Re: [xmca] Experience: material, ideal, real, imagined in MMOGs

From: Polin, Linda (
Date: Sun Mar 05 2006 - 22:29:32 PST

Hi Mike and X'ers,

I am both playing in and writing about an MMOG at the moment, with a
group of doctoral students who are no doubt lurking on this list.

I'm playing in World of Warcraft (or World of Warcrack, as it is
often called for good reason). I am very interested in the way in
which the designers have shaped interaction and play, with regard to
both the client interface for playing, and the sociocultural
structures around tasks and interactions in the game play. [I'm also
playing in Second Life, but that is a very different creature.]

In WoW, I've played alongside 12 year olds and old farts like myself;
college kids complaining about the bandwidth in the dorms, and
mommies who periodically have to go AFK BRB (away from keyboard; be
right back) to change a diaper. So far none offers any evidence of
confusing what you are calling reality and fantasy, although almost
all have remarked on one occasion or another about the immersive
power of the world to 'wow' them (pun intended) and engage them
deeply. Everyone who plays has a story about losing track of time in
significant ways. That is immersion. And I think Michelle's remarks
with regard to "flow" come the closest to describing what is going on.

Is it material? Because there is an economic system in play, and
objects of desire, there is real work happening, and I am NOT
referencing only the "gold farmers" in China using game characters to
gather game gold to be sold for real money to players who want an
easy way to get ahead in the game but lack the time or tenacity to do
the grind work. There are also in-game activities analogous to real
work and real world life.

Real work: For instance, the guildmaster of my guild is a day trader
who spends a lot of time working the Auction House (in-game EBay kind
of thing) to make the game money he needs to support his character's
needs (e.g., trick out his ride, in this case a white tiger). There
are guilds that players belong to, which function as both family and
school in a way reminiscent of the Brazilian "Samba schools" Seymour
Papert described. Here though, instead of preparing for Mardi Gras
competitions with other Samba Schools and having fun, it's about
preparing for competitions with other players and having fun.

Real play (within play): For instance, at the recent Winter Veil
Festival I got to drink strong ale, and after two drinks, my screen
was a bit blurry. After three drinks, it was significantly worse and
my mouse actions were less accurate. I was drunk, albeit virtually
so, and my game play was impaired.

I would propose that, within the game world, these analogous elements
make it a KIND of real world, rather than a fantasy world. There is a
very real, game-specific culture that players rely upon to make their
way in that world. There are real relationships, real traditions and
ways of being in the world, real identity markers, divisions of labor
and opportunities for collaboration, sub-cultures, mediational
objects with embedded histories that support new learners, etc etc
etc. WoW is fascinating to me because it is NOT a blurring of
reality; it is an ALTERNATE (not alternative) reality, an alternate
real culture. By virtue of having a discernible culture, is it not real?

There is an immense amount of material to talk about here, but this
is an interesting turn on XMCA and I'm hoping we'll have some 'time'
to discuss more. I'd point you to our blog on this, but it's not yet
ready for prime time consumption.

Why must we refer to reality as if there were only one possible? =grin=

(aka Hallgrima, a level 44 Gnome Warlock)

Linda Polin, PhD
Davidson Professor of Education and Technology
Director, EdD in Educational Technology
310-568-5641; Skype: profpolin

On Mar 5, 2006, at 4:07 PM, Mike Cole wrote:
>> In various situations (in particular, I am thinking of various
>> massive
>> multi-user games and related cyber-interactional meeting places)
>> it appears that people can, perhaps cannot help at times,
>> confusing what
>> we
>> would normally refer to as "fantasy" and "reality."
>> There is an extensive literature on the development of this
>> distinction in
>> children's development, but I am seeking research on the
>> distinction's presumed presence or absence among adults.
>> Any and all help appreciated
>> mike
>> _______________________________________________
>> xmca mailing list
>> Andy Blunden, for Victorian Peace Network
>> Global Justice Tours:
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