Golub—Being in the World (of Warcraft)

Being in the World (of Warcraft): Raiding, Realism, and Knowledge Production in a Massively Multiplayer Online Game

by Alex Golub

[Golub, Alex. “Being in the World (of Warcraft): Raiding, realism, and knowledge production in a massively multiplayer online game.” Anthropological Quarterly83, no. 1 (2010): 17-45.]

Points

  • an argument directly against Boellstorff, particularly on two fronts
    1. Immersion in virtual worlds is dependent on the realism depicted in the world—Golub says “no”
    2. virtual worlds are “places” that can be studied without reference to the offline users—Golub says “hell no”
  • Golub uses participant observation as part of a ‘middle-core’ raiding party in World of Warcraft (WoW) to deny both of these assertions; arguing that “the sociotechnical systems created and deployed by raiders ramify beyond the magic circle of World of Warcraft onto websites, Internet telephony servers, and actual-world gatherings” (20).
  • in his discussion of Boelstorff’s Coming of Age in Second Life, he argues “that Boellstorff’s decision to exclude from his study the websites, blogs, and other online sites where Second Lifers interact is as problematic as his decision to bracket out their actual world lives” (24).
  • Further, scholarly treatments of the nature of virtual worlds “short-circuit attempts to theorize what makes virtual worlds compelling because they appeal to taken-for-granted notions of sensorial immersion” (26).
  • He sees immersion as being based on “commitment to the game,” and his raiding party increases this immersion/commitment by “decomposing the visually and aurally realistic world of Warcraft into its component parts” (34).
    • players use mods to parse the visual input into less aesthetically pleasing pieces of info: threat meters, DPS, health, “maximize their knowledge of the game state, replacing realistic three-dimensional imagery with user-friendly measurements of underlying variables in the game. [He] call[s] this process “decomposing the world” (35).
    • players use audio plugins to speak to each other over an audio channel that is not included in the game mechanics—they both plan raids and socialize on this channel, this increasing immersion with the use of outside tech
  • take-home—”an account which takes seriously both virtual worlds and the anthropological critique of locality should focus on three things…
    1. we must follow participants in virtual worlds across all segments of their life-worlds that are central to their biographies, not merely those that are virtual…
    2. we must understand the intertwined systems of action and meaning which become projects for people…
    3. we must understand the way those projects engender publics, both networked … or otherwise” (40-41). (reformatted by me)

Abstract

This paper discusses two main claims made about virtual worlds: first, that people become “immersed” in virtual worlds because of their sensorial realism, and second, because virtual worlds appear to be “places” they can be studied without reference to the lives that their inhabitants live in the actual world. This paper argues against both of these claims by using data from an ethnographic study of knowledge production in World of Warcraft. First, this data demonstrates that highly-committed (“immersed”) players of World of Warcraft make their interfaces less sensorially realistic (rather than more so) in order to obtain useable knowledge about the game world. In this case, immer- sion and sensorial realism may be inversely correlated. Second, their commitment to the game leads them to engage in knowledge-making activities outside of it. Drawing loosely on phenomenology and contemporary theorizations of Oceania, I argue that what makes games truly “real” for players is the extent to which they create collective projects of action that people care about, not their imitation of sensorial qualia. Additionally, I argue that while purely in-game research is methodologically legitimate, a full account of member’s lives must study the articulation of in-game and out-of-game worlds and trace people’s engagement with virtual worlds across multiple domains, some virtual and some actual. [Keywords: knowledge production, phenomenology, virtu- al worlds, World of Warcraft, Second Life, video games, raiding]”

Annotation Summary for: Golub – World of Warcraft

Page 1, Typewriter (Red): Comment: 2010

Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “ANTHROPOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES ON KNOWLEDGE IN THE DIGITAL AGE Being in the World (of Warcraft): Raiding, Realism, and Knowledge Production in a Massively Multiplayer Online Game Alex Golub”

Page 1, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Abstract This paper discusses two main claims made about virtual worlds: first, that people become “immersed” in virtual worlds because of their sensorial real- ism, and second, because virtual worlds appear to be “places” they can be studied without reference to the lives that their inhabitants live in the actual world. This paper argues against both of these claims by using data from an ethnographic study of knowledge production in World of Warcraft. First, this data demonstrates that highly-committed (“immersed”) players of World of Warcraft make their interfaces less sensorially realistic (rather than more so) in order to obtain useable knowledge about the game world. In this case, immer- sion and sensorial realism may be inversely correlated. Second, their commit- ment to the game leads them to engage in knowledge-making activities outside of it. Drawing loosely on phenomenology and contemporary theorizations of Oceania, I argue that what makes games truly “real” for players is the extent”

