Power games in a virtual world

The case of Dragon Quest X

Noboru Sakai, The University of Queensland [About | Email]

Volume 15, Issue 1 (Article 5 in 2015). First published in ejcjs on 19 April 2015.

Abstract

This study explores how the users of Dragon Quest X (DQ10), a Japanese massively multiplayer online role-playing game, communicate, in particular how they dispute with each other in the early stages of the game when the norms of virtual space have not yet been set.

In the game, the level of strength the players have greatly affects their experiences. If characters are among the disadvantaged groups in terms of level or skills, they are more likely to experience unfairness, including exclusion. For example, these stigmatised characters tend to be rejected as members of groups whose objective is to defeat strong enemies to advance the main story.

In addition, other cases are found in the real world in relation to DQ10, so this study analyses textual messages found through several channels on the Internet.

Keywords: stigma, exclusion, CMC, Virtual world, MMORPG, Dragon Quest X.

Acknowledgement

I would like to extend my thanks to Emeritus Professor Nanette Gottlieb, the University of Queensland, for proofreading this work.

Introduction

This study analyses Dragon Quest X (DQ10),a Japanese MMORPG (details later),in order to investigate how people communicate and construct communication norms in the virtual world. DQ10 presents one advantage for researchers: many non-MMORPG-experienced players start off with this type of game; we can thus see how newcomers to the virtual world develop its social atmosphere. In particular, this study focuses on stigma and exclusion, the negative side of communication: how people cause disputes within the confines of the game system and End-user license agreement (EULA).

Referred to as a “second life,” virtual worlds today exhibit a new type of life style. In some cases, some people really do ‘live’ in that world on their computer, and others dedicate their whole life to the experiences taking place therein (e.g., Ashizaki, 2009). In virtual worlds,1 players do not just follow the events or enjoy the entertainments provided by the worlds, they also create a community with other players, to create a unique environment of their own.

Among these virtual worlds, MMORPG (massively multiplayer online role-playing games), or simply large games, strongly attract some players. MMORPG are a type of online environment where many players log in together and all of them, or teams of several players, try to resolve the missions that the game provides. Compared to consumer games played by individual players at home, players of MMORPG manipulate a game character to achieve the common objectives shared by players; basically, each character has certain specific abilities to contribute to the success of missions which require the involvement of many players and cannot be completed by the efforts of a single player.

MMORPG can be defined as “a subset of the universe of synthetic worlds, … online spaces that many people can use at once” (Castronova, 2006, p.163).Castronova (2006) points out the uniqueness of MMORPG in relation to other or “ordinary games” because of the large number of players who spend hundreds of thousands of hours on MMORPG. Owing to the fascination of collaboration in MMORPG which rarely happens in off-line games (Lastowka, 2009), many new players will have fantastic experiences of new joys but will also encounter negative experiences entailed in MMORPG.

The image of MMORPG among the Japanese general public is not always positive: the impression is that players may become addicted,2 or further, that MMORPGs are played only by addicted players who are called Haijin. This stigmatised image of MMORPG as a game for Haijin3 has until recently prevented most game players from attempting this particular genre.

However, Dragon Quest X, as the latest series in the games played by in Japan, opens up the pathway to MMORPG for non-Haijin players with its high expectations for exciting play as well as advertisements advising that DQ10 provides an environment in which individual players can also play. As a result, in 2012, about 630,000 packages were sold during the first month after release (Geimin net, 2012), an outstanding figure in the sales of MMORPG in Japan. In this sense, it can be said that DQ10 successfully attracts new players who have not played MMORPG before; as Fujisawa, a director of DQ10, reflected, the sales of DQ10 extend the number of on-line game players beyond the limited number of previous players who particularly like this type of genre.4 At the same time, these new players also have a new type of experience that they have never had in playing off-line games.

Figure 1. Dragon Quest X (Source: Square Enix inc)

Sakai, Figure 1

MMORPG are a rich source for the analysis of the mechanisms of the larger human society because as mentioned, through their size they are themselves a type of human society, and “supply and demand, patronage, stigma, diplomacy, and … coordination ought to operate similarly in all large games wherever they are located” (Castronova, 2006, p. 171), which is likely to be noted empirically by both players and observers. Some scholars have researched MMORPG using this insight.

