Session 1 - Research in World of Warcraft

I haven't blogged much this week because, like a proper student, I wanted to get my homework done first - meaning I needed to blog about the Convergence of the Real and Virtual Conference (or WoW conference) I attended last weekend.

A guild named "Science" was created for the conference, and we all posted our real life information next to our names:guild

One of the guild members observed the difference between a scholarly guild and your typical WoW guild:
guild chat

Session 1 focused on Research in World of Warcraft, as well as other virtual worlds. Prior to the session, several attendees posed for a photo with Thrall before heading to the conference room - a lovely stretch of beach east of Ogrimmar.
session starts

The session was co-chaired by Bonnie Nardi from the University of California, and Hilde Corneliussen, from the University of Bergen, Norway. The panelists were Celia Pearce, Nic Ducheneaut, and T. L. Taylor. The chairs were responsible for fielding questions from the audience and asking some pre-set questions of the panelists. Questions dealt with studying human behavior, using WoW for qualitative and quantitative research, how WoW-culture affects real life culture, what aspects are missing from current research on games, use of the term "magic circle" to describe the relationship between game and non-game states, and then some audience questions. The discussion was really interesting, talking about the strength of WoW as an environment for ethnographic study and social construction of virtual worlds, and the fact that collecting quantitative data from the WoW interface is very easy and useful - you can pretty much collect a complete record using audio, video, and text. As part of this research, you can observe a gradual emergence of post-modern ethics, relevant to real world situations. When talking about the transference of game skills with real life, one researcher said that Wow is similar to the Army Tank Corp's interface, that the game prepares warriors of the future, using small unit tactics as an example. Some of the areas targeted for future study were the development of social capital, game creation, and the virtual world inhabitants' relationship with game creators.

There was quite a bit of discussion about player demographics, particularly the always-hot gender issue. Current data suggests that only between 10-30% of players are female (and as a point of reference, only 11% of game designers are female). A possible research topic that arose from this discussion was the gender perceptions of the magic circle concept (link).

forming up for the expedition

After the panel, several of the attendees went on an expedition to Thunderbluff, with a few scenic stops along the way. I took quite a few screenshots!
to the shrine


flying in formation

There are more at my WoW Conference Set.

Session 2 coming soon!


  1. I've been interested in the results of the conference in WOW, so thank you for your posts and continued discussion.

    As someone who researches and applies gaming and gaming strategies into libraries, what was the discussion around the topic you mentioned:
    "what aspects are missing from current research on games"

    I'm interested to see what topics were brought up and what courses of action were discussed.

    Thank you,

  2. Hi Paul,

    Some of the ideas for future research were:
    1) One would want to look at why women (by comparison with men, and on average) have more trouble entering a magic circle perceived in apposition to practical concerns.
    2)Understanding the culture of game creation (who made it this way and why).
    3) Similarly, the relationship between inhabitants and the coding authority.
    4) The generation of social capital.
    5) Ways players work the game outside of the normative modes of questing/raiding.
    6) The relationship between WoW and a player's "physical" life, and examine the impact socializing in WOW has on socializing in the real world.
    The discussion then broke down in to detailed questions about gender distribution as well, such as "What does it mean to study a "society" that has a 5:1 ratio of males to females?" and the fact that game industy data says about 11% of game designers industry-wide are female, which clearly has an effect on how and for whom games are designed.

    There weren't any courses for future action discussed, but considering that many of the participants were researchers and students, I wouldn't be surprised to see some of these topics come up soon in the literature. The wiki has a page for working papers, so that's also a good way to see what people are doing right now.


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