Breakfast Programme Hat

Transcript, 5th March, 2007.

Presenter Ethölle George [EG] discusses World of Warcraft with me [RB].

Start: 6:50 AM.

  • [EG] Now, a craze in the computer world has eight million people and counting playing a game online. But it's something many of us have never even heard of. Users of World of Warcraft take on monsters and other beasts together to progress through a virtual world, but it's plain that some people are becoming so hooked they're spending hours playing the game, with one person in Asia dying from a heart attack after playing it solidly for seven days. Professor Richard Bartle is a lecturer in Electronic Systems Engineering at the University of Essex, and indeed, back in the 1970s created a very similar game himself. He joins us now on the program. Good morning to you.
  • [RB] Good morning, nice to have you back Ethölle.
  • [EG] Well thank you very much, it's good to be here, thanks for that, Richard. Erm, tell us about World of, of Warcraft, then. It, it's a fantasy game, isn't it?
  • [RB] Erm, yes, it's, er, set in, you would be surprised to find out, the world of Warcraft, Warcraft being a single-player game that, erm, was very popular - er, still is very popular. Er, it's the latest of, erm, a long line of what we call "massively multiplayer online role-playing games", erm, which is to say that they're games that you play a bit like the old Dungeons and Dragons games that people would to play face-to-face, except you play them over the computer, and it, it's the current one that's got the most players, about eight million players which is a, erm, more than about 140 countries have population.
  • [EG] What do you think it is about this particular game that's gripped so many people?
  • [RB] Well, the main thing that grips the people is the presence of other people. So, er, if you're playing one of these games, you're not playing it simply because, er, you want the, the the fun of playing, although that is erm, part and parcel of it, but, it's the presence of the other players which make it, erm, a lot more, er, of a, a social experience -
  • [EG] And -
  • [RB] - than a regular game.
  • [EG] - how does that work? I mean, it, there I am, in my, in my gaming character
  • [RB] Yeah.
  • [EG] I'm an ... orc, say.
  • [RB] OK.
  • [EG] OK.
  • [RB] You're Horde!
  • [EG] Alright, erm, and, and I'm wandering along, through the forest, de de-de de-de, and then you come around the corner, a, a, playing your character presumably, is that how it works?
  • [RB] Yeah, what, you see somebody coming round the corner, who'll be, whatever, an elf or, er, erm, some kind of cow person, and, the, yeah, they, they're just sharing, shared in the world with you. They're, they're controlled by somebody sitting at home on their computer, er, running the same software that you're running except they're -
  • [EG] Why, why is this more interesting than going to the shopping centre, then, Richard, and, and meeting real people?
  • [RB] Well you are meeting "real people" -
  • [EG] (laughter)
  • [RB] - it's just you're not meeting them in real life, you're meeting them in a virtual world, which means that, erm, uh, OK, in "real life" yerm, I'm, like, 48 year old and a bit overweight, and plodding around; in a game I run just as fast as everybody else, I can speak to everybody else, nobody knows who I am. I mean, half the time I play female characters, half the time I play elf characters - I'm not an elf in real life, and I, as far as I'm aware I'm not female, either. So you can be an, anything you, you want to try out being.
  • [EG] What sort of ... erm ... provisions are there in place, Richard, to, to stop people from play, I mean I know it's an extreme, this, this poor chap in Asia, that, he played for seven days, solid, literally, 24 hours a day, but is there anything that flashed up on the screen that says "stop playing now, you've, you've been on too long"?
  • [RB] There isn't, erm, anything that flashes up like that in, erm, in the west, er, there is actually, erm, provision for that sort of thing in the Far East, er, precisely because some people were doing that kind of thing.
  • [EG] Hmm.
  • [RB] Erm, but it's the same with anything, erm, I mean, if you've got eight million players, er, or eight million ... people doing any ... thing, you'll get somebody dropping dead for, for whatever reason. Erm, whether the, the game, erm, is the cause of it - we had some guy die of watching television a few - I think it was twenty years ago - watching the Goodies, erm, died of laughter. Now, we aren't saying oh we should make our, erm, television programmes less funny 'cause some poor guy died of laughter. Erm, the same thing with, with the virtual worlds, and I don't know the particular circumstances of the guy who died after seven days, I know that there was one who died after, erm, after three days, herm, what happened to him was he, erm, he fell asleep at the, er, keyboard, fell forward, bashed his head on his desk and that's what killed him.
  • [EG] Hmm.
  • [RB] But he didn't have a heart attack, but I'm, I'm not saying there was anybody who didn't have a heart attack, that sounds quite plausible, but, erm, seven days does seem a little, er, excessive.
  • [EG] How does this game, and the, the, the images that you see now, how does that compare with what you created in the 1970s?
  • [RB] OK, well, World of Warcraft, erm, is the latest in a long line, erm, prior to that, the, the, erm, the, the virtual world that, erm, everyone was playing was one called EverQuest, so World of Warcraft's like kind of an advance on EverQuest. EverQuest was an advance on a game called DikuMUD, which was, erm, a text-based world - it wasn't pictures, it was all text - that was from Copenhagen. DikuMUD was an advance on AberMUD, which was, erm, from the University of Aberystwyth, and Abery-, AberMUD came from a game called MUD, which is the one that we wrote at the University of Essex, back when you weren't born.
  • [EG] And (laughter) I, I, I, I think I was (laughter). And that was, that was a computer game as well, was it?
  • [RB] That was, but it didn't have any pictures, because, erm, we didn't have the screens that could draw the pictures. All, all the, erm, everything was described in words back then, so the pictures were either worse, because there were no pictures on the screen, or better because you rendered them in your imagination so they were always what you wanted to see.
  • [EG] And could you, could you visit, visualise, back then, Richard, it, erm, you know that, in years to come, not only would you have these pictures, these fantastic graphics, but also there would be eight million people playing across the world?
  • [RB] Yes, of course, yes, I mean, we knew straight away what we had, that we had something here that no-one had ever, ever had before.
  • [EG] Ah, are you complaining, are you, er, claiming some sort of financial recompense? Do you think you -
  • [RB] Oh, no no no no -
  • [EG] (laughter)
  • [RB] - I put it into the public domain, I mean, we, we did this on a university computer, and back in those days, you know, when people, erm, got grants and so on, we er, er, we, we felt that it wasn't right to keep it to ourselves, we put it in the public domain instead of trying to put a patent on it.
  • [EG] Well thank you for giving us, er, an insight -
  • [RB] (laughter)
  • [EG] - into that, Richard. Are you off playing World of Warcraft today, or are you going to do some lecturing?
  • [RB] Erm, I probably will do this evening, yes -
  • [EG] Alright.
  • [RB] - but I will be lecturing, as I, -
  • [EG] Good -
  • [RB] I do have a proper job (laughter).
  • [EG] Good news, good news. Alright, thanks for joining us today.
  • [RB] OK.
  • [EG] Professor Richard Bartle there, a lecturer in Electronic Systems Engineering at the University of Essex.
End: 6:57 AM.

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
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