For example, World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment inc),5one of the world’s most popular MMORPG, has been studied from a range of perspectives. Langer (2008) discusses players’ recognition of other players in World of Warcraft together with the term familiar and others in relation to the prepared twoopposing sides in the game: Alliance and Horde. On a more macro level, MacCallum-Stewart (2008) relates the game to World War I, intending to portray how two sides fighting each other but both possessing a certain extent of justice, and having a shared enemy, act under conditions where warfare is common, questioning whether a simple dichotomy of good or evil is generally entailed in warfare. Further, Corneliussen and Rettberg (2008) imply that MMORPG have an influence beyond the game on life in the real world, and Rettberg (2008) investigates players’ interpersonal activities in both game and real world in terms of economy: some players actually take part in activities in the real world economy as an extension of the game economy.    

In the case of Japan, a country where many people have played computer games, only a few published works to date have analysed MMORPG from the standpoint of interpersonal communication. For instance, Tajima, Matsuo, Kryu, and Sakamoto (2012) examine interpersonal networks to determine whether playing MMORPG affects network size, and found that playing does not significantly affect it. In another study that focuses on psychological mechanisms occurring in MMORPG, a study by Arimoto, Kawatsu, Ohno, and Iida (2012) uses MMRPG as a tool for constructing a database of emotional speech under conditions of natural production.

However, although MMORPG are an interesting setting for researching interpersonal communication through considering engagement of players in this world, studies of MMORPG focusing on these detailed human communications are still very limited because it can be difficult to choose an appropriate title at the appropriate stage of the game (in many popular MMORPG, communities and societies are already formed, and are at a mature and stable stage).

This study focuses on stigma and labeling as well as other entailed phenomena seen in MMORPG using Dragon Quest X as a case study since these occur naturally even though players hope to enjoy the games in a comfortable environment. Gazen (2007) mentions that human involvement in the on-line environment easily and immediately leads to the direction of disharmony, and investigation of MMORPG will clearly show these phenomena and mechanisms. In particular, many players become involved in this game, including newcomers to MMORPG, in a relatively short time. Therefore, observing Dragon Quest X at the present time is meaningful in terms of exploring the mechanisms of human behaviour on a large scale.

World of virtual games

The characteristics of virtual worlds are briefly summarised to reveal the basic framework of MMORPG, the world we will discuss in detail. Book (2004) states six features of virtual Worlds:

  1. Shared Space: the world allows many users to participate at once.
  2. Graphical User Interface: the world depicts space visually, ranging in style from 2D “cartoon” imagery to more immersive 3D environments.
  3. Immediacy: interaction takes place in real time.
  4. Interactivity: the world allows users to alter, develop, build, or submit customized content.
  5. Persistence: the world’s existence continues regardless of whether individual users are logged in.
  6. Socialisation/Community: the world allows and encourages the formation of in- world social groups like guilds, clubs, cliques, housemates, neighborhoods, etc.

In brief, virtual worlds are large 3D spaces where people can interact with each other immediately and where unique cultures are formed. At the same time, the worlds continue to exist when participants are not present in them. With regard to things participants will gain in the use of virtual worlds, Bartle (2004, p. 2) states what kinds of property a participant in virtual worlds possesses:

  • Major
    • Objects (weapons, armour, jewelry…)
    • Characters
    • Currency (gold pieces, platinum pieces, pyreals…)
  • Minor
    • Real estate (houses, shops, building plots…)
    • Accounts
    • Other (permissions, memberships, maps…)

Major properties are basically objects provided in the game such as player characters and artifacts (including currency for transactions involving artifacts). In addition, in some cases, participants will have other properties. Compared to the real world, what characters can possess is a salient difference. Other things can be obtained in the real world through economic transactions. The differences are in what items exist in the world and what restrictions can prevent these items being obtained.

