Paper Lanterns

Recently I have been working on some assets to add to my 3d portfolio.  These have mostly been interesting things I thought would be a nice way to demonstrate my texturing ability, as I felt I was lacking in that department.. It’d be a good learning experience to start focusing on that.  So here is some work in progress on a paper lantern I’ve been working on for a small scene.

I wanted a hand painted feel to the texture, whilst keeping everything low poly/low resolution.  I decided I would paint my texture using Zbrush, because it allows you to paint in your detail and then lets you set the resolution for the texture once its cloned.  So I could paint something spectacular with intricate details and have a 256×256 texture sheet if I desired.  I also wanted to paint in the glow of the lantern so it would be self illuminating.

Previously, I painted it without alphas, which made it look like this:

The texture on this paper lantern felt too smooth, so taking stock images from the internet of crumpled paper bags and paper I was able to make some alphas for using in Zbrush.  If you look back at the first image you can see on the surface where I’ve applied some subtle ‘crinkles’ in the painted texture.  Using a darker colour over the glowing areas it looked like the crinkles were in shadow ever so slightly, adding to the paper effect.  Here are some more images. Enjoy!

Now I have to work on the rings that go around the lantern.

– Emma

Two days since the global release of Indie Game: The movie, and last night I got to sit down and watch it.  It didn’t answer a lot of questions for me about indie game development, it actually opened up more curiosities I have about big budget studios vs independant development.  When I say independant development I am refering to one, two or three people working on a game together without external development help.  When I first think about that idea, it seems stressful but I never thought I’d actually be able to relate to the kind of stress that is witnessed in Indie Game: The Movie.  It reminded me of the stress I had when I was writing my first dissertation, and again when I was writing my Masters thesis.  They described the sensation of working so hard on something, literally pouring their life and soul into it, “if this is a failure, I will kill myself” – Phil Fish, Fez.  Edmund McMillan and Tommy Refenes spoke about the kinds of thoughts they both experienced during the development of Super Meat Boy, Edmund quoting Tommy, “I don’t care if I die after this as long as this game is done”.  Along similar lines, after the release of Braid, Jonathon Blow fell into a depression for various reasons but one he mentioned was the way he was being portrayed on the internet AND how the game was being presented in reviews and blogs.  What really struck me is that, although I wouldn’t say my experience during my Masters thesis was close to me being depressed, I could relate to the feelings they had.  It was almost like this product you are creating is an extension of yourself, an expression of you, something you have manifested.  And then once release day comes (hand in day for me) you have thrown it into the world, and you almost don’t even want to know how well it’s doing or what people are saying because your expectation is never going to match how other people perceive it.

I remember one point in the movie, Jonathon Blow felt let down by the reviews he read and watched, because although people -LOVED- Braid, the reviews were not expressing what Jonathon set out to do with the game and he felt it was necerssary to comment on them in order to try and clarify different points in the game.  He felt people weren’t playing it correctly or making an effort to really understand the meaning in this game.  They showed a shot of Soulja Boy playing Braid and at one point SB says “what is the point in that?” and a following shot of Jon just made you realise how that must feel for people to not understand why you designed something the way you did and to perceive it almost as pointless.  This is where I think the arguements of whether games are, or can be ‘art’ are fallacious.  To me, the way the developers spoke in Indie Game: The Movie, felt very much like art to me.  They were expressing and extending themselves into this product that could potentially fail so it suddenly became their life.  It didn’t really matter what the reviews on the other side said, whether people perceived these products as art or not.  From the developers view, they had intentions to express something in their product, to inspire some meaning and stamp its mark into culture.

The way Jon Blow felt meant it required an individual to play his game as if they were studying a piece of art and not just playing a game.  The player had to take in the entire experience soundly and carefully.  This is how Braid should be read.  It might be different for games such as Super Meat Boy that intend to inspire frustration, laughs and a great deal of gratification whilst playing the game.  But in terms of context, you should read things how the designer intended them to be read, just because in Super Meat Boy you are not considering the metaphysical implications of the game does not make it any less a piece of expressive art than it does in Braid.

These are just some thoughts I took from Indie Game: The Movie 🙂


Thesis results!

I got 13 points out of 15!!!!!!!!!! Distinction!!!!!!!!! I never ever expected I would have a first class Masters.. wow.. very proud.

Here is the most recent 3D work that I worked hard on to achieve a professional standard.

An Analysis of the Game World and Lore

The chosen game for analysis is World of Warcraft.  This game has a wide range of resources relating to its lore and world that help build the story detail and overall universe which you’re plunged into if you play.  These resources include books (such as The Sunwell Trilogy, The Day of the Dragon, Arthas, and The War of the Ancients), websites such as wowwiki.com, loregy.com and lorecrafted.com.  There is a wide range of user-created content that relates to the lore, which shows Blizzard’s success in developing such detailed narrative in an MMORPG for a fan base community.


The world in World of Warcraft can be viewed as a hierarchical structure.  The bigger the being, the more influence it appears to have.  The world is based on balance and maintaining order proved by the existence of Old Gods which are chaotic beings existing to cause destruction and mayhem, and the Titans which attempt to maintain balance of the worlds in Warcraft and ensure things don’t get too chaotic (good or evil).  This can be paralleled with other myths and even religions, such as Christianity which has the devil who sets out to cause destruction and negativity, and God who attempts to create only chaotic good and peace.  More accurate to the Warcraft story is the paganistic myths such as the Celtic and Norse myths which have a multitude of deities with a similar hierarchical structure (Gods -> Demigods) and rather than having chaotic good and evil, they are more focused on the idea of a balanced universe, rather than an extremely peaceful or extremely destructive one.  There are clear influences from mythology, namely Norse mythology, which appears frequently in the lore of the creation of worlds in Warcraft.  The Titans themselves are split into two races – The Aesir and The Vanir[1] (two factions who appear in the Norse myths).  Lending these details from existing lore which people long ago genuinely believed creates a solid, well rounded structure to a world and lends tropes and meanings to the player.  There are however destructive influences in the world which affect certain existents, such as the Titan Sargeras who was corrupted by the amount of evil he witnessed[2].  Because of his power and influence, this is what really started creating large imbalances in Azeroth namely, as he cast away from his role as a Titan and began corrupting and destroying what the other Titans strived to achieve.  Sargeras’ downfall was not of his own doing, but of the sadness and evil he witnessed, and lost all reason of his mission to fight evil.  This is a recurring theme within Warcraft, such as Arthas who was driven to madness from the hordes of evil undead he strived to defeat, Deathwing who was in fact a guardian of the earth, turned mad by the Old Gods corruption and Illidan whose powers’ were misunderstood and pushed away by his own society, so turned to those who accepted and praised his abilities – these characters are highly influential beings due to their powers and affect the story deeply.


