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Oct 29, 2010



Interesting. Failure due to (perhaps) over measurement of individual activity. In my family, we call this "being distracted by the map." The idea that, sometimes, the tools we use to understand the world distract us from the world to the point where we are behind where we'd be without them.

Thanks for the post. Very interesting stuff.


Could you talk a little bit more about the 'different reasons' that came up that led to the demise of the raid? It has been my experience that raiders generally stay raiders or leave the game. I'm not sure how many raiders I've seen change in-game priorities. I think it would be odd to hear a raider say, 'Uh guys...I'm not going to raid any more. I'm going to focus on crafting.'


In your dissertation, I'm sure you addressed in much more detail how the increased availability of objective measures of performance changed the group dynamics. I for one would love to hear TONS more about this observation, not least because I want to know what conclusions you draw from it and the narrative underlying said conclusions.


Haven't read the dissertation yet, but I've guessed that prehistoric economic processes arose as a reaction to the inability to keep up with absolutely everyone's reputation: eventually you just have to trust the stamp on the coin. It makes sense that the causal action can go in the opposite direction, where the abstraction of a number makes a friendship go cold.

In an era of data traces, numbered friend counts, and performance evaluations, there is a lot less room (often intentionally so) for people to connect on a personal level. One of the reasons I dislike combat-oriented games is that multiplayer combat beyond about four players tends towards hierarchy, and hierarchy makes intimacy difficult.


As a meta point, you may feel comfortable using Wikipedia as a source, but you will run into trouble if you continue to do so in papers submitted for publication unless those papers are actually about Wikipedia. This is because:

1) Wikipedia is often wrong. Example: look up MMORPG and you'll discover that Richard Garriott coined the term. He didn't.

2) If you don't have a decent source for a term, then telling your readers to look it up in Wikipedia is patronising. We can all look up terms we don't know in Wikipedia without your prompting, thank you very much.

3) Wikipedia pages can disappear without warning. Your Wikipedia reference to DKP referred to the Loot_System entry, but there's a much bigger page specific to DKP itself (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_kill_points). That page was removed several years ago for not meeting Wikipedia's notability criteria, and individuals like Brian Green had to fight tooth and nail to get it back.

4) It exposes you to suggestions of poor scholarship. I find it hard to believe that you couldn't find a book or paper that had a decent definition of "Role-Playing Game" in it, for example.

5) It's unfair on original authors. Wikipedia itself studiously lists its sources, so you can easily look them up yourself. That article on Leet, for example relies heavily on http://www.technewsworld.com/story/47607.html . The author of that article, Anthony Mitchell, is not cited in your thesis yet it's his work to which you're ultimately referring. It's unfair for you not to do so.

If you disagree with this, well, fair enough, that's your right; I'm merely warning you that if you keep it up, your attempts to get published will run less smoothly than they otherwise might.

Besides, you should be looking at this as an opportunity! If there isn't a decent academic definition of a term, where better than your own writings to provide such a definition? For example, if, instead of flipping a casual reference to Wikipedia's entry on mini-maxing, you'd wondered why it was actually called that, you would (after some delving) probably have discovered that Doug Lenat's program EURISKO won the Traveler TCS contest in 1981 & 1982 using (among other approaches) an AI technique called "minimax", and it was this which led to the adoption of the term in RPGs. You could have stated that, and then the next time someone wanted a reference to the term, they'd have cited you, not Wikipedia. Even better, Wikipedia would have cited you.

Wikipedia is a great resource, but it's not a great source.



Congratulations, I will d/l and read it in due course. My only comment is why you choose to continue with Bourdieu's cultural capital, since the accumulated capital in whatever form (i.e embodied) has little value / transferability in wider society.

Maybe have better to use Thornton's use of the term "subcultural capital" - as the cultural knowledge and commodities acquired by members of a subculture, raising their status and helping differentiate themselves from members of other groups.

Thornton, Sarah (1995). Club Cultures: Music, Media, and Subcultural Capital. Cambridge: Polity Press.


Dr Mark Chen,

Congratulations first off. Having recently successfully defended my own PhD I know how tough a time it is. Well done.

