So, like last year, I was in a panel this year at the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX)!
It was me, Chris Paul (Seattle U), Roger Altizer (U of Utah), Nathan Dutton (Ohio U), Todd Harper (MIT GAMBIT), and Shawna Kelly (USC/Intel).
While last year we presented a general overview and introduction to games studies/games research in academia to people who may be interested in games as a career but don’t want to go into the games industry, this year we each had five minutes to share where we’re at and what we do and then share the work of someone else in the field that we like.
Continue reading Penny Arcade Expo PAX11, Aug 26-28, 2011
I’ve decided to post really quick reviews of each game I play.
The thing is, I’ve been replaying some older games and realizing how much of them I’ve forgotten, and then I have a tiny moment of panic about how ephemeral my experiences with these games are–a tiny existential crisis ensues. Do I play the games because life is nihilistic and I should just fill it with personally engaging experiences, or do I try to contribute something to the societal world–games culture and academic progress? And then I figure, well, it won’t take much time to write at least a one-line review of the things I’m playing.
Part of the hesitation, though, is also the fact that I play *a lot* of games. A LOT. It’s kind of frightening, actually, given that I’m trying to finish the dissertation and apply for jobs and do academic stuff at the same time. So, there’s a bit of shame or guilt involved, too.
But talking with Theresa, another student at the college of ed who also studies games and learning, has convinced me that knowledge about games is part of my academic identity. I’ve come to be known as “the games guy” in my department, and that label or position has definitely given me some cultural capital that I’ve been able to ply into various opportunities within academia, if only by giving me confidence in myself by seeing that others value my knowledge.
The positioning, though, is kind of strange since I don’t think I’ve done all that much to cultivate it. It seems like I can contribute to it and make it productive while also justifying all the game playing if only I shared my thoughts about these games, and thus, my new year’s resolution is to write about each game I play.
Or maybe I’m just trying to make an obsession have some sort of extrinsic value…
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.
I briefly mentioned this last month, but my WoW paper finally got reviewed and recommended for acceptance pending revisions. I submitted the revision today. The two main issues were:
- Not enough in the meat of the paper that ties it back to theory from the beginning of the paper. It appeared that the reviewer knows all about game theory (individual incentives for cooperation) and thought that the description of raiding and the conclusions didn’t refer enough back to it. Ironically, I deliberately cut out some game theory talk because I needed to make the paper shorter but also because I wanted to deemphasize game theory and mental constructs. Rather, I tried to describe actual player behavior and practice. But I realize that what I actually wanted to do was contrast mechanics-based incentives with socially constructed incentives. So I did that in the revision.
- The raid group I was in is not a good case study as most raid groups are comprised of members from the same guild. I really am not sure the reviewer is right here, but conceded in the revision that my group might have been different from the norm due to the particular conditions of the Horde faction on my server. But ethnography and case studies, as far as I can tell, will always emphasize the differences and uniqueness of particular groups. That’s the whole point; to make the mundane seem extraordinary and to make the extraordinary seem mundane.
Anyway, for my dissertation work, I’ll be moving away from social dilemmas and game theory towards social construction of meaning, distributed cognition, and social dynamics and power relations.
I also plan to do a review of the raid groups I can identify and figure out exactly how many of them are guild exclusive to see if my raid group really was out of the ordinary. Blizzard (as evidenced by the Armory) and the game research community certainly subscribe to the notion that raids = guilds. I just don’t buy it yet.