There is a strong sense of magnitude when immersing yourself in the World of Warcraft – the races you come across on the mundane plane of Azeroth is only a small fragment of the universe itself which is shown by the characters which visit Azeroth such as Dragons from the now corrupted Emerald Dream (a separate plane to Azeroth where sleep, imagination, nature and balance is it’s theme) and Titans such as those found in the prison of Ulduar and Uldaman speak about travelling the vast worlds within the universe.  Algalon the Observer speaks to the player whilst fighting him about how insignificant they are compared to the rest of the universe, and how corrupt Azeroth truly is (this is a boss that is fought in Ulduar, a high end raiding dungeon);


“I have seen worlds bathed in the Makers’ flames. Their denizens fading without so much as a whimper. Entire planetary systems born and raised in the time that it takes your mortal hearts to beat once.”[3]


At it’s most primitive, World of Warcraft is, as the title suggests, focused on the theme of war – something we are all very familiar with, and a common trope in the fantasy genre.  The first game ‘Warcraft’ introduced a war of two sides – the Humans and the Orcs.  This initial war was spurred because of a much larger, hidden race (hidden from the player initially) with bigger and more considerably ‘evil’ motives.  The Human and Orcs can almost be seen metaphorically as a game of chess with the Burning Legion (Sargeras and Kil’Jaeden) playing them as pawns – puppeteering the smaller races.  This is further represented in such a way if the player travels to the dungeon Karazhan and takes part in the ‘chess event’ which is a chess game between King Llane and Warchief Blackhand – the two leaders during the First War.  This war was the first fall of the biggest Human kingdom, Stormwind, and where they had previously lived in peace and stability, were now forced to flee their stable home and rebuild their society.  From this moment, alliances were forged between races with common interests and goals, namely settled races such as Dwarves,  Humans and Gnomes, Trolls, Ogres, Goblins and other lesser races, considered less powerful than the truly influential and greater beings like the Dragons, Titans and Demigods who seek to guard over the various elements of the world rather than fight what they would consider petite resource wars.


“A Historical version of war taken from real signifiers makes warfare a central part of the game, yet then diffuses its impact.  The battles that take place in World of Warcraft become attritional, with no side ever winning in the long term.”[4]


They separated into the faction they had most in common with and fought those who seek to disrupt their peace – the wars of the Alliance and Horde.  These contests were down to resources such as land, gold and food (fact held by the battles in Arathi Basin in World of Warcraft, where players fight over these resources to win, and territories like Warsong in Ashenvale where Night Elves and Orcs fight over wood for supplies) however, when bigger threats arise such as the Burning Legion in Outland, the Undead Scourge from Naxxramas/Arthas’ minions, and the War of the Qiraji who threaten the two factions homelands, they will band together and fight the common enemy, despite their feuds.  This can be paralleled to real world politics, such as World War II, where kingdoms who don’t get along over various economical situations, bound together to fight a common enemy.  There is also the parallel to the real world battles of the Crusades within the World of Warcraft, religious wars that rage between the Scarlet Crusade who hold their powers in the Holy Light (a tribute to Christianity) and who want to rid the land of all Undead and Forsaken, using propaganda and prejudice to fuel their forces – the Horde and the Alliance both see the Scarlet Crusade as a common enemy, as they are blinded by hate for anyone who does no longer follow the ways of the Holy Light.  Playing as an Undead character, you are introduced to this enemy from very early on as their smaller forces settle around the Forsaken towns – forcing you as an Undead to hate the Scarlet Crusade from the very beginning.  However, despite the factions who are enemies to the Horde and the Alliance such as Scarlet Crusade, Twilight’s Hammer etc, the Horde and the Alliance can be considered either the ‘bad’ or the ‘good’ side, each made up of different races which appear in past traditional texts with their own tropes.


“The Alliance races derive from the heroes of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (1954), while the Horde comprise enemies in the same texts.”[5]


The Alliance settle in lands which are rich in resources for them to take advantage of, and build and industrialize the land for their own progression.  The Alliance could be considered “ecologically destructive” in this sense, especially when you take a look at one race within the Alliance – the Gnomes.  They forged their own apocalypse when they demanded and relied too much upon the progression of their own technology, when that same technology corrupted and turned upon the Gnomes, forcing them out of their own city – yet they don’t seem to have learnt much from it.  In World of Warcraft, the Gnome race has bonuses to engineering and intellect, showing the player that these are a meddlesome, ‘tinker’ type race (further established in their new home in a district of Ironforge, ‘Tinker Town’).  The Dwarves, though not dependant upon the progression of their technology, can still be considered destructive to their environments.  Throughout Azeroth, archaeology digs and mines can be found, filled with Dwarves trying to find secrets to their origins, and resources for their weapons (Dwarven hand-cannons, Dwarven trebuchet etc).  The place name of the Dwarven home ‘Ironforge’ also enforces their passion for creating, forging and using metals and machinery.  The Human race is made up of established buildings and medieval architecture such as castles (Stormwind), Cathedrals, very high, thick, stable walls surrounding settlements made from large brick.  This shows that the Humans are very protective of their homes, and defensive creatures, probably due to their war-ridden past with the Horde, and are a representation of social collapse – within the strong walls is a weak core, a “corrupt government and a juvenile king”[6].  If the Humans is the player’s chosen race, there are signs of the Human weakness and corruption from the very start.  The game introduces the Defias Brotherhood faction, an enemy to anyone who plays Human right from the start – an organization who made a deal with the Black Dragonflight officer, Onyxia, to help her pass through the thick defenses and have access to the King in order for them to leak gold from the government (this storyline is further established in the World of Warcraft comics as well as quests for the Alliance in game).  There is also the Syndicate, a faction of Humans which is made up of egotistical, high-born nobles which originate from Alterac.  Questing around that area introduces the player to this faction.  This tells the player that, although in rich text the races of the alliance appear aesthetically and tropically good and whole, corruption and weakness to particular existants within the game does lurk, and it adds deeper and richer meanings to the text and world.  The Horde on the other hand, appear to have nothing to hide.  Their aesthetics may be considered ugly (Tauren race is a mix of humanoid and cow like features) and their tropes considered bad compared to the Alliance races and so the theme of corruption does not exist as much as it does in the Alliance because they simply have nothing to prove to the player.  They do not care if they appear bad, or evil, and the irony is that the Horde is probably much more stable and peaceful than the Alliance.  This is enforced by looking at the Hordes settlements – Orgrimmar is one of the biggest Horde capitals, and they mould their buildings to the land, rather than destroy and cut into it, again shown in Thunderbluff where the architecture is built around the land and the land used cleverly to their advantage (using a pinnacle in Mulgore as a settling spot gives them height advantage over any enemies who are incoming).


An example of horde settlement versus alliance settlement


This feud is enforced in battlegrounds, contested territories, the world and local defense channel which let’s players see when an enemy player is attacking or being spotted in a friendly zone, having ranked titles on your character, ranging from Private/Grunt to Grand Marshal/High Warlord depending on the magnitude of enemy players you have dealt with.


An Analysis of Narrative Structures and Constructs (25 marks)

There are models in place for different kinds of narrative texts, such as book fiction, film, television and even single-player games.  Using the various theories surrounding these different models, it could be possible to apply them to an MMO in order to provide a perspective on what we’re reading into and what meanings and perspectives the MMO provides on different events, and how that is told.  There are various arguments against narrativism within games – the descriptive ludologists who believe games are simply a simulation of a set of rules and mechanics with no narrative involved what so ever and normative ludologists (such as Jesper Juul) who believe games can contain narrative and story but there are problems such as balancing game play and story with freedom and clarity to create tight and practical definitions of the game world;


“A narrative structure is a fixed sequence;
a game is a framework for a number of (dominant) sequences”[7]


There are three different sense of narrative;

  • Story as a structured sequence of events,
  • Story as a topographical setting,
  • Story as the way we see the world[8]

However, MMOs are centred around freedom and so the idea of a linear sequence of events can not really be applied, due to the game being constrained by logical world laws rather than a story – geography, physics, politics, etc.  The player is free to traverse the world (limited by the physical laws) unlike a book where the reader cannot travel outside of the text in the story, or travel away from the camera’s view in a film – these narrative texts are considered linear and constrained to the sjuzet that the writer has laid out.