Second, an interesting read. Epistemologically and ontologically you've obviously gone down the Practice Theory route and examined the interactions occurring in the Habitus. This makes for an intriguing approach. I must admit to more quantitative leanings myself, but it’s certainly interesting to see how you’ve taken this effectively from a learning based environment approach and been able to show how the obstacles in the learning environment themselves and the tools by which learners have to overcome them, shape the group dynamic. The core of your thesis seems to be the concept of the development of a set of intrinsic skills by the learners, a set of skills which allows them, even when novices to a new encounter, allows for very rapid learning curves to be developed. In other words; you’ve seemingly mapped the development of experience and wisdom (expertise as you call it).

What I would find interesting is if whether that expertise which allowed them to adapt in one habitus is limited to that habitus, or if those skills are able to be translated into other environments (which really is developing the work more along the lines of Constance Steinkuehler and her research stream). Certainly that’s beyond the scope of the work you’ve presented, but it would seem the obviously route to further research.

Just to echo a few other comments, I was a little surprised at the use of Wikipedia within the thesis.

I was also wondering if, when reading, is the thesis you’ve posted an abridged version? As I couldn’t find your methodology, methods or discussion of your analysis techniques etc.? Are those in another version and you’ve just missed them out in that version for readability purposes? While I understand the ethnographic nature of your work is the singular lived in case study, I was expecting some kind of discussion of the nature of your analysis and how you’ve developed meaning from the data collection techniques you’ve applied.



“Being distracted by the map” is an interesting line of thought! Maps, GPS, sports scores... Could the idea be distilled into Cognitive Load Theory where people get distracted by the tool or user interface (ie. devote too much of their cognitive/memory capacity to the tools) of the activity such that they can’t devote enough of their cognition into the activity itself?


Well, the group of players that I studied initially started raiding as a way to engage in some sort of activity that prolonged their hanging out with each other. They were a group of friends who leveled up together and decided that they wanted to continue working on content together. Bonding through shared activity, you know? About 4 or 5 months in (*roughly*) some of the players started to put more value into progression and loot. Loot division became more of an issue. The randomness of our loot rules (we used a weighted roll system which tended to rewarded veteran raiders who hadn’t won anything in a while but still had an element of randomness that would sometimes reward a player on their first run) caused some of the players who hadn’t won anything in a while to feel angry, hurt, underappreciated, etc. In other words, I guess what I’m saying is that it isn’t that raiders became non-raiders, but more the motivations for raiding changed for many of the players, resulting in fragmentation among the group, which eventually resulted in its dissolution. I think one of the biggest factors for the fragmentation, however, came from seasonal changes. As summer came, many raiders left due to their changing schedules, and the group had to fill its roster with newbies, which resulted in a step back in terms of progression. Most of the newbies were not just newbies to the group but also newbie raiders.


Chapter 3 basically covers the adoption of threat meter and how it changed the dynamics of the raid group. I’m a little dissatisfied with how deeply I was able to go with the analysis, but, essentially, yes... being able to quantify performance and keep tabs on everyone meant that trusting a player to perform his or her role well was down to seeing their performance rather than relying on their reputation or social/cultural capital. I think ultimately, it may not matter where the trust comes from but every member of the group should know up-front how that trust is being generated. So, a hard-core raiding group might implicitly rely on these quantifiable measures, where a social group might not care so much about performance. Each group has an alignment in their motivations and values (ie. how their trust is generated). The group I studied changed the source of this trust over time... unexpectedly for most of the players, I’d say, and that’s part of what lead to its demise.


Yeah.. today’s gearscore and inter-server PUGs are emblematic of certified capital replacing social bonds of trust.


