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Week 16+17 (May 11th – May 17th) – Field Notes (4/4)

MMORPGs and Meaningful Player Learning (Part 2)

Bryan Afadzi

In the previous blogpost, I brought up the point that the amount of player-to-player interaction vastly differs when considering a single-player game in comparison to an interaction driven experience that is an MMORPG in regards to the learning of a virtual world and its intricacies. During my one of my play sessions, I tried to talk to players in order to figure out how accessible Final Fantasy XIV was and in the following encounter, I believe it highlights one of the biggest aspects that makes the genre so enticing: genuine player-to-player interaction.

Another sweet encounter

While adventuring through Gridinia, completing quests and progressing in the story, I came across a played named “Kai Usagi” who had been defeating enemies in a joint event known as a “FATE” where players join together to clear a certain objective. After this particular FATE, I engaged with Kai Usagi, saying a simple “hello” and giving an expression of joy. From there, this player started responding back and we had a full-on conversion…while being surrounded by an annoying amount of hornets.

Having a chat with a random player atop a large tree branch.

In our chat, after introducing myself, I asked this player several questions such as, “are you new as well?” and “do you have any tips for a new player like myself?”. While I am still new to the world of Final Fantasy XIV, it was apparent that despite their level, this player still had a great amount of knowledge due to talking about “leveling this character” and using game terminology I had never seen before.

Through our chat, not only did I get advice about the leveling curve of the game (information which would not have been given through an in game tutorial), but I also got pointers on how to handle the progression of my character class and how to go about gaining experience to level up efficiently.

Imagine trying to have a meaningful conversation while being surrounded by swarms of hornets. How bothersome.

A welcoming community

Throughout my time playing Final Fantasy XIV this semester, the one thing that I’ve noticed is just how welcoming and open the community is, whether it be within my own free company or even in talking to strangers. The community that makes up the life of this game is always open to helping out fellow players, especially newer players who are just getting into the game. Everyone (within the community) knows that Final Fantasy XIV is a dense JRPG with many complex systems and that for a newer player without any prior exposure to the game, can be incredibly daunting to tackle it. In my time with the game, those who I’ve chatted with have not only been reassuring in this endeavor, but they have also supported me by giving me tips and humoring my conversations.

A member of my free company logging on and recieving a warm welcome from various members.

I believe MMORPGs’ biggest strength lies in the player interactions one can have where instead of being a lone adventure with single player games, becomes a team effort where even the newest of players can find support from all around. Furthermore, due to the interaction driven nature of these games, it provides a unique experience where even if completing the main campaign is not the main focus, there is still something worth continuing to play for in playing with others alongside yourself.

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Week 16+17 (May 11th – May 17th) – Field Notes (3/4)

MMORPGs and Meaningful Player Learning (Part 1)

Bryan Afadzi

A random Youtube video about a man and “the lady he lives with”

A couple weeks ago, I was browsing YouTube searching for video essays and other videos to play in the background when I came upon a video entitled “What Games Are Like For Someone Who Doesn’t Play Games“. In the video, the creator, named “Razbuten” discussed an experiment with his wife (dubbed “the lady he lives with”) in which he had her play video games despite her not having much experience playing them before. What he came to find out is that for people who have played games for years, they have acquired a sort of video game language that allows them to understand controls and game design that isn’t explicitly stated. For his wife however, it was a trying experience as these givens were not understood by someone who hasn’t developed this “language of games”.

Thumbnail featuring a brief (and cutoff) description of Razbuten’s video.

This video got me thinking about how games teach their systems to players who haven’t developed or even been exposed to this kind of language and in particular how MMORPGs go about handling this issue. Over the course of this and the following blog entry, I’d like to discuss this topic, speaking from my years of experience with video games and my experiences playing Final Fantasy XIV this semester.

Dedicated tutorials

For JRPGs (Japanese RPGs) it is customary to have some sort of story explanation that sets up the main conflict, characters, and setting for the game, whether it be through some movie or an introductory movie. From there, depending on the game, usually the player takes control of the player will take control of the protagonist and continue on in the story.

