WoW pet names and breaking the fourth wall

In the World of Warcraft guild I study, it’s not uncommon for the hunter character to name their animal companions after their friends in the game. This usually was done to either make fun of someone or to recognize the help that friend has given them in some aspect of the game.

With the latest patch to the game, all WoW players have the ability to name their non-combat pets. These pets are collectible items that never really had a battle-related function in the WoW universe before — they were vanity items, meant to provide uniqueness to the avatar. You could have your character summon your Worg Pup, for example, and a miniature black dog-like creature would appear and follow your avatar around in your adventures. The non-combat pet cannot be killed but it does not deal damage or affect the surrounding world (in most cases), and there are many rare ones that are worth thousands of in-game gold.

Before, these non-combat pets would just have names like “Captured Firefly” or “White Kitten”; only a select few had names assigned to them, and they were not unique to players. Now, all players can individually name their pets, and this has resulted in a number of interesting naming practices in the guild. As an extension of the hunter pet naming practice mentioned above, several players have taken to naming certain pets after guildmates who are associated with those particular creatures — for example, the pet Lil’ Tarecgosa, named after a legendary staff in the game, I’ve named after our guildmate who spent months and months in her efforts to acquire the staff. There’s the Alliance Balloon pet, which most people in the guild independently named after our druid tank who insisted the balloon pet was his good luck charm.

There are also clever naming conventions, usually involving cultural references. Personally, I’ve named my firefly pet Captain Tightpants, and I’ve heard of others naming cat pets “Cheezburger” and little bear pets “Pedo”.

And then there’s this conversation I had on Facebook with a guildmate with whom I regularly engage in hockey-related banter about the evil Philadelphia Flyers:

(Oh, Ilya Bryzaglov, your fascination with bears and tigers never gets old.)

The naming practices here are another way of linking WoW practices to broader cultural knowledge, which is something that has been done in World of Warcraft for a very long time. With the existence of non-player characters like “Haris Pilton”, who sells overpriced bags and sunglasses, and “Ophera Windfury”, a ‘caregiver’ — this practice of breaking the fourth wall is something that developers and players regularly engage in. These references may be departing from the idea of an ‘immersive experience’, but the practice reflects the idea that virtual worlds and games do not exist independently from the broader society. Especially in a game like World of Warcraft, which is so oriented to player socialization, the player base comes to expect that other players (and the game itself) will bring in elements of the “real world” to the gaming experience. Furthermore, WoW is so well-known outside of gaming circles that it is frequently adopted as a stand-in for gamer culture and even the Internet in general, from South Park parody episodes to the game’s name being a throwaway term in conversations about “net addiction”. In a cosmic reversal, WoW takes elements from the broader culture and makes fun of them inside of its own universe, reflecting the ways that elements of the game are used in other circles.

And now, with the naming of the pets, all players can engage in this practice on their own terms. Whether it’s honoring another player, poking fun at your enemies, or crafting clever cultural references, everybody breaks the fourth wall.


more autotranscribe fun

At least this makes transcription more entertaining – here’s another good one from the automatic transcriber function in ExpressScribe.

“The gill was called refugees and peach effort
Is progress here forever which was a pretty skill
That had 10 of splendid sellers and refugees
A page out of Congress
Are math and I one?
People were constantly 18 to 5/8
And relay friends were gelded
And it is all very fuzzy
Because you know that’s not protecting the women
Thinking about you Slater.”


As an undergraduate (it feels like a previous life sometimes), I was a music major. I spent the first two years of my undergrad experience immersed in the life of a musician – lessons every week, playing in three (sometimes four) ensembles, practicing upwards of six hours a day, taking ten or eleven classes per quarter. It was a rough time, and yet I still somehow found time to socialize and make lifelong friends.

Since I am a linguist now, obviously this kind of existence was not for me. (It was the intense competition that broke me, and the fact that there is an unremarkably small market for symphonic trombonists in the world.) However, some lessons from my time as a music major, and a musician, have stayed with me. Here are just a few that I’ve been thinking about recently:

1. Sometimes you just have to adjust to the people around you. You simply cannot spend your entire existence as a musician doing your own thing, especially not if you play in an ensemble. You have to tune, you have to mimic the style of people around you, you have got to pay attention to your environment. This is why music sounds like music and not a cacophony of randomness. This is a life skill – a good team works well because everybody adjusts to each other instead of insisting that they are right and everybody else had better adjust. Learn to adjust to the rules of the environment – if you go to Rhode Island and you’re trying to drive around Providence and you realize that people just stop in the middle of busy streets, you’d better learn to adjust, or you’re going to have a bad day.*

1a. …except when it’s your time to shine. When you have that solo, you’d better stand out from the crowd, or people will be left wondering what they just heard. When you’re giving a presentation or defending your thesis or leading a discussion or whatever you have to do, it’s your time to shine, and that’s the best time to showcase your abilities.

