Jogging in Azeroth – Warcraft Mod Puts Wii Fit in its place

3 09 2008

Warcraft Jogging Mod Hacks Wii Fit’s Head Off.  From Manapotions.com

If you are anything like Mediasapien, you are probably fed up with the Wii Fit already. While googling other game-based workouts, this link came up.

A couple of enterprising level 2 elves figured out how to hook up a treadmill to World of Warcraft and convert their RL running motion directly onto their in-game avatars.

This is not only a great DIY project, but also a cool hack combining VR and RL – a real Mediasapien project.

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Wii Fit Avatars, Gold Farming and the Future of Exercise

22 08 2008

Grind. 

What does that word mean to you?  Probably something along the lines of : wake up, shower, commute, work, commute, eat dinner, watch TV, go to sleep, repeat.  Even if you have a different routine, chances are it is exactly that – a routine.  Unless you’re professional snowboarder Shawn White, a chill dude who seems like he doesn’t have any routine at all, chances are you have a daily grind.

For many people, that “work” part of the grind entails sitting at a workstation or staring at a laptop for most of the day.  Regardless of the way their job used to be done, now it is done online, or at least on a computer.  It’s hard for many of us to remember, but once every job was done without a computer.  Now, it’s hard to find a job that doesn’t put the computer front and center.  The overwhelming penetration into our work lives by computers and digital technology has created a new grind so rapidly that we are just now getting our collective head wrapped around it. 

There is however one group who seems to understand the new grind.  I refer to gamers in general, and WoW players in particular, who have seized on the notion of grinding in-game as the most basic analogue to “work.”  And in the economy of Warcraft, grinding is a discrete means of creating value.  So much value, in fact, that a whole, RL economy has sprung up around the concept of outsourcing the activity of actually playing the game to low-wage earners in China and even Canada.  For a modest hourly wage, these tech workers will dutifully play your character in WoW, while you sleep or work or whatever, mining virtual gold or slaughtering digital rats, incrementally but steadily advancing your character’s level.

Why would you pay someone else to play your game for you?  The two main reasons are you are lazy or you are greedy. 

For some, the many, many hours needed to raise a character’s level high enough to make playing fun is too much commitment, and so for them paying someone else to slog through endless repetitive task seems like a good deal.  They get to cruise right into an advanced character.  To others the resale value of a high-ranking character is appealing.  A mature character with lots of money, property and rare valuables in the game is worth plenty of RL cash.  To these players, the cost of hiring the digital equivalent of day laborers to literally grind away day and night at a character is minimal compared to the  potential returns.

Look, it's Andy!

Look, it's Andy! Oh, it's just Mediasapien in drag.

But WoW is not the only virtual world with ties to RL economics.  There are dozens of MMO’s and virtual worlds where things of value can be made, found, and most importantly, traded.  Inevitably economies develop by the players, if not planned outright by the developers.  I’m reminded of dancers in Second Life, more specifically, people who are employed within SL to be entertainers at clubs, discos and casinos.  By placing their avatars on specific hotspots, they will begin to dance based on the particular animation loading into that hotspot.  A dancer doesn’t choose his or her moves – they act essentially as a marionette performing whatever animation the club owner installs.   The owner is willing to pay for this service because it makes the club seem more “happening,” so the dancing avatar earns in-world money called Lindens for every minute they remain on the hotspot.  Because lindens can be converted into US currency there is the ability to make RL money dancing in SL.  This might sound like a good deal, until you consider that the converted wage is often just pennies per hour, while you ( the player), are just sitting there, idly watching your avatar cycle through the same moves endlessly.  Compared to playing, exploring, meeting people and seeing new things in SL, the earned value of robotically dancing in a club seems pitifully low, yet there is no shortage of people willing and eager to dance. 

Why is that?  Would these people be willing to do the same activity for the same value in RL?   Probably not.  Yet the most mundane, boring and repetitive tasks, regardless of the equivalent lack of RL value, seem to offer something to players in game. 

