ICLS poster session

Phil Bell‘s crew, the Everyday Science and Technology Group (a research group at UW composed of Phil’s PhD students and a post-doc), and some other people also associated with the LIFE Center (Learning in Informal and Formal Environments) submitted a poster session idea about everyday expertise to the International Conference of the Learning Sciences 2008 (Netherlands, June 24-28).

One of the posters features my work with World of Warcraft raid groups. Anyway, the session was accepted and a final version of the session description, including abstracts for the various posters, is being edited right now. The updated abstract I turned in to the group for editing is below:

Leet noobs: Expert World of Warcraft players relearning and adapting expertise in new contexts

World of Warcraft (WoW), like many other massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs), can actually be seen as two different games. The first is the journey of exploring the game world and advancing the abilities of one’s character or avatar either through solo play or in groups of up to five players. This acts as a proving grounds or gateway for the second stage of WoW—joining a raid group of up to 40 players to kill all the monsters in “high-end” or “endgame” dungeons for the treasures they guard. Within a larger online games ethnography (Chen, in review) similar to others that describe player practice and learning (Steinkuehler, 2007, and Taylor, 2006), I have found that invitation to join an end-game group is contingent on a player’s reputation as an expert of WoW‘s underlying mechanics and rules. It is also necessary, however, to have proven oneself as someone who works well with others and understands his or her particular role in a team. Upon joining a raid group, players soon find that the conditions that determine expertise have changed because the activities and player practices have changed to fit the local context, which includes raid-specific tactics and new communication norms. It becomes clear that expertise is specialized for individual roles, depending on character type, and that to succeed as a raid group, players need to draw on their distributed expertise and knowledge (Hutchins, 1995), each doing their part while trusting others to do the same, so that collectively they act as a coordinated whole. Yet the actual skills and abilities an individual player uses are reassessed for how well they complement other players’ resources. Thus, once-expert players become novices or “noobs” to relearn expert or “leet” gameplay, yet they are not true novices because they already have a good understanding of the game system. Rather, they are leet noobs who must realign and adapt their expertise for new social structures and norms that emerge above the underlying game through joint venture. This poster highlights examples of learning individual expertise as well as new distributed expertise needed for raid group success.

Chen, M. (in review). Communication, coordination, and camaraderie in World of Warcraft. Games and Culture.
Hutchins, E. (1995). Cognition in the wild. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.
Steinkuehler, C. (2007). Massively multiplayer online gaming as a constellation of literacy practices. eLearning, 4(3), 297-318.
Taylor, T. L. (2006). Play between worlds: Exploring online game culture. The MIT Press.

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