Stigma—the concept

The concept of stigma is discussed here. Link and Phelan (2001, p.367) argues how stigma is formed through the following 5 steps:

  1. people distinguish and label human differences.
  2. dominant cultural beliefs link labeled persons to undesirable characteristics—to negative stereotypes
  3. labeled persons are placed in distinct categories so as to accomplish some degree of separation of “us” from “them”
  4. labeled persons experience status loss and discrimination that lead to unequal outcomes
  5. stigmatisation is entirely contingent on access to social, economic, and political power that allows the identification of differentness, the construction of stereotypes, the separation of labeled persons into distinct categories, and the full execution of disapproval, rejection, exclusion, and discrimination

Based on this process, people firstly notice differences from others in a target group, and then they attach negative connotations to those differences. Further unfair treatment is given to the stigmatised group in various ways. Stigma is related to various properties of people: e.g., race, colour, gender (e.g., Rebhun, 2004), mental illness, and poverty (e.g. Mickelson and Williams, 2008). As a result, people in a stigmatised group face disadvantages in real life such as the possibility of unequal access in housing, education, and occupation (Major and O’Brien, 2005). However, at the same time, stigma is not identified as identical by the people in stigmatised groups; people who know the stigma, believe they are in a stigmatised group, and actually experience disadvantage from the stigma, will perceive that stigma more strongly (Carrigan, Watson, and Barr, 2006). The effect of stigma on identity depends therefore on the extent to which the recipient internalises the stigma (Mickelson and Williams, 2008). In brief, both the individual and the environment can influence how people behave in relation to stigma.

Exclusion is a common result of stigmatisation because of the labeling and entailed discrimination and separation. Whitley (2005) summarises the patterns of exclusion which stigmatisation will cause. Spatial and temporal exclusion is an exclusion based on the power of ‘gaze’ to the stigmatised sub-group through threats, and forms the distinction between ‘us’ and ‘them’. The ways in which people behave in order to avoid the ‘gaze’ can be related to this exclusion. Network exclusion is the systematic separation of targeted stigmatised groups from a network they should be able to access to seek support for an effective life in society. Socio-economic exclusion restricts the targeted group from accessing socio-economic resources because of stigma: for example, the stigmatised group of people cannot obtain permanent jobs. Structural/ institutional exclusion occurs when the social structure constructs a system whereby stigmatised people have difficulty in joining mainstream society because of their stigmatised nature.

Research methods

Based on the concepts discussed above, this study adopts an ethnographic approach since interactions occurring in this environment not only show how each player communicates on a particular occasion but also indicate the communication norms of the setting and what assumptions players make, with special attention to stigma and exclusion, and discrepancies between players. To explore these types of phenomena, this study analyses textual messages found through several channels: observation of the play uploaded on the Internet; official BBS for the players (which can be seen by everyone and written by the players using the anonyms they use in the game; generally the real name of a player does not appear unless the player wishes it); reviews and discussions on Amazon (Japan); and other Internet BBS and players’ blogs. The written discourse of data shown in this study is raw data which the players use in a natural setting, but given that Japanese is their native language, the author gives translations in this paper. The data were collected from the release date (August, 2012) until January, 2013, when the system of the game and norms of its virtual world were still in the pioneering stage. As with the assumption of more active disclosure by informants in the online environment (Hine, 2005), the data can to a large extent be seen to be the reflection of real emotion or interaction occurring in the playing. As the official site retains the log only for a limited time, this study will refer to more stable secondary sites for further retrieval which are open for anyone to see the content. In addition, this study uses anonyms differing from those used by players in order to protect privacy in a more secure manner. For this paper, referencing of URLs will be in footnotes because of limitations of space. The major instrument, Dragon Quest X, is explained in detail in the following section.

Dragon Quest X

Dragon Quest is one of the most popular RPG series in Japan, produced originally by the Japanese company Enix (currently Square Enix inc). It has been 25 years since the first Dragon Quest was presented, and on 5, August, 2012, the latest offering of Dragon Quest X: The Five Awakening Races was released. Dragon Quest X is the first MMORPG of the series and this title has attracted interest within the Japanese game industry and among players.6 To play the game, players first create their own characters, including which classes they will do in the beginning.7 Classes decide the basic strength and characteristics of a character in the game. Simply put, classes can be categorised as follows: a character 1) has a strong physique with which to protect the members of group from enemy attack; 2) has a magic ability to attack an enemy from long range (the physique of the character is weak and easily defeated if standing in front of enemies); 3) has an ability to heal the companies of the group; 4) has other appropriate skills for the quest. Based on these characteristics, players select their actions for advancing the story and events. In other words, what each player can/should do is decided by the standard characteristics of these classes.