Page 2, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “to which they create collective projects of action that people care about, not their imitation of sensorial qualia. Additionally, I argue that while purely in- game research is methodologically legitimate, a full account of member’s lives must study the articulation of in-game and out-of-game worlds and trace peo- ple’s engagement with virtual worlds across multiple domains, some virtual and some actual. [Keywords: knowledge production, phenomenology, virtu- al worlds, World of Warcraft, Second Life, video games, raiding]”

Page 2, Line Drawing (Red)

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In this article, I seek to turn the table on Dibbell’s original piece. Rather than describe people who turn databases into worlds, I will describe a community which has taken a virtual world and turned it back into a data- base.”

Page 3, Underline (Red): Content: “World of Warcraft,”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “My topic is the lives of medium-core raiders in World of Warcraft, the most popular massively multiplayer online game in the United States.”

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In order to “down” (kill) bosses effectively, raiders decompose the realistic visual and audio fields of the game into simpler models of the underlying game state, creating useful forms of knowledge (Chen 2009).”

Page 3, Note (Orange): Theorycraft?

Page 3, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This example of knowledge creation in the service of goal attainment challenges existing understandings of the realism and placeness of virtu- al worlds.”

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “My argument is particularly relevant as anthropology turns its atten- tion to virtual worlds. In one recent influential book, Boellstorff has argued that we ought to imagine virtual worlds as being like Pacific islands, and thus amenable to study using traditional anthropological methods (Boellstorff 2008), creating a fieldwork imaginary which legiti- mates both virtual worlds and the anthropologists who study them, by hearkening back to the canonical ethnographies of Firth, Malinowski, and Mead. But such a comparison misrepresents both the ethnographic ambi- tions of Pacific anthropologists and the dynamic, multiply-connected nature of Pacific Islanders themselves.”

Page 4, Underline (Red): Content: “Boellstorff Malinowski, Firth, Mead.”

Page 4, Stamp (Quote!)

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I will argue that the sociotechnical systems created and deployed by raiders ramify beyond the magic circle of World of Warcraft onto websites, Internet telephony servers, and actual-world gatherings.”

Page 4, Note (Orange): Although he doesn’t really do this.

Page 4, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I argue that an anthropology of virtual worlds should learn from studies of Oceania and imagine its subject to be sys- tems of meanings and commitments which spread across multiple loca- tions, rather than discrete places which have a “culture.””

Page 4, Underline (Red): Content: “True Names Neuromancer”

Page 5, Underline (Red): Content: “Snowcrash”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ““Gibson famously defined cyberspace as a space apart from the corporeal world— a hallucination. But the Internet is not growing apart from the world, but to the contrary is increasingly embedded in it” (Agre 1999).”

Page 5, Underline (Red): Content: ” Second Life’”

Page 5, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Second Life quickly became an exemplar of a “world” rather than a “game” where people could express themselves through creating in-world objects and sell them—an ethic of “creative capitalism” (Boellstorff 2007:205-211)”

Page 6, Underline (Red): Content: “Edward Castronova.”

Page 6, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “massively multiplayer on-line games are figured as the successors of the completely immersive virtual worlds imagined in the late eighties and early nineties. These worlds are not only sensorially realistic, they are on Castronova’s account deeply separate from the actual world.”

Page 7, Underline (Red): Content: “Thomas Malaby Huizinga”

Page 7, Underline (Red): Content: “Coming of Age in Second Life Tom Boellstorff’s”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Second Life is ultimately predicated on actual world cultures, even though, as Boellstorff correctly notes, this predication is a necessary but not sufficient condition for in-game sociality.”

Page 7, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The actual world is where future Second Lifers are socialized and learn language, and it is the origin of the complex technical protocols regarding voltage, material”

Page 8, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “standards for cabling, and packet encoding which undergird the virtual worlds’ technical systems.”

Page 8, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I would resist Boellstorff’s conflation of a valid methodological decision (to conduct research entirely in-game) with a wider epistemological one (to bracket out of analysis all other lifeworld contexts in which Second Lifers participate).”

Page 8, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I would argue that Boellstorff’s decision to exclude from his study the websites, blogs, and other online sites where Second Lifers interact is as problematic as his decision to bracket out their actual world lives.”

Page 8, Stamp (Quote!)

