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The new third place: Massively multiplayer online gaming in American youth culture

The New Third Place: Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming
in American Youth Culture
Constance A. Steinkuehler
225 North Mills Street
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison WI 53706
United States
Tidskrift Journal of Research in Education, 3.
Umeå: Umeå University, The Faculty of Teacher Education Board.
Abstract. In this paper, I argue that massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) function as one novel
form of a new “third place” for informal sociability. Based on data collected as part of an ongoing two-
year virtual cognitive ethnography of the game Lineage (first I, now II), I outline how the features of
MMOG digital worlds satisfy Oldenburg’s (1999) defining criteria for the very sorts of third places “real
world” America sorely lacks. Then, building on this characterization, I discuss why such games matter for
educators and researchers interested in cognition and learning not only in digital communities but also in
contemporary everyday life in the broadest sense.
“All play means something.” Huizinga, J. (1949).
In his recent book The Great Good Place, sociologist Ray Oldenburg (1999) makes the argument
that American culture has lost many of its third places spaces for neither work nor home but rather
informal social life. “The essential group experience is being replaced by the exaggerated self-
consciousness of individuals,” Oldenburg argues. “American life-styles, for all the material acquisition
and the seeking after comforts and pleasures, are plagued by boredom, loneliness, alienation” (p. 13).
Recent national survey data corroborates this assertion, with television claiming more than half of
American leisure time and only three-quarters of an hour per day on average spent socializing (Longley,
2004), either in the home or outside it. While editorialists such as Solomon (2004) bemoan the rise in
electronic media such as videogames as “torpid” and urge American public schools and society to
“encourage that great thrill of finding kinship in shared experiences of books,” others scholars take a
markedly different tack, arguing that online digital technologies such as the Internet (Hampton &
Wellman, 2003) and MUDs (Bruckman & Resnick, 1995) are, in both form and function, new (albeit
digitally mediated) informal social spaces themselves. “The Web creates a Third Space,” writes Stowe
Boyd (2004), editor of the technology news column Get Real. “People can meet and create those weak
ties that make life a richer and more diverse place … we can let off steam, argue about the local politics
or sports, and make sense of the world.”
If this latter claim is true, then massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) may very well
serve as the most compelling examples of digitally mediated third places to date. As Williams
(forthcoming) insightfully points out, such games have kindled a deeply ambivalent attitude in American
culture (for example, the media attention given the Internet based gaming habits of the perpetrators of the
grizzly Columbine High School shootings), an attitude perhaps rooted in societal guilt over the
mistreatment and neglect of American youth, one that again casts them as the source of problems (in this
case, violence and crime) rather than the victims of those oft-ignored risk factors associated with them
(e.g. abuse from relatives, neglect, poverty). Despite the ambivalence, however, the online gaming
industry continues to boom “with up to four million players worldwide regularly visiting make-believe
lands to fight, hunt for treasure, or just sit their characters down for a chat” (Meek, 2004). The MMOG
Lineage (first I, then II), for example, boasts more than three million combined current subscribers
(Woodcock, 2004) and, in the course of a year, Ultima Online devours more than one hundred and sixty
million man-hours (Kolbert, 2001). With the average amount of weekly gameplay ranging from 12 to 21
hours and nearly 30 percent of MMOGamers spending their in-game time with beyond-game friends
(Seay, Jerome, Lee, & Kraut, 2004), researchers and educators interested in the contemporary lives of
adolescents not to mention adults, both young and old may find themselves in dire need of heeding
Turkle’s (1995) caveat: “Some are tempted to think of life in cyberspace as insignificant, as escape or
meaningless diversion. It is not. Our experiences there are serious play. We belittle them at our risk”
(pp. 268-269).
In this paper, I argue that massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) do indeed function as
one novel form of a new ‘third place’ for informal sociability. Based on data collected as part of an
ongoing two-year virtual cognitive ethnography of the game Lineage (first I, now II) (Steinkuehler, 2003,
2004a, 2004b, 2004c), I outline how the features of MMOG digital worlds satisfy Oldenburg’s (1999)
defining criteria for the very sorts of third places “real world” America sorely lacks. Then, building on
this characterization, I discuss why such games matter for educators and researchers interested in
cognition and learning not only in digital communities but also in contemporary everyday life in the
broadest sense.
Massively Multiplayer Online Games: The Case of Lineage
Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) are highly graphical 2- or 3-D videogames played
online, allowing individuals, through their self-created digital characters or “avatars,” to interact not only
with the gaming software – the designed environment of the game and the computer-controlled characters
within it but with other players’ avatars as well. Conceptually, they are part of the rich tradition of
alternative worlds that science fiction and fantasy literature provide us (e.g. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, 1938);
technically, they are the evolutionary next-step in a long line of social games that runs from paper-and-
pencil fantasy games (e.g., Gygax & Arneson’s Dungeons & Dragons, 1973) to main-frame text-based
multi-user dungeons (e.g. Trubshaw & Bartle’s famous first MUD, 1978) through the first graphical
massively multiplayer online environments (e.g., Andrew and Chris Kirmse’s Meridian 59, 1996) to the
now-common, high-end 3-D digital worlds of today (for a complete history, see Koster, 2002). The virtual
worlds that today’s MMOGamers routinely plug in and inhabit are persistent social and material worlds,
loosely structured by open-ended (fantasy) narratives, where players are largely free to do as they please
– slay ogres, siege castles, craft a pair of gaiters, barter goods in town, or tame dragon hatchlings. They
are notorious for their peculiar combination of designed “escapist fantasy” yet emergent “social realism”
(Kolbert, 2001): in a setting of wizards and elves, dwarfs and knights, people save for homes, create
basket indices of the trading market, build relationships of status and solidarity, and worry about crime.
