Tag Archives: World of Warcraft

Thoughts on WoW Classic

Not that anyone’s asked, and, note! a major disclaimer: I haven’t played WoW Classic yet.

But I’m finding myself having a lot of thoughts germinating now that WoW Classic has come out, and I thought I should write them down and I suppose share now that I’ve written them. 

Also note that as I wrote this, it sort of became a mini-reflection or revisit on themes from my book, Leet Noobs, about the early days of WoW and learning therein. Leet Noobs came out of my dissertation on how learning in WoW (esp. wrt to raiding Molten Core) was culturally mediated, and expertise was marked by a refinement of the arrangement or orchestration of sociomaterial objects to help one succeed. (Find it on Amazon if you want. Or email me and I can tell you where to find a pirated PDF because fuck if I care anymore.)


For me, the early days of WoW was like the Wild West (a romanticized version of it) where it was still finding itself–where players were finding themselves. They were establishing norms, social etiquette, and ways of being while basically discovering how the game works. It was really exciting to explore this new world with people and to try to establish a community and set standards for how we would govern and treat each other.


WoW came on the heels of EverQuest (and DoAC, AC, UO, and a whole bunch of others) and many players came from these old-school MMOs. A lot of them were into fantasy role-play. I suspect one of the reasons why WoW was so successful… like an order of magnitude more successful than EQ!… was because it was Blizzard, which had a track record of highly polished games (Warcraft, Starcraft, and Diablo). So you’ve got this mix of old-school RPGers who want some autonomy in how society is formed and Blizzard fans who may not have been as much into role-play and politics and more into the ludic systems (or, cynically: numbers, leveling, grinding, loot, and theorycrafting).

From my perspective (and a lot of this is covered Leet Noobs), in 2005 and 2006, there was a sizable shift in the culture of the game, a movement from role-play as performative identity to role-play as literally filling a role in the tank, healer, dps triangle. Early addons used to facilitate in-character role-play were eclipsed by addons used to facilitate surveillance and quantifiable performance measures. (cf. TL Taylor’s articles in Games and Culture circa mid-2000s)

Which I suppose begs the questions: How are addons handled in WoW Classic? Is threat meter a thing from the getgo? If I remember right, it took a year and some change (WoW came out in November 2004 and Kenco’s Threat Meter came out in Feb 2006) for us to figure out how threat worked: that it was a cumulative quantifiable score that persisted for the duration of a fight. Figuring this out really highlighted the shift from just messing around to performance and efficient raiding. So, for those of you playing, is threat meter a thing in WoW Classic?

The days since the early days of WoW

How quaint my research seems to me now that we are (supposedly) post-gamergate, (supposedly) post-Riot toxicity, (supposedly) post-2016 elections, and dealing with the alt-right, a global rise in xenophobia and populism, and basically a world that doesn’t make sense except in the most absurdist of fictions. Escaping into WoW Classic seems like an irresponsible act for me personally because I know how much of a time commitment the early days were, and, if that’s what I’m trying to get back to, I suppose I have obligations now to engage in the IRL world more directly to address injustices and fight for what’s right. I mean, don’t I? (And yet, at the same time, of course, I advocate for living slow and being proud of expert serious leisure, but I think it’s only insofar as the belief that through introspective play we make a better world by understanding the human condition, i.e. each other.)

A return to role-play?

I truly believe that lasting friendships and deeply meaningful experiences are potentials with new WoW. (Though that’s true of any game. Fortnite’s a third space, after all.)

And perhaps WoW Classic signals a return to role-playing and a backlash against surveillance culture. The Blizzard statements to the press sure seem focused on story and phased content, right? But that’s what happened in the early days, too. WoW’s website was always about epic story this and omg plot twist that. But as soon as you started playing, it was clearly not *really* a game about story but about leveling and efficiency.

I’ve moved on, too

And then there’s where I am now versus back then. Back during the early days of MMO research (TL Taylor, Constance Steinkuehler, Bonnie Nardi, Games & Culture, The WoW Reader and the Europeans, the Canadians, Terra Nova, Julian Dibbell, Ted Castronova, Thomas Malaby, Tim Burke, Ta Nehisi Coates, State of Play, AoIR… all of it), I felt on top of the world, following in all these amazing scholars’ footsteps. I was engaged and useful.

Then, after years on the market, it seemed clear that the academy and its machinery was much colder about my relevance. Meanwhile, newer scholars had more to say that I fully admit seems more relevant in terms of social commentary: more critical, more about addressing toxicity and masculinity and misogyny and homophobia and fat shaming and transphobia and all of it. My research, by contrast, was just a look at learning in games, instrumentalizing assessment, and the death of a “well-played game.” Why did I ever think American (and global) education could learn from an account of situated expertise from an MMO? Why did I ever think a Comm department or Anthro department cared about learning when there’re fucking injustices to fight?

