My Life as a Night Elf Priest
An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Michigan Press
I. Introduction to World of Warcraft
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In the spring of 2005, I taught an undergraduate course on social aspects of digital technologies. The students worked in teams on research projects. One team reported on massively multiplayer online role-playing games. I knew nothing of these games. But the students’ presentation impressed ...
1. What Is World of Warcraft and Who Plays It?
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Once I got over my initial disorientation in the game, I developed a strong sensation that I had woken up inside an animated fairy tale. I was not just watching and listening though; I played a starring role. WoW is a virtual experience like reading a book or watching a movie, but also an active experience like playing a sport. The digital universe couples the richness of ...
2. An Ethnographic Investigation of World of Warcraft
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When I began my study, I had no hypotheses or precise research questions. Unlike research in most academic disciplines, where investigation proceeds according to a scientific procedure involving hypothesis generation and testing, ethnography moves in a “go with the flow” pattern that attempts to follow the interesting and the unexpected as they are encountered in the ...
II. Active Aesthetic Experience
3. Play as Aesthetic Experience
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An obvious question about World of Warcraft is: Why do people like it so much? What is the nature of this human activity that captivates so many people? Why is WoW “addictive,” compelling, absorbing, pleasurable? It is tempting, and for good reason, to see WoW ’s hold on players as the outcome of an elaborately designed Skinner box (Ducheneaut et al. 2006; ...
4. A New Medium
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In an Internet cafe in Beijing, Huatong, a young female player, showed us her World of Warcraft character. She played a druid—a class that “shape-shifts,” or takes on different forms, including several beautifully rendered animals. She found these shifting forms stimulating, and presented to us, one by one, the druid’s shapes and abilities. Without being asked, she men-...
5. Work, Play, and the Magic Circle
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Gaming is of course a kind of play. This chapter connects World of Warcraft to long-standing debates about the nature of play, in particular, examining issues of play and its putative opposite, work, that have preoccupied play theory for decades. Entangled in these debates is the idea of play as a magic circle—a protected space defended against the encroachments of everyday ...
III. Cultural Logics of World of Warcraft
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Having examined theoretical arguments about magic circles, performativity, and so on, this chapter, and the next two, take up broad themes of gaming that are part of academic discourse but also reach into wider arenas of conversation in the mass media and blogs and forums. I begin with the topic of addiction—a perennial favorite of the media and one which seems ...
7. Theorycraft and Mods
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This chapter examines WoW ’s capacity to stimulate participatory activity outside the game, using the materials of the game in novel, innovative ways. Arenas of such engagement include machinima production (Lowood 2008), fan art, fan fiction, and the development of knowledge bases such as Thottbot that compile game statistics and player commentary. These activities are not ...
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From the moment one creates a character and must choose its gender, gender is always present, in varying ways, in World of Warcraft. This chapter examines how gendered experience in World of Warcraft was constructed in two distinctive ways: through patterns of discourse and through the design of the game. I argue that discourse practices created a “boys’ tree house” ...
9. Culture: WoW in China . . . and North America
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In an Internet cafe in Shanghai, a nurse, age 22, has just completed a boss kill. Other characters are nearby, some dancing, some running around. The nurse, who plays a warlock, auctions off the boss’s loot to the raid members, counting down 4 3 2 1, before the final price is set and typed into the chat window. Those who won an auction pay her, and take receipt of their new ...
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“Are you still studying World of Warcraft?” one of my colleagues at a conference questioned me rather sharply. He was not an anthropologist (who would not ask such a question, at least not in that tone), and his query reminded me of anthropology’s commitment to the long haul, and of my allegiance to activity theory and Dewey’s work grounded, as they are, in ...
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Page Count: 244
Illustrations: 23 illustrations
Publication Year: 2010