Lineage, the MMOG context of this research, is now in its second incarnation. Lineage I: The
Blood Pledge was first released in Korea in 1997. After 3 years of domination in the Korean gaming
sphere, it expanded to America to currently boast roughly 2.7 million global subscribers (Woodcock,
2004). Set in medieval times, this 2-D game features not only the regular cast of fantasy characters
(elves, knights, magicians) but also a royal cast of prince/esses, each claiming to be the legitimate heir to
the throne and therefore forced to compete with one another to recruit other classes of characters into their
clan or “pledge” as both protection and armed forces for castles siege. Its 3-D sequel, Lineage II: The
Chaotic Chronicle, released in Korea in November of 2003 and expanded to America in April of 2004,
currently claims nearly 1.5 million concurrent subscriptions globally (Woodcock, 2004). Set 150 years
earlier than Lineage I but situated in a similar virtual landscape, Lineage II captures the period of strife
before any legitimate bloodline to the virtual throne has been established. Within the game, members of
all races (human, orc, elf, dark elf, dwarf) and classes (fighter, crafter, mage, etc.) again join forces in the
form of clans to compete for castle control in server-wide sieges and clan battles. In both incarnations, the
Lineage clan system is tightly coupled to both the guiding narrative of the game and the virtual world’s
economic system, resulting in a complex social space of affiliations and disaffiliations, constructed
largely out of shared (or disparate) social and material practices (Steinkuehler, 2004a).
Lineage constitutes a robust social and virtual-material world, one that warrants full investigation
in its own right, much as a new country or culture in the tangible geographic world might. As an
educational researcher, I am keenly interested in the intellectual substance of such virtual worlds: What
do people learn through participation in such spaces? And how is it that this learning happens? Toward
answering these questions, I am conducting a cognitive ethnography (Hutchins, 1995) of the game that
incorporates both (a) traditional “thick description” (Geertz, 1973) ethnographic methods such as
participatory observation, unstructured and semi-structured interviews with informants, and the collection
and analysis of community documents (e.g. player-authored user manuals, fan sites, fan fiction, game-
related discussion boards), and (b) strategic data collection and analysis methods borrowed from
traditional distributed cognition studies (Steinkuehler, Black, & Clinton, in press) in order to better
understand specific socially and materially distributed cognitive practices of interest. To date, this virtual
cognitive ethnography has been conducted for a period of over 28 months. In what follows, I analyze
Lineage as a third place for informal sociability, based on my participation in the daily life of the game
and critical reflection on my observations during this time in light of interviews and discussions with my
Lineage II as a Third Place
In arguing for the value of third places, Oldenburg (1999) points to the particularly stifled
circumstances of the American adolescent. Citing Sennett’s (1973) dire conclusions on American
homelife in the early seventies, Oldenburg makes the case that, if any population suffers most from
America’s “automobile suburb” life and “leisure… perverted into consumption” (p.11), it is our middle
class youth. Left behind in the suburbs while parents work, stifled in homes kept safely isolated from the
novel, and regimented into frantic schedules to shroud the loneliness of suburban existence, the American
adolescent, Oldenburg argues, is cut off from the necessary benefits of participation in third places. In so
doing, Oldenburg succeeds in rebuking the problem (today’s adolescents’ stifled daily circumstances)
rather than the victim (the adolescents themselves); he fails, however, in unpacking the relationship
between “gadgetry” and third places by conflating the Net-generation’s use of technology with that of its
parents: “The home entertainment industry thrives in the dearth of the informal public life among the
American middle class,” Oldenburg (1999) argues. “Demand for all manner of electronic gadgetry to
substitute vicarious watching and listening for more direct involvement is high.” (p. 12)
This indictment of today’s digital entertainment media as a substitution for “informal public life”
and “direct involvement” fails to acknowledge the informal social spaces being constructed, inhabited,
and maintained behind the home computer screen. Today’s youth (and many adults) use online digital
technologies as a way to, among other things, socialize. Providing interstitial spaces for social interaction
and relationships beyond the workplace (or school) and home, virtual environments such as MMOGs
function, by definition, as new (albeit digitally-mediated) third places much like the pubs, coffee shops,
and other hangouts of old. A review of Oldenburg’s (1999) own eight defining characteristics of third
places, in the context of MMOGs, demonstrates.
I. Neutral Ground. First and foremost, third places are neutral grounds where individuals are free to
come and go as they please. As Sennett (1977) argues, “people can be sociable only when they have some
protection from each other” (p. 311). Because MMOGs are played online, interaction within them is
mediated by the game world avatars. Few places beyond the web afford such anonymity, providing a safe
haven beyond the reach of work and home that allows individuals to engage with others socially without
the entangling obligations and repercussions that often accompany, for example, socializing with
workplace peers. After all, in MMOGs, the player can always simply log off for the time being, start a
new character entirely, or, if worse comes to worse, move to a wholly new game. Thus, MMOGs are
digitally mediated, autonomous neutral grounds that allow interaction and engagement without the sorts
of entanglements Oldenburg argues are deleterious to informal sociability.