So what?

So, yeah, my nostalgia is full of wonder, hanging out and having fun, and exploration… 

It’s Chuck Norris jokes, Barrens chat, the rhythmic undulations of open-world PvP. It’s 22242223222, pally shields, and Thoguht Cutthroat, the accidental hero and layabout.

But it’s also full of grief (and griefing) and melancholy that’s tied into how the game and the culture around the game seemed actively engaged in distancing itself from those early days. And it’s all tied into how all that social networking and capital production didn’t land me an academic position that valued my contributions to this field of study.

So, yeah, I probably will pick it up at some point. I have some serious FOMO, seeing my aca friends picking up the game, coordinating servers, etc. The crazy thought occurred to me that I should write a Leet Noobs 2, comparing what’s different now from back then. But then I remember that the first book took 7 years, and I’ve gotten about $150 out of it and no TT job so why bother?

Don’t feel sorry for me, though. I mean, my life is pretty good right now. I love my job (even though the pay is crap and it’s only part time), and this huge weight was lifted off me when I decided to not pursue line items for my CV anymore. The reason I’d join WoW now is to hang out and have fun, which, I suppose, I’ve been arguing for all along.

Conferences this year

I guess a bullet list is easiest. Conferences for this year:

Continue reading Conferences this year

Dissertation ready for download

Here’s the PDF (4MB) of my dissertation:, submitted to the graduate school on September 2, 2010:

Leet Noobs: Expertise and Collaboration in a World of Warcraft Player Group as Distributed Sociomaterial Practice

Now to make it into a book…

Leet Noobs dissertation defense videos are up!

I decided to upload and annotate them on YouTube, including the admin frontmatter stuff since I figure PhD students who are defending in the years to come can get a sense of the format of a defense. My slides are available in a previous post.

Enrollment of threat meter addon, part 3

This is part 3 in a series where I’m posting drafts of the dissertation chapter I’m currently working on. Much of this is wordy and stream-of-consciousness, but I figure putting it out there and soliciting feedback can only be a good thing.

The chapter is on how the introduction of a threat meter addon changed my raid group’s practice over time.

Continued from http://markdangerchen.net/2010/01/19/enrollment-of-threat-meter-addon-work-in-progress/ and http://markdangerchen.net/2010/04/06/enrollment-of-threat-meter-addon-part-2/

About four months into our raid’s life, in February [or March?] of 2006, we started using a new addon called “KLHTM” or “KTM.”

Created by a player named Kenco, KTM did the work of keeping track of which abilities a particular player used while fighting a monster, how much threat those abilities generated, and then visually displayed that information to that player. What’s more, any instance of KTM could talk to other instances of KTM installed on other people’s machines and thereby aggregate all of the threat data for all players who had the addon installed, displaying relational charts of everyone’s threat level to each player.

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Continue reading Enrollment of threat meter addon, part 3

Enrollment of threat meter addon, part 2

This is part 2 in a series where I’m posting drafts of the dissertation chapter I’m currently working on. Much of this is wordy and stream-of-consciousness, but I figure putting it out there and soliciting feedback can only be a good thing.

The chapter is on how the introduction of a threat meter addon changed my raid group’s practice over time.

Continued from http://markdangerchen.net/2010/01/19/enrollment-of-threat-meter-addon-work-in-progress/

[Need an illustrative, hypothetical table here?]

Looking at Rogues in particular, since I know the game best from their point of view, having played a Rogue during my time with the raid group, I can say that we did not know exactly how much threat each of our abilities generated, but the Rogues did know that certain abilities generated much more threat than others. These were roughly correlated to the damage output of the various abilities. For example, we knew that our main attack, Sinister Strike (SS), generated a consistent, predictable amount of threat that was safe to use, whereas, Eviscerate generated much more threat since generally its damage output was much higher. Yet, the use of Eviscerate was balanced with the fact that we could not use it as often as SS.

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Continue reading Enrollment of threat meter addon, part 2

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:

Enrollment of Threat Meter Addon: work in progress

Here’s some of what I’ve written on a new paper/chapter. Feedback would be lovely. I mean to showcase data from some of the various fights in WoW, what it was like before threat meter, what changed after the addon was introduced, and especially how we actually adopted it and then used it to diagnose the Rags fight (and discover that threat wasn’t the problem).

