Games + Learning + Society Liveblogging 4

I’m at a roundtable panel on World of Warcraft with seven presenters (Bielema, Bielema, Chen, Hay, Kelly, Malone, Steinkuehler.)

P. Bielema argues that you could map “real things” onto the Warcraft template to make it educational.

E. Bielema is looking at discourse around a particular fight in the game.

Chen is looking at the development of expertise through gameplay in World of Warcraft, and how/whether players can communicate expertise to each other laterally, train each other and so on.

Hay looks at the process of character development as if it were a model or simulation, that players are testing hypotheses about how the character will work, testing the character against the environment, improving their development. [ME: Here the problem is, what about players who don’t accept that way of understanding character development and consciously ‘gimp’ themselves, or make idiosyncratic choices.]

Kelly is talking about how women conceal or efface their identities through performance and visible practice in World of Warcraft, using the concept of “passing”. Talks about two common ideas: that most female avatars are actually men, and that people who say their mikes are broken are often women who don’t want to be revealed as such. (She suggests that the latter is pretty much true.)

Malone is centrally focused on a case where a powerguild “exploited”, but didn’t believe that they were exploiting, about how that kind of claim gets arbitrated.

Sherlock is talking about how different communities construct “n00bs” in World of Warcraft (kind of the other end of Chen’s work).

Steinkuehler is describing work of one of her graduate students–afterschool program that’s an in-game WoW guild with boys who are ADHD, ADD, who are very alienated from school but very oriented to games.

[Me: one thing I’d say is important is not to just turn World of Warcraft into some ‘normal’ educational object. Steinkuehler is very clear about this in her work on Lineage: if something transformative happens when people play games, it has to be treated gently, and there’s very little direction you can give to it. Just overlaying WoW with something ‘educational’ is a misfire, in my view, though I didn’t have a chance to listen in more detail to the presenter who I understood to be arguing for something like that.]

[ME: Some talk near the end about the difficulty of developing clear descriptions of World of Warcraft gameplay, especially for those who have never played it. It’s really hard to be doing work that turns on extremely specific events or mechanics and not get swallowed up in an explanation of that. On the other hand, how is that different from any heavily situated ethnographic work where the audience isn’t immediately familiar with the context? It’s always difficult to explain, but many people have figured out ways to do it. Part of it is being clear about what you think the particular experience helps you to explain or understand in a larger context–if you just say that a particular thing in World of Warcraft explains somethinig else in World of Warcraft, then you might just want to stick to giving that paper at BlizzCon. It needs to have some larger significance.]

Me: one thing I wished I’d seen more of was Mark Chen’s truly awesome looking papercraft models, which I gather is part of how he looks at transactions around expertise. I mostly ended up talking with Malone and Steinkuehler about their respective, extremely interesting, work.

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