Page 10, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “In sum, the realism and placeness of virtual worlds has been an impor- tant part of the rebirth of scholarly imaginations of virtual worlds. However, these ideas short-circuit attempts to theorize what makes virtual worlds com- pelling because they appeal to taken-for-granted notions of sensorial immer- sion which lead us to imagine virtual worlds as stable territories—“places” in which traditional fieldwork can unproblematically take place.”

Page 10, Stamp (Quote!)

Page 12, Underline (Magenta): Content: “Research involves keeping a daily diary of my activity, recording small biographies of members, creating a simple spreadsheet to record the age, gender, and physical location of each guildie, and recording short in-game half-hour interviews with guild members. Most importantly, I have raided with PA four hours a night, four nights a week, for over four months.”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “PA also has a guild rank for “non-raiders” The existence of this rank reflects PA’s commitment to be inclusive and to incorporate actual-world relationships in-game.”

Page 14, Underline (Magenta): Content: “This rank is named after the virtual pet pig that serves as a semi-mascot for the guild, and players who behave inappropriately are demoted to it tem- porarily as punishment for their behavior.”

Page 14, Line Drawing (Red)

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ““epic” gear,”

Page 15, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I refer to PA as a “medium-core” guild rather than as “power gamers” or “hard-core” players because PA is a successful endgame raiding guild, but has consciously focused on creating a commu- nity over pursuing progression at the cost of other things.”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “battles such as Magtheridon’s and the others which feature in end-game “progression” become a “project” in the sense used by phenomenologists (Sartre 1962:99-165, Schutz 1989:21-45): a pro- jection of a future state of affairs, the bringing about of which becomes an orientation for action by a person or group of people.”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “one particular kind of technology that ramifies out of raiding—specialized technical measures that are undertaken to develop knowledge about the game in order to”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “these technical systems further the project commitment to the game (which some might call “immersion”)—successful raiding—by decomposing the visually and aurally realistic world of Warcraft into its component parts.”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “more efficiently defeat bosses.”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Many spells and attacks cast in World of Warcraft produce visual effects that are both dazzling and confusing, par- ticularly when raid groups of twenty five players are in an enclosed space.”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “As a result, raiders often turn down the graphical detail of the game in order to make it more playable but less immersive.”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “raiding encounters require a level of situational awareness and an awareness of game variables that Warcraft’s realistic interface simply does not provide.”

Page 18, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Heavily modded interfaces take a beautiful three dimensional world and turn it into a more easily-parsed”

Page 19, Stamp (Quote!)

Page 19, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “visual display which describes information in the game database about the state of the game world.”

Page 19, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “raiders systemat- ically modify their computers in order to maximize their knowledge of the game state, replacing realistic three-dimensional imagery with user- friendly measurements of underlying variables in the game. I call this process “decomposing the world.””

Page 19, Highlight (Yellow): Content: ““decomposing the world.””

Page 19, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The simplest form of boss encounter is the “tank and spank” in which a tank character in heavy armor goes “sword to board” (uses a sword and shield) and tanks a boss, allowing it to pummel him while healers “keep the tank up” and DPSers “burn down” or “spank” the boss.”

Page 21, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “both diegetic and non-diegetic audio make game- play in World of Warcraft immersive and compelling.”

Page 22, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Once logged on to the Vent server, players use headsets with microphones to communicate with each other voice-to-voice. Use of Vent is mandatory for all members of a raid in PA—even those who prefer not to speak or do not own a microphone are required to listen in.”

Page 23, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Unlike many of the participants in the MUDs described by Julian Dibbell and others, most people in PA hate to type and are not good at it.”

Page 23, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “As a result, Vent is important not only for giving instructions during raid, but also as a place where the guild socializes, jokes, and chats.”

Page 23, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The initial wave of intellectuals such as Julian Dibbell who theorized com- puter-mediated communication did so in a world without sensorially real- istic virtual worlds. These thinkers realized very quickly the imaginative power of non-representational media and pondered the fate of human subjectivities lodged in spaces made of text.”

Page 23, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Two points fall out of this. First, theorists of virtual worlds (includingtheir creators) often, I believe, rely implicitly on Western notions of humannature which posit expressive individualism to be central to our constitu-tion as subjects (Taylor 1989).”

Page 24, Note (Orange): Many other valid reasons

Page 24, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “see Second Life as a “world” rather than a “game””

Page 24, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “methodological point: Compelling projects may have their origin in and be anchored to a particular virtual world, but this does not mean that the sociality, action, and cultural formations created by that project need to be confined to that world.”

