Play Between Worlds: Exploring Online Game Culture
Author: T. L. Taylor
Publisher: Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2006
Review Published: February 2007
I've long used the RCCS to follow work in the field so it is particularly nice to get a chance here to say many thanks to David Silver for this great resource. I also want to thank Mark Chen for his thoughtful review of my book. Finishing the writing process was a terrific feeling but having it become a part of a broader conversation and seeing others really engage with it is particularly gratifying. Taking Mark's review to heart I am quite happy the book seems to have prompted some angles for reflection and discussion I always hoped it would -- allowing us to think about our own play and also act as a data point for comparison across the field.
Sherry Turkle has written about the computer's "holding power" and I want to appropriate this idea when trying to think about the draw MMOGs can have on people's lives. One of the most powerful ways such games work is, I would argue, in being able to allow players to engage with it on a variety of terms depending on everything from their mood that day to the kind of networks available or the sort of computer they find themselves at. This flexibility allows for even seemingly contradictory stances a player might feel and enact. As Mark points out, there are times when the game works as a space for social connection but also moments in which it feels like a refuge or hide-out. He is absolutely right that more could have been done in the book to tease out some of this nuance. I personally look forward to more studies that try and situate players in varying domestic settings, for example. How do partners, roommates, and families wrestle with and make sense of online play in their everyday lives? How is it integrated into the material lives of people? How do players negotiate the web of networks they inhabit when involved in a MMOG? While I try to provide some initial glimpses into this issue, certainly the popularity of the genre makes further research on the subject ripe with opportunity.
Indeed the explosive growth of World of Warcraft (WoW), the game Mark researches, prompts a great discussion on the specificities and commonalities across games. One of the most important factors in this is understanding the ways designed systems (including a game's mechanics) and technologies are also important actors in shaping the practices and meaning of a space. As the review notes, "social behavior can sometimes be deeply affected by seemingly innocuous changes to the game's code." I couldn't agree more. In this regard while EverQuest (EQ) and WoW share some key things in common due to their genre/playerbase, they also have some notable differences and indeed have produced their own variations of play and game culture. I appreciated reading the comparison in relation to his work with WoW. In a recent paper on that game I try to explore some of the difference I have found between the two, in particular paying attention to the ways WoW's mod scene (which EQ didn't have much of) shapes practices and culture there (Taylor, 2006). I am looking forward to the upcoming crop of research (of which Mark's is definitely a part) that will provide us hooks to compare phenomena. There are certainly points calling for further refinement and development. For example, as the review notes, more needs to be done in specifying the range of guild types (including, I would say, guild management and systems of organization) and, by extension, player practices. And hopefully future studies of things like power gamers and casual gamers (and everything in between!) in WoW and other spaces will help us see what (if anything) moves across games and what emerges as unique to that system. We are at a very exciting time in our field and I look forward to seeing how we map it out by drawing in work on diverse titles, communities, and practices.
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