Points taken and I’m humbled. I tried to limit Wikipedia to things that were not for the research argument but rather as a quick way for readers (basically, originally written for my dissertation committee.. I had no idea you all would actually read it and that I’d be sharing it with Terra Nova!) who have no idea what I’m talking about to read a summary of the terms I use. But you’re right; I definitely could have done a better job of citing authors and may have been a little lazy. Actually, what I probably made a mistake in doing is citing at all instead of just placing hyperlinks or footnotes within the text of the dissertation. I’ll try to be more diligent in the future and more thoughtful about how I’m using references. Some of your points come from your specialized knowledge, and it’s obvious (to me) that I didn’t have access to that knowledge but now I know I can ask you in the future. :)


I found Bourdieu through Thomas Malaby (cf. Making Virtual Worlds) and so attempted to extend some of his (Thomas’s) argument on contingency. It then seemed like good terms to continue using throughout the diss. I was unaware of Thornton and have now placed it in my priority reading list. Thanks!


Thanks for the comment! As for the methods, etc., I included an overview in the introduction, but you’re right; it is semi-brief. Partly this is because the dissertation evolved from a collection of papers, each with its own methods section. I’ve aggregated those sections together and trimmed it for readability. One of the eventual desires is to try to get this published somewhere (though I have no idea at this point if that is likely) so the committee and I agreed that I could start to angle it towards that audience already. Maybe this wasn’t kosher?


Mark, regarding references, I think this can be difficult territory. I tend to err on the side of too many references, because I never want to leave anyone out. But that often makes my papers crazy unwieldy, and my mind crazy, because I feel that I have to cite everything back to Adam and Eve.

Don't know what the right answer is, but I sympathize...


I support the use of Wikipedia is that is often the only place a coherent, audience-agnostic definition can be found, and I think such citings are very culturally relevant. That said, I tend to use Wikipedia in footnotes only.


I haven't read the full PDF yet but I find your discussion of expertise to be very interesting. In particular, I think it would be useful to see how the community defines expertise and values those players who meet or exceed their definition and how that shifts over time. For example the move from the "experts" being found on the WoW forums -> Elitist Jerks -> Tank Spot etc. It seems once a level of expertise becomes more readily accessible to the general WoW populace the definition is shifted (along with a website) to redefine most people into the out group.

As to the being distracted by the map discussion I think it's a good idea. As a player of WoW (and healer to boot) I don't actually play or look at the game world when raiding. I play a game within a game called make all the little bars green. So for me the actual game world becomes background noise to my focus on the interface. In many instances I'm actually rewarded for this type of tunnel vision, through good healing, praise, or simply living through the fight. I wonder how WoW play now would compare in this instance to WoW play back at the launch of the game when there were fewer interface and addon elements.

Also if you ever want to do a comparison study I can hook you up with my guild. I think they would make for an interesting counter-example to the one you participated in.



I tend to use the term 'mastery' rather than expertise as I think it denotes knowledge + capability + resourcefulness + social capital + skills + power and everything one needs to be successful. 'Possession of consummate skill'. Lots of good psych literature in that area, too. And video.


Markchen>I tried to limit Wikipedia to things that were not for the research argument but rather as a quick way for readers

Your usage served its purpose well enough in that it didn't affect the defence of your PhD. I was just warning you that the argument you used may not fly when you try get a simular usage past a reviewer for a paper, that's all.

>Some of your points come from your specialized knowledge

Yes, but those were just examples. You can expect reviewers to have specialised knowledge; they are, after all, specialists! They tend to be specialised in one area, though, so while they will be able to pick apart the minutiae in some places, huge gaping holes in reasoning will pass by unnoticed elsewhere.

>now I know I can ask you in the future. :)

You can ask, but that doesn't mean I know the answer..!



Lisa G>I support the use of Wikipedia is that is often the only place a coherent, audience-agnostic definition can be found

I can get a consistent, audience agnostic definition of random topics from taxi drivers; that doesn't mean they're a credible source, though.

>and I think such citings are very culturally relevant.

So what? You'll be citing tweets next...



You're messing with me, Richard, right? I'm an anthropologist, remember? ANYTHING is relevant if it garners insight. Was just thinking I should write a book called 'Take the Bus', right in there with findings from cab drivers...


