annoying and disruptive, breaking him away from gym routines and social functions to come back and sit in front of his computer.

Somewhere around day five, Eloy started feeling stiff and getting back pains, but instead of getting up or going for a run he would say, “Nah, I'll just grind out this next level.”

So he stayed at the game, and kept staying, for the next day and the next day, and the next day.

Over time, he said, “The game life became far more important. During week two, all I wanted to do was play the game.”

His game time increased from the required 10 hours a day to 15 or 16 hours per day.

“I would literally be up until 5 a.m. or later. I saw the sun come up at least three or four days.”

Eloy shifted into a new pattern, where he stayed up until 5 a.m., slept until 10:30 a.m. or so, and immediately went back to the game.

“I always knew what I was doing,” Eloy said. “I always knew I was doing this experiment, so I can't say I just became addicted. It's not that simple. It's just that the game itself became so compelling because of this goal I had set for myself.”

Some people call that addiction, but Eloy is reluctant to use the word.

“I have a problem believing I could become addicted to something within two weeks time.”

Eloy gets into week three and starts taking large amounts of medication for back and tailbone pain. “Then I would take a couple shots of something … messing around with alcohol at the same time, not really thinking. I got bad headaches, probably due to sleep deprivation more than anything else.”

He even got blurred vision and muscle spasms. “I stood in front of the mirror in week three and literally watched my left eye vibrate.”

So at this point, did Eloy keep going back to the game because of the experiment or because he was addicted?

Eloy said, “The game was compelling. And by compelling I don't mean fun, because sometimes it wasn't fun at all.”

Next week, we'll talk about Eloy's decision to quit the game, and about the external forces that keep people playing, even when they know it's a bad idea.

You can hear Eloy's complete story in Taverncast After Hours #3, available at taverncast.com.

Written by Not Jaffo

October 26, 2007 at 14:48

Posted in Games, Warcraft

Duff: Addicted to Warcraft, or was is it just an experiment gone wrong?

Duff: Addicted to Warcraft, or was is it just an experiment gone wrong?

Last week I talked about The Pod People, a World of Warcraft guild run by and for fans of the various Warcraft podcasts.

In their June 4 episode, one of the hosts of Taverncast spoke candidly about the game and his personal experience with game addiction. The host, known by the name Eloysius or Eloy for short, subjected himself to a grueling experiment where he forced himself to play Warcraft for 10 hours a day.

The experiment started with a conversation Eloy had with a couple of people who were starting to describe Warcraft as a lifestyle — not just a game they played, but as a world they lived in. Like some folks who play golf constantly or follow sports teams across the country, these people had embraced Warcraft as a permanent part of their lives.

World of Warcraft had taken over their lives and they described it as a positive thing.

“This was all they wanted to do.” Eloy said, “WoW is who they are. It defines them.”

Inspired by Morgan Spurlock, the film maker who made “Supersize Me!” and “30 Days,” Eloy decided to turn himself into a hardcore World of Warcraft player for 30 days and see what the lifestyle did to him. He forced himself to play 10 hours a day. He didn’t have to play consecutively, and he didn’t have to give up the rest of his life.

“I didn’t have an 8-hour workday that was going to get in the way, so I was free to try it,” he said.

So Eloy went from playing two or three hours every other day to playing 10 hours every day.

At first, the 10-hour commitment was annoying and disruptive, breaking him away from gym routines and social functions to come back and sit in front of his computer.

Somewhere around day five, Eloy started feeling stiff and getting back pains, but instead of getting up or going for a run he would say, “Nah, I’ll just grind out this next level.”

So he stayed at the game, and kept staying, for the next day and the next day, and the next day.

Over time, he said, “The game life became far more important. During week two, all I wanted to do was play the game.”

His game time increased from the required 10 hours a day to 15 or 16 hours per day.

“I would literally be up until 5 a.m. or later. I saw the sun come up at least three or four days.”

Eloy shifted into a new pattern, where he stayed up until 5 a.m., slept until 10:30 a.m. or so, and immediately went back to the game.

“I always knew what I was doing,” Eloy said. “I always knew I was doing this experiment, so I can’t say I just became addicted. It’s not that simple. It’s just that the game itself became so compelling because of this goal I had set for myself.”

Some people call that addiction, but Eloy is reluctant to use the word.

“I have a problem believing I could become addicted to something within two weeks time.”

Eloy gets into week three and starts taking large amounts of medication for back and tailbone pain. “Then I would take a couple shots of something … messing around with alcohol at the same time, not really thinking. I got bad headaches, probably due to sleep deprivation more than anything else.”

He even got blurred vision and muscle spasms. “I stood in front of the mirror in week three and literally watched my left eye vibrate.”

So at this point, did Eloy keep going back to the game because of the experiment or because he was addicted?

Eloy said, “The game was compelling. And by compelling I don’t mean fun, because sometimes it wasn’t fun at all.”

Next week, we’ll talk about Eloy’s decision to quit the game, and about the external forces that keep people playing, even when they know it’s a bad idea.

You can hear Eloy’s complete story in Taverncast After Hours #3, available at taverncast.com.

Written by Not Jaffo

October 26, 2007 at 14:09

Posted in Columns, Games, Warcraft

Duff: Podcasters eventually turn away from game and return to real life

Duff: Podcasters eventually turn away from game and return to real life

When does a group of game players become a community? And how do you recover when gaming becomes your life?

This is the story of a community built around the game World of Warcraft, about a group of podcasters who made a guild for their fans, and about how they’ve come full circle.