There are multiple strings of events and narratives happening all over an MMO game world, as each individual player is audience to the game stage.  Here, Aarseth’s 4 dimension model is applied to the MMO in order to understand how the player interacts with the game world to form narrative.  The four dimensions are;

  • World Space

o        Open quest landscapes are the commonly used spaces for MMOs such as World of Warcraft, it allows the player to travel around the game world collecting quests and new sjuzets as they go, which can then lead the player onto new undiscovered lands to fulfil their quest.  There are also the use of hubs in MMOs, these are represented by towns and cities and locations where there are many quests to gather and go out into the open landscape to perform.  These hubs are often filled with non-player characters and objects, and accessible transportation to get around to other hubs – this draws players in as a focal point to perform certain tasks and create their own narrative.

  • Objects

o        They come in the form of static, usable, changeable, destructible/creatable and player created objects (not designed or devised by the game developers).  Objects are important as a tangible representation of a task and bridge game mechanics with the meaning behind a story, and have “relative functional and thematic importance”[9].  There can be three levels of objects – useless ones that tend to only aid the sense of realism in a simulated game world, functional objects which play a role in aiding the player in some way (armor, weapons, potions) generally obtained through quests or dungeon crawls, and finally ‘plot items’ which function as a node for the player to discover the back story behind a quest or event.  This idea is enforced by the story “Rod of Eight Parts” – “corporealizing and atomizing” the story, giving the story physical form and then breaking the form up into different pieces.  These objects offer symbolism and function to the player, and sometimes aid the game world’s economy[10] (which is also relevant for a player who often likes to create their own implicit narrative) – players may argue and haggle over the possession of certain items, therefore creating a narrative in itself.  Vladimir Propp states that searching for particular objects fulfils a lack or desire (whether that is functional objects or plot objects) and that desire is the driving force behind quests in MMOs. Campbell, Propp and Vogler both refer to the hero (the player in this case) as seizing objects during quests that are symbolically important to the story in some way[11]. Alternatively, other ways for the player to obtain objects are stated by Propp;

§        transference

§        sale

§        find

§        appearance

§        swallowing

§        indication

§        preparation

§        offer of service[12]

o        And so a game writer can consider these methods whilst developing quest narrative and such to consider how the player would obtain the objects.  Even props in the game world are considered objects, and some players may develop meaning in them, and others may take a different perspective all together depending on their background – again creating implicit narrative.

  • Characters (Agency)

o       There are three levels of agency in narrative – bots (no individualism), shallow (names, no personality or real affect on the story) and deep characters (individual, story driven).  In an MMO world these characters can be found all over, the bots and shallow characters used as dynamic satellites meerly to flesh out the story and the game world and help bring it to life a little more.  The deep characters have roles as villains, heroes, donors and possibly any of the character roles Propp states[13].  These characters can be contained within the world space or hidden, only spoken of through dialogue, or books and plaques (objects, as found in World of Warcraft).  The deep characters are integral to the story, sometimes considered kernals.  Examples of deep characters in World of Warcraft include Onyxia, Arthas, Varian Wrynn, Jaina Proudmoore, Warchief Thrall – they have their own personal backstory and are available to interact with (to a very limited extent in some cases) in the world space.  However, mention of them through quests and the objects surrounding them can enforce their importance to the game world, and their influence and impact on the overall world and how that impacts the multiple strings of narrative that run through it.  The shallow characters can be applied in an MMO maybe by aiding the player in some way with information, objects or trade (exchanging items for currency) at different stages of the sjuzet.  They can provide focalisation on the narrative, showing their opinions and stances on world issues so the player can build a picture of what is happening in the world and where they could even find the most rewarding narrative.  An example of this in World of Warcraft is a dialogue between two Tauren after a minor quest which leads the player to them, and spotting their conversation (evesdroppping, bread crumbing).  They talk about how the druids of their kind celebrate the moon, but they hear of how sun worship is very similar and how the two could work together.  This is a subtle plot point to suggest what is to come in the next expansion; Tauren Paladins.  Just the dialogue from these two tauren spurred on many arguements between fans of the lore[14].

  • Events

o   They can be broken up into two things: fabula and sjuzet – the fabula or fable is breaking the story down to it’s essence, the chronological order of events. The sjuzet is the order it’s represented to the audience or player.  In an MMO players can perform various quests and strings of stories at different times, so the sjuzet of a player’s own narrative (pan narrative) can be erratic depending on the order they accept and perform quests.  A pure game, such as Chess or Space Invaders has no surface narrative, however fabula can still be applied if the player chooses to attach meaning to the objects and characters within the game – more implicit narrative.  Implicit narrative events in an MMO often revolve around creating their own events such as large scale battles in Eve Online, or guild meetings in World of Warcraft, aided by the other 3 dimensions.  Events can also be broken down into dynamic satellites and dynamic kernals, which contradicts the idea of formal narrative in a text – it’s much harder for a developer to control dynamic kernals because the kernal is considered the formal narrative, and to have so many strings of formal narrative and satellites coming out of one game would cause the player to lose identity of the world and it’s characters and tropes.  By having static kernals allows the designers to keep the world in check, and maintain it’s clarity and meanings on the player.

Each of the elements of this model can be considered as ‘nodes’ or ‘markers’ – something the audience (the player) can interact with to form their own implicit narrative, and create their own meanings and paths from.
After this kind of model is considered – the ‘story’ model – decisions must be made on how to apply discourse.  This includes the narration (the voice of the story, the perspective or bias) and the sign chain which contains the kinds of words, images and sounds the player is shown to direct them through the narrative.  The perspective in which a story is told is dependant on who the player talks to, and in a game like World of Warcraft where the player can choose one side or the other, they are limited to speaking to their own factions, who have particular bias against the other factions.  Ideologies such as racism and sexism can appear in the narration, and use of focalisation makes sure the player is influenced by what is being said to form an idea of the world they are in, even if it may be biased.  The narration does not have to be actual dialogue either, it can simply be played as a series of events to the player, but those events will be carefully chosen to form a perspective on the bigger story.  The sign chain are visual aids, semiotics enforcing the bias or influence the narration has on the story.  Symbology plays a big part here, especially recurring symbols which can help the player clarify where they belong in the world, and the current hierarchy of political or supernatural power.  Sign chains can also be hints to the next part of the story, where the player is supposed to travel next or who they are supposed to talk to.  Both narration and the sign chain should be chosen carefully by the designer to direct and control the player through the narrative, but also ensure a sense of freedom is felt in the world they are in.

There is also the user-influence model to consider.  This is where the players are creating the nodes and markers and narration, and literally influencing the simulated world they are in with their events, rather than having the designers force the players down a particular narrative route they instead create their own influence and bias within the world they are in.  Eve Online attempts this quite well, but there is still a large amount of influence from the designers – though players can influence the politics and sovreignity in Eve Online, the developers still narrate those player-driven events as news flashes which appear on billboards etc, so to anyone who isn’t involved in those events, are still having them narrated in a particular perspective.  The back story to Eve Online also is created by designers, so the world the user is placed into already has a large amount of narrative and signs ready to use by players to create emergent narrative.

