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1 Me, myself & I Learning to negotiate identity on a World of Warcraft Roleplaying server Martin Oliver London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education.

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Presentation on theme: "1 Me, myself & I Learning to negotiate identity on a World of Warcraft Roleplaying server Martin Oliver London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education."— Presentation transcript:

1 1 Me, myself & I Learning to negotiate identity on a World of Warcraft Roleplaying server Martin Oliver London Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education

2 2 What’s the focus? How do people learn to play Warcraft as a roleplaying game? –Specifically, how I did it, as a case study –Successful “play” in this context understood as the development and sustained performance of an in- game character in a way that others choose to continue interacting with

3 3 Relating identity and character Gee’s distinction of three identities Real: the “me” playing the game –Recognised as problematic in contemporary sociology Virtual: the character in the game –A ludic, mechanical construct; not something ‘learnable’, but ‘out there’ Projective: the ‘project’ of playing that character –Left as the focus for this discussion

4 4 Another perspective Wenger: communities of practice (CoP) –An analytic concept, not a group of people A group can be called a CoP when there is: –Mutual engagement (Sufficient for relationships to form) –A joint enterprise (Including mutual accountability) –A shared repertoire (Recognisable ways of thinking and acting)

5 5 The connection Learning is the process of making a successful identity Success determined by acceptance of others in that CoP However, simultaneously member of multiple CoPs –Accountable to different groups and standards –Results in tensions that have to be managed Learning (identity work) as a trajectory of participation –Joining a community –Moving from periphery (safe) to core (risk-taking) –Moving on…

6 6 Methodology Reflective diaries of play –Integration of analysis/refection wasn’t successful –Helpful separation into diary and subsequent analysis –Addition of screenshots as diary keeping progressed Automatic screen captures not of sufficient quality Chatlogging a possibility, but wasn’t deemed to be necessary

7 7 Analysis Incidents selected that revealed tensions in play –Selected from successful roleplaying –Successes demonstrated the points less clearly, so selected difficult moments to analyse Focus on excerpts that needed negotiation to allow shared enterprise (shared story) to continue

8 8 Research ethics Whose data? –My narrative, but portraying others Is MMORPG “play” in a public domain? Pseudonyms substituted for avatar names Out-of-character explanation provided when sustained interaction took place –Repeated joint play –Featuring in the diary as more than a casual observation –But complication: an out-of-character intervention Further permission sought at point of use –Contact with characters’ player in advance of this talk

9 9 The story so far… Diary of three months of play Account focuses on interactions with other characters –Initial isolation, repeated meetings, joining a guild, regular playing partners, etc. General policy: actively avoided sharing out-of-game information with people –It happened, but was exceptional –“Need to know” - e.g. awareness of research

10 10 Alice & Emma: a love story

11 11 A simple example “ Whilst in Razorfen Kraul, one of my companions started asking if I was a girl in real life. I ignored them. They asked again, and I said I wasn’t going to say. They asked again, and I said that it really wasn’t relevant. They insisted – so I asked if they were trying to hit on me in some clumsy way. And they said that yes, they were, and they were just trying to make sure what I was because if I was a guy they’d have to be gay to hit on me. Needless to say, that’s as far as it went.”

12 12 Some simple analysis An example of negotiating two identities –Three identities present (self, character, team member) –Two in conflict (sexuality of player and character) Unresolved for this character –Didn’t stand a chance either way –They got fed up and left

13 13 A more sophisticated issue Alice, Emma & the ‘practice’ of relationship building –Talking about characters we both knew (safe) –Making and sharing histories (listening being key to this) –Joint creation of a narrative (relationship) Move from peripheral to core participation –Narrative creation becomes riskier but more rewarding As risk increased, negotiation became necessary

14 14 Today, Emma’s player introduced some story elements that (without going into detail) explained why Emma has both desires and problems. It was all very interesting and worked to add depth and potential to the romance, but it was fairly personal and very sensitive. Just as the player was logging off, however, they revealed that this background was, essentially, what had happened in their own life. I didn’t have time to respond, as I knew the player was heading off to work, but I did put down a marker that we need to have another out-of-character chat. To be honest, I feel rather shocked. I’m concerned that this isn’t just story background, but might be the player working through personal issues within the game. I’m not sure I’m particularly well placed to deal with these.

15 15 Analysis The concern: play as play, or play as therapy? –Roleplaying often draws on personal experience –What’s an appropriate way to incorporate this? Potential issue for shared enterprise –Play/therapy could be in tension; what are we working towards (together)? –Particularly an accountability issue: who should say whether something oversteps the mark? Issue for shared repertoire –Does this shift our interaction beyond my ability to respond? Resolved through out-of-character negotiation –Was an appropriate intervention; out-of-character negotiation allowed the tension to remain an in-character issue (i.e. play)

16 16 A fourth me: taking up ludic roles One thing that was interesting was a quest where we completely failed – ended up getting killed off. We went up against some Dwarves, and were fine taking them alone or even in pairs, but when they came in numbers we couldn’t defeat them, so eventually we gave up. Retrospectively, I think we both made mistakes: I should’ve switched from using a 2H axe to a mace and shield, to tank properly (i.e. slow damage dealt, but surviving longer), and Emma should’ve stopped hacking into the enemy […] and focused on keeping me alive.

17 17 Analysis Tension between two communities/identities –Both of us part of both communities Roleplaying community –Entirely in-character to act as Alice and Emma did; accountability met Ludic community –Neither properly in role for optimal play; accountability failed Resolution…? –Abandoning the attempt; ludic success less important than maintaining roleplaying

18 18 Conclusion Gee’s three identities didn’t capture the experience Wenger’s more open conception of multi- membership was helpful –Array of useful analytic tools to explore excerpts Roles in communities - plural, depending on the kind of interactions you sustain –An initial analysis of key moments and choices –Possible further description of trajectories across these, such as examples of choosing when to take on riskier interactions

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