So, I’m here at the Games Learning Society conference (probably for the last time as a graduate student). It’s about 4:45 AM on Thursday, and, in an effort to take advantage of my insomnia, I thought I’d write a blog post about the conference so far. I find this kind of odd since earlier in my career as a grad student, I tended to live blog conferences, and, in fact, the last time I was at GLS, I live blogged my experience (gls2008). Over the last two years, that practice has changed from live blogging to blog posts that recap each day (such as my summaries of IR9, IR10, or DML2010) to just using twitter to recap salient ideas. I’ve gotten tired of live blogging, though, I know every time I do, I get emails from people thanking me for it… I blame twitter… Oh, and poor connectivity at certain conferences (ahem, AERA, ahem).
Anyway, I guess all this is to say that I wasn’t planning on blogging at GLS2010 at all. (OMG!) But… well… insomnia.
It’s been great so far, actually. I got here on Tuesday, picked up by Moses Wolfenstein (finishing PhD student at Madison who looks at leadership in WoW guilds/raids and compares it with leadership in educational settings) at the airport and crashing at his place for the week. He’s got a cool housemate Rick Horton who works for Filament Games and really friendly cats named Bertie and Jeeves.
Moses and I met up with Kristine Ask (PhD student at Norwegian University of Science and Technology who does some exciting work on games and STS–note to self, cite her poster in my diss…) and Lee Sherlock (a rhetorician and PhD student at Michigan State) that night (after some meetings in the afternoon since we’re both volunteering for the conference).
Yesterday, after volunteering for the morning shift, I was asked by Constance Steinkuehler to be a discussant for a panel at the last minute since my colleague and friend Lisa Galarneau has taken ill and couldn’t make it out here. 🙁 Later, I found out that Rich Halverson had asked Reed Stevens to be the discussant, too, but, right as Reed entered the room, we cleared it up and he let me do it.
(Just a side note: writing blog post summaries of events, naming people who were part of the events, always makes me think of all the stuff I could write about all these people who I’ve had histories with, since I find the details in academic relationships / genealogy really fascinating. For example, Moses, Lee, and I are all in the same academic guild in WoW, and Reed used to be my advisor when I was a masters student.)
Governance in Games panel
Basically, a condensed version of Moses’s dissertation talk, afaik. There was a lot of rich quotes from guild and raid leaders who he had conducted interviews with. What’s really interesting is that there’s this sort of paradox or duality in what his participants stated as values for their guild vs. how their guilds were structured. Almost every person said that their guilds valued “people over pixels” and yet many of them also stated that they had to be authoritarian or hierarchical in structure.
I met John at the State of Play conference last year, and I know his advisor, Alice Daer nee Robison (grats Alice!) from the same WoW aca-guild. (BTW, if you follow John on twitter, you’ll soon discover that he reads *a lot* and the books he chooses to read would be a fine guide for which books you ought to read.)
John talked about a class of law students and grad students starting a guild in WoW together and the lessons learned from that experience, how the two kinds of students had to reconcile their differences and take on a common identity (through things like the “n00b dance” 🙂 ). What I found really interesting is that there needed to be this sort of shared cultural identity, even so far as to invite non-class members into the guild to create an oppositional third party, for the students to all feel like they were collaborating.
Thomas is a veteran of the aca-guild that Moses, Lee, Alice, and I are in, BTW. I respect Thomas as a scholar very deeply, but I also recognize that his tanking and melee skillz are totally hardc0re pwnage. 🙂
Anyway, Thomas used really good examples from baseball and, specifically, how baseball fields are architected in such a way as to both constrain and afford certain types of play. The Red Sox, for example, fully take into account the Green Monster of Fenway Park, when valuing right-handed hitters. Game spaces, likewise, are designed such that certain types of play emerge from deep cultural understandings of how those spaces work. (Reed reminded me in a comment to me later that STS ways of thinking about how settings or objects configure users was apropos here. That made me think of TL Taylor when she wrote that we’re not only playing but also being played.) Thomas ended with a challenge of whether it is a human trait to become experts of mechanics, architecture, systems or whether it’s a sociohistorical trend of, for example, post-WW2 Western thought.
In all of these talks, I found the ideas of identity or positioning and cultural capital to be salient. For Moses’s, I thought that there was a duality between the mind (how guild leaders saw themselves as people friendly) vs. the body (how guilds are actually structured). But to get over that duality, the normalizing frame of “we’re not as hardcore as others” obscured the hierarchical nature of their leadership.
One person I talked to afterwards thought that it made sense. The casualness and informality was what guilds strived for, and they achieved it when everyone trusted others to know their stuff. The authoritarian leadership only came into play when necessary when someone broke that trust. That made me think of my “Communication, Coordination, and Camaraderie” paper and how in it I make the argument that trust was supremely important for the raid group I was looking to be able to work well. What I hadn’t written in the paper because it was 3.5 years ago and I hand’t yet keyed in on the idea is that the build up of social and cultural capital or, to put it another way, socialization and enculturation to particular frames and positions within the group was fundamental elements to that trust building.
So, for John’s portion, it is the framing of the joint-task as a collaborative effort and enculturation of classmates to a cohesive identity that allowed them to carry on. For Thomas, I wondered if the emergent practice out of deep understanding of game architecture is how some players display embodied cultural capital, and it’s this display that normalizes gameplay. Thus architecture has a way of indirectly normalizing gameplay. With WoW, addons, collective data, and gearscore are king these days.