In addition, for each class, there is a further selection of skills to strengthen it. For example, priests possess a special ability called ‘faith’, which includes sub-abilities like ‘alma mater’ to prevent attacks that cause immediate death and ‘care prayer’ to boost the effect of healing magic. Moreover, there are skills which automatically increase the basic power of characters such as ‘natural max HP’ increasing a certain point of HP after learning. These skills are called passive by players, and the selection of passives which will be mastered is seen as essential for an effective quest and confrontations with strong enemies.

To play the game, players firstly choose their basic class, and they advance the game story by increasingly strengthening their characters. At the midpoint of the story, players can change their class with the skills they have developed, yet characters do not use spells or abilities learned from previous classes, and need to cultivate their strength from level 1 again. They will also learn a new skill based on the new class they choose.

In the game, four characters can make up a group for a quest. From the midpoint of the story, a player can also hire other characters which different players register when they log off from the game. These characters are called support characters, and an AI system controls them in battles. The difficulty of the quest is quite high, in particular in the latter part of the story, since strong enemies attack player characters, and players need a detailed strategy to defeat these enemies. Good preparation, including grouping, is necessary to advance the main story and events.

Square Enix Inc offers an official BBS for the game to hear opinions from players, and several guidebooks have been published. Also, a considerable amount of information can be found on the Internet; people exchange their opinions about DQ10 on Internet BBSs (e.g., 2channel, one of the largest BBS sites originating in Japan).

Game space and inequality

In this section, we examine stigmatisation and associated unfair treatments in DQ10 by analysing reports by players of their experiences. To begin, the following witness tells of a case where being labeled as having insufficient strength led to exclusion from a group.

強さはレベルだけでは決まらないと、これまでのドラゴンクエストをやっていておもっています。でもレベルが低すぎるという理由でラスボス行こうといってもだれも相手にしてくれません。8

I think the level of character is not the only decisive factor in strength, but no one allows me to join a group or defeat the last boss because the level of my character is too low.

This witness shows that players are evaluated by measurement of level to determine whether they are invited or not, and if this is not evaluated as sufficient, players do not have a chance to challenge and defeat a strong boss, which is essential to advance the story, although they may have sufficient strength to do so in an overall sense. In other words, stigmatised players must give up seeing the next scene prepared by the game.

The next examples show a stigma surrounding the classes in DQ10. Similar to the report by Wilder (2004) discussing stigma relating to work in the real world, stigma relating to classes is quite obvious in DQ10: stigmatised classes are excluded from a group.

戦士は…不遇な職になっていてボス戦パーティに参加させてもらえないらしいです。9

Warriors are not popular now and they cannot take part in a group for defeating a boss.

雇われる確率が高いのは断然僧侶だと思いますよ。戦士は何気に不遇の職業になってきているので・・・・・・・・10

Priests have the highest chance to be invited by a group. Warriors have become a non-popular class.

その職が不遇かどうかは街でのレベル上げ&ボス戦のPT募集みればよくわかる。あと自分のサポートなかまのメンバーね。残念ながらみなさん僧侶や戦士をはずしてまで盗賊や武闘家をPTにいれるでしょうか?11

How each class is prioritized can be seen in recruiting for leveling and boss events in towns. In addition which class we hire. Unfortunately, do you really want to invite a thief or martial artist instead of a warrior or priest?

確かに武闘家をサポートで雇おうとはあまり思いませんね・・・。12

Surely I do not want to hire martial artists for support.

Updates alter the power balance of each class, and classes wanted and unwanted are changed in this process.

戦士とパラは居場所がもらえない、武闘家は永遠に劣化盗賊13

There is no place for warriors and paladins, martial artists are inferior to thieves for ever

パッシブ必須です(爆)

特に魔法使いの様な紙防御の職業は博愛も必須になってきます。

あ…後、残念なお知らせもあります。戦士と武道家の枠はありません(爆)14

Passive is necessary lol

For mage, Virtue15 is essential to boost HP and defense.

Unfortunately, there is no room for warrior and martial artist. lol

This tendency is quite obvious in this world, and a person who enjoys a priority state in the game could revert to an inferior state based on choice of class and abilities.

