Monday, June 04, 2007

Seductive quest objects

Revisiting Ragnhild Tronstad's Ph D dissertation, I am reading about seductive quest objects, among those, boxes (page 166 - 168). Her exellent analysis of the different ways to interact with a box in TubMud may at first glance look trivial, but it is at the core of an important understanding of interaction, secrets, seduction and trust in games, particularly World of warcraft.

In WoW, one of my characters is a rogue, and since I am a little compulsive about these things, a rogue who has trained her lockpicking skills fully, at all times. This means I can now open all doors and all boxes I have so far encountered in the game - if they can be picked.

Rogues such as mine is in high demand for once speciality: to open boxes. There are very few other options for this in the game. Boxes drop regularly from the NPC's, and inside there is loot, everything from green, pretty nice stuff at different levels, to blue (rare) and purple (epic) loot. But without special instruments and high blacksmithing skill, only rogues can pick the locks and open those damned boxes.

This means that rogues enter into a very peculiar sevice provider system, and the level to which you trust a rogue can be seen in how you let them treat your box.

If you don't trust them, you run around until you find a helful rogue, and ask/demand/beg them to open the box for you - in which case you put the box in the "do not trade" part of the trade window, and the other person manipulates the box through this window, with no real access to the box. It is like holding on to it while the other person fiddles with the lock.

If you trust them, you may group the rogue and give them the boxes. In this case the rogue will have to empty the boxes, but it lets you transfer many boxes in one go, saving time for both parties. It's also an strong gesture of trust, as the rogue may run off with your loot. The grouping is important because it will let you see what the rogue actually takes out of the boxes, as being in the same group lets all see the loot of others as it's picked up.

The most offhand, relaxed way to treat a box when you know your rogue, is when you just mail it, and get the contents back in the mail. No control of the box, no control of the loot: you trust the rogue quite explicitly to deal with you honestly.

Why don't all just do the last thing? It's much easier than to carry the box around all the time. Two reasons, the first is the trust issue. But the second is the reason why the trust issue is important at all: The seductive nature of the locked box. This is why sometimes my rogue opens 8-10 boxes for people, collected over several levels. Even if you know the object in the box is quite likely to be useless to you, the exitement and secrecy of the locked space, opening, gaining access, being surprised is extremely attractive: it's not a rational cost-efficiency issue, it is a desire to see that which is hidden, the seduction of the mystery.

Which is why I am so delighted with the trust shown me when the guild mates send me their locked boxes - they offer for my eyes only that first glimpse into the mystery contained in the locked box, and they trust me to treat this privilege honestly. It is, indeed, a pleasure.

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