II. Leveler. Second and equally as important, third places are ones in which an individual’s rank and
status in the workplace or society at large are of no import (Oldenburg, 1999). Acceptance and
participation is not contingent on any prerequisites, requirements, roles, duties, or proof of membership.
On this issue, MMOGs are an excellent case in point. The only entry requirements for participation are
the costs of purchasing and then subscribing to the game, typically running the gamer, if we ignore the
computer hardware requirements, somewhere around USD50 (one-time retail purchase) plus a monthly
expense around USD15. Such spaces are inclusive, serving to “expand possibilities, whereas formal
associations tend to narrow and restrict them” (Oldenburg, 1999, p. 24). Emerging research on MMOGs
suggests their similar function. Even within the "lackluster social environment" of Asherons Call II,
sociologist Dmitri Williams (2004) found that playing MMOGs, which tended to displace television
viewing as a primary leisure activity, generated positive social "bridging" effects of improving players’
real-world community outlook. His research findings, however, were mixed: "In the language of social
capital, game use appears to negatively impact local bonding, but not faraway bridging. This pattern
supports the general Internet results... in which the Internet was shown to be a good facilitator for meeting
new people, but not a good means of securing vital personal support. This game magnifies that general
effect." (p. 239).
Such mixed findings may stem from the nature of third places themselves. As Oldenburg (1999)
argues, the "golden circle” drawn around the third place relegates not only rank and status beyond the
purview of the third place but also one's personal problems and moodiness. In MMOGs, troubles-telling is
often met with a playful response, tacitly signaling that such material is not fodder for in-game activity
per se, although the ways in which clans and other in-game social groups serve as informal emotional
support networks for individuals who purportedly encounter real-world tragedy has been fodder for much
discussion (for example, see Koster's (1998) famous “A Story About a Tree" and Spaight's (2003) expose
of the feigned death on Consider the excerpt below taken from LineageII in which one gamer
responds to another’s conversation starter with complaints about recent ill health.1
Liadon how are things coming along for you soul?
Soul i think im gonna die
Adeleide no dont die. death is bad
Liadon If I were so mortally wounded that I thought I was
going to die, logging on lin would be on the
Liadon top ten list, but after calling 911 for sure
Soul i feel like sh1t
Liadon are you sick?
Clan member Zara has logged into the game.
Duncan hihi Zara
Soul my nose is stuffy my ear hurts and my throt is really
Duncan sorry man, that stinks
Soul my gf [girlfriend] cousin kissed me and she had
Adeleide well there u go. off to the doc[tor] with u
Soul on monday
Adeleide er... why u kissing ur GFs cousin?
Liadon ... did you just say you are dating your cousin?
Duncan Thats an interesting story already
Soul idk [i dont know]
Soul it was weird
Duncan It sounds weird.
Liadon I heard about a porno like that once
Zara i was 16 once
Duncan Liadon – lets please not even go there. :P [grin]
Soul i wasnt kissing my gf cousin she kisses me on the
Zara so, for clarification
Zara is this like gf/cousin
Liadon ah... the plot thins
Soul thats just wrong guys
Zara hey i'm not kissing my cousin's gf
Liadon I thought it was his gf's cousin
Soul i didnt tho
Duncan My gf once kissed my cousin's gf
Adeleide my cousin had a gf once
Liadon I have a cousin
Soul wow this is weird
Duncan What sense of "had" are we using here?
Zara eeewww
Adeleide *gulp*
Duncan Feeling better yet Soul?
Soul no
Liadon This is why I game... the interesting conversation
During this exchange on clan chat, a chat window shared by fellow clan members allowing social
interaction regardless of members' in-game virtual location, clan members playfully run not with the
initial claim of suffering a recent mild illness but rather the explanation given for how that illness was
possibly acquired. In this exchange, clan members collectively transform a troubles-telling incident into a
conversational ruse using “lively, scintillating, colorful, and engaging” (Oldenburg, 1999, p. 26)
interaction, a defining characteristic of third places to which we now turn.
III. Conversation is Main Activity. As the excerpt above demonstrates, “third places are veritable
gymnasiums of Mother wit” (Oldenburg, 1999, p. 29). In the words of MUD-Dev guru J. C. Lawrence,
"The basic medium of multiplayer games is communication." (cited in Koster, n.d.) Conversation is a core
activity, often enriched by and centering around gameplay of another sort:
“Conversation is a game that mixes will with many other games
according to the manner in which they are played…. The game and
conversation move along in lively fashion, the talk enhancing the card
game, the card game giving eternal stimulation to the talk. Jackson’s
observations in the clubs of the working-class English confirm this.
