Play In Contested Spaces: Exploitation vs. Empowerment in World of Warcraft's Online Forums

Play In Contested Spaces: Exploitation vs. Empowerment in World of Warcraft's Online Forums

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Recently, research withing digital media learning and literacy literatures has shifted toward analyzing the productive practices in online communities "around" popular videogames (e.g., Steinkuehler and Author, 2008; Author and Gee, 2008; Author, in press; Squire and Giovanetto, 2008; Gee and Hayes, in press). However, the rhetoric of these studies has often focused on the positive, productive, and empowering perspectives of some fans/players in the "affinity spaces" (Gee, 2004) around games. In this paper, I argue for the importance of understanding learning and literacy within online communities around games by addressing the tension between the goals of media producers and fans' goals using tools within these communities. This tension is key, I argue, to understanding the potential of these spaces as valuable learning/literacy domains, as well as the making of meaning within online fan communities.

World of Warcraft has been the largest massively-multiplayer online game for over five years running, featuring more than 11.5 million concurrent subscriptions (MMOGChart.com, 2009). Focusing on discussions within the World of Warcraft official online forums (http://forums.worldofwarcraft.com), I present analyses addressing how players have engaged with the game's lead designer (Dr. Greg Street, a former marine science academic who has been very active within the game's fan communities), and vice versa. Presenting the results of content analyses (Mayring, 2000) and Discourse analyses (Gee, 2006) on online forum text, I highlight a revealing debate between these parties regarding the use of a specific data-gathering tool ("SimulationCraft," an open-source tool used by players to gather data on game mechanics). In this exchang...


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...Discourse analysis: Theory and method, 2nd. ed. New York: Routledge.

Gee, J. P. & Hayes, E. R. (in press). Women and gaming: The Sims and 21st century learning. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Huizinga, J. (1955). Homo ludens: A study of the play-element in culture. Boston: Beacon Press.

Jenkins, H. & Squire, K. (2002): The Art of Contested Spaces. In King, L. (ed.), Game On: The History and Culture of Videogames. (p.64-76) London UK: Laurence King Publishing.

Mayring, P. (2000). Qualitative content analysis. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 1 (2). Retrieved from http://www.qualitativeresearch.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/1089/2385

MMOGchart.com (2009). MMOGChart.com: Charting the future of the MMOG
industry. Located online at http://mmogchart.com

Squire, K. and Giovanetto, L. (2008). The higher education of gaming, E-Learning, 5(1), 2-28.

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