By: Matthew Gabriel M. Alba
I occasionally go to these internet cafes. There are only two reasons why I visit places like these is when I forget to do a paper at home that must be submitted in school immediately or when my colleagues pressure me to come with them so that they could play DoTA. Unfortunately, I was not interested in playing with them before so I don’t join them in their “match”. When I was studying Sociology and Anthropology, I became curious about DoTA and what makes it so famous among young people. I could hear these individuals, especially the students inside Ateneo would be heard saying “Tara DoTA tayo”, “Sumunod ka na lang sa internet cafe” or “Cut mo na ‘yang class mo, laro na lang tayo” to their friends.
I knew that observing people who are playing the game was easy, but this is not enough. I contacted a good friend of mine who plays the game. My friend Ramon Puentabella has been playing DoTA for quite some time already. He learned how to play DoTA through his college friends. He has mastered all the basic things that a DoTA player should know so he agreed to have a match with me.
I met up with him after our classes at 4 in the afternoon and we went to a computer hub on the other side of Katipunan Avenue called “Blue Skies”. This computer shop is very famous to Ateneans and many would go there to play with their colleagues.
We walked going to Blue Skies and quickly looked for two seats close to each other. As we were looking for vacant units, I was surprised that Blue Skies was somehow large as if they own the whole floor of the building because there were rooms that had more computer units and it also had a second floor. Luckily, we found two vacant units at one of the rooms in ground floor. The people in the room called Ramon’s attention and asked if he wanted to play with them. Ramon asked me if I wanted also to join the other players, but I was too scared that I might let my team lose. So he declined and told them that he was just going to play DoTA with me and they were fine with it.
I put out a bill from my wallet and went to the counter. An hour of use is thirty pesos but I gave sixty pesos because I treated him. The cashier gave me a receipt with the passcode of the computer (Ramon didn’t need a passcode because he had a membership card).
While I was paying, I looked at the screens of the PC’s. I have noticed that almost all the desktop users were playing various online games especially DoTA. Noise in the room came from the sounds of their games or people shouting and cursing because their characters have killed their opponents, they won the game or they are upset in what was happening. Even though there were air conditioners on the walls, it was warm inside every room because there were a lot of people and the computers were working for a long time.
As we turned on our units and I typed my passcode, I have observed that the keyboard, the mouse and the monitor were high-end, but overused. I was overwhelmed when it started because the main screen or the desktop had a lot of games. I asked Ramon, “Bakit ang bilis pa rin (computer)?” He told me that the management changes the internals of the CPU so that it could store more games, run more games at the same time and run the games very smoothly.
Ramon told me to open Steam, an app downloaded in the computers. I made a Steam account so that I could play DoTA. Inside this digital platform, I was surprised that there were even more games, from shooting games like Counter-Strike to creative games such as Minecraft! I logged-in and played DoTA. Ramon chose the game type where we “played with bots” or fighting computer-controlled characters. Next, the screen showed me a busy screen full of animated faces. Ramon said, “Piliin mo yung characters na based sa complexity niya.” I picked this certain arrangement for me to know if the character I pick are easy to use. I have also based my character preference by looking at their names and physical appearances. I chose a character named Zeus because I was thinking that “he looks like the greatest Greek god and throws lightning bolts” while Ramon picked his favorite hero.
When we clicked the play button, our characters were transferred to the battlefield. Just by looking at the screen, I knew I will panic. My observations at the start of the round is that the environment has a magical and medieval theme. Our heroes (the main characters) showed up standing on our base. A merchant in our camp was also there so that we could buy the stuff we need. There were catapults and small groups of “trolls” wielding swords marching forward to confront the first wave of enemies. On the lower left side of the screen, a small square map displayed the two bases of the teams: one on the lower right side which is ours and on the upper left side, the bots. My character’s face, his health, mana or “energy”, his “special skills” and his items take up most of the space at the bottom part. On the lower right part, it displays how much currency I have and a quick menu for the items store. “Bumili ka muna ng gamit”, my friend said. I had to prepare some items before engaging the enemies. He told me to go to a spot in the map where I could only buy or sell items and pointed out the quick menu so that I could follow a certain “build” or pattern of what items to use depending on the flow of the game like the early game and mid-game.
Ramon told me that there were three major areas where we can interact with the enemies: the top, the mid and the bottom. He took the lead and I followed him to the top part and fought. While fighting, I noticed that Ramon talked so rapidly that I only bought some of the items I needed. “Def! Gamitin mo SS mo!”, he said and I was so clueless because I did not know what those terms meant. I also listened to other players in the room playing DoTA too that they were shouting things similar to that. I was so baffled and pressured with the things going on around me as if it was my first time to use a computer because the battle was fast-paced.
Fortunately, I figured a few things out and tried some of the Special Skills assigned to the keyboard and they were amazing! Instead of throwing bolts of light to the bots, he made a cloud around the groups! Ramon was impressed, but reinforcements came. Our soldiers were killed in a few seconds and Zeus had a very small amount of health. The squad of the computer controlled characters became larger. Ramon successfully retreated, but Zeus fell to the ground while running away. I learned that right timing is required to live longer and get a greater chance to kill enemies. Luckily, the fight is not over for I can restart. I killed some of the main enemies and their army, but they were too strong for me especially when I get left behind when running from them. I kept on dying and it annoyed me. An instance where I died because of frustration is when I was about to beat a large enemy and suddenly three of its teammates showed up to beat my character to death. I cursed softly because I was so pissed. Now I understand why DoTA players around me are really noisy.