In turn-based JRPGs the main gameplay loop consists of fighting through battles, traveling from location to location, and progressing the plot by triggering some event. As a result of the menu-based combat, usually tutorials will focus on the mechanics that goes behind controlling a character and facing off against enemies. For example, take the smartphone gacha game Kingdom Hearts: Union X [Cross] (KHUX from hereon).

Screenshot of the tutorial page in-game.

In this game, it features a dedicated tutorial section that goes over all of the main aspects to battles, collecting medals (main forms of attacking and what the gacha elements revolve around), and participating in group battles against large bosses to gain a large amount of experience points (points that go towards leveling up the player character). The interesting part about this tutorial is that if a player were to be confused about a certain aspect, while there may be a “Support” function that allows for contacting the developers or a help line for further questions, the player may not get the immediate feedback they are looking for. Instead they might turn to internet forums or other online help to get feedback from actual people that they may deem more relatable.

Different games will have different ways presenting information to the player, whether it be a character telling the player what button to press or on an on-screen text prompt giving the player information. Final Fantasy XIV is a massive MMORPG and has a lot of intricate complex systems that can take time to learn. Final Fantasy XIV also has a dedicated help system where it can show all the tutorials that have popped up to the player whenever they encounter a new system, serving as a handy resource whenever the player is unsure of the various systems in the game.

A screenshot of the help menu inside Final Fantasy XIV containing past tutorials the player has encountered.

In spite of both of these JRPGs having tutorial sections in order to guide the player, there is still a big split in how a player goes about learning a single-player JRPG like KHUX and an open MMORPG such as Final Fantasy XIV. That difference lies in the amount of player-to-player interactions that happen.

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Week 11 (April 6th – April 11th) – Field Notes (2/4)

The Allure of a Static World

Bryan Afadzi

In the reality of our current world, it is obvious that society is not functioning as “normal” per se. Restaurants are closed for dine in, schools are switching to all online classes, and many people are having to switch to new working environments at home.

Life changing global events are just one part that contribute to the overall dynamic-nature of the “real world”. There is always constant change to be seen in our world and being alive means finding the best ways to handle oneself amidst the uncertainties and challenges that are bound to occur.

Despite this however, virtual worlds seem to provide an interesting reprieve from the real world’s unpredictability. While the actual development on the game world may be affected by the dynamic state of the real world, the virtual world itself is not prone to mass global pandemics or extreme weather conditions affecting its entirety. Instead, it may be considered to be a more “ideal” reflection of our world.

Planned Final Fantasy XIV update delayed due to real world COVID-19 concerns.

At the time of this writing, is currently the day of Easter and while people in the real world are social distancing and spending time at home, Gridania is filled with colorful decorations and players engaging in festive quests in bunny suits. In my play sessions this week, I came across many players partaking in these sorts of quest and generally being jovial as they went along, catching chickens and running around in bunny suits.

A festive Gridania, complete with colorful eggs and Easter decorations.

A “Forest”-side Chat

One of the interesting things about the culture of Final Fantasy XIV is that at any given moment, you will pass by players just going about their own business, completing quests and riding around on bird-like creatures known as chocobos. Due to the amount of independence one has, I found it easy to find myself questing alone and feeling almost isolated. Despite this, however, the community at large is still very welcoming and helpful.

During my travels in the forests of Gridania, I was running around trying to progress in the story when I came across two adventures. Both of them were low level, however one happened to be a veteran player who was playing alongside their friend, a newer player to the game. I had the following dialogue with them, having a chat and meeting a new person.

Note: In the this dialogue, my player character is named “Auvure Cinnabar” and omitted lines have been indicated by “[…]”.