Narrative Techniques Utilised in World of Warcraft’s Design (15 marks)

Blizzard submerge the player into the theme of war right from the start on the character selection screen.  There is a clearly ‘blue’ faction – the Alliance (blue representing nobility, royalty, peace) and a ‘red’ faction – the Horde (red representing passion, rage, anger, war)[15].  This tells the player what side they are going to be fighting for, and who their potential enemies will be from the very start.  As soon as a character is generated and entered into the world, a cut scene is used to give the viewer some back story on the race they have chosen, narrated by a man with a strong, clear and deep voice that player’s will take seriously.  This narration is bias, using adjectives like “Great King” and “merciless horde” to describe the Dwarves.  The Humans described as “noble” and “proud”, “grand alliance” and “savage horde” are also used.  On the horde side however, the narrator does not appear to speak of the Alliance demeaningly, but speaks of how each race in the Horde needs to reclaim their “glory” and fight off anyone who would oppose them, “seen and unseen”, which almost appears as if the Horde have their priorities more in tact than the alliance races who seem to hide behind castle walls and fortresses.  By limiting the playable races to these humanoids, Blizzard is making sure the player doesn’t feel like they actually have a powerful influence over the world they are in which means they can contain and dismiss the idea of user influenced narrative.  They already have faction leaders and their officers in place for each race, which players can interact with, but cannot take control of, so even influence on their own race is contained.  There are some periods however, when these non-player characters can acknowledge a player’s achievements such as the death of Onyxia.  If a player hands in the head of Onyxia to a particular NPC, the NPC yells the player’s name and grants a positive buff to all player’s in the vacinity.  This only affects game play for a brief amount of time however, and doesn’t really affect the story for other players, only the individual.  There are no accounts where a player has actually influenced the story of Warcraft, temporary game mechanics and achievements such as ‘realm first level 80!’ can be granted, but they are not integral to the storyline or the narrative of the game.

Blizzard use bread crumbing to lead the player around the formal narrative of World of Warcraft.  The ideology of capitalism is introduced from the start, where player’s find objects by killing simple creeps such as wolves and cats, and discover they must trade these items in to gain gold (the currency) so they can progress their character (purchasing new spells, potions and armor – functional objects).  Though the ideology is never properly spoke of, it’s hinted at using sign chains such as quest rewards, auction houses, banks and merchants, who are found at most hubs.  These hubs guide the player to the next areas, using quests as their motive.  They also draw players in, because of the functionalities there (repairs, merchants) and Blizzard place quest givers in these places because they know players will be drawn there, often using sign posts, distinct roads, buildings and the world map which often indicates cities and towns.  Azeroth’s towns and cities use patterns[16] which indicate how they support the game’s social needs[17].


Other sign chains used on individual player/races are things such as banners, colours of the land and buildings, even designs of mailboxes and props in the towns help distinct the themes between each faction and race from early on in a character’s life.  This means that further on in the game, such as in the content found in Wrath of the Lich King, even then a player can decipher whether a town is dominated by trolls, orcs, night elves, etc. The player can decide whether they wish to associate themselves with the quests, ideologies and stories found in these areas.

Typical banners and ideas found in the Night Elf and Human settlements.

The player can assign tropes to these sign chains, indicating what range of vectors can be formed by these nodes, allowing themselves to create implicit narrative and perspectives.  Silvermoon City appears to be one of the biggest locations for Horde role-play, possibly due to it’s intricate aesthetics and symbology – this city was developed for the second expansion of the game, therefore technology allowed for better looking shapes and textures.

Because World of Warcraft is a functional game world rather than a fictional, topical one such as Lord of the Rings ‘Middle Earth’, the distances between hubs must be kept reasonable, and unlike Frodo’s journey in Lord of the Rings where he was travelling for days between hubs, players in World of Warcraft want accessibility and do not want to spend their days travelling between cities.  This means Blizzard have to create the illusion that the world is bigger than it really is, so the player feels a sense of magnitude but also a sense of playability.

“In multiplayer games, space-time cannot be individually flexible, but is, in fact, objective and contineous”[18]

“World designers must try to create a balance between individual and collective player needs in which the key design is enjoyment, not geopolitical or material realism”[19]

Blizzard do this by making the player literally travel on foot throughout the lower levels of their character’s lives.  This means it takes much longer to arrive at places, and when the option to use faster transport (such as gryphons and zeppelins) is available, they can appreciate the amount of time walking takes, and aid a sense of magnitude on the world they are in.  When it comes to travelling across continents, though the land is not physically in the state the player perceives it in (there is not really any water beyond a certain point between two land masses) Blizzard use loading screens and an animated marker to show the passing of time and space so the player has the illusion they have travelled a great distance in a sped-up amount of time.

Blizzard also utilizes ‘thick text’ throughout it’s universe, referencing and corresponding with traditional and some modern texts. This aids to shape the gameworld and add richer meaning and tropes to it that have previously been developed in other texts.  These texts can be named the ‘geek aesthetic’, by referencing them they allow the player to feel a sense of “informed smugness”[20].  Blizzard can add rich meaning throughout the world by painting in different elements of high fantasy rhetorics, such as Celtic and Norse mythology, and more modern rhetorics such as game culture and modern movie culture. (Tanya Krzywinska, WoW reader, pg 123-124)  Blizzard are considering typologies by doing this, the types of people who are playing the game, and allowing them to identify with certain aspects in the game world – these references can be comical or rather comprehensive.  For example, if you look at the conversation between the two Tauren who indicate the coming of Tauren Paladins and the speak of sun-worship, one of the Tauren is named Tahu which is a word in the Māori (native New Zealanders) language commonly associated with burning[21].


Analysis of World of Warcraft’s Main Characters (15 marks)

Vladimir Propp analysed over 100 tales and came up with 7 different broad character types, that can be applied to other forms of narrative – here it will be applied to the characters within World of Warcraft to make sense of the influence they bring to the story.  Because World of Warcraft is an MMO, it’s narratives string off in many directions, and within the larger story are many smaller stories and fables to be told by the game and it’s characters and existants.  This section will focus on the most influential and well known characters throughout the world in Warcraft to make sense of it’s overall narrative.

The Villain – there are many villains in the world, most of which are puppets of much larger threats such as Sargeras and Kil’Jaedan.  The villains who the hero (the player) goes up against are large in number.  These are Onyxia (also considered a Trickster who infiltrated the Human government, The Lich King (Arthas), Illidan, Nefarian and Deathwing.  Many of these villains are influenced by Sargeras, and many out-worldly enemies who seek to corrupt Azeroth.

The Donor – quest givers often send the hero to a donor who provides the player with aid, information or items that will help them defeat the villains or complete the quests.  King Magni Bronzebeard provided a sword, ‘The Ashbringer’ for Alexandros Mograine, to defeat evil.

The Helper (can also be a magical object such as Harry Potter’s wand) – there are a number of helpers in World of Warcraft, one of which can be considered The Ashbringer sword again, a magical item that is extremely powerful in conquering undead scourge, and more specifically; the Lich King.  Other helpers can be simple artifacts that are handed to the player during a quest to aid them in some magical way, such as special elixirs, torches and weapons.  Marshall Maxwell in the original World of Warcraft could be considered a helper, as he uncovers Onyxia’s disguise as a human, and sacrifices himself to make sure Onyxia is defeated.