2. Repetition makes better. There’s the old adage “practice makes perfect”, which all musicians know isn’t true. Most often, this gets modified to “practice makes better”; however, I learned that really isn’t the case. Many times I would practice until I got that lick right and then I would stop and hope it was good enough for my lesson later that day. It never was – I would always screw it up somehow. The key was that once I got it right, I had to repeat it and repeat it and repeat it until I could get it right every time. This carries over a lot into my teaching. How do I explain these concepts? I can sit there and write lesson plans as much as I’d like, but actually getting in front of a class – and teaching the same class several times – has made me a better teacher. How do I learn to transcribe so quickly? By doing it a lot. 

3. Good equipment does not make you better… but it sure helps. A great trombonist will sound great on a $20,000 horn and a horn she picked up out of a dumpster. I once knew a guy who played on the oldest, rustiest, biggest piece of crap trombone I had ever seen, but he could outplay me on my Conn 88H with one hand tied behind his back.** However, sometimes your equipment can really hold you back, and if you refuse to at least try to get out of your comfort zone, you may be missing a great opportunity. If you try something and it doesn’t work for you, then at least you tried and you’re expanding your world of knowledge a little bit. Don’t conflate “best” with “most familiar”.

4. You have got to prioritize on all levels of your life. Spending six hours in a practice room eats into your schedule. Some days you have to decide which is more important, practicing or eating lunch. Other days, you may have to choose whether to sacrifice practice time or social interaction time. If it’s always one or the other, you may have to rethink your priorities on a larger scale.

5. Sometimes, you are the supporting actor in another person’s story.*** I have heard this in many incarnations, but most effectively just last year from the composer Sam Hazo. He was explaining to us that most of the band needed to play more quietly so that the melody line could be heard, and he said something to the effect of, “Sometimes you’re the star, and sometimes you’re the tree. Nobody wants the tree to steal the show; a good tree makes the star look better.” Sometimes, whether in music or at work or in a relationship, you have to be a good tree.

*based on a true story.
**not actually physically possible; I may be embellishing.
***often, if you’re a trombonist.

fun with transcription

I use ExpressScribe to transcribe my interviews, because it makes the whole thing much easier. The problem with ExpressScribe is that if you press the wrong button (and I’m not even sure what button that is), it automatically transcribes the talk for you.

This might be okay if, you know, I had trained it to recognize my voice, or if World of Warcraft jargon weren’t so impenetrable. Instead, it just spits out a whole bunch of nonsense… but occasionally, it gives me poetry. Here are two of my favorites:

The hero of one of your ad was reduced around superhero chocolate
That all A and B all the new hot has come about was ruled were cracked
On it we all played in a war craft all be at work church and its ties darkness
TWA crash to restock all
they’ll take that job done at red lobster
I never had to be secured,
find out a yelp they they all started playing on a GAAP as particles
so one site or bowl to care,
one of their accounts
plates of audiences
it neatly drove me out
will market the first copy it started playing like a mace is a clone and loan that was on six punts
after large white pickup said that would be what was taught for seven years now

I mean I still hold a book of false perception
that I’m the best and sauce
because I bring food
but at the same time
I’m also thinking
this doesn’t stop there
we’re bought the IRA, a delineation of the record
an hour and I sensed a freak in Tennessee guest post!

If you can’t get enough of my nattering about World of Warcraft, head on over to the LingAnth blog and check out my guest post about my dissertation research. Here’s a link!

My advisor sent out their call for graduate student guest posts, and my work fits in the Linguistic Anthropology field*, so I put together this guest post in a few hours. I hope you enjoy it!

*Even though anthropology is the study of humans, and my university’s IRB once famously told me that my work didn’t qualify as research under their guidelines because it “does not involve human subjects”.

Lessons from Political Science

This semester, I’m taking a course in Interdisciplinary Methodologies in which a motley group of social scientists attempts to learn about the approaches, assumptions, and research styles of a wide array of disciplines. I have already discussed one of the ways that learning about economics has informed my own research, which was inspired by readings done for this class. This week we read about political science, and the most striking reading we had was by Gregory J. Kasza entitled “Unearthing the Roots of Hard Science: A Program for Graduate Students”. This work encourages graduate students to reflect on the methods that they are being taught and to question the basic assumptions of the discipline of political science. Kasza encourages his readers to “Let your experience and self-reflection as a human being be your first guide as you seek to answer the basic questions about politics.” The point he makes is that if your life and your choices cannot be described by the ways that you try to describe the lives and choices of others, can you be certain about your theory? “If your political views and actions are not guided mainly by material interests, why should you imagine that the views of others will be? If your life has not followed rational choices or mathematical equations, why should that be true of others’?” (page 226)

Basically, he’s encouraging us not to deceive ourselves and others. Can we apply this to linguistics? I have been thinking about my own behavior in relation to some of the theories and ideas that I tackle often, and even some that I wholly dismiss.