(Translation)
A: C今レベル1のパラディンやんか! A: C is a level 1 parading now!
B: それぢゃリストラ要因だお B: This means we need to find someone instead of C
B: おまえーーーーー!!!!!!! B: You!!!!!
B: 計ったな!!!!! B: You’re cheating us!!!!!
B: 僧侶ぢゃないとむり! B: We cannot go together if your class is not priest.
B: さっきいったぢゃん! B: I told you before!
B: おれたち・・・ B: We…
C: つよくなれば僧侶よりつかえる! C: When we level up, the strength of a paladin will be more than the priest’s is
B: 30分で25000オーバー経験値稼いでる B: (we) intend to earn more than 25000 experiences in 30 min
B: パラディン不要 B: We don’t need a paladin
A: 死にまくり無双 A: C will die so much
B: 僧侶ぢゃないと無理 B: We cannot go together if your class is not priest.
C: どこのいんの? C: Where will you go?
B: C、ゴミ! B: C is rubbish
B: トロルのところだっていってんぢゃん B: I said we go to the habitat of a Troll
A: Cどこいったの? A: Where does C go?
C: なかまいれてくんないからかえった C: I go back because you don’t admit me to your group
B: あははは B: Ahaha
B: おまえが僧侶でこないからだお16 B: Because you did not come as a priest

This case shows that even though a character enjoyed a prioritised position in the game because of their roles, they easily lost their position when they changed their role. In some cases, these players are excluded from a group and companions reverse their attitude toward the player. In addition, previous companions used abusive language toward them, and this is a clear example of how harmony can be easily broken in on-line communication as Gazen (2007) notes.

Similar to this case, a change of system balance alters what abilities should be learned. The following case shows how this mechanism influences players in the game. Priests are a popular class because of their cure skills, but required personnel who learn appropriate extra skills have been quickly changed when their labeling image is changed due to system and surrounding information.

今までスティック持ちの天使僧侶が優遇され、「ヤリ僧」を酒場に預けるな!とまで言われていたのに、バージョンアップ後は槍を装備した攻撃型の僧侶がトレンドとなりました。…そして、バージョンアップ後には、これまで戦った大ボスと再戦できる「強ボスモード」が用意された…強ボスに挑むためには僧侶はやはり必須職業であり、…「天使・祈り僧侶=信仰僧侶」が注目となりました。…需要の高い僧侶ですが、この振り回されてる感がなんというか・・17

Until that time, priests equipped with a stick were prioritised and some said players should not register priests equipped with a spear. However, after an update, priests with a spear gained interest because of their attached ability… and an event to defeat the strong bosses already fought was installed at the update. Priests are essential to fight against these strong enemies and priests improving their faith skills gained attention.… Priests are a popular class but they are also influenced by the system.

Even though the company has tried to maintain the balance of the game such that every player can play the game freely regardless of their choices of classes and skills, the mechanism of theory-crafting play creates a new stigma and related unfair treatment for players whose characters are useless in the game. In other words, every player, regardless of their experiences of MMORPG or the Dragon Quest series, faces the possibility of being a victim of stigmatisation or even exclusion.

With the specification that four players form a party, level, classes and chosen skills are rigorously evaluated to determine whether each player will be admitted to join a group. Players using stigmatised classes do not have the chance to join a party which aims to defeat strong enemies, which in practice means such players do not have the chance to advance the main story, or earn valuable items which provide an advantage in the game in terms of strengthening a character as well as earning currency.

Stigmatisation is not limited to actual strength of characters, and is extended to players who can be expected to be weak in terms of their playing circumstances. A witness shows that:

ドラクエ初心者です。パーティーに誘ってください。と街でいうと、周りから「誰も誘わないしw」、「誰か誘えよw」とか言われてしまいました。もうやりたくないと思いました。こういうマナーはどうなんでしょうか?18

I’m a beginner at Dragon quest. At a city, when I asked to be invited to join a group, some said “no one will, lol,” or “someone invite him, lol.” I thought I don’t want to do it anymore. What do you think about the manners of players?

In some cases, beyond the game, players are stigmatised about their real life with reference to the circumstances in the game. A player reports that:

よく5時ごろに始めて適当にいったりするんですが、この前私はひどく腹が立ちました。とあるプクリポ「お前キッズタイムでやってるのかよww」

その仲間と思われるドワーフ「www貧乏だなぁお前ん所ww」など、言って一人のエルフをバカにしてました。19

I sometimes play the game around 5 pm, but I got angry last time. Some player said “You are playing in Kids’ time, lolol,” then another who seems a friend of the first said “lolol, you are so poor, lolol,” making fun of a player.