[…]
Sabethela Moon:hi
Auvure Cinnabar: hello
You wave to Sabethela Moon.
Sabethela Moon waves to you.
Auvure Cinnabar: how are you?
Sabethela Moon: good
Auvure Cinnabar: are you new to the game?
Sabethela Moon: no
Auvure Cinnabar: oh? how long have you been playing?
Anthony Tavern: Im new
Sabethela Moon: 3 years
Auvure Cinnabar: oh wow thats a long time
Auvure Cinnabar: im new lol
Sabethela Moon: lvling new to in my friands fc
Sabethela Moon: toon
Auvure Cinnabar: oh thats really cool
Auvure Cinnabar: one of my longtime player friends invited me to play as well
Auvure Cinnabar: especially now thats theres a lot more time to play
Sabethela Moon: that cool you liking it
Sabethela Moon: yaa lol
Auvure Cinnabar: im really liking it so far
Sabethela Moon: that good
Auvure Cinnabar: i usually play more traditional final fantasy games but this one is just different enough
Sabethela Moon: i like it
Sabethela Moon: if need help poke at me if i am on
Auvure Cinnabar:ty: ty, i appreciate it
You show Sabethela Moon your uncontainable jubilation!
[…]
Sabethela Moon cheers you on!
Auvure Cinnabar: i'll see you around!
Sabethela Moon: later
A casual chat with an unknown player in the middle of a forest.

Though a short meeting, I had found another welcoming friend who was willing and open to helping out a newer player.

Even when there is a numerous amount of events going on in the real world, I’m starting to understand why these virtual world are so lucrative and populated by many players. You can just be starting the game and have no idea what anything does, but there will still be people who are willing to spend some time conversing with you and helping you understand the laws of the land. In this sense, virtual worlds can often feel reassuring, losing oneself in the vast world that is laid before you and being absorbed in the sheer beauty of the world.

Gridania at day.
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Week 10 (30th March – 5th April) – Field Notes (1/4)

Bryan Afadzi

UI Unlike Any Other Final Fantasy

I am no stranger to the JRPG genre of games, playing titles like Kingdom Hearts, Bravely Default, and other excellent titles. Naturally, as most RPG players do, I also have experience with the Final Fantasy titles. However, unlike the rest of the series, Final Fantasy XIV Online happens to be an MMOJRPG, meaning everything is more open ended and vast in scope.

Upon getting into the game, the most apparent thing that I found notable was all of the UI elements being thrown right into your face.

Various amounts of necessary information for the player, ranging from chatlogs, to current quests

I am primarily a console gamer, and with most console games, the UI does not take up most of the screen due to the developers knowing exactly how much info is totally necessary at any given point and will usually limit it. What I’ve discovered with FF14 is that, like the game itself, most of UI can be customized and tampered with in order for the player to fine-tune their experience. Most other Final Fantasys do not allow for this kind of freedom, making this entry stand out even further.

Bustling Nightlife

After going through player creation and intro cutscenes, I was plopped into the starting town of Gridania, a town located deep in the heart of the forest with tons of greeny around. The game had me going through tutorial quests, talking to NPCs, and the like. Alongside learning the ropes of the game, this town was no short of other human characters. In fact, there were so many that their nametags were taking a lot of my screen space! Final Fantasys are no stranger to having populated towns, and in series tradition, Gridania is no different.

A myriad of player characters gathering around a warp point, known as Aetheryte

Despite the quiet nature of town located deep in the forest, it was still bustling with players left and right, taking on quests and attending to their own desires.

An Aetheryte warp point giving off a radiant glow at night

A Kind Stranger

One of the starting quests tasked me with going over to one of the kids in the town. My goal was to get her to say more than “…” when talking to me and to achieve that, I had to learn how to emote. Emotes are as they sound like: giving off some reaction or doing a silly little dance. While I was able to get her to say something other than “…”, I’m not sure if I got a favorable result…

I got insulted by about a 10 year old just for trying to introduce myself. Oof.

The story goes that her father died in a war and she hasn’t smiled in however long, so by me doing some silly emotes for her, I was able to make her laugh. Cute. Through this tutorial quest, I learned how to emote. Yay! So naturally, with my new found power, I went and used it on another player, and to my surprise, they reacted back. What occurred afterwards, was me making my first ‘online’ friend.

Quarantine brings out the best in people it seems!

Once I waved at this stranger, I started talking to them and introducing myself. This time of quarantine has put a lot of people indoors with a lot more time, and through that I was able to relate to another player and even obtain some helpful welcoming advice. If the FF14 community is as welcoming as this complete stranger, it seems that I will be in for a wonderful adventure ahead.

My first friend. Neat!