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  • Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture
  • Douglas Thomas
Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture by T. L. Taylor. Massachusetts Institute of Technology Press 2006. $29.95. 197 pages

Perhaps the most telling thing about T. L. Taylor’s book Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture is that it begins by talking about offline life. She opens the first chapter discussing a “Fan Faire” taking place in Boston where EverQuest players have gathered for a face-to-face fan convention. This, as much as anything else, is emblematic of Taylor’s approach, which provides a compelling and refreshing look at online gaming by constantly questioning the boundaries that surround and in many ways constitute games today.

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Play Between Worlds is an examination of massively multiplayer online games, or MMOGs, game worlds that are characterized by their persistence and their large-scale social structure. EverQuest represents one of the earliest mass market successes in the genre and this book provides some understanding as to why. More important, however, Taylor gives us a glimpse into what the future of gaming holds as these persistent virtual worlds grow in size, scope, and scale.

It may even be, as Taylor suggests, that games like EverQuest (and more recently World of Warcraft) might be something more than a game; they may be able to tell us something significant about net culture and the way that technology affects our everyday life and daily practices. As she writes at the end of the introductory chapter, “These nuanced practices of negotiation, of flexibility in the face of emerging technology, are quite different than early rhetoric, which mostly framed online life as a bounded-off zone of experimentation.”1 Instead, Taylor wants to insist that the neatly constructed binaries of online/offline, inside/outside, and even game/not game do not hold up very well in the face of careful and critical examination. The boundary between [End Page 148] our online and offline lives, it turns out, is “messier” than we might have previously thought.

Within the game space itself, which she refers to as the “gaming lifeworld,” Taylor describes in great detail the complex nature of social interaction in the space of games like EverQuest. Becoming a player is more than simply engaging in the activities of the game; it is the process of becoming socialized and enculturated into the life of the game, learning new vocabularies and, perhaps most importantly, understanding new social practices that define issues of trust, reputation, and responsibility. Set within the historical context of MUDs and earlier massively multiplayer online games, Play Between Worlds does an excellent job of documenting the evolution of the social structure of play within these spaces, providing a snapshot and careful analysis of the structures within EverQuest while providing insights into the genre of massively multiplayer online games more generally.

The third chapter, titled “Beyond Fun: Instrumental Play and Power Gamers,” explores an extremely important aspect of the MMOG game world which is seldom discussed: the instrumental nature of play and the pleasures of performing at the highest levels of the game. As Taylor argues, “power gamers” turn our notions of what play means on its head. Our common associations of play with fun, pleasure, and freedom are at odds with the routine, mechanical, and instrumental play of power gamers. Yet, these gamers make up a significant portion of the “high end” guilds and are considered by most to be the top players.

Chapter Four, “Where the Women Are,” takes on the issue of gender in the context of gaming. By reading gender through the lens of social and identity play, Taylor is able to move past much of the current (and stale) debate about gender and gaming. Instead, she focuses on the social construction of “gamer” identity, parsing out “complex underpinnings” of identity performance in these spaces.2 Issues such as mastery and status, game design, markets and contextual models, and team sports and combat, all provide a framework for detailing how it is we think about men’s and women’s participation in various forms and contexts of play. The most powerful section of the...


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pp. 148-150
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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