In addition, players may also be involved in stigmatisation in relation to real world behaviour. In other words, one possible characteristic of stigma and MMORPG is that labeling and entailed discrimination do not end with the virtual world; rather, the virtual world and real world are interconnected, particularly through exchange, in the form of real money trade (RMT). RMT is an economic activity whereby some players sell the properties of games such as currency or items, and others buy them with real money. In many cases, the game company running the MMORPG bans RMT and legitimises anti-RMT through strict management policies (Lastwka, 2009). DQ10 is not an exception: RMT is banned by its EULA. In terms of players’ level, Grundy (2008) reports the stigma relating to RMT as an action of the stigmatised, in particular those who buy a strong ability in order to save the time required to earn it, in addition to gaining a large amount of currency in the game. These stigmatised players are further discriminated against in games, sometimes even excluded. The following case indicates this stigmatisation, even though it stems from other players’ misunderstanding.

一丁目に家を建てたんですが…「詐欺の金で買った家だな!」「詐欺ハウスだ!」という人も(詐欺どころかダイスもしたことありません)さらには…「家燃やすぞ!」というような人たちもいます。20

I got a house at a first place. … Some said “You bought it with money through fraud” “A fraud house!” (I have never committed fraud, even the dice21)…In addition, others said “I’ll burn your house.”

It is a common tendency that players in disadvantageous groups are stigmatised and are targets of prejudice in practice, but this case also shows that players in advantageous positions are also labeled negatively as their property is held to be the result of a violation.

As shown above, stigmatisation is a frequent phenomenon in DQ10. In the next section, we will shift the discussion outside the parameters of the game in order to see the influence of DQ10 in a dynamic world.

Stigmatisation outside the game space

Stigmatising-stigmatised relationships can be found outside the actual game space. As DQX is the title of an extremely popular series, many players have discussed it on several sites. Among them, many players post reviews on Amazon (Figure 2), and actively exchange their opinions.

Figure 2. Players’ evaluation on Dragon Quest 10 (at 10 January, 2013)

Sakai, Figure 2

However, discussions do not just finish with their opinions; they extend to bashing reviewers who give a high score for the game:

バージョンアップも近いですからね、業者さんお疲れ様です。

   Update will be soon. Mr/Mrs workers, good job!

高評価を入れてるのがサクラとRMT業者だけっていうのも終わってますね

The situation surrounding DQX is already critical since only fake buyers and RMT companies give a high score.

利害関係者が、給料やボーナスにひびかないために、「低評価予防」をしているということを疑わざるを得ないのです。

We cannot help suspecting that some reviewers who benefit from the game try not to devalue the game because they worry about their salary.

☆5とかの人、本気?と思ったら文章が完全に業者臭い…

I was at first surprised at those who gave a grade of 5, but they seem to be those who are members of a company of interest in terms of their review.

星5つけてるあなたも全く信用できません。… スクエニの回し者ですか?

I cannot believe you who gave 5 stars. Are you someone hired by the company?

These statements show that 5 stars indicate non-general players such as company workers, and evaluation becomes a stigma as to what kind of people write a review even though opinions of the game will vary. At the same time, some reviewers who have a negative opinion of DQ10 are attacked in other reviews as ‘unqualified players of MMORPG’

MMOが苦手な方はすぐ飽きると思います。苦手なのに購入して文句いう人多いみたいですねw

I think players not good at MMORPG will soon be tired of the game. It seems many people who bought the game complain about it, lol.

MMOなんてこんなもんでしょ。「経験値、Gが低い。敵が強すぎる」なんて言ってる奴は、ラーメンのスープが熱すぎる!って文句言ってるのと同じ。冷めてのびたラーメンなんて旨いのか?

The system of MMORPG is like that. The people who complain about the small gain of experience and currency and the strength of the enemy are like those who complain about noodles as too hot. Are the noodles tasty once they’re cold?

MMOになった時点で「プレイヤーの選り好みが別れる」ことは当たり前のことです。今やってて面白くない人は「淘汰」されるべき人だと思います。「MMO自体が合わない人」こういう人が淘汰されることが自然な流れです

It is a matter of course that people’s preferences in MMORPG can be extreme. Players who do not find an interest must be excluded. It is natural to exclude the players who dislike MMORPG.

