Do MMO's make Text Talk easier? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Adam (Vergil)   
Monday, 27 February 2006
[Yet another TC:339 blog post, this time about text talk in MMO's and the power of emotes]

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As a geek, I have spent a lot of time in the past five or six years talking to people electronically.  While there are options now like VoIP, Teamspeak, and Google Talk’s voice chat options, for the most part this has meant talking through text.  While being able to talk to friends or loved ones over great distances at no more than an internet fee for any number of hours is great, doing so through text has often been the source of much headache.

I’ve often spent hours on IM just clearing up a mix up that occurred because what I meant in my head was not adequately articulated through the imprecise, emotionally vague world of text.  Without inflections and body language, what was meant to be a sarcastic comment could come off as an insult, or a rhetorical question a serious one.  Sure there have been some attempts at helping this with emoticons and use of italics, short hand, or bolding, but since there is no enforced standard of chat communication, what works for one person might not work for another.

A small yet fascinating feature I’ve noticed in modern MMOs, especially World of Warcraft, is the amount of effort that went into allowing you to express yourself through your avatar.  In WoW, whenever you type a message, your character animates based off what you type: animation for sentences with question marks at the end being different than the ones with exclamation points or periods. The game also has a seemly endless list of “emote” commands that can be done through typing “/” and then the emote command.  “/dance” is a fan favorite, but people can also use things like “/smile,” “/laugh,” and “/cry” if they are trying to carry more emotion to their text.  The most powerful tool that WoW employs is probably the “/me” command it borrows from IRC to allow you to write custom emotes. 

As a result you are not just limited to what the designers imagined you might need an emote for game play wise, but you can have fun and quite vibrant conversations with your fellow players as well.  One friend of mine, who plays a Druid, has taken it upon herself to “/hug” every Ancient Protector (walking trees) she finds.  After all, since she is playing a “Tree-hugging druid.”

The presence of an avatar that you can move also helps facilitate the intricacies of spoken communication as well.  While you cannot customize your avatar’s body language, you can do things like look away from the person your speaking to, move closer or farther away, or even face the person you are trying to talk to.

I know the majority of the WoW community doesn’t make full use out of these powerful in-game communication tools.  However, it’s an interesting advancement in text communication that it makes me wish my AIMs and iChat’s had animated avatars that I could control to the level of detail WoW lets me.  It certainly would reduce the number of angry phone calls I’ve had as a result of misunderstandings over AIM!

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