‘Much time,’ he recorded, ‘is given over to playing games. Cribbage and
dominoes mean endless conversation and by-the-way evaluation of
personalities. Spectators are never quiet, and every stage of the game
stimulates comment mostly on the characteristics of the players rather
than the play…'” (p.30-31)
MMOGs are virtual environments for gameplay: leveling one's character by slaying monsters that pepper
the countryside, bartering goods in virtual villages as a way to improve the strength and ability of one's
equipment, holding formal and informal competitions of strength in the form of arena duels, clan wars,
and castle sieges, completing quests for items and virtual cash, even venturing off into yet untravelled
territories in search of lovely vistas and fantastic creatures of every sort. MMOGs feature multiple text-
based chat channels, including public talk visible to all in the current vicinity, clan chat enabling fellow
members' constant communication, party chat for members in a temporary party to communicate during
their adventures, trade chat where those buying and selling can advertise their wares at a distance, and
private chat between two people. This multiplicity of communication channels facilitates ongoing
commentary on players' individual or shared hunts and exploits as a mainstay activity. Multiple
conversations occur in tandem with each individual oftentimes engaged in several conversational threads
simultaneously – sharing a laugh over clan chat about someone's recent untimely death, haggling over the
price of some sorely needed item on trade chat, arguing in party chat about how to distribute the spoils of
the hunting groups’ current escapade, privately catching up through private whispered talk with a good
friend who has been offline the day before. MMOGameplay is constituted not only by joint in-game
activities but also and overwhelmingly by constant conversation around the game and beyond, ranging
from theoretical debates over what constitutes most efficacious hunting to in-game gossip about the latest
“who did what to whom and why” to social banter over today's latest real-world headlines to discussion of
the weather, politics, recent real and/or virtual events, girlfriends, food, the Iraq war, movies, music, and
even other games. MMOGs are, in fact, so thoroughly social in nature that game designers and theorists
debate the value of categorizing them with other videogames at all: “It's a SERVICE. Not a game. It's a
WORLD. Not a game. It's a COMMUNITY. Not a game. Anyone who says, ‘it's just a game’ is missing
the point.” (Koster, n.d.)
IV. Accessibility & Accommodation. According to Oldenburg (1999), third places must be easy to
access: "One may go alone at almost any time of the day or evening with assurance that acquaintances
will be there” (p. 32). MMOGs are again a case in point: They are perpetually accessible and played in
real time, meaning that individuals can log on and off as they see fit. Barring the occasional server update,
such virtual worlds are continually available social spaces where people enter, stay for as long as time (or
parents) allow, and leave of their own accord. Given time-zone differences, the average MMOG server
population fluctuates as students and workers in different areas of the world return home from school or
work and logon to visit with friends and participate in joint activities. Most in-game activities remain
impromptu as a result, depending on who is online when and what the general mood happens to be.
Unlike bricks-and-mortar third places, MMOGs are most commonly accessed directly from one’s home
and remain available on a daily basis for whoever cares to join in. Social mores in the game support this:
Though the typical salutations and farewells are used, sudden appearances and departures are rarely made
a noteworthy event (see above transcript as an example).
V. The Regulars. “What attracts a regular visitor to a third place is supplied not by management but by
the fellow customer,” notes Oldenburg (1999). “It is the regulars who give the place its character and who
assure that on any given visit some of the gang will be there.” (pp. 33-34) Such regulars dominate not in a
numerical sense but in an affective sense, setting the tone of conversation and the general mood of the
place. In the MMOG Lineage II, two types of game-regulars shape the social impression of the game:
clan members and squatters in specific virtual territories (for an interesting discussion on the proper unit
of analysis for analyzing MMOGs as third places, see Ducheneaut, Moore, & Nickell, 2004). For the 78%
of MMOGamers who join a clan (Seay, Jerome, Lee, & Kraut, 2004), fellow clan members set the tone of
sociability by remaining ever-present within the clan chat window. Clan members depend on one
another’s strengths and exploits for their own individual success in the game by cultivating a shared clan
reputation, sharing riches, and engaging in joint activities of mutual benefit. Regulars within the clan set
the daily mood through their ongoing interaction with others. While clan regulars travel with you in the
form of ongoing banter in the ever-present clan chat window, the second group of regulars, squatters in
specific virtual territories, provides a social context specific to various areas in the game. Virtual hunting
grounds vary not only in terms of level of difficulty but also in terms of who hangs out there and therefore
can be heard on public chat. For example, an area in Lineage II called Cruma Tower is marked by
maximum leveling efficiency the percent experience an avatar gains over time for killing computer-
generated monsters – but also by off-color and precocious (if not somewhat offensive) public parlance. As
one informant satirically commented about Cruma Tower, “You go for the experience, you stay for the
enlightening conversation.” Moreover, regulars of both types largely determine which newcomers are
accepted within the group, functioning as the “oldtimers” of the community of practice (Lave & Wenger,
1991) be it clan- or territory-based.
VI. A Low Profile. Oldenburg argues that third places are characteristically homely. Here is the first point
on which MMOGs and Oldenburg’s definition of third places differ. MMOGs vary widely in quality of
graphics and territorial “décor,” ranging from the old school retro type 2-D graphics found in Lineage I to
the high-end 3-D splendor of contemporary titles such as Lineage II. Yet, regardless of their position on
the timeline of technical innovation, MMOGs are characteristically fantastic, both literally and
metaphorically, including a regular fanfare of spectacular characters and creatures that ranges, for
example, from delicately drawn elves to frightening ogres and insects. In other words, MMOGs, even in
their earliest incarnations, are extravagant settings for informal sociability rather than plain ones. Why
this disparity, if MMOGs are indeed third places for informal sociability?
Perhaps the answer lies in the function Oldenburg argues such homeliness serves: “Not having
that shiny bright appearance of the franchise establishment, third places do not attract a high volume of
strangers or transient customers…. When people consider the establishment the ‘in’ place to be seen,
commercialism will reign.” (p. 36-37) Woodcock’s (2004) analysis of subscription growth indicates that
MMOG populations follow a parabolic curve, typically attracting a high number of transient customers
only immediately after launch: “Large numbers of customers try the game out in a short period of time,
and some of them sign up to become subscribers, but within a few short months the growth starts to slow
appreciably.” It may be that, once the initial wave of gamers moves through a given title and onto the next
new release, those who stay behind become the basis for a sustained community. My observations on the
everyday culture of first Lineage I then Lineage II support this interpretation, with a core audience
remaining on the former, some shifting to the latter to be joined with gamers from such titles as Star Wars
Galaxies or ShadowBane, only to eventually coalesce into a sustained population of gamers who stick
with Lineage II as their title of choice. As a result, a more-or-less stable in-game culture took several
months to emerge from the combined collective practices imported and adapted from the smattering of
previous games individuals played. By the time the latest “in” game is released (i.e. World of Warcraft),
Lineage II will likely share the fate of its predecessors to become, by all technical definitions, “homely”
by comparison.
