Recently, I have been faced with the task of "Reviewing the Research on Virtual Worlds" (yes, with capitalization) as part of my dissertation requirements (ch. 1 of dissertation for me, due in 13 days and counting) but also to be published in a "Handbook of New Literacies," edited by well-known literacy scholars such as Michelle Knobel and Conlin Lankshear. So, for the past few weeks, I've been burying myself in old and new writings on the very spaces we all hold so dear – MMOGs, MUDs, virtual worlds of all forms.
The task is, well... obscenely hard and messy. There's stuff on MUDs, web-published but never peer reviewed, that's held up as "canon" for the field. Then there's the academic papers, much of which consist of conference papers and proceedings publications. There are a few books, here and there, written from fairly atheoretical stances that focus on game design or personal stories. And then the occasional academic paper, such as T.L. Taylor's work or Hunter & Lastowka's (to name a few). Our collective work is all over the place. And that's fine for individuals, but not fine for the development of a field of research for others to draw on.
Am I naive in thinking that we exist as a field? If we do, where do we send our students to read through the literature? So far, I've treated Terra Nova as a sort of repository of ideas. But this will not easily sustain us as more scholars join the field. So... I wonder. Is it time we publish a journal of our own? Or at least a yearly review of some form? I worry that knowledge gets lost as generations move on to other topics/activities and newcomers will see nothing but a whole lot of webtalk without much scholarly, peer-reviewed writing on the issues.
And, yes, it does matter. If academensian's (pun intended) are to take virtual worlds seriously, then we have to give them reason to do so. R. Bartle, you question why it is that MMOG's are constantly translated into the home fields of those who write on them. Well, without a defined audience of our own that proves itself legitimate, we risk becoming nothing more than a fandom community around a technology that will, itself, grow tired, as all eventually do.
So, my questions include: Are we ready for a peer-reviewed journal on MMOGs? And, if so, who exactly ought to serve as peer review? And too, would we be "selling out" or whatever to establish such a forum for paper publication? And could we create one that worked in conjunction with the lively discussions here?