Great insight re: expertise. As the years have passed, raiding in WoW has become more and more refined... like a narrowing of the kinds of things a player does. Configurations and resource use becomes more standardized or normalized, etc. Is someone considered an expert when he or she successfully performs within the narrowed space? If so, as you say, the cutoff point continually shifts as time goes by. (Though, it's probably better described as a greyscale rather than binary distinction between leet and noob.)

An alternative view could be to forgo applying the label "expert" onto specific players and instead just describe the range of activity a given player performs as sometimes expert practice. Does that get us anywhere?

And Lisa's term "mastery" might be better anyway. :p


Is it just me or does the link to yer diss 404?


ugh. Looks like the library site I uploaded it to is down. Temporary fix: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/7657038/chen.diss.leetnoobs.pdf


I've decided I like the term 'prowess' as it denotes a set of skills that could apply to any environment, mastered or not. More like expertise, except it encompasses personal agency, capability, etc. etc. etc. Game fu, generally.


Lisa>I'm an anthropologist, remember? ANYTHING is relevant if it garners insight.

Suppose I want to make more aerodynamic paper aircraft and I ask the help of a physicist who then proceeds to give me the run-down on how LEDs work. The LED explanation would certainly garner my insight, but it wouldn't be relevant.

OK, so anything is relevant to Anthropology; don't expect that to mean it's relevant to other disciplines, though.



I understand your point, Richard, but are we making aerodynamically (physically) viable airplanes? Don't think so, think we are studying/creating virtual worlds, observing/seeding culture in them, predicting/creating societal sandboxes, etc. I do think anthro is relevant to every discipline because every discipline involves people. But one does not preclude the other, it's additive, allowing a holistic view of a problem space, from machine perspectives to people perspectives.


Lisa> I do think anthro is relevant to every discipline because every discipline involves people.

That's an argument for Psychology, not for Anthropology. If every discipline involves groups of people, then that might be an argument for it (although Sociology has a big stake in that, too).

The other problem with your "ANYTHING is relevant if it garners insight" line is that in practice EVERYTHING garners insight, therefore everything is relevant, therefore relatively speaking nothing is relevant. This ceases to be an issue of you regard some things as being more relevant than others, however your line seems to suggest it's a binary concept for anthropologists. That can't be right, surely?



Richard: This is all part of the participant observation methodology. The researcher is the instrument of the research, responsible for sponging up any possible relevant data, then synthesizing it. It is heavily reliant on subjective, intuitive aspects of experience and deeply dependent on one's longstanding integration into the community in question. Often validated/substantiated with quantitative measures.

It's an emic (inside out) rather than the etic (outside in) approach that characterizes other observational methods.

Not saying anthro is the end all be all, but part of the puzzle, surely?


As far as avoiding the slope into postmodern everything counts territory, I'd say the anthro approach is to attempt to understand the meaning and weight of things from the participants' point of view. Therefore, if it counts for the participants, it counts. Yet, I would also argue that sometimes what matters is invisible to the participants but those can only be uncovered through careful observation. The researcher as instrument is both a participant *and* and observer.

Or maybe, in other words, yes, in anthro, everything may count but it all doesn't count the same, thus preserving relativity.

But I think Richard is right, too. Each discipline uses different scales to weigh what counts, heavily influenced by research question or purpose.

And, of course, the writing coming from research needs to be adjusted for different audiences. My dissertation is perhaps looser than a journal article in terms of using popular culture/new media references. I was attempting to navigate waters with the siren call of gamers on one side and the shores of a general audience on the other, all the while heading straight on towards the whirlpool of academics. Given the trickiness of that navigation (Hutchins's naval vessel has nothing on me!), I jettisoned some stuff overboard, using Wikipedia when I thought it was good enough. I'd have used Twitter, too, if I felt it did what I needed it to do.


Sorry to hijack this post but does anybody know of anyone undertaking research on online interactions within Monster Hunter Tri?

Appreciate in advance for any help.


Cunzy1_1, don't know of such, but have you tried asking various listserves like the digital games research association's (digra.org) mailing list?


I have written a dissertation when I was a graduate student. since then, I have never tried it. Your cry have made me remind mine. :) Good Luck pal!
Essay Papers

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