With this in mind, what is there to prevent a RL company from setting up sweatshops in virtual worlds as a way to exploit people’s willingness to work digitally for pennies?  An employee-intensive business could just fire the folks who sit at computers in RL all day (eliminating the cost of offices, health care, etc…) and replace them with volunteer avatars who sit at virtual desks in SL.  The work getting done would be the same.  The only difference is that the boring task has now been made enjoyable simply by adding an additional layer of mediation.  Accounts receivable is boring, but virtual accounts receivable is fun.  Updating the corporate database is a drag, but updating a database in a video game is a blast!

Future Cubicle Farm

Future Cubicle Farm

All of this grind-think is because of the commitment I’ve made to spend an entire month evaluating Wii Fit and other video game-based exercise and workout options.  Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of exercise for it’s own sake.  Although not specifically a couch potato, rarely do I go for a run or hit the gym.  I have in the past been extremely fit and active as a bike messenger in NYC, and as a full time ballet student for several years.  But these activities were waaaay back in the 20th century – in recent years I’ve become more sedentary, working at a computer almost all the time.  I may not be cocooned in a matrix-style goo-pod highrise, but some days it feels close. 

But I am a gamer and technology fetishist.  I believe in the power of serious games and entertainment technology to provide new and valid experiences, so I am often willing to experiment and push the boundaries of what can be done with technology.  I’ve never argued one way or the other whether violent games will make kids violent, only that they  make kids better at being violent.

So I posed the basic question to myself of whether the virtual environment has the richness of experience, the allure to provide actual, valid exercise – a real workout to a user who is pretty lazy about such things.  As of this writing, I am just past the halfway mark in my one month test, and I’ve had a lot of time to consider why this interaction with technology has inspired me to remain committed and working out 6 days a week for roughly an hour.  It’s a modest commitment really, not terribly focused or even well defined.  Yet here I am, eager to fire up the Wii, warm up with 40 minutes of yoga, and then hit the ring for a half hour of virtual boxing.  These are not activities that I would normally be excited about, whether I had made a commitment or not.  I’ve had gym and yoga studio memberships in the past and I dragged my ass there with decent regularity, but I always let the membership expire within a few months.  It always became a grind.  The same commute, the same exercises, the same people.  I got bored or distracted. 

Ping.. something or other

Ping.. something or other

But gaming has been a passion of mine since a little white square first started bouncing between two paddles, and rather than growing out of it, I find that I am more committed to these technologies than ever before.  I am the Mediasapien, after all. But being the Mediasapien doesn’t require me to like all games.  In fact I am very picky about games and don’t enjoy most of them.  I’ve never played Diablo or WoW because I hated the notion of grinding.  Boring.  Repetitive. 

Grinding is at the heart of most exercise, and grinding is at the heart of many game activities.  Separately, these two forms of grinding are hard for Mediasapien to take, yet somehow the combination of the two activities creates a new thing altogether, one that seems to overcome the limitations of each while creating a compelling environment for fitness.  The synthesis of the two seems natural and inevitible.  Wii Fit and it’s ilk may be easily distained in some circles today, but the next generation or two of theses technologies have seemingly unlimited potential and won’t be so easily dismissed. The future of exercise, like so many other futures, will be hypermediated through video games and entertainment technology.





Noor the Pacifist in WoW

3 08 2008

Thanks to Wow Insider for this story.

It seems not everyone in World of Warcraft is savage, in fact, one player has sworn off killing all together.  His name is Noor, a gnome rogue.  And he’s a WoW pacifist.

This is my kind of performance art.  Noor is attempting to achieve the highest levels in the game without killing anything, not even NPC’s.  He has been playing as this character for quite a while and has managed to reach past level 60 – almost to his final goal of 70.  This is a demanding challenge for any player, but a near Herculean task when considering his self-imposed ban on killing.   He manages to contribute in non-lethal ways by performing escort missions, healing other players, and working in groups which allow him to gain the needed XP without killing.  He admits to making a few compromises to pull his weight in some of the more advanced battles, such as throwing stun bombs and whacking opponents with a fishing rod.  He has accidentally killed one or two times, but in a game like WoW, that’s the equivalent of “not inhaling”.

The character is named for RL spy Noor Inayat Khan, a member of the WWII French resistance, who was executed by the Nazis.  

You can read the whole interview with Noor here.  Noor’s blog can be found here.