The Princess and her Father – Jaina Proudmoore and Daelin Proudmoore, Jaina Proudmoore was originally in a relationship with Arthas (now the Lich King, who sort after Jaina) and also Thrall, who has a strong relationship with Jaina which aids to better diplomacy between the two factions.  Tiffin Wrynn, who was wife to Varian Wrynn (King of Stormwind) was killed in a riot during the creation of the Defias Brotherhood, which motivated Varian to make peace with the horde and better the Kingdom.  Though Tiffin is dead, she still holds a place in Varian’s heart, empowering him to keep bettering the lands.

The Dispatcher – these are simply quest givers within the world, who send the player out to perform tasks which walk the player through the story.

The Hero – There are a multitude of heroes in World of Warcraft, just as there are villains.  These include the player himself, Varian Wrynn, Tirion Fordring, Uther the Lightbringer, Jaina Proudmoore, Sylvanas Windrunner and even Arthas himself.  Originally Arthas was a hero who was in love with the princess, Jaina, but was sent insane by his own motives, turning into a Villain.

The False Hero – Queen Azshara believed she was doing the lands a good deed, and that she would be revered and praised by her people for letting the demonic burning legion into Azeroth, however this makes her a false hero because it was only thanks to her egotistical and selfish nature that she thought this.  Thanks to her ways, the entirety of the Azshara area in World of Warcraft is in ruins and full of banshees, ghosts and naga.  Grommash Hellscream was also victim to his own egotistical nature, by drinking blood of Mannoroth he caused the orc race to be tied to the Burning Legion, and had to fight to set them all free.  Garosh Hellscream, his son, is similarly egotistical and hates the Alliance with a passion, causing tensions in neutral areas such as the Argent Tournament grounds when the other politicians are attempting to be diplomatic.


Quest Chain (10 marks)

Quest proves you need both game play and narrative in an MMO game – the player utilises game mechanics to perform a task which is relevant to the story.  Campbell’s ‘Hero’s Journey’ is a model that can be used to compare and analyse a quest chain in World of Warcraft.  This quest chain will be ‘The Bloodsail Buccaneers’ quest chain found in Stranglethorn Vale at level 41, for both Alliance and Horde players.  The quest begins at the Dispatcher ‘First Mate Crazz’ who belongs to the Blackwater Raiders, a neutral faction to Horde and Alliance.  The player must first of all investigate a cove to the north of the Booty Bay town, but only the location is given, and the player isn’t sure what they are supposed to be finding or what to expect.  This is the first stage of the journey – the Call to Adventure. The hero does not know what to expect, and the desire to learn more about the mystery is what pushes the player to fulfil the first task of investigation.  It seems this quest throws you into the deep end a little, as soon as the player heads north, the buccaneers are surrounding a camp, and because of their instant violence towards the hero, the player must kill them in order to stay alive.

“In this first heroic step the audience, now bonded with the hero, gasps at the risks and yet feels some pride at the courage it requires. A sense of anticipation is created, something like when a roller-coaster ride just starts moving from its initial position of rest.[22]

This is the hero’s acceptance of the call and following that, ‘Crossing of the first threshold’ – the point of no return. After killing and looting the majority of the bucaneers in that area, the player is required to find something of interest to bring back to the Goblin, and after killing so many pirates, it would seem pointless to give up.  The discovery of the map further enforces this as the map and letter accompanying it appears to be threatening the player’s friends and Booty Bay itself, so the player has no choice but to alert First Mate Crazz.  This increases the danger and tension of the situation, and could be considered the ‘entering of the whale’s belly’ stage in the monomyth.

“With the increase in danger, the audience senses an increase in tension and is thus drawn deeper into the story.”[23]

After delivering the map and note to First Mate Crazz, he requires you to talk to someone of more power – Fleet Master Seahorn. This stage in the quest can still be considered entering of the whale’s belly as the request to talk to someone higher up than the initial quest dispatcher creates a sense of further danger and foreshadowing.  He entrusts the hero with a task that can be considered the ‘road of trials’ stage in the monomyth – killing the buccaneers in a further encampment and bringing back more information relating to the original letter.  This is a more difficult endevour and may require aid from other players – Blizzard trying to encourage group play.

“The road is not all battle and the hero may well find moments of respite along the way as well as gathering information, weapons and useful allies and party members, particularly as reward for overcoming each trial.”[24]

After finding the information Fleet Master Seahorn required, the player must travel back and speak to him once more, this time he has a much more dangerous and meaningful task – to slay the leader of the Bloodsail before they can attack Booty Bay and erdicate the Buccaneers once and for all.  This is the Ultimate Boon, the final stage to turning things back to the apparent status quo and fighting the ultimate villains in that particular storyline – Captain Stillwater, Captain Keelhaul and Fleet Master Firallon.  Each of the final enemies names relate to tropes to do with the sea, pirating and bucaneering.  The player can then return to Fleet Master Seahorn to receieve their rewards such as reputation with Booty Bay, gold and a piece of armor.  This is the final stage of the hero’s journey, completion and freedom to live and continue a new story path elsewhere, with narrative reward and functional objects as rewards.























A World of Warcraft Reader – Hilde. G Corneliussen and Jill Walker Rettberg, 2008

Quests: Design, Theory, and History in Games and Narratives – Jeff Howard, 2008

Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing Games – Matt Barton, 2008

A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction – Christopher Alexander, 1977

Morphology of the Folk Tale – Vladimir Propp, 1928




1. http://www.wowwiki.com/Titan

2. http://www.wowwiki.com/Sargeras

3. http://www.wowwiki.com/Algalon

4. A World of Warcraft reader, Esther MacCallum Stewart, page 40

5. A World of Warcraft reader, Esther MacCallum Stewart, page 41

6. A World of Warcraft reader, Esther MacCallum Stewart, page 44

7. http://www.imada.sdu.dk/~rolf/Edu/DM80/E05/Slides/ludology-bkw.pdf  

8.  Jesper Juul, 05

9.  Quest, page 77, Jeff Howard

10. Quest, page 78, Jeff Howard

11. Quest, page 83, Jeff Howard

12. Quest, page 83, Jeff Howard

13. Morphology of the Folk Tale, Vladimir Propp, p 79-80

14. A World of Warcraft Reader, pg 118 – 120

15. http://www.princetonol.com/groups/iad/lessons/middle/color2.htm

16. A Pattern Language, Christopher Alexander, 1977

17. A World of Warcraft Reader, Espen Aarseth, pg 119-120

18. A World of Warcraft Reader, Espen Aarseth, pg 119-120

19. A World of Warcraft Reader, Espen Aarseth, pg 119-120

20. Kaveney, 2005

21. http://www.wowhead.com/npc=34528#comments:id=873919

22. http://changingminds.org/disciplines/storytelling/plots/hero_journey/acceptance_call.htm

23. http://changingminds.org/disciplines/storytelling/plots/hero_journey/enter_whale.htm

24. http://changingminds.org/disciplines/storytelling/plots/hero_journey/road_trials.htm

[4] Esther MacCallum Stewart, 2005

[5] Esther MacCallum Stewart, 2005

[6] Esther MacCallum Stewart, 2005


[9] Jeff Howard, 2008

[10] Jeff Howard, 2008

[11] Jeff Howard, 2008

[12] Vladimir Propp, 1928

[13] Vladimir Propp, 1928

[16] Christopher Alexander, 1977

[17] Espen Aarseth, 2005

[18] Espen Aarseth, 2005

[19] Espen Aarseth, 2005

[20] Kaveney, 2005

I analysed ‘Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney’ for my essay last semester on game theory.  I decided to post this up on my blog to get some more insight from anyone reading or hopefully enlighten someone on a bit of basic game theory.. I am in no way an expert on the subject and donot claim to be.  Would love to hear your feedback and comments.