VII. The Mood is Playful. The fact that the general mood in MMOGs is playful hardly requires
discussion. In essence, while Oldenburg argues for recognition of the playground character of the third
place, I argue for the third place character of the new digital playground. He cites play scholar Huizinga,
who writes, “the feeling of being ‘apart together’ is an exceptional situation, of sharing something
important, or mutually withdrawing from the rest of the world and rejecting the usual norms, retains its
magic beyond the duration of the individual game.” (cited in Oldenburg, 1999, p. 38) If one theme
emerges from the data corpus of my virtual ethnography of Lineage, it is one of abundant playfulness.
Gaveldor, a girl dwarf, constantly emoting handstands and giggles in the midst of grand battles. Liadon, a
male human fighter, making jokes about the way the heavy armor on his avatar look like knickers. Zara, a
female orc, teasing about how she will slay huge monsters wearing little more than a decorative thong.
Constant capers and cavorting become the yarn from which clan and server stories are woven, with
numerous fansites featuring a plethora of screenshots that document the antics, creating a rich shared
history for those who participate.
VIII. A Home Away from Home. In arguing for the home-like quality of third places, Oldenburg (1999)
builds on Seamon’s (1979) five defining traits of “home”: rootedness, feelings of possession, spiritual
regeneration, feelings of being at ease, and warmth. An argument can be made for how MMOGs can
function in all these capacities; to save space, however, I will discuss only the first two most tangible
ones. First, third places function as a home away from home by rooting people, providing a “physical
center around which we organize our comings and goings,” (Oldenburg, 1999, p. 39), where we expect to
see familiar faces, and where unusual absences are quickly noted and queried. MMOGs, although virtual,
root individuals who play them in much the same ways. Participation becomes a regular part of daily life
for those who play them and unusual absences (i.e., prolonged or unforeseen ones) are queried either
within the game, by email or other means (e.g. internet relay chat, telephone). For example, upon
returning from a three-day game studies conference on the west coast, fellow clan members inquired
about my unannounced absence from Lineage II, with one fourteen year old advising me, “Next time, just
let us know in advance.”
Second, third places function as homes away from home by evoking a sense of “possession and
control… that need not entail actual ownership” from those who attend them (Oldenburg, 1999, p. 40) In
MMOGs, such feelings of ownership run so strong that court cases have emerged in which gamers claim
legal rights to their virtual avatar, equipment, and cash despite the fact that the game company owns the
code and software. Academic blogs such as Terra Nova ( and conferences
such as State of Play (New York Law School) are testaments to the economic, legal, and societal
importance of the issues such gamer-versus-designer ownership debates raise, including intellectual
property issues, end-user license agreements, virtual world property rights, and the ramifications of real
world exchange of virtual currency earned online.
Such feelings of rootedness and possession over the virtual worlds within MMOGs combine to
create a shared sense of home, and with it, the sense that support and warmth that some folks simply lack
in their own “real world” households, work places, and schools. Player-generated fan films such as Doasa
Arsim & Javier’s (2004) “True Colors” music video perhaps sum it up best: With a mix of playful
campiness and sheepish sentimentality, Star Wars Galaxies gamers collaborated to create an in-game
video of entertainer avatars dancing in a virtual cantina to heal the “mind wounds” of players of another
class, all set to the beat of the Cyndi Lauper lyrics, “If this world makes you crazy and you've taken all
you can get, you call me up because you know I'll be there.” The plethora of fan websites, fictions,
videos, digital art, and blogs, are a testament to how MMOGs, beneath all their fantasy and gore, are often
places of solace and rejuvenation for those who regularly log in.
MMOGs & Learning: Why Such Games Matter for Educators
In this paper, I have argued that MMOGs indeed function as a third place for informal sociability
for those who inhabit their virtual worlds and make them part of their regular leisure activity. Oldenburg
(1999) dismisses such gameplay, stating that, “A room full of individuals intent upon videogames is not a
third place.” (p. 31) I disagree and would argue that such a conclusion completely ignores the thoroughly
social nature of what it is such gamers are, in fact, so engaged in and intent upon. It is all too easy for
traditional “bricks and mortar” sociologists to ignore the activities that occur behind the computer screen.
But, then, it is also all too easy for researchers and educators to ignore the personal, social, and
intellectual value of participation in third places altogether. In the end, Oldenburg missed the boat
regarding the capacity of online virtual environments for “retribalizing” people across time and place
(Steinkuehler, 2004a). My sincere hope is that education does not make a similar error of underestimation
when it comes to the capacity of such spaces to profoundly shape the cognition and culture of the net-
generation of kids.
