I hope I understand your remarks as you intended them. My own 'just
plain folks' experience looking inside MMOGs (these games) suggests that
the primary giver of meaning is the game play/activity itself, and that
that game play is partly enabled by or shaped by game 'tools' (sign,
symbols, tools) but equally constructed by player-to-player interaction.
I suppose to the extent that player to player interaction is available
by design, it is a tool based meaning construction as well. But I
believe players bring more to the play than engagement with what is
available in-game. There is identity work going on here.
Meaning in the co-constructed play is a negotiated meaning with multiple
layers, and by negotiated I may even mean constantly negotiated or in
negotiation. The tools in the game are also constantly in negotiation.
The designers and players even overtly discuss design and redesign in
company-supported forums outside the game.
Oddly, I'm not sure folks experience the foregrounding of a cyber
context, as you seem to suggest in your remarks. Do avid poker players
create an alternative reality that expands human consciousness into a
card-social-cultural reality? I don't think players (whether 12 or 62)
mistake this for an alternate reality. I think it is experienced as a
social game, like poker, but a very rich one in which people of all ages
and cultures might play together. I think the social richness augmented
by the huge number of fields/domains for meaning construction is what is
so compelling. My current hunch is that everyone really digs MAKING
sense...with others....and with cool objects and activities in a
changing landscape. [Did you know that online game play tends to come at
the expense of TV viewing time? Just found that out.]
As for your other question, I think how you understand the mediational
effects of these environments has to affect your research epistemology.
Don't you think? Frankly, for me, part of what makes MMOGs both
fascinating and difficult to study is the amount of variation in jointly
produced and historically mediated meaning creation going on. It is
further complicated by the variation of meaning within the online gaming
community itself. Blizzard has commented on the fact that the Chinese
players on the Asian servers play the game very differently than the
players on the American and EU servers. And...within those gross
cultural layers there is even more refined differentiation of meaning.
For instance, in their 'official strategy guide,' the World of Warcraft
folks have a section for players migrating from other game genres who
are "coming over" to the Warcraft game. They declare, among other
things: Those that have played FPS' primarily understand the teamwork
involved easily enough if you have ever participated in Capture the Flag
or Team Deathmatch events. However, where everyone once had the same
resources and character typer, here everyone is different based on their
class and race. Without knowledge of others capabilities, it is more
difficult to work together as a team. Things work slower. There is more
time for interaction with others beyond a simple macro." Frankly, this
is what gives the whole "guild" scene its meaning.
My biggest problem in research is that I don't think there is one, or
one kind, of play experience. I suppose that means I think the meaning
is NOT in the tools but in their use, which is
user-defined/appropriated. I think of the day trader, Felison, who
spends an inordinate amount of time hanging out in the Auction House in
one of the capital cities. I think of the level 48 druid 14-year old
girl, Rainbows, who leads questing parties made up primarily of adults.
I think of the open source software company manager, Konstig, who has
six level 60 characters and who is always helping players considerably
lower level than he. I think of the general chat channel in one region
of the game world where the talk is constantly one-upmanship in telling
jokes about Chuck Norris (this is a common middle school boy joke
thing). These are people constructing different meanings in the same
game, using the same tools of the game, but for different tasks.
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