Game Theory


The game under analysis is Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney for the Nintendo DS.  This game provides the player with multiple episodes with different storylines but recurring characters and mechanics.  The particular episode under review will be the very first episode, “Episode One – The first turnabout”.  This means characters are introduced in the game as if the player has never met them before, and introduces the player to the various game play elements without being too complex which will make it easier to unearth the kinds of theories which can be paralleled with the game.  This game also has shown elements of being what is known as an ‘interactive novel’ with the engagement of dialogue with other characters to discover and discuss information being a large portion of the game play.  Without the player interaction, the textual machine ceases to work thus not making it a game anymore (Nitsche, 2008) therefore game theory models must be put in place in computer games through which the player interacts.

Overview of Relevant Game Theories

There are a large amount of game theories that are used to model decisions, consequences and pay-offs in a given situation (Duffy, 2010).  It is widely used in economics and business to understand the types of transactions that can occur between people in a given situation.  Game Theory umbrellas multiple approaches, one of which is known as Decision Theory.  It focuses on what decisions are available to players in the face of uncertainty and how the player is going to make that decision based on a rational and justified course of action (North, 1968).  These models show how a decision can get the most reward out of a situation where the player might not have all the information of the situation (imperfect information).  This concept can be paralleled with the iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma.  The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a model of the decision between cooperation or defection between two players in order to get the best outcome individually when neither have perfect information about what the other player will do (Le & Boyd, 2006).  An example of this is the television game show ‘Golden Balls’.  Utility theory is also relevant, and the first stage in understanding decisions.  It assigns mathematical value to the finite amount of outcomes a situation has to be analysed to create a strategy.  Utility can be represented in two different forms – extensive form (situation tree) or a matrix (normal form).  Games can therefore be represented by their utilities in either extensive form or normal form.  Utility theory is relevant because “it is more general because it allows for the possibility of goods

without monetary value” (Bartha, 2001) which is applicable in Phoenix Wright.

Critical Review of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney, Episode One ‘The First Turnabout’

The player interacts with other characters using cheap talk tactics.  Communication happens between characters constantly through first-person dialogue scenarios.  It is how the player gains spoken information which motivates the player to then bargain.  However, because of the amount of spoken information the player obtains through these one-on-one dialogue scenarios, the player must use data reduction methods to determine what information will be relevant.  This means the player often suffers from the curse of dimensionality – the often large amount of characters in each episode of Phoenix Wright means the player is presented with a variety of perspectives and bias on the situation.

The spoken information does not become valuable until it has been manifested in the form of an item which can be presented at court during the court phases.  The presentation of these items is the key to victory.  Items can be obtained in two ways – through individual exploration of a crime scene which can be paralleled to the Princess and Monster search game model where the item is hidden until the player finds it and that particular game ends.  In the traditional Princess and Monster search game model, the Princess has the ability to move locations and a time limit is present (Garnaev, 1992).  The items (the Princess) only have one location in any given episode, and occasionally the player cannot further the game until the item has been uncovered.  It is sometimes obtained through bargaining methods with other characters (other ‘players’ in traditional models).  This bargaining method is somewhat limited due to the game mechanics of only being able to talk with other characters and having a finite amount of conversation topics and dialogue options.  If the game designers opened up opportunity for the player to engage in more extensive conversation and the characters to have more nodes and responses to players it would make the game a little more engaging and intimate for the player, typical of the style shown in RPGs such as Neverwinter Nights.  The bargaining model assumes there is a varying pay-off for each player if they cooperate which provides a motivation for the players.  This creates a strategic equilibrium (Nash, 1950) and shows the utilities of the other characters – sometimes it is reward enough to help their friend Phoenix.

During the court case phases in Phoenix Wright, the hawk-dove approach is apparent.  The ultimate victory and preferable utility for the player is to make sure the defendant gets a ‘not guilty’ verdict.  The utility which means loss for the player is a guilty verdict, which the opposing ‘player’ – the prosecution – is aiming for.  This means Phoenix Wright is a zero-sum game, where the victory of the prosecution means a loss for the player and visa verse.  In order to obtain these utilities, bargaining and ultimatum techniques are applied.  The prosecution often offers Phoenix an ultimatum to prove to the court the innocence of his client after Phoenix makes a point (a point the player does not have control over but has to deal with the consequences).  This interaction with the prosecution means it becomes a one-shot game and the player has to choose the correct item to present to the court in order not to lose to the prosecution.  Each item in the player’s inventory can have its own situation tree applied to it.  Only one item can be the correct item in any ultimatum situation in Phoenix Wright so the utility of all items bar one provide player loss.  This means the player must use data reduction on each item to determine whether it would back up the point Phoenix made previously and the player must also try to recall the cheap talk that happened with characters throughout the episode thus far to justify the item choice and make a rational decision in order not to lose.  If the game designers made better use of this technique, they could add additional nodes and utilities to each item to provide more responses from the court when the player presents an item rather than making the item choice decision so risky.  This situation in the game is very binary – it is either win or lose, whereas in a real court situation the defence lawyer would have a chance to explain why a certain item is relevant and make further points rather than relying on the often spontaneous responses Phoenix comes out with which leaves the player in a bad position.

Critical Reflection

Looking at this game using superficial analysis, it is apparent which areas are covering a very basic interaction between two players.  For example, the bargaining ultimatum game that occurs between the prosecution and defence is very black and white.  The player either presents an item from the inventory which causes them to lose the argument or win it – there is no grey area, making it very binary.  This can be frustrating for a player who has used data reduction methods to decide that that particular item has been referenced by characters in conversation previously.  It may be better for game designers to add more nodes of utility for the items to cause the court to respond differently to each one and perhaps steer the player in the right direction.  This binary model seems quite archaic when it’s compared to modern day games such as Dragon Age which has multiple nodes attached to the smallest decisions (such as choosing a dialogue option).

As Phoenix Wright is a single-player game, the other characters will be programmed with a number of information sets, and that is obvious by the binary structure the game takes on when the player is tackled with the ultimatum challenge.  Therefore, the latest artificial intelligence theories and research can be used to improve this style of game to make it less one-dimensional and transparent to the very simple game underneath.  Research by (Floridi, 2010) on the philosophy of information shows the importance of improving the way cybernetics and artificial intelligence interact dynamically to provide innovative approaches to how information is given and how information theory can be studied.

Phoenix Wright shows the importance of utility theory in extensive form trees however.  Many of the character’s motivations in providing Phoenix with information and items stem from their emotional relationship with Phoenix, something that can’t have a mathematical value attached to it unlike the Prisoner Dilemma approach where the outcomes are represented as a matrix rather than a tree.