As I have argued elsewhere (Steinkuehler, 2003, 2004a, 2004b, 2004c), more is intellectually at
stake here than the informal social life of adolescents and adults. Videogames such as MMOGs are sites
for socially and materially distributed cognition, complex problem solving, identity work, individual and
collaborative learning across multiple multimedia, multimodality “attentional spaces” (Lemke, n.d.), and
rich meaning-making and, as such, ought to be part of the educational research agenda. For the K-12
millennial generation of youngsters, videogames are a if not the leading form of entertainment,
despite their complexity and the considerable cognitive investment they exact from those who play (Gee,
2003; Squire & Barab, 2004; Squire & Jenkins, 2004; Squire & Steinkuehler, in press). Students who are
disengaged and failing basic coursework in school spend substantial time outside of class playing,
sharing, discussing, and mastering the latest videogame title release. And, yet, to date, educators know
little if nothing about these sectors of kid culture, let alone how they operate as sites for socialization,
enculturation, and learning. And we ought to.
1 The transcript excerpts are verbatim save changes for ease of reading, such as expansions of truncated
words, typographical corrections, and supplementation of dietic references with appropriate referents
[in square brackets]. I am using pseudonyms in place of all actual avatars names in order to protect
(virtual) confidentiality, save my own virtual name Adeleide.
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... Although there is variance among game-playing communities and competing notions of what games are or should be, research is uncovering some common values underpinning gaming communities. In studying the video game Lineage, Steinkuehler (2005) found a meritocratic element in the culture, one that espouses equal access to resources but is quite comfortable with different outcomes. As part of this spirit, one's credentials, personal background, race, or ethnicity matters far less than one's ability to perform. ...
... When viewed in the social context of gaming more broadly, gamers' consumption and production of texts is even more complex. In their pursuit of understanding game systems and traversal through a game, game players routinely produce and consume a variety of texts through both official and unofficial channels (Steinkuehler, 2005(Steinkuehler, , 2007. One of the most intriguing developments in gaming is the ongoing symbiotic relationship between official, sanctioned developer-generated texts and those created by community members. ...
... Consistent with the framework introduced here, the ethics of these decisions are frequently argued and debated within social groups (guilds or clans), with each group interpreting the ethics of these decisions a little differently. Steinkuehler (2005Steinkuehler ( , 2007Steinkuehler ( , 2008 showed how at its advanced levels, game play literally becomes producing texts, with texts functioning as identity resources for their players. These texts might include fan stories, quest guides, or strategic documents. ...
Background/Context New information technologies make information available just-in-time and on demand and are reshaping how we interact with information, but schools remain in a print-based culture, and a growing number of students are disaffiliating from traditional school. New methods of instruction are needed that are suited to the digital age. Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study The purpose of this study is to explore how curricula that are designed to capitalize on the affordances of mobile media might be employed in schools. Population/Participants/Subjects The study took place during a 2-week unit in a poor urban school district with roughly 50 at-risk middle school students. The partnering teacher adapted the model curriculum, which involved students investigating a rash of illnesses originating from a popular local beach. This qualitative case study, derived from field notes, videotapes, interviews, and document analyses, describes the practices that emerged and the strengths and limitations of the curriculum. From a classroom management perspective, the narrative elements of the unit enabled teachers to create a dramatically different classroom culture, one that was built around students performing as scientists. Students’ performance was heavily dependent on the kinds of inscriptions that they made to organize data, suggesting the importance of designers developing tools to scaffold learning, but also suggesting trade-offs in having students struggle to organize information versus doing it for them. Most noteworthy to teachers was how the technology-enhanced curriculum enacted students’ identities as problem solvers and knowledge builders rather than as compliant consumers of information, reinforcing for them the schism between what is expected of students in school and how they interact outside of school. Teachers and students lamented the lack of opportunities to actually participate in community issues beyond the classroom, suggesting that the future of such curricula may reside in building community-school-home partnerships.
... At the same time, literacy events and skills are cued by social, cultural, and technological contexts (Heath, 1982;Leu et al., 2017;Fasching-Varner & Dodo-Seriki, 2012). With respect to video games, the literature is replete with theoretical perspectives and ontologies that frame video games in terms of literacy, and vice versa (Gee, 2003;O'Brien et al., 2010;Schrader et al., 2009;Squire, 2006;Steinkuehler, 2005Steinkuehler, , 2006. Gee (2003) initially characterized games as spaces to naturally acquire and develop a sundry of literacy skills; he listed 36 principles that relate to learning in schools, communities, and workplaces. ...
... In this sense, he described games as intentional systems that are designed to communicate the narrative through players' activity and interactions with and within the system. Additionally, Steinkuehler (2005Steinkuehler ( , 2006 examined the cultural nestings of games through a literacy lens. She argued that games are "third spaces," and players' sociolinguistic experiences are mutually informed by local and encapsulating contexts. ...
... Expanding the characteristics or traits approach, contemporary views of gamebased learning tend to agree that video games are process-oriented and facilitate learning as a function of the interactions within as a result of their characteristics (Gee, 2008;Plass et al., 2010;Schrader et al., 2017Schrader et al., , 2019Squire, 2011). Most agree that players' experiences occur within a broader context, in addition to all local influences (Barab et al., 2010;Steinkuehler, 2005Steinkuehler, , 2006Squire, 2011). Kafai (1996), as an example, examined gender differences in girls' preferences related to games. ...
