Thursday, December 08, 2005

Gaming In Libraries 2005: Mon Dec 5: Constance Steinkuehler

Constance Steinkuehler
The Gaming Generation and Libraries: Intersections

Constance focused her discussion on MMOGs: Massive Multiplayer Online Games, games that are highly graphical, foster online social interactions, have persistent virtual worlds, play is in real-time, perpetually accessible, loosely structured, offer freedom to do what you like.
“Escapist fantasy” yet emergent “social realism”

Her research has focused on Lineage II. The world of Aden is the "place" where Lineage is played. “In the three years of playing this game I have learned more about military strategy than I ever wanted to know,” said Contance, who chose to play a princess character that ended up as a guild leader. A 6 hour siege can be filmed in game – Constance showed a clip of a takeover of Dion castle light elves against dark and told the crowd it took 2-6 WEEKS to plan the seige (maps, meetings, strategy, etc).

A participant asked Constance, “What happens in a game like this when you die?” She explained there is no permanent death. You do lose experience points that make the character strong
(the idea of the game play is to level your avatar up by gaining experience and wealth).
Another participant asked if players “play many MMOGs games or stay loyal to just one?” She answered that generally, MMOG players are loyal to titles, because time investments make it difficult to jump ship.

MMOGs are significant because 6 million people play them (equal to the population of Chicago + L.A.)!

MMOG’s are economically significant. Trading sites like eBay allow the auction of in game items. The $3-$45 for a million edina = 1 platinum piece. In 2001, the world of Norrath (Everquest) was ranked as the 77th largest economy in the real world. Platinum trading higher than Yen & Lira, ranked between Russia & Bulgaria.

Constance’s 2 year ethnography of Lineage II revealed:
  • Socially & materially distributed cognition
  • Collaborative problem solving (group hunts) - like Cross Functional Teams as introduced by Glenn Parker planning to follow-up, diversity, self managed, crossover skills, group goals & individual accountability) like current workplace model.
  • Empirical model building (exploits)
  • Literacy practices
  • Negotiation
  • Authoring of identity
  • Systems of apprenticeship
  • Culture of collective intelligence

Her findings directly oppose fear about “The collapse of literacy and the rise of violence in the electronic age.” (a subtitle of a current book) and articles that say “These students will be more and more bad things if they are playing games and not doing other things like reading aloud" –CNET
"Video games are the fourth most dominant medium displacing print media and vying with other major electrons made in the lives of teens and young adult males..." (missed the source on this one)
“There is a basic social divide between those for whom life is a accrual of fresh experience and knowledge and those for whom maturity is a process of mental atrophy. The shift toward the latter category is frightening. Electronic media tend to be torpid.” NYT

Constance showed a convincing example of literacy in games, showing how what looks like a shorthand or code has a complex meaning decipherable by the players.

A line of in-game chat that reading:
afk g2g too EF ot Regen no poms
has meaning;
Away from keyboard, got to go to the Elven Forest to Regenerate; out of mana potion.
Furthermore the sentence contains a request (don’t type to me right now), a construal of events (here’s why) and an account (interpersonal). The abbreviations also acknowledge the player's activity level and in game expertise, because the player is using abbreviations from beta versions of the game.

Other examples of literacy in-game are "orally" delivered narrative and in-game letters besides in-game chat, quests, in game books and manuals and environmental signage.

There is more to these MMOG virtual worlds than what is inside the magic circle of game play (web text, outside technologies i.e. VOIP). There are many information spaces to navigate:
  • Official fandom – discussion boards, fanfic, that are corporate sponsored
  • Unofficial fandom – guild pages, boards, annotated photo albums, ingame email accounts in player name, personal game blogs, fan fic (writing on 11th grade level)
  • Player generated content is more important and more accurate than what comes from corporate
  • Sites for collective intelligence (I don’t need to know everything, because I can ask someone else – everyone knows something)
  • Showed example of exchange with a middle school fan fic writer that demonstrated the playing is inseparable from the game play
  • Games are CREATING “print media” not displacing it.

The statement that “98% of all player generated content is crap” is not true! Player-generated content promotes creativity and is an exercise in preparing a publication, and creating and evaluating materials. In fact, MMOG literacy practices EXCEED national reading writing and technology standards. Constance showed an example of a story a middle school student had written that was on an 11th grade reading leve.

We have a cultural fear of technology (It was once thought that the telephone might ruin the American family, because loose women might call family men and seduce them away from their homes).

We have a fear of youth culture
Woodstock, rock ‘n’ roll

And we have a fear of what kids are doing, not whether they are doing it (and how well)

Another feature of MMOGs COnstance focused on was peer to peer, reciprocal Apprenticeship (a way of learning that doesn't include a traditional overview/quiz/release cycle). Apprenticeship online consists of:
  • Engaging in joint participation
  • Scaffolding
  • Sequencing
  • Efficiency
  • Practice
  • Feedback
  • Focus of learned attention on goal
  • Routine & valued practice
  • Entrusting of more control to learner
Apprenticeship also departs a particular attitude or view of the world by modeling the type of player tutor wants apprentice to me: mentorship, procedural dexterity, efficiency, value of in game goods, equal distribution of opportunity.

Constance introduced the ethos of MMOGs
“Meritocracy Online” opportunities to be someone online that you can’t be in RL; the game is a space for people to become leaders not based on looks or presence. A powerful leader online could be an illegal immigrant welder offline.

MMOGs are a participatory culture, where production / consumption problematized and a collective intelligence exists. THere is an awareness of different games, multitasking across multiple attentional spaces, an ease with dynamic & evolving knowledge / practice, and the same Big D discourse in libraries, schools, games – different identity across. Games are a primacy of the subjective, a search not for goals, but for roles, and a striving for that identity eludes. Video games are push technology, but games are a push society as well.

Constance wrapped up with the question why should libraries care about MMOGs?
They are intellectually rich environments, sites for literacy practices (analogous to libraries or not!), and enculturation into practices and perspectives (participatory consumption) for example, not just reading the book, but rewriting and sharing it.

She talked about player mods as an example. One mod is when players rewrite the rules. For example, in Lineage they hold “Farm the Farmers” Day: guilds work together to clear encampments of farmers making real money in virtual economies. The game company had no clue about this social mod.

Technical mods are pieces of software to change your interface or improve the program.
They are very popular: average number of readers for an academic article is 1.8; one Lineage mod got 1400 “readers”

A modder identifies a problem, builds mod, distributes the mod, solicits feedback, talks to other modders, and the gaming practice becomes modding.

Movie mods are recorded gameplay, distributed to an audience. The example she showed was "Beer for My Horses," a WoW movie from
It's a music video composed from WoW images that has over 164000 downloads. When I searched for it to provide a link, this video game up before the original song!

A very important thing to note is that games are becoming 3rd places – just like libraries!
Games are social networks for building social capital: bonding (family & friends with things in common) and bridging (social interaction). Now the neighborhood is the bridge, and online the bonding is happening. Bridging introduces diversity of viewpoints, networking, media forms

Constance mentioned 3rd place characteristics, not a lot of time to get into it. A few: Neutral ground, Levelers, conversation is the main activity, accessible

If these issues are of interest, watch for more information about the Games+Learning+ Society conference June 15-16, Madison WI

Question from the audience: Is there mutiny in gameplay?
Constance: Oh yes! The possibility is ever-present. And there is a natural social progression of guilds. They form storm and regroup.

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