Bartha, P. (2001, September). Probability and Decision. Retrieved December 14, 2010, from University of British Columbia, Philosophy: http://faculty.arts.ubc.ca/pbartha/p321f01/p321ovh4.pdf

Duffy, J. (2010, April). Introduction to Game Theory. Retrieved December 14, 2010, from Game Theory: http://www.pitt.edu/~jduffy/econ1200/Lect01_Slides_files/v3_document.htm

Floridi, L. (2010). What is the Philosophy of Information? Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Garnaev, A. Y. (1992). A Remark on the Princess and Monster Search Game. International Journal of Game Theory , 269-276.

Le, S., & Boyd, R. (2006). Evolutionary Dynamics of the Iterated Prisoner’s Dilemma. Journal of Theoretic Biology , 258-267.

Nash, F. J. (1950). Equilibrium Points in N-Person Games. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 36 (pp. 48-49). Princeton University: JSTOR.

Nitsche, M. (2008). Video Game Spaces. Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT Publishing.

North, D. W. (1968). A Tutorial Introduction to Decision Theory. Transactions on System Science and Cybernetics , 200-210.

– Emma


fyi – I didn’t come up with the title..

I thought I’d post up my recent paper I did for a module at university ‘Ludology’ which is the study of play (games).  I chose to do this project in particular because there’s been a lot of buzz surrounding women and games (at least in the general media) and thought it would be interesting to shed some light in my own mind and anyone who reads it on gender roles in modern games.  Feel free to give any feedback and enjoy~

‘Females Shouldn’t Play Games’


Research discourse suggests that the activity of computer gaming is still dominated by a solitary, male audience (Bryce & Rutter, 2002) despite the increasing figures of women especially in the US and UK buying and playing games (ESA, 2010).  In the mid 1990’s research within the computer game field was minimal with people viewing them simply as children’s toys.  Postmodern and feminist theorists ignored the increasing popularity of computer games, due to the lack of traditional academic activity within universities relating to computer games, the child-like view of games and the mounting idea that games were violent and addictive (Schleiner, 2001, p. 221).  Main characters (up to 1996 with the introduction and high popularity of Lara Croft) were almost exclusively male and their tasks were much like the traditional fantasy text structures that were outlined by Joseph Campbell’s Monomyth where the Hero has set masculine roles and meeting with various characteristically female characters along his journey (Campbell, 1949) – the Goddess, Temptress and Princess (the “battle trophy” (Schleiner, 2001)).  This argues that most games do not cater for the interests of women, and purely for the interests of men (Crawford, 2005) (Kinder, 1991).

Today, more and more women play games and involve themselves in the subcultures and communities surrounding games.  This report explores the theories surrounding gender roles and characteristics and just how relevant the statement “females shouldn’t play games” is in modern times.

Overview of Domain Issues

A study regarding German females’ dislikes within computer games showed violent content, gender stereotypes represented within games and competitive gameplay were what discouraged the girls from playing (Hartmann & Klimmt, 2006).  However, market sales in the US show that at least 46% of the players are female.  Regardless, it is still regarded as something of an anomaly when people find out a female is participating and as passionate about games as a male, despite the fact women aged 18 or older represent a significantly greater portion of the game playing population than boys aged 17 and younger (ESA, 2010).  When an editor at a gaming magazine was asked why there are so few females reviewing games in their magazines, one editor responded, “Women don’t play games other than Tetris or Nintendogs” (Guy, 2007).

The increasing number of women buying and playing games contradicts what is being presented when people are intrigued to find a woman playing games – if it is becoming common (nearly taking up 50% of the market) for women to partake in gaming, then why does this issue still crop up in academic discourse and why are certain perspectives on female gamers still being stereotypical ‘casual gamers’.  Casual games cater to an older and more female audience by involving less complex game controls and less overall complexity in terms of gameplay or investment to get through the game (Wallace & Robbins, 2006).  If this is predominantly the characteristics that women prefer, then does that mean game developers must take this into account when creating games these days to increase gender inclusiveness?

There are several issues that are being presented.  First of all it seems clear that cultural background is an important factor in the social acceptance of women playing games.  Different cultures tend to impose role differences on different genders.  This provides separation between male and female activities and states the male and female characteristics which are expected in that particular culture.  In this context, there are games with certain characteristics that people associate playable by women and ones which are assumed to be played by men.  Those with set masculine and feminine themes.  Secondly, studies show that women are uninterested in games that present them in a stereotypical, sexist fashion such as the ‘helpless victim’ stereotype, as well as certain kinds of violence and masculine themes being portrayed (Hartmann & Klimmt, 2006) which may push the gender divide further (Bryce & Rutter, 2002).

The issues of why women do (or do not) game are not going to be found at surface value.  Market percentages and social norms tell us what people are doing and thinking regarding games but the underlying influences are ultimately environmental, cultural and biological.  Historically speaking, the gender scale has always tilted towards the empowerment of the masculine within most games.  With the introduction of what is being called ‘pink software’ developed with purely stereotypical female roles and preferences in mind, it has allowed developers to easily fill the large gap in the electronics market by appealing wholly to one side of the gender scale.  For example, “Barbie Fashion Designer” a game where you could design clothes and dress up Barbie sold more than 500,000 copies (Cassell, 2002).   This enforces societal roles onto girls with a wider area of effect.  The fact is, the more a stereotype or role is expressed in a culture, the more that audience will accept or rebel against the role.  Children learn appropriate and rewarding behaviours by observation and reinforcement.  This means computer games could strengthen certain behaviours and norms (E. Dill & C. Dill, 1998) because of the punishment and reward aspects that games come with which other forms of media don’t.

Instead of indulging in these characteristically female stereotypes, should developers try to become more androgynous in their game development, ensuring gender-inclusiveness is apparent in their games to include both genders?  Or should we accept that in society there are women who won’t play certain developed games because of the masculine themes and gender split and accept that females just shouldn’t play games because it is affecting the way game development (particularly single player) is done.

Critical Reflection

Research appears to be torn regarding women in games.  Studies which are done in particular countries do not seem to be an effective way of finding out women’s opinions of play and their level of involvement.  When looking at market values it is apparent that different countries show different levels of women playing games and varying opinions.  For example, studies done in Germany showed the girls were not interested in games mostly due to their violent content and competitive play, contrasted with the obvious presence of women in games such as Call of Duty: Black Ops and Left4Dead, these being considerably violent and having modes of competitive play involved.  There are even teams (known as ‘clans’ in the competitive first-person shooter world) that are comprised completely of women which rate highly in leader boards and are well respected in the gaming communities such as Pandora’s Mighty Soldiers and FragDolls.

It seems that studying particular countries does not always bring out an effective answer to the level of women playing games, also because individuals tend to have different playing habits and the extensive variety of game texts, subgenres and themes within games in modern times makes it difficult for market reports to portray exactly what people are playing.  These answers may lie in the study of cultures and subcultures and the study of individual game texts.  For example more women choose to play a simulation game such as The Sims (Hartmann & Klimmt, 2006) over a first-person shooter, but comparing two games in the Simulation genre such as The Sims and Train Simulator proves that individual games have their own masculine and feminine themes[1]

The women playing the ‘unexpected’ competitive and more ‘masculine’ games have been grouped into a subculture known as ‘girl gamers’.  This subculture is regarded by culture study researchers to have ideologies that resist gender societal roles and conceptions of masculinity and femininity (Bryce & Rutter, 2002, p. 246).  Societal roles typically state that women are restricted in their leisure choices and opportunities due to economic constraints, social expectations and domestic and caring responsibilities (Crawford, 2005).  This points out one reason as to why gaming was originally a male dominated arena (Crawford, 2005).