The different theories of syntax, including ones with movement and without — when I make a question, am I really following rules of movement that I’ve learned? Or am I just doing things the way they’re supposed to be with the constructions I’ve learned from examples in my environment? Syntacticians have been arguing this for decades, and I wonder what the role of self-reflection is in the creation of these different theories.

Another topic that I often take for granted: When I use short forms when I’m chatting in Warcraft or texting, am I just being lazy (as some language mavens and non-linguist language column writers would have it)? No, I’m not; when I really think about my own behavior, I’m following patterns that I know are accepted, and I’m adhering to these other rules of interaction. Character limits on texts, for example, sometimes results in me testing “smtg” instead of “something”. It’s not laziness, it’s not a corruption of the language, but rather a switch to adhere to a new rule set. I am someone who actually engages in this linguistic behavior, and I can analyze it from that vantage point.

This has me really thinking about game theory, as I described in my last post about economics, and loot rule behaviors. I described there that I struggled with the behaviors of my guildmates, and in fact my own behavior, a lot when thinking about changing perceptions of behavior in loot systems. I, myself, am doing things that a year ago I would have described as greedy and undesirable; furthermore, I am understanding and accepting of similar behaviors in people who I call my friends. It seems that I came at the game theory interpretation the right way — that is, through self-reflection and the attempts to understand the patterns and changes in my own life. The theory seems to fit. (And others agree — more on that later, I hope!)

This is why participant-observation is a great style of research. As a participant, you go through similar things as the people you are observing, and therefore you can come at your explanation from the point of view of someone who has experienced it. I have heard many times that self-reflection has no place in academic discourse, that we should remove the “I” from our writing. As social scientists, we cannot afford to do that; we risk ignoring our own biases, our own experiences, and our own interpretations of the event. We cannot be perfectly objective as scholars of people simply because we are people ourselves. If we are talking about the biases and motivations of others, does it make sense to ignore our own biases and motivations? This is an old argument that has been hashed out, but through this class I have encountered a similar argument in a discipline that I have never touched before. In some ways, it’s heartening to know that scholars across fields engage with the same issues in their work as I do; in other ways, it is unfortunate that some disciplines are so isolated when we do have a lot in common and wrestle with the same issues.

We all have a lot to learn from each other.

One of the pieces of advice given to aspiring writers is “write every day”. I think most serious writers do this — they take it as their job, and sit down and write each and every day whether they feel like writing or not. Many of us who don’t find work as writers feel that writing must be the product of a strike of inspiration… which isn’t the case at all. Writing is just language, put down on paper, and the Internet gives us a larger array of contexts to use our written language, including casual settings. Writing can be a gateway into a stream of consciousness, allowing us to form scattered thoughts into a coherent idea.

Think about it — with all of the writing you do on Twitter, e-mail, Facebook, chat, Instant Messenger, how many words do you write per day? We do a lot of writing nowadays, moreso than people ever have.

The problem is that our writing is fragmented, in pieces, scattered across mediums. It’s not focused, and a lot of us have trouble getting a coherent thought out of our many mediums. (I know that I, personally, struggle with this issue.) To this end, I discovered — with the help of some folks on Twitter — The point of this site is to give people a space to write every day, and to keep track of these writings. It’s different from a blog, even one like LiveJournal which can be protected, in that the writing is visible only to you. The site archives all of your past writing, and you can even look at statistics about your writing. Beyond looking at your average word count, or the number of days that you have met the goal of 750 words, the site also uses the Regressive Imagery Dictionary to analyze the emotions present in your words. You can see whether you are happy, sad, distressed, or affectionate, and the site can judge your overall “maturity” level based on factors like swearing, sexual content, and violence. It also analyzes content, topics, and outlook using the Linguistic Inquiry and Word Count text analysis system.

All of these text analysis options are really interesting, but for me, the draw of the site is the running count at the top of how many days in a row I have hit my 750 word goal. I’m currently at 15, because I missed one day two weeks ago. It gives me a goal, and a recurring one, and I get a nice gratification with a popup window when I reach 750 words every day. The analytics are nice to play around with (especially when they tell me I’m more mature than most of the users), and I am sure they can be an interesting tool for people to gain a greater understanding of their concerns and preoccupations in life.

For students and academics, this site is a great resource for getting your thoughts in order on your research or whatever paper you’re currently working on. I’ve used it to start a flow of ideas on my second qualifying paper every day, which provides a nice frame for the writing that I need to do that day or the analyses I am performing on my data. I highly recommend it for all academics, just to get in the practice of writing. Especially as graduate students, we don’t get in the habit of writing often — we spend a lot more time reading and discussing, and not writing down the things that we think. This site is a great tool for getting used to putting our scholarly thoughts into words, and provides a canvas for experimenting with ideas.