The characteristics of these discourses are clarification of the line between ‘us’ and ‘them’ from players who dislike MMORPG.

Discussion

Stigma and entailed discrimination and exclusion as seen in DQ10 are reported above. Level, classes, and abilities are major causes of stigma when characters are not expected to be useful for the quest. In particular, stigmatised characters tend to be excluded from groups who aim to defeat a strong enemy or embark on difficult missions. This is because of the specification which limits a group to four people as well as the difficulty of the story and the battle to be overcome. The mechanisms of four types of exclusion (Whitley, 2005) are useful to understand why these phenomena occur.

In the current situation, there is a rich amount of information on the game, and players know how they can effectively advance the story and events before taking part. This knowledge becomes selection criteria for which characters will and will not be invited, and this judgment is basically based on classes and the abilities which characters learn. Therefore, stigmatisation of classes and characters clearly exists. This can be seen through network exclusion as a means of not accepting an application to join a group. At the same time, even though players are in the required group, they are also expected to behave in a certain way, and if not they also risk being stigmatised. This can be seen as players trying to avoid spatial/ temporal exclusion because of unwanted behaviours; stigma has a quite strong meaning for all players in some sense in this world. Furthermore, people with stigmatised classes and abilities face a situation of unfair access to new events and items. Since those properties provided by the game can be socio-economic resources for each player, this phenomenon can be said to be a type of socio-economic exclusion. Those players who choose stigmatised classes will experience this exclusion since class change is not easy in the first part of the story.

In addition, stigmatisation based on classes is a universal trend in DQ10 because the targets of stigmatisation change when the specifications and balance of the game, guideline information and strength of each character are changed. This means that players influenced by stigmatisation and entailed exclusion change quickly.

Currently, those players in the first stage of the game will experience not only stigmatisation from the weakness of their characters but also structural/ institutional exclusion from the game itself because of a small population who start this game as new players. This means new players cannot find companions to advance the story and they will stop at the beginning of the game. The phenomenon of a small population around the first village has been reported since the early days of the game22,23,24, and this is quite critical for new players who cannot use the support characters at the beginning of the story. Some players may not be able to defeat a first strong boss and have to give up the main story. This can be a structural/ institutional exclusion that the game system imposes on beginner players.

Moreover, in some cases players use abusive language to those in stigmatised groups. This is a widely known phenomenon on the Internet where anonymity can induce such abuse (Joinson 2003), and DQ 10 is no exception. Stigmatisation is a strong cause of these abusive behaviours; this is equivalent to real world stigmatisation and entailed negative behaviours. In brief, the specifications of DQ10 in the network environment strengthen these stigmatisation phenomena.

Other cases show that figures in the network environment stigmatise the real-world property of players. For example, players who bought their house immediately when installed in the game are labeled ‘cheats’ who use RMT for unacceptable transactions. This is because the specifications make it difficult for players to earn a large amount of money in a short time. In addition, players who enjoyed the game at a time when it was free (called ‘kids time’) are abused as being poor. These cases show that stigmatisation does not occur only in the game but extends beyond the game, labeling properties of players off-line beyond the virtual worlds.

Furthermore, as the Dragon Quest series is one of the most popular games in Japan, negative experiences in the game ignite hot arguments in some on-line spaces, which entail stigmatisation of those of opposite opinions. For example, many unsatisfied players review the game on Amazon Japan, and these players also stigmatise reviewers who give a positive evaluation as fake buyers’ comments posted by workers of the game company or RMT. In other words, positive evaluations cannot be recognised as coming from general players and their reviews tend to be underestimated. This mechanism is similar to cases where the statements of mentally ill patients are not treated equally because they are seen as not trustworthy.

In this case, however, at the same time, stigmatised reviewers with positive feedback are also stigmatised as dissatisfied players and as beginners of MMORPG, or even as unfit players; the game’s positive reputation does not automatically lead to good experiences within the MMORPG itself. Each group attacks the other with abusive language. These stigmatisations outside the game are an interesting dynamic which shows how people are involved with each other in this mechanism; the dispute between ‘us’ and ‘them’ is a typical phenomenon where stigmatisation occurs.