In terms of representation of violence in games, it is clear there is a gender divide on this issue.  Girls actually prefer fantasy violence compared to boys who prefer human violence (E. Dill & C. Dill, 1998) which corresponds with the increased female population in online fantasy games such as World of Warcraft compared to online first-person shooter games like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.  In fact, MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft attract a wider cone of demographic audience than other genres of games (Sullivan, 2009) due to it’s variety of portrayed archetypes and roles that players can fulfil in their class systems.  The exploration of different play styles across different classes allows researchers to see the potential of gender-inclusiveness design.  For example, the warrior class in fantasy games tends to be combat-central, whereas the mage class, often described as a ‘glass cannon’ must deal as much damage as possible whilst utilising defence tactics to get away from enemies making that class a more tactical and decision-based play style.  The most played classes by women in World of Warcraft are druid, priest and hunter (Daedalus, 2005).  These classes have several characteristics in common; in particular the term ‘nurturing’ comes to mind.  Each of these classes can heal their allies and show characteristics of motherly archetypes by giving positive magical effects to their team mates.  Though Hunters do primarily engage in combat they can obtain pets which do more damage for them the more care they give to the pet.  This follows the design of a typical feminine trait which is to care and nurture for those around her, rather than physically engage in combat herself, something females prefer not to do to resolve their conflicts (Bussey & Bandura, 1999).

It seems that gender-inclusive design would require an exploration of different play styles within the game to make sure roles for both genders are provided, something which online games can cater for (Sullivan, 2009).


There are games now for pretty much every age, every demographic. More and more women are going online. It comes down to everybody is playing games. Games are just evolving like

Species in order to fit into every little niche of our lives.”- Jesse Schell, instructor of entertainment technology at Carnegie Mellon University (ESA, 2010)

Thanks to the increase in accessible and usable mainstream technology the game market can now reach a larger audience without the audience being intimidated by the barrier of entry.  This is the usability barrier which people suffer between tangible interfaces and on-screen actions, once something that prevented some demographics even considering products in this market (Smith, 2011).  Now software and hardware designers take usability very seriously because they are able to tap into new audiences by providing easy to use interfaces.  To encourage more women to play digital games not only provides more profit for the industry but a wider understanding of audiences.  However, the influx of pink software designed especially for young girls may support and further previous stereotypes about women and gender roles.

It is not just the themes within the game which can be gendered and are of interest to certain genders, but it is also play styles (Sullivan, 2009).  Whereas men tend to prefer physical combat, women prefer puzzle-based and story driven objectives which mean if designers want to create gender-inclusive games, they need to consider these male and female play style characteristics.  In retrospect, these male and female characteristics (in particular female characteristics which can be often viewed in a negative light) are not derogatory because if developers start to take gender inclusiveness more seriously and develop games with more gender awareness it can potentially not only move the medium forward but reach out to a wider audience and put the stereotypical gender divide to a halt.

Social role theory states that the social structure is the underlying force for gender differences.  It states that the division of labor is what drives sex-differentiated behavior which creates gender roles, therefore gendered social behavior which is then to be expected by that society (Gilbert T & Malone S, 1995).  Men and women strive to belong by conforming to these social and gender roles which are also known as ‘sex-typed social behavior’ (Hendrickson-Eagley, 1987).  This theory can be applied to computer games, especially as the study taken in Germany also showed that a large factor of the girls did not want to play games because it went against social norms (Hartmann & Klimmt, 2006).  It can also be perceived by certain subcultures of women – ‘girl gamers’ that the realm of digital games are a neutral, androgynous ground, regardless of what can be considered ‘typical gender themes’ the designer portrays in the game.  These subcultures seek to challenge and ignore societal gender roles in games and by doing so allow acceptance of cross-gender roles in games and presence of women in previously male dominated arenas.

“In this theoretical perspective, gender roles and conceptions are the product of a broad network of social influences operating interdependently in a variety of societal subsystems. Human evolution provides bodily structures and biological potentialities that permit a range of possibilities rather than dictate a fixed type of gender differentiation” (Bussey & Bandura, 1999, p. 676)

This ideal, neutral, androgynous field for games means that current designers don’t need to take gender roles into account and can keep developing games with the themes and representations that they want.  However this will still mostly appeal to male interests and only a small minority of women who perceive these games a challenge to dominant stereotypes.

Representation of women in games is also something to discuss.  The character roles they tend to get portrayed in traditionally were similar to those within Joseph Campbell’s monomyth – the magical Goddess, Temptress and Princess.  This representation is a double edged sword because they do not appeal to female interests, meaning fewer women will play.  It then enforces the stereotypes with men because men still take up more than half the gaming audience (Bryce & Rutter, 2002) pushing women even further away.  The feminine absence of strong main characters was noticed by Gillian Skirrow who created Lara Croft.  Lara Croft was something of a ‘female Frankenstein monster’ (Schleiner, 2001).  Though she was created to represent a strong, independent female role, the third person view of the game indicated she was something to be gazed at, particularly by male audiences.  This was disturbing for feminists of the time as they realized computer games were a space where men could develop unrealistic ideals of females and their bodies (Schleiner, 2001).  However it could be argued that Lara Croft is a better role model for girls than Barbie or Ms Pacman as she challenges societal roles by engaging in combat and adept problem solving techniques and holds upper class values.


The aim of this research was to discover what gender roles were and how they made themselves apparent in modern games.  It was then important to see how this might affect the way women play games and their preferences.  Societal roles and stereotypes do make themselves apparent within modern games, with themes and play styles in games being predominantly male which means women either reject games or choose to challenge those roles by actively becoming involved in them.  However stated social norms in a society means it will always be regarded something of an anomaly to see a woman participating in video games that portray male characteristics.  These include violence and stereotypical female archetypes.  However despite the increasing number of female protagonists represented in game narratives, the popularity of games with the female population still remains low (M. Grimes, 2003).

It was also interesting to explore the idea that games might be asexual, or androgynous.  However, because all themes and play styles ultimately can be gendered and do certainly attract and repel different genders.  Rather than being androgynous, certain subcultures simply choose to reject and ignore gendered roles within modern games but that does not mean they don’t exist and repel other groups in that gender.

Developers should be careful when developing games for women.  If they pander to pure feminine characteristics in order to attract young girls to fill a gap in the market where they can make a profit (such as Barbie Fashion Designer), then it simply enforces these typical societal roles onto girls from a new medium.  Also if developers were required to start developing gender-inclusiveness in all games then it may ruin the way games are played.  However, games are changing and the gender gap in them is closing and future games may provide us with insight into how developers can incorporate more women into their games without having to consider stereotypical societal roles.  In order to do this, women do need to play games and not reject them or their themes because of what they think they already know about computer games.  A larger female audience means profit for the industry and development of the industry itself.


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[1] A point to make is that Sims focuses heavily on social interaction and development between characters, a trait which is commonly associated with being feminine