World of Warcraft is blessed with an unusually active and diverse podcasting community. If you want straight facts with a minimum of fuss, you can visit Starman and Renata at World of Warcast. If you want hardcore PVP and raiding advice (with a permanent Explicit tag) check out Alachia’s WoWcast. And if you’d rather laugh than take notes, check out the loveable lushes at TavernCast.

All of these podcasts are available through iTunes, and their respective home pages can be found by copying the name of the podcast into a Google search.

There are a dozen other great Warcraft podcasts out there, but those were my three favorites. These are the podcasts that convinced me to buy the game and join a guild. The guild was called The Pod People, a giant, friendly group run by and for fans of these podcasts. At its height, it had more than 400 members.

The Pod People were a family guild, in the best sense of that word.

There was no cursing allowed in the guild chat and the age of the members ranged from 12 to 60. The Pod People were proud of their status as a “casual” guild. While some hardcore guilds implement strict attendance and performance standards, The Pod People were strictly there to have fun.

But for all their protests about being casual, The Pod People were an extremely active guild, and together, these podcasters devoted an extraordinary amount of time to their game.

Beyond the normal time sink of the game itself, these folks were managing a guild of hundreds.

Managing a guild may not sound like much to the uninitiated, but imagine trying to organize a church group, a bowling league, a parents’ organization or a small business with 400 people in it. Now imagine the members are in different states, different countries and different time zones, scattered all over the world.

Think on this for a while and you’ll see why young managers want to put guild leadership on their resumes.

For years these folks devoted themselves to Warcraft. Now, in their Oct. 7 podcast, three of the TavernCast regulars reveal that they’ve quit the game.

After spending countless hours praising Warcraft, they spend their latest podcast complaining about it and comparing it to an addictive drug.

They don’t hate the game, and they don’t say they’ll be gone forever, but for now they’ve walked away from it, and we can all learn from their experience.

Check this space next week to hear about one cast member who turned himself into a Warcraft addict, and how he found his way back.

Written by Not Jaffo

October 19, 2007 at 14:10

Posted in Columns, Games, Warcraft

Is game addiction real? Share your story here.

Today I published the first in a continuing series about guild dynamics and game addiction in the World of Warcraft. I've got five parts of it drafted now, with interviews scheduled with the TavernCast folks this weekend.

Eloysius has been incredibly helpful here, speaking with me for long blocks of time, sharing intimate details about what he went though and what he learned during his experiment.

And here's where I get to make a distinction between old journalism and new journalism. Old journalism was a one-way street. Columnists handed down their opinions and the context of the issue was restricted to the column itself.

That's not true anymore, and I want to cast a wide net. Most of the quotes and observations I use in my series are taken from the June 2nd episode of TavernCast After Hours. I wish I could just transcribe that episode and run it in print, but paper and ink cost money, and the typical print reader wouldn't care enough to justify it.

But you're not reading this in print, you're reading on the net, where the page goes on forever and the bits roam free. I'm spreading this series out over five weeks, but you don't have to wait for it. Just download the podcasts and hear the story straight from the people who lived it.

Don't wait for my opinions, jump into the comments section and present your own. The TavernCast forums are on fire with…fond farwells and gentle goodwill.

I'm looking for a place where people rip into Eloysius and company for leaving, but I can't seem to find it. Surely there's some gamer blowback out there somewhere.

The good news is, gamers are not blind or stupid. Most people know when they're walking the line between healthy play and destructive behavior. They know the problem exists, they're just not sure what to do about it.

We all know people who've gone too far, and we know people who've quit cold turkey. I think without a strong social incentive, most people will eventually get bored with the game and drift to other activities.

I hope we all can benefit from this discussion about game addiction and guild culture, and I hope you won't hesitate to tell your own story.

Written by Not Jaffo

October 19, 2007 at 13:12

Posted in Games, Warcraft

Duff: With video game addiction, prevention has to begin in the home

Duff: With video game addiction, prevention has to begin in the home

Last week I tried to prove that video games could be good for you. This week I have to talk about the other side.

For every 100 kids playing video games, 15 of them could be addicted. This number comes from a report submitted to the American Medical Association. On Wednesday, the AMA decided that although overuse of video games can be a problem for children and adults, they’re not ready to call it a disease.

It’s the classic problem faced by ethicists in the modern age. Is it moral or medical? Is video game addiction caused by brain chemistry or weakness of character?

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I’m not qualified to answer that question, but you don’t need a degree in neurochemistry to deal with the problem of addicted kids. Parents have to exert control over their kids’ computer use, and game manufacturers are willing to help.

World of Warcraft comes with parental controls that allow you to determine exactly when your child can play the game. If the last time you saw the Warcraft account screen was the first time you put your credit card in, please go to www.worldofwarcraft.com and look again. Look for “Parental Controls” on the right hand side of the main page under “Quick Links.” The parental control page is worth a visit, if only to see the cute cartoon.

Of course, no technological solution can substitute for an active, concerned parent, but establishing boundaries can make the battle easier, and help your WoW-crazed child get some sleep.

Wives may even want to try this trick on their husbands, but please don’t blame me for the results. As a recovering WoW addict myself, I’ve often wished for an external authority that would shut the game off and make me go to sleep. Unfortunately, being an adult means having the power to sabotage yourself, and having no one else to blame when things go wrong.

It’s easy to blame manufacturers when kids get wrapped up in these things, but I think game addiction is more a symptom than a cause. The real problem is the army of latchkey kids, stuck with computers as their baby sitters and primary source of social interaction.

Real life is harder than virtual life, but it’s also more rewarding. Show your kids the richness of real life, and the games won’t seem so tempting anymore.

Written by Not Jaffo

June 29, 2007 at 14:58

Posted in Columns, Games, Warcraft

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