All video games, by design, are oriented in the narrative. Some games exemplify a colloquial notion of narrative (e.g., MYST), while others seem less story-like (e.g., Tetris). From a literacy perspective, narrative extends beyond the story. Literacy, similarly, is more than discrete acts of listening, speaking, reading, or writing that is typically associated with narrative storytelling. Literacy, in its most inclusive and broad sense, involves the encapsulating, intertextual interactions between and among all modes of communication and their respective contexts. Literacy includes metacognitive skills, critical thinking skills, and social skills. More importantly, sociocultural influences and contexts undergird both games and literacy. Epistemologically, games are literacy events and researchers stand to benefit from understanding the ways the two domains are isomorphically related. This chapter is dedicated to establishing the relationship between the field of literacy and game-based learning. This relationship is demonstrated through a literacy definition of text, context, skills, and application (of literacy) as each applies to the games Super Mario Bros., The Deed, and World of Warcraft. From the perspective that learning is a process and that games serve as sites of application for literacy, several implications for research and practice are provided.
... Pelaaminen ei ole irrallaan pelaajan muusta sosiaalisesta elämästä, vaan sillä on päällekkäisyyksiä muiden sosiaalisten verkostojen kanssa: pelin sisällä syntyneitä suhteita voidaan ylläpitää ja vahvistaa kasvokkaisilla kohtaamisilla (Cole & Griffiths 2007;Siitonen 2007) ja vastaavasti verkkotilat mahdollistavat jo olemassa olevien suhteiden vahvistamisen ja syventämisen (Noppari & Uusitalo 2011;Foster 2013). Constance Steinkuehler ja Dmitri Williams (Steinkuehler 2005;Steinkuehler & Williams 2006) ovat esittäneet, että digitaalisten pelien virtuaalimaailmat voivat toimia pelaajille kantakahviloiden tapaisina vapaa-ajan ympäristöinä, niin sanottuina kolmansina paikkoina. Tällaisia ympäristöjä leimaavat esimerkiksi tuttuus, tasa-arvoisuus ja irrallisuus muun muassa työn tai perhe-elämän kuormituksesta (ks. ...
Digitaalinen pelaaminen on noussut merkittäväksi harrastukseksi ja ilmiöksi etenkin nuorten ja nuorten aikuisten parissa, ja tuonut mukanaan uudenlaisia kasvatuksellisia haasteita. Tutkimuksessa tarkastellaan, millaisia vaatimuksia suomalaisten nuorten (13–30-vuotiaat) pelaamismotiivit, kokemukset pelihaitoista ja pelaamiseen liittyvästä kasvatuksesta asettavat kotien pelikasvatukselle. Tutkimuksessa esitellään pelisivistyksen käsite ja tarkastellaan sen näkökulmasta pelikasvatuksen keskeisiä kysymyksiä. Tutkimuksen kolmessa osatutkimuksessa tarkasteltiin pelaavien nuorten kokemuksia pelaamisestaan: miksi nuoret pelasivat, mitä haittoja nuoret olivat pelaamisen yhteydessä kokeneet ja miten nuoret olivat kokeneet pelaamisen käsittelyn kotikasvatuksessa. Tulokset paljastivat laajan kirjon erilaisia pelaajia, pelikokemuksia ja pelaamisen tapoja. Peleistä saatiin tärkeitä omaehtoisuuden, yhteenkuuluvuuden ja osaamisen kokemuksia, mutta ne olivat myös ajantappamista tylsinä hetkinä. Runsaasti pelaavilla nuorilla esiintyi muita nuoria enemmän pelihaittoja. Pelaamisen määrä ei kuitenkaan ollut luotettava haitallisuuden mittari, vaan pelaamisen motiivit ja vastaajien omat kokemukset liikaa pelaamisesta olivat yhteydessä haittojen esiintymiseen. Nuoret olivat tietoisia pelaamiseen liittyvistä riskeistä ja pyrkivät ehkäisemään niitä. Tulosten perusteella pelaaminen ei vaikuta olevan suomalaisille nuorille merkittävä riski ikäluokkatasolla, mutta yksilötasolla vaikutukset voivat olla hyvinkin suuria, etenkin mikäli pelaaminen kytkeytyy muihin ongelmiin. Nuorten kertomuksissa vanhempien asenteet pelaamista kohtaan vaihtelivat hyvin kielteisistä voimakkaan myönteisiin, mikä näkyi myös kasvatusvalinnoissa. Nuorten pelikasvatusnäkemyksissä korostuivat sekä pelaamisen ymmärtämisen ja myönteisen käsittelyn että haittojen ehkäisyn näkökulmat. Tuloksia peilataan nuorten pelaamisen aiempaan tutkimukseen ja julkiseen keskusteluun. Tulosten perusteella annetaan suosituksia pelisivistykselliseen pelikasvatukseen, jossa huomioidaan sekä nuorten pelaajien että pelaamisen monimuotoisuus ja korostetaan nuorten toimijuutta.
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This chapter locates this work in relation to wider theoretical perspectives, framing it as a post-structuralist study that draws on diverse and intersecting theories around children’s play, New Literacy Studies, multimodality, new literacies and place and space. I demonstrate how employing multiple disciplinary approaches helps to provide an expansive perspective on the fieldsite and the lived experience of participants. Next I define post-structuralism and draw on several contextually relevant post-structural studies, arguing that this paradigm offers a way of understanding the world that is appropriate for this study. Finally, I outline the research that has informed this project, including classroom-based studies that employ an ethnographic approach, followed by a systematic examination of research around virtual world play that explores play by adults and children.