The other person beside me, who happens to be Ramon’s colleague (I forgot to ask what his name was), looked at my monitor and saw that my collected cash was just piling up. He pointed it out and told me to buy things like the boots that could make Zeus run faster and an axe to add to his overall strength. I was so focused at killing the enemies that I forgot that I could upgrade and make the game easier for me. Ramon’s friend and I also saw that while we were playing, the air-con on the wall in front of us was dripping water. There was a basin near the CPUs catching the droplets, but water was still splashing so we just ignored it because we were in the middle of our games even though it could electrocute us at any second (we didn’t even bother reporting it to the management). He was also one of the noisy people in the room that cursed out loud and “trashtalked” to their opponents. He would call his underperforming teammate an “amateur” or a “fool” and it made the other people in the room laugh.
“Nananalo na ba tayo?”, I asked Ramon. He said we were winning, but I did not really know the reason. I thought that we were winning because our army have killed several trolls and characters and destroyed any small squadron running towards us. I realized that eliminating enemies is not the main goal. We had to gradually destroy their defenses to win. At the enemy’s side of the map, turrets are symmetrically positioned and our aim to take down each one so that we could reach their main “tower” which is our prime target. At this point, I understood why the game is challenging especially when people are fighting against each other. Killing a computer-controlled hero gives way to our squad to march forward. Both teams try their best to push each wave of soldiers to their core.
After an hour of playing, Ramon and I had to cut the game even though we have reached the tower of the bot-controlled team because it was too late and we might not be able to find a ride home. We just scheduled another hour on the following day. Before getting out of my seat, I thanked Ramon’s friend for giving me additional tips while he was still busy playing. Ramon and I were still talking to each other while walking back to school. He told me that it would be more enjoyable if I played DoTA with three or more people instead of playing with bots. He appreciated DoTA because it was one of the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game or MMORPG games that was difficult to master, yet enjoyable. He also said that when he didn’t have class, he would stay in Blue Skies for five or more hours playing DoTA with his friends, but If he has a test or if he has a lot of homeworks, he does not visit the internet shop. He admitted that he is addicted to DoTA, but he still knows his priorities and he is aware that some of his friends and other players get too attached that they cut classes and fail subjects.
The next day, I played with him again after our class. I used my character again and I performed better compared to my first run. Even though I was doing better, I knew I could not do it if Ramon was on the other side of the map, or the enemy. Although I still followed his character, I successfully took down towers and killed a lot of enemies. I remembered that I needed to buy more stuff so that Zeus could keep fighting. He talked less because he knew that I remembered the basics of the game. Although my hero died several times, I always bounced back and exact revenge on those who killed him. Most of the time, he just said “Back ka na!” which means falling back because there are too many enemies in sight or “Punta ka dito!”. He also shouted “NICE!” whenever I made a good move. Through our army’s effort, we pushed the opposing team to their tower and claimed victory.
I looked at my watch and I saw that an hour has passed after a single match. This explained why these teens in Blue Skies spend several hours playing. Their characters die, but “It ain’t over till it’s over”. They’ll keep “respawning” until their team wins or loses.
When we were running back to school, I asked him if the game is just a distraction in general. Ramon said that it’s does not distract him from studying and insisted that DoTA makes people “smarter”. Aside from being fun and challenging, he sees that DoTA made gamers’ lives better if it is played responsibly. Their reflexes, multitasking skills and memory would improve. Through the game’s mechanics, he said that it would make its gamers make the “right decisions” and manage things efficiently in real life. I was convinced with what Ramon and I agreed with him that the game might have some positive implications in life, but it really depends on the person playing.
I also liked how he looked at the advantages of DoTA. I appreciated that he did not go home yet just to play DoTA with me. I also thanked him for being patient even though I commit the same mistakes. I hope to go play with him again when I have finally mastered the game and I will be on the other side of the battlefield when that time comes.
I was expecting it to be difficult obviously because it was my first time to play DoTA and it was also different from other games I used to play at home. It was really an interesting experience for I have played one of the computer games a lot of teens are attached to. Even though parents say that playing Defense of The Ancients will just prevent their kids from being productive, I believe that playing this MMORPG is their special skill.
- What insights were gained from participation compared to just observing?
Participating was more than just getting more notes for observation. It was a key in understanding the things I have observed. For instance, I was able to understand that DoTA players kept on cursing because their hero got killed, shocked by an attack or just satisfied with the outcome of their action. Participation also let me enjoy the game. It made the activity more fun and interesting. I would not be able to appreciate the online game if I were just literally looking at people who are playing.
- What did having a key informant add to your understanding?
Ramon formally introduced DoTA to me and taught it step-by-step. He gave me a lot of tips from timing the attacks to using my cash wisely. Without him, people might be annoyed if I suddenly walk in an internet cafe and observe each of the DoTA players. Moreover, it will not be possible to thoroughly get a stranger’s insights about DoTA because they will just be distracted.
- What was learned from participant observation at this event that a questionnaire or interview about it might miss?
In a participant observation, I can take a look at his natural motions. He would not adjust a lot of things for me and he might have played better especially if he had a match with his friends while I watch on the side. Also, if I were the one who asks through the questionnaire or an interview, I may put out biased questions (based on the sentence structure) from my perspective and the interviewee or the respondent may be uncomfortable with them.
- For what purposes might a questionnaire or interview be better than participant observation?
In an interview or a questionnaire, you can get efficiently get the answers to your questions. More can be also said by the key informant especially their thoughts about the subject.
- Using our cafeteria observation exercise as reference, what insights did you gain about Philippine society and culture from the event that you observed and participated in?
Playing DoTA in a computer shop shows that Filipinos value companionship. Amiability is in the Philippine culture and society and it can be seen through this event. Next, there is also the presence of Western culture and digitalization in the Philippine society because computers and online games have been introduced to us and these have mostly influenced the Filipino youth.