Being in the World (of Warcraft): Raiding, Realism, and Knowledge Production in a Massively Multiplayer Online Game

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Abstract

This paper discusses two main claims made about virtual worlds: first, that people become “immersed” in virtual worlds because of their sensorial realism, and second, because virtual worlds appear to be “places” they can be studied without reference to the lives that their inhabitants live in the actual world. This paper argues against both of these claims by using data from an ethnographic study of knowledge production in World of Warcraft. First, this data demonstrates that highly-committed (“immersed”) players of World of Warcraft make their interfaces less sensorially realistic (rather than more so) in order to obtain useable knowledge about the game world. In this case, immersion and sensorial realism may be inversely correlated. Second, their commitment to the game leads them to engage in knowledge-making activities outside of it. Drawing loosely on phenomenology and contemporary theorizations of Oceania, I argue that what makes games truly “real” for players is the extentto which they create collective projects of action that people care about, not their imitation of sensorial qualia. Additionally, I argue that while purely ingame research is methodologically legitimate, a full account of member’s lives must study the articulation of in-game and out-of-game worlds and trace people’s engagement with virtual worlds across multiple domains, some virtual and some actual. [Keywords: knowledge production, phenomenology, virtual worlds, World of Warcraft, Second Life, video games, raiding]

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