The Enrollment of a New Actor and the Redistribution of Responsibilities in a World of Warcraft Raid Group

In World of Warcraft, each individual actor in a raid group is in charge of certain tasks and responsibilities. At one point in the life of the raid group I studied, a new actor was allowed into the group. This newbie rendered new services to the rest of the group. The services rendered were essentially rating the actions of the others in the group—that is, assigning a specified number value to their actions—and then remembering who did what to add up the ratings from each particular player. This newbie, though, didn’t actually care one way or the other if these services were used by the others, but if another decided to use them and have his or her rating displayed, that player had to abide by new rules associated with these new services. The newbie wouldn’t verbally announce others’ rating. Instead, a sign was held up and players had to manually look over to read what their ratings were. In that way, the newbie not only served but also demanded, not only taking on the burdens assigned with this new role but also prescribing new responsibilities on the others. Yet others in the raid group, first slowly then readily, came to adopt the use of these new services into their practice as the services’ benefits became increasingly clear. The group came to consider the new tasks as essential parts of its raiding activity, and players could barely remember a time when the rating-remembering services were not used. The newbie became one of them—not a newbie but a veteran—and the group merrily went on its way. But this veteran wasn’t one of them. In fact, it wasn’t even human. It was a technological device, a program, a construct, an “addon” modification to the game.

(More after the break.)

Continue reading Enrollment of Threat Meter Addon: work in progress

Social dimensions of expertise published!

at Transformative Works and Cultures!

It’s an odd piece, but I’ll write about it later…  right now I gotta go hang out with SG. 🙂

Actor-network theory and World of Warcraft

Recently, someone asked a question of the Association of Internet Researchers mailing list regarding the use of actor-network theory (ANT) with the analysis of why (WoW) gamers have a negative stereotype.

A flurry of activity occurred commenting about the use of ANT. It’s not a method but a framework, for example.

I was excited because I am thinking of using ANT to look at WoW raiding practice, and since I wanted to get feedback, too, I posted the following:

Hey all!

Fascinating discussion.

I’ve recently starting reading about ANT and have been toying with the idea of analyzing how a raid in WoW works through an ANT lens, though I am unsure what it’ll get me more than using distributed cognition (Hutchins) or just simply describing the learning arrangement between various humans and nonhumans to get the job done.

I guess my problem with ANT is that it seems boundless in terms of macro vs. micro analysis. As has been mentioned, an actor network can be made up of actor networks. Where does one start?

So, for example, I have a 40 person raid group that learns to kill a boss over several weeks. It seems like each person should be considered an actor that had to be translated into the network. We’ve also collectively used certain addons and tools within the game to help us manage cognitive load and to make transparent some of the underworkings of the game. Does each of these addons get counted? Does each iteration of an addon get counted (40 people running the same addon in slightly different ways, positioned on the screen differently, paying attention to different parts of the addon, etc.)? Do specific functions of the addon get separated as individual actors? Do different elements of the UI get separated? To back up, do specific people get broken down to mind-body-fingers?

Latour (writing as Johnson) briefly mentions that a door closer, an actor that’s been delegated the task of making a hole back into a wall, can be further broken down into the mechanisms in the whole object (egs. a spring, a metal cylinder). Is it completely arbitrary where a researcher draws the line?

In Reassembling the Social, Latour emphasizes tracing associations, which is possibly an answer to my above questions. I could concentrate on describing practice in the raid activity as I see it (which is pretty much what I’ve been doing for a while now), but pay particular attention to describing the functions of specific things as they relate to other things. Do this as they come up. In turn, these associations lead to other things that come up. Is that no longer considered ANT but after-ANT?

Is it more useful to describe cognition and memory and material resources within an entity a la dcog than use ANT? (Though my prob with dcog is more that it seems like a snapshot-in-time where I am trying to document the change in practice. ANT seems like it inherently considers instability and change through the act of translation.) Is ANT reserved for bigger arguments about societal relationships? About translation being the leveraging or convincing of other actors to share tasks? Or maybe a dcog analysis is the way to use an ANT lens using my ethnographic mehod…

Lots of questions. Maybe better suited to a blog post, as I’m just throwing ideas out there without much experience with ANT and such… But I thought I’d throw them out since it seems to that me the fastest way to learn something is to make transparent what you don’t know. And my digital ears perked up when I saw Tamara’s first message in this thread. ANT and MMOGs!


NO ONE replied except Bonnie Nardi off list! 🙁

And even then, she gave me some good pointers to articles I should read without any editorial comments of her own. Gah, more reading! :p

Was it not clear enough? I don’t explain distributed cognition at all. I don’t explain ANT at all because I assume the people who were talking about it know more about it than I do. I don’t explain WoW raiding, either, but I thought they’d all know what I was talking about. Also, I didn’t want to make the email even longer than it was…

Ah well… I guess I’ll keep reading.