Conclusion

Dragon Quest X is still at an early stage of its history in terms of MMORPG, but there are already various aspects which show the power games of players. Stigmatisation and exclusion seen in DQ10 clearly exhibit the mechanism of the negativities entailed in being human. This may be because the anonymity of the on-line environment intensifies them.

On-line, the specifications of the game which require detailed planning stimulate players’stigmatisation where specific roles are expected of each character, as well as advantages being mostly given to the players of the first group. MMORPG as an on-line environment also cause a clear display of stigmatisation which is not seen in the real world where inter-personal communication manners are at work. In other words, severe selection and exclusion may be a basic property of human beings in adapting to given circumstances. Off-line, evaluation of the game causes a battle of stigmatisation between ‘us’ and ‘them’. These phenomena can show the effectiveness of exploring MMORPG behaviour as a miniature model of the mechanism of human society at large.

Further updates will change the balance of the game, and it will be interesting to investigate how the new balance of the game leads to power games among players: the mechanism of who gains the power and who is labeled weak and useless. In addition, it is also interesting to see the connection between on-line and off-line, which causes other types of stigmatisation. Such new environments will display another mechanism for stigmatisation and other human phenomena seen both on-line and off-line. If similar studies are conducted in various languages and cultures, it can be expected that further insights into human communication will be gained.

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Notes

[1] The types of virtual worlds include social virtual worlds, casual game virtual worlds, role-playing virtual worlds, and so forth. For details see Artesia (2008).

[2] Addiction to MMORPG itself is an academic topic widely researched by scholars (e.g, Hsu et al (2009); Ng and Wiemer-Hastings (2005)).

[3] This negative image of MMORPG in Japan can widely be seen on many Internet BBSs or individual blogs that discuss video games.

[4] https://twitter.com/JIn_Fujisawa

[5] According to the Guinness World Records 2009, World of Warcraft “is the most popular Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG), with 10 million subscribers as of January 2008”

[6] The main systems of the game, in the same way as other MMORPG, have been routinely updated.

[7] The classes that can be chosen in DQ10 are as follows (explanations are based on the description by the company).

Warrior: Specialist of physical attack and defense

Mage: Defeating monsters by magic spells!

Priest: Learning cure, revive, and support spells.

Martial Artist: Fighting with their own body as a ‘weapon’

Thief: Class has the skills based on their dexterous hands

Minstrel: Those who are good at entertaining people

Paladin: To be a guard of a party with strong defense ability

Armamentalist: A class handling a mystic power called ‘force’

Ranger: Possessing the strength and dexterity to overcome any severe situation

Luminare: Good for the players who would like to be prominent

Gladiator: A class specializing in advanced physical attack

Sage: A class manipulating both attack and heal spells

Monster master: A class which can bring monsters

Item master: A class which can elicit the power of items

[8] http://jin115.com/archives/51894275.html

[9] http://detail.chiebukuro.yahoo.co.jp/qa/question_detail/q1095935310

[10] ibid

[11] http://hiroba.dqx.jp/sc/forum/pastthread/1026/1/page/6

[12] http://hiroba.dqx.jp/sc/forum/pastthread/1026/1/page/9

[13] http://nekozuki422.blog.fc2.com/blog-entry-47.html

[14] http://puretani7tyomo.blog49.fc2.com/blog-entry-1232.html

[15] An auto equipped ability (the passive) increases HP and defense

[16] http://jin115.com/archives/51904332.html

[17] http://nantokaonbu.blog75.fc2.com/blog-entry-375.html

[18] http://jin115.com/archives/51896375.html

[19] http://blog.esuteru.com/archives/6594289.html

[20] http://blog.esuteru.com/archives/6666471.html

[21] The function of dice in the game is sometimes used for a gamble between players

[22] http://hiroba.dqx.jp/sc/forum/pastthread/2661/

[23] http://hiroba.dqx.jp/sc/forum/pastthread/993/

[24] http://blog.livedoor.jp/doradoraaaaaaa/archives/15281490.html

About the Author

Noboru Sakai holds a PhD (Language studies) from the University of Queensland, an MA (Applied Linguistics) from the University of Queensland, and BS (Information systems) from Soka University, Japan. His research interest is computer mediated communication (particularly among young people) based on sociolinguistic perspectives. He also studies in applied linguistics emphasised on computer assisted language learning.

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