Page 24, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “project need to be confined to that world. Indeed, the more committed a group is to a project, the more likely that project is to spread to other parts of these people’s lifeworlds.”

Page 24, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “First, as Dibbell (and Schutz) would insist, we must follow participants in virtual worlds across all segments of their life- worlds that are central to their biographies, not merely those that are vir- tual (for examples, see Burrell 2009, Lindtner 2008, and Pearce 2009). Second, we must understand the intertwined systems of action and mean- ing which become projects for people (Kaptelinin and Nardi 2006). Finally, we must understand the way those projects engender publics, both net-”

Page 24, Stamp (Star (Frame, Red))

Page 25, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “worked (Boyd 2008:15-42, Varnellis 2008) or otherwise (Warner 2002).”

Page 26, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I hope to have at least sug- gested an analysis of raider culture as one of proliferating, overlapping domains of experience: although boss fights can only occur in World of Warcraft, this is a world that is curiously laminated.”

Page 26, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Add-ons intrude on the graphical realism of the game, while voice over IP telephony brings players together by reworking World of Warcraft’s aural realism. The more committed raiders become, the more the project of raiding spills out of a bounded sensorially realistic virtual world into websites, chat channels, and workplace discussions.”

Page 26, Underline (Magenta): Content: “curiously laminated.”

Page 26, Underline (Red): Content: “Castronova, Edward. 2007. Exodus to the Virtual World: How Online Fun is Changing Reality. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Boellstorff, Tom. 2008. Coming of Age in Second Life: An Anthropologist Explores the Virtually Human. Princeton University Press.”

Page 27, Underline (Red): Content: “Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. 1991. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. Harper Perennial.

Dibbell, Julian. 1993. Village Voice, 23 December. Dibbell, Julian. 1998. My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World. New York: Holt. Gibson, William. 2004. Neuromancer. Ace Hardcover.”

Page 27, Underline (Red): Content: “Heidegger, Martin. 2008. Being and Time. Harper Perennial Modern Classics.”

Page 27, Underline (Red): Content: “Huizinga, Johan. 1971. Homo Ludens. New York: Beacon Press.”

Page 27, Underline (Red): Content: “Kendall, Lori. 2002. “Hanging Out in the Virtual Pub: Masculinities and Relationships Online.” University of California Press.”

Page 27, Underline (Red): Content: “Malaby, Thomas. 2007. “Beyond Play: A New Approach to Games.” Games and Culture2(2):95-113. Malaby, Thomas M. 2009. Making Virtual Worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life.Ithaca:Cornell University Press. Malaby, TM. 2007. “Contriving Constraints (the Gameness of Second Life and thePersistence of Scarcity).” Innovations: Technology, Governance, Globalization 2(3):62-67.”

Page 27, Underline (Red): Content: “Malinowski, Bronislaw. 1922. Argonauts of the Western Pacific; an Account of Native Enterprise and Adventure in the Archipelagoes of Melanesian New Guinea. London New York: G. Routledge & Sons, ltd E.P. Dutton & Co.”

Page 28, Underline (Red): Content: “Nardi, Bonnie and Jannis Kallinikos. 2007. “Opening the Black Box of Digital Technologies: Mods in World of Warcraft.” 23rd EGOS ColloquiumPoole, Steven. 2000. Trigger Happy: Videogames and the Entertainment Revolution. Arcade Publishing.”

Page 28, Underline (Red): Content: “Pearce, Celia. 2009. Communities of Play : Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.”

Page 28, Underline (Red): Content: “Rheingold, Howard.1992. Virtual Reality: The Revolutionary Technology of Computer- Generated Artificial Worlds – and How it Promises to Transform Society. New York: Simon & Schuster. Rheingold, Howard. 2003. Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution. New York: Basic Books.”

Page 28, Underline (Red): Content: “Sahlins, Marshall David. 1985. Islands of History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.”

Page 28, Underline (Red): Content: “Sartre, Jean Paul. 1963. Search for a Method. New York: Knopf.”

Page 28, Underline (Red): Content: “Stephenson, Neal. 2000. Snow Crash. Bantam Spectra Book.”

Page 29, Underline (Red): Content: “Warner, Michael. 2002. Publics and Counterpublics. New York; Cambridge, MA: Zone Books.”

Page 29, Underline (Red): Content: “Wellman, Barry. 2004. “The Three Ages of Internet Studies: Ten, Five, and Zero Years Ago.” New Media and Society 6(1):108-114.”

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