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Tezel, K. V. (2020). Bir şiir Viki'si kullanmak: Bu ortam dijital bir çağda İngilizce öğretmen adaylarının şiir yazma ve şiir yazmayı öğretme konusunda meslekî bilgi öğrenmelerine nasıl destek olabilir? Ana Dili Eğitimi Dergisi, 8(4), 1552-1563. Öz Bu makalede bir grup İngilizce öğretmeni adayının katılımıyla şiir hakkında işbirlikli bilgi yapılandırmak üzere oluşturulan çevrimiçi bir Viki topluluğu ile ilgili yapılan nitel bir çalışmanın bir bölümünü sunuyoruz. Makalemiz öğretmen adaylarının dijital bir ortamda yazma deneyimlerini ve yazar olarak kendileriyle ilgili algılarını araştırmaktadır. Biz özellikle hizmet öncesi yılları boyunca Birleşik Krallık ve Kanada'da farklı ortamlarda çalışan iki grup öğretmen tarafından bu dijital ortamda girişilen (hem işbirlikli hem de bağımsız) şiir yazma süreçlerine odaklanmaktayız. Çok çeşitli iletişim olanaklarını içinde barındıran Viki ortamının bu öğretmenlere şiir yazmayı öğrenmeleri için sunduğu imkânları (Laurillard, Stratford, Lucklin, Ploughman ve Taylor, 2000) araştırıyor ve bu imkânların öğretmenlerin yaptıkları işbirlikleri ve yazdıkları şiirler üzerindeki etkisini sorguluyoruz. Bu çalışmada öğretmen adaylarının Viki yazışmalarını analiz ederken yazar olarak kendilerini nasıl biçimlendirdiklerini ve dijital bir üçüncü alanda birbirlerinin devam eden çalışmalarına nasıl müdahale ettiklerini gözlemlemekle ilgilendik. Ayrıca, Viki'nin kendilerine eğitim aldıkları yılda şiir yazma öğretimi konusunda meslekî bilgi öğrenmelerine nasıl destek olduğunu ve bu desteğin yazma öğretmenleri olarak gelecekteki sınıf içi uygulamaları için getirebileceği sonuçları araştırmak istedik. Anahtar Kelimeler: İşbirliği, dijital diyalog, hizmet öncesi öğretmen eğitimi, çevrimiçi topluluk, şiir, şiir pedagojisi, meslekî bilgi öğrenme, Viki, şiir yazma Abstract In this paper we report on one aspect of a qualitative study about an online wiki community, which was developed to build collaborative knowledge about poetry among a group of pre-service English teachers. Our paper explores pre-service teachers' experiences of writing in a digital medium and their perceptions of themselves as writers. We focus specifically on the processes of poetry writing (both collaborative and independent) undertaken in this digital medium by two groups of teachers, who were working in contrasting settings in the UK and Canada during their pre-service year. We investigate the affordances (Laurillard, Stratford, Lucklin, Plowman, & Taylor, 2000) that a multimodal, wiki environment offered these teachers for learning about poetry writing and question the impact that these affordances have had both on the teachers' collaborations and the poetry they wrote. In analysing the pre-service teachers' wiki writings we were interested to * Çeviri Makalesi. Eser yazarlarından yazılı izin alınarak çevrilmiştir. Çevirisi yapılan makalenin orijinal künyesi şu şekildedir: Dymoke, S. and Hughes, J. (2009) 'Using a poetry wiki: how can the medium support pre-service teachers of English in their professional learning about writing poetry and teaching poetry writing in a digital age' English Teaching: Practice and Critique, 8 (3), 91-106.
Role playing games (RPGs) are compelling spaces for ethical play. Participants can take on roles very different from their own and experience the world through a variety of social contexts. This form of play can be encouraged by good game design principles including the balanced use of consequence, mirroring, social context, and freedom. This chapter examines the structure of ethics in role playing games and uses case studies of expert role players and analysis of game design to explore the effective use of the four design principles in popular games.
This chapter examines the potential of video games as a learning tool given their productive capacity for content creation and dissemination. Based on the findings from a longitudinal, twoyear design-based research study investigating the potential of learning communities constructed around using Civilization III (a turn-based historical simulation-strategy game), the chapter argues that historical model construction is a compelling way to mediate one’s understandings about history. Participants in this game- based learning program developed new identities as producers as well as consumers of historical simulations. Two distinct trajectories of expertise were found to be emerging: one that developed around expert, systemic gaming (orienting toward the experience as a game system), and another that we call historical gaming, orienting to the game experience as a form of “replaying history.” Both forms have value, emphasizing different aspects of the game system. We believe that a community tying these two forms of gaming together (and other ones, as they emerge) is key for building robust learning environments.
While there is scholarly opposition to the concept of game addiction, such as the statement by the APA's division 46 or the scholars' open letter to the World Health Organization, the WHO officially recognized “Gaming Disorder” as a disease. However, there is a dearth of communication studies on the social functions of game playing and game communities. This study aims to demonstrate whether specific game genre, media usage, discussion of game issues, and social network (conceptualized as gamers' communicative ecology) significantly contribute to game community involvement and self-identification as a gamer in such a way that game playing is positively linked to personal identity and social interactions, which leads to the sociability of gamers. Analyzing data from an online survey of Korean gamers (N = 1362), this study found that game communities serve as public spheres, and gamers who played a politically targeted game genre perceived themselves as gamers. In this regard, games and interactions via game playing encourage social consciousness and social behavior such as engaging in public discourse (information sharing and expression) and community activities. In this respect, games are a social simulator that allows for social experience, and such experience may be transferred to positive real-life consequences.
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