11 March 2010

[Literature] Communities of Play, book 1: Play, community and emergent cultures

Celia Pearce and Artemesia. 2009. Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds. The MIT Press.

Here are my notes on the first book of Communities of Play by Celia Pearce. I extensively use several acronyms: VW, MMOG and UGC. My comments stay in [brackets].

Chapter 1: Communities of play and the global playground

Gemeinshaft ("communities" in German) are association of individuals with a collective will that is enacted through individual effort. Communities of practice engage in a process of collective learning and maintain a common identity defined by a shared domain of interest or activity.

Except a few exceptions such has Solitaire, games have always been multiplayer. However, the advent of singe-player genres as the central paradigm for games is an historical aberration of digital technology. Examples of ancient games mentioned are senet, ur and mancala. [I do not remember if I read it in the book or if I thought about it while reading, but RP games contain a huge part of UGC. Players direct the story, influence each other, etc. Ideally, the GM only has to control the flow of the story.]

Tolkien (1955) + Conan (1960) + PC (1970's) = MUD in US college male heads (1980's)

Corporations do not say why a game failed, whether the game was launched or not. [Although there are some post-mortems going around about video games, I admit I have not seen many post-mortems about MMOG. But I am not sure that everything is always said in post-mortems...] Moreover, no research on players of a particular MMOG is possible when the players have left the MMOG in question. So it is really difficult to know why a MMOG really failed. The Uru Diaspora developed in this book is one of the rare case where such kind of players have been studied. After the down of the MMOG Uru, many players fled to other MMOG, but some instigated a network of player-run Uru servers to allow players to run the game after its initial closure.

Chapter 2: VW, play ecosystems and the ludisphere

Principle characteristics of VW
contiguous (mappable)
embodied persistent identities
inhabitable and participatory
consequential participation ("your presence is a part of the world")
populous (social)
worldness (coherence/consistency helping the suspension of disbelief)

The core conventions of feature films provide a consistent set of guidelines that have changed little since they were initially established in the first half of the 20th century. [Does this means once we have found our Citizen Kane game, game design will not change its basis anymore? Should we look for a Citizen Kane or for as many Citizen Kane as possible?]

Definition of play from Caillois in 1961
not obligatoryin a circumscribed time and space no predetermined outcomenot productive [what about UGC??] governed by rulesfictive

Virtual placeDescription[Example]
Ludic worldformal structure of objectives and constraintsMMOG with leveling or PvP
Paidaic worldoffer a range of activities or choices to socializeUGC, VW

World rules
communication protocolsgroup formation protocolseconomics land or home ownershipavatar creation and progressiongeography, terrain and transportation

Emergence is UGC [or maybe is it the other way round?]. SL has a system of economic and social status based on technical proficiency: the scripters who can sell their pieces make money and are respected. On the other hand, subverting game affordances can be source of pride, respect and social status. [The less possible subversions, the more controlled the sources of social recognition for players?]

Chapter 3: Emergence in cultures, games and VW

Properties of VW/MMOG that lend themselves to emergence
close (ie have boundaries, making players bring content from outside)
consistent rules (players can get consistent feedback)
open-ended (no final state)
persistent (enable cumulative actions)
(a)synchronous inhabitation (enable feedback)
long-term engagement
social phenomena are accelerated
the more people, the more emergence
the more diverse the people, the more emergence

Urbanism (virtual or real) fosters (positive or negative) emergence of behavior. According to De Landa, emergence is defined as the unplanned result of human agency. Emergence is synergetic, hence a top-down approach to cultures or society can not reveal emergent behaviors [cf Bernard Weber's 1+1=3]. Internet is an emergence catalyst. Examples of emergence are

  • Chinese gold farmers shunned on WoW,
  • SL IG banking agencies which failed and lost a lot of real money ($750,000)
  • WoW warriors IG protest caused a server overload

Corporations will tolerate a certain measure of emergent behavior as long as it does not threaten their bottom line (ie profit and legal issues) Hence grieving is tolerated, but not mass protest.

Emergent systems are bottom-up in the way that they are adaptive systems producing behaviors one scale above them. Example: ants (bottom) create colonies (up). For Bar Yam, emergence is a collective behavior (I do collectively what I would not do myself), an environmental behavior (I do this because I am in a specific environment) and the act or process of becoming an emergent system. As for the Uru group studied in the next books, it satisfies emergence criteria and is imminently studyable because:

  • some behaviors were unexpected from game designers
  • 18-month time frame study
  • 160-450 players, manageable size for a qualitative study
  • recognizable patterns across sampling of participants
  • the group moved from one environment to another and adapted its behavior
  • individuals, groups and environment can be observed concurrently

Studying communities of play raises two main challenges. First, the researcher has to be able to analyze a phenomenon at different scales simultaneously. Second, relationships between play communities and the play ecosystem can only be understood as a lived practice. Which methodology could best fit the study of the Uru Diaspora?

Chapter 4: Reading, writing and playing cultures

The culture of VW/MMOG is a social construction of shared meanings between designers and players. According to De Certeau, consumption in industrial society is an act of production, perhaps even an art form. Examples are given by Willis: motorcycle gangs customize their bikes. For VW and MMOG, examples are avatar customization or SL IG content buyers. Allowing creative input from players is an inevitable outcome of emergent behavior.

Because most MMOG and VW are played on computers (as opposed to game consoles) they vie for attention with other PC functions such as email, forums, IM, VoIP and productivity and creativity software as well as other games.

Ethnography, social anthropology and ground theory provide a post-facto meaning to data that could have seemed meaningless during its collection.Social network analysis often lacks the sense of context that is vital to understanding games from a cultural perspective. The methodology followed in the study of the Uru Diaspora is called mutli-sited ethnography. It was first mentioned by Marcus in 1995. [remark about ethnography in VW: at the moment, ethnographers do not join hardcore PvP/PvE guilds or guilds which average age is under 16. A self-selection bias make the researchers choose the most culturally interesting: WoW LGBT guilds or active quasi-permanent guilds. Quantitative research takes those banal guilds into account, but to the same extent as extraordinary guilds.]

Read the summary about Book 2: the Uru Diaspora.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.