Does WoW Change Everything?

“Does WoW Change Everything?: How a PvP Server, Multinational Playerbase, and Surveillance Mod Scene Caused Me Pause,” Games & Culture, v. 1 n. 4, October 2006.

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Note: An abbreviated version of this article (does not include age & nationality discussion) appears in in J. Walker and H. Corneliussen (eds.) Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader, Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2008.

Abstract

Rather than simply identifying “emergence”as a prime property of massively multiplayer online game life,a better understanding of the complex nature of player-produced culture is needed. Life in game worlds is not exempt from forms of player-based regulation and control. Drawing on ethnographic and interview work within World of Warcraft, the author undertakes initial inquiries on this subject by looking at three areas: nationalism, age, and surveillance. This case study shows systems of stratification and control can arise from the bottom up and be implemented in not only everyday play culture but even
player-produced modifications to the game system itself. Due to the ways these systems may simultaneously facilitate play, there is often an ambivalent dynamic at work. This piece also prompts some methodological considerations. By discussing field site choice, the author argues that context is of utmost importance and needs to be more thoughtfully foregrounded within game studies.