Tag Archives: thomas malaby

Games Learning Society 6.0 (GLS2010) and Governance in Games panel

Games Learning Society conference 6.0 (GLS2010)

hashtag: #gls2010

flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/gls-conference/

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).

Mark Danger Chen at GLS2010

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

Moses Wolfenstein
People Before Pixels: How Guild Leadership in World of Warcraft Speaks to Educational Leadership

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.

John Carter McKnight
<The Devils Made Me Do It> – An Experiment in Teaching Collaborative Governance in World of Warcraft

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 Malaby
How Are We Governed? The Rise of Computer Game Architecture and the Increasing Irrelevance of Rules and Conventions

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.

Brief thoughts on guild management, inclusion, and positioning

Four years is a long time, relatively speaking, especially about Internet life and events. I figure four years is long enough that I can safely talk about some experiences I had as a guild master or officer that affected me. They left me thinking, were time-consuming, and took a lot of energy to manage at the time.

[Note: After writing, I’ve realized that I don’t really go into much detail, so I probably could’ve written this stuff down a long time ago, but I wasn’t sure what I’d write, so…]

There were two cases that I’ve previously written about or mentioned. First, there’s the two cases of inclusion that I wrote about in “Ethical tensions between the roles I play” where guildies weren’t quite fitting into the social norms of the guild. Second, there’s the case of a guildie who was gkicked due to an argument over loot rules. I wrote about this in “Play my way,” the chapter co-authored with Lisa Galarneau that was originally to appear in a book on the politics of play in virtual worlds. That book never got off the ground, so we recently revised it and submitted it to the Handbook of Research on Improving Learning and Motivation through Educational Games.

Anyway, one case I haven’t really shared before was when a woman in my guild claimed she was going to attempt to commit suicide. An interesting thing to note about this case was that it occurred during the atypical night of raiding that I wrote about in the “Communication, coordination, and camaraderie in WoW” paper in Games and Culture. The timing of her call-out for help significantly contributed to me not paying as much attention to the raid as I normally did, which, in part, added to the “off night” feeling that led to our nigh raid meltdown.

<enter description of suicide attempt here> [Note: maybe some day I’ll write about it fully, but I’ve realized that I don’t need to describe it more now…]

All of the above events were ones that I wasn’t expecting to encounter while managing a guild.

There’s a nod-with-a-smile-knowing-better-now-that-I’m-wiser kind of feeling when I think back at the time of our guild formation. There were five of us who were friends outside of the game. The only reason I was the guild master was because I took the time to run over to the guild house and buy the charter. Other than that, my thought was always that us five were a quintumvirate or pentumvirate or whatever word is used with a ruling body composed of five people. When we were naming the guild ranks, I chose Overseer for guild master, mostly trying to stay in character as we were Horde-side on an RP server (with the other ranks being Officer, Veteran, Grunt, and Peon). Yet, the nominal marking of me as the Overseer positioned me in a role that came with additional responsibilities. These were projected onto me from both guild officers (the other four members of the ruling body) and the regular guildies. Often when tension would occur, a couple of the other officers would argue (somewhat jokingly but somewhat seriously) that I should handle the situation because I was the Overseer. Eventually, I came to understand that it was easier for guildies to see one person as the de facto leader, and I began to accept the de jury role as my actual role.

T.L. Taylor suggested I expand on my “Ethical tensions” paper to focus more on the mediating role I found myself in, between officers and regular guildies. Not only did I have to deal with the problem guild members, I also had to figure out a way to reconcile competing opinions among the officers about how to do that management work. And, of course, I had to do this partly because of my title but also partly because I felt obligated to intervene on behalf of the guild members such that they were being treated fairly and responsibly. This compulsion to ethical behavior was in tension with what seemed like the norm (or stereotyped norm) of game group management, which was to just boot the non-socializing guild members and be done with it (AKA just boot the fuckers).

Our guild prided itself on being relatively inclusive and flat, though one officer put it nicely when he pointed out that the emphasis was on the word “relatively,” since we *did* in fact exclude those who clearly did not fit in–mostly people who weren’t articulating and communicating effectively. To be and feel included necessitated a certain level of communication and social awareness. So, when it was suggested by other officers, to just gkick the problem guildies did not seem to me to be in line with our guild credo. It was one thing to not invite someone to be a member of the guild because it was clear he or she didn’t fit in, but to kick someone out once he or she actually was already in needed justification. It needed to be explained and described with specific examples of problem behavior so the non-socializing guildie could present a counterargument.

But those values of negotiation were in full conflict with our notion of what game playing was. We were there to have fun–not to work, not to deal with drama. Again, I can smirk now, knowing what I know and having a better sense of what it means to play in an online game. Play *is* work. Playing with others necessitates negotiations of roles, responsibilities, and social norms. With enough others, there’s going to be conflict or misalignment. That’s a given, and the world won’t get better by refusing to deal with conflict. Refusal to resolve conflict excludes those who need a help-up in participating legitimately in the community. (Are you down with LPP? Yeah, you know me…)

One could argue that it all comes out in the wash, that people who are excluded from one group eventually find another where they fit in. That’s the beauty of a critical mass of people in an online space. But I think this possibly leads to the forming of more and more insular groups, and I consider it a problem that perpetuates the intolerance we have in offline life. That’s not the world I want to play in.

Nick Yee once asked me why I wanted to help the problem guildies become acclimated to the guild and/or find an alternative suitable guild for them to play with. When he asked me this, all I could say was that I felt compelled to help others when I could. Maybe I thought that as someone who valued education, it was hypocritical not to want to help others. (Channeling Malaby) I can now say that acting in social settings is always a contingent move towards the display of cultural capital. And as a person who values diversity, inclusion, and democracy, I sometimes have a strong compulsion to help others learn how to be successful in their contingent acts of play/work. This was especially true when I was positioned within my guild as the Overseer who had accepted certain responsibilities to live up to the guild’s stated values.

(This all sort of speaks to positioning theory… I was positioned by others into the role of someone who is in charge of handling guild conflicts. I (re)positioned myself into a role that compelled me to mediate conflicts in a way that I thought was ethical and fair. Who was doing the positioning? Did I accept or rebel or simply transform my position?)

In case you’re interested in academic references and/or don’t feel like clicking on the in-line links: