Plumes of smoke billow out on the horizon, dust gathers at your feet and you're engulfed by an unerring sense of isolation. The world as you knew it has ceased to be. Then, it suddenly dawns on you: are you the last human left alive? As you start to pick your way through the remnants of your immediate surroundings, scratching for clues like a headless chicken, you think back to your time as a gamer.
Back when the world you knew was teaming with life, Vikings: War of Clans was one of your favorite MMORPGs and you'd managed to build an almost invincible empire during your time online. Could this be your savior? Could the skills you developed during your time as a warrior from the North help you conquer the seemingly desolate wasteland before you?
While thoughts of virtual worlds steal you for a moment, you hear a voice in the distance. Looking up, you see a face and you decide to stand strong and face what could be a bloody fight to the death. Fortunately, the face is friendly and you begin to realize that you may not be alone in this strange new world. Again, your thoughts turn back to your time as a gamer and an idea you once heard about: mapping.
According to a paper by Dmitri Williams, virtual worlds and our behavior in them can offer a glimpse into our real life behaviors. Through something known as the "mapping principle", researchers such as Williams (2006), Balicer (2007) and Lofgren & Fefferman (2007) were able to study some popular MMORPGs and gain an insight into human behaviors.
"Mapping is the extent to which human behaviors occur in virtual spaces in the same way they occur in real spaces," according to Williams.
Naturally, the idea that our behaviors inside a game such as Vikings: War of Clans can only extend so far. The idea that actions with no physical consequences can have as much impact on us as things going on in the real world just simply doesn't wash with the experts. In fact, Williams was quick to point out in his paper that certain scenarios don't carry over from the gaming world to reality.
"The risks and rewards of virtual worlds do not always map to those offline. The most obvious example is pain and death. In World of Warcraft, players die, but there is no physical discomfort," explains Williams.
However, despite the mapping principle's inability to accurately explain every situation, research has shown that certain actions can be mirrored from one world to another. Using the end of a closed beta test for ArcheAge as a case study, Williams essentially concluded that we're able to map human behaviors from games to reality with a fair degree of accuracy.
"Thus, while not a perfect mapping, we believe that the end of the closed beta test is a relatively good approximation of an 'end times' scenario, and thus the present work is not only useful for the understanding of players' behavior but can also begin to shed light on human behavior in general under such conditions," reads Williams' paper.
"Hey! Hey, can you hear me?" A voice out of the blue brings you back from your thoughts. The friendly face you previously saw is now looking slightly concerned.
"What are we going to do?"
Unsure of your plan but willing to have a go, you decide to put the mapping principle to the test. Using your expertise as a warrior online, you lead your new friend towards the horizon in search of allies, knowledge and resources in an attempt to rebuild the world around you.
Taking the skills you've learned from the game, you set out a three-point plan that would not only see you create the most powerful clan of Jarls, but survive in what now has to become your new reality.
Allies - If there's one thing any Viking warrior knows, it's that they can't survive alone. Yes, their skills are worth 100 times more than the average warrior, but in a hostile world where unknown dangers may lurk around every corner, allies are a must. In Vikings: War of Clans, trading skills, resources and forging friendships via the chat really were the best ways to build up a posse.
Today, you need to employ those same skills. With one warrior already by your side, you need to convince anyone you meet that you're not only a team worth joining, but you're the head of the team. If you're going to survive and do things your way, you have to establish authority early and rule with an iron fist if necessary.
Knowledge - Every Vikings: War of Clans player understands that knowledge is power and the choices you make will determine your fate in the game. Being the industrious type, you spent your early days in the game working your way through the economics knowledge tree. Building knowledge skills were arguably the most important during that time. In fact, once you'd maxed out this knowledge, you increased your build speed by 66%.
Today, as you look around a virtually barren landscape, you know that building will be essential to your survival. One key skill you need to keep in mind is that you shouldn't be afraid to build and re-build. Reconfiguring the layout of your town is necessary as you moved through Vikings: War of Clans and the same is the case now.
When you start building, don't take up too much space with barracks. As long as you can train enough troops to keep your defenses active, that's enough. In the early days, you need to focus more on Manor-style buildings as they help to speed up training times and, therefore, will help increase your new civilization's knowledge base.
Resources - Once you've got an army and a place to stay, resources are what will keep things moving forward. As is the case in the game, you need to choose your resources carefully if you want to get the most bang for your buck. With this in mind, you think back to some of the tools you knew would give you the greatest all-round protection during the game:
Algiz Rune: With a rarity rating of 57.6, it was never too hard to find this item once you hit level 8 and, with a focus on food production, it was always something worth collecting. From this, you realize that any item that has the power to produce or capture food items is highly valuable.
World Tree: Focusing on learning speed with an unusual rating of 9, this amulet was a great way to advance your clan's overall skills in the game. From this, you determine that any items you can use to learn about the world around you will boost your chances of survival.
Vidar's Sword: Without protection, your clan would be slaughtered within days. Finding a weapon as deadly as Vidar's Sword might not be possible, but you know that if you can't find a means of defense immediately you'll be susceptible to anything and everything.
As night starts to fall, the lessons of Vikings: War of Clans race through your mind. Even with the uncertainty of tomorrow, you feel confident your knowledge will keep you safe.Thanks to the idea of mapping, you now know that your time playing online strategy games wasn't a waste of time. While you may not have known it at the time, it seems as though these games have provided the perfect training ground for the post-apocalyptic world you now inhabit.