Playing to Belong: Community across Gaming Contexts

Jennifer Stone, Mark Chen, Laurie McCarthy, Reed Stevens

This symposium examines issues of community across a variety of gaming contexts, including an MMORPG, console games, and games that are part of popular websites. Each of the papers takes a sociocultural approach to games (Leander & Lovvorn, 2006; Gee, 2003; Steinkuehler, 2006). Unlike much research on games — which tends to focus on game mechanics, designer intent, and usability — this perspective views games as nested in particular social, cultural, economic, and material contexts. From this perspective, we understand community as involving the range of social relationships, identities, and practices in which game players engage (Taylor, 2006).

Paper 1: Communication and Cooperation in a World of Warcraft Player Community

This paper focuses on cooperation among a community of players who raided a high-end instance in the MMORPG World of Warcraft. These players learned how to defeat the dungeon through collaborative improvements on communication and coordination over a period of months. They focused on strengthening player relationships and learning together rather than on obtaining loot or completing the dungeon quickly. Trust among group members — which is necessary for cooperative behavior (Felkins, 1999) — was forged through their collective desire to “hang out and have fun.” The group members’ ability to reflect and realign themselves to their goals — features of metacognition (Bransford et al., 2000) — allowed them to recover from a particularly poor-performing night which threatened to disband them. This realignment was only possible due to the group’s emphasis on social bonds rather than individual gains.

Paper 2: The Game in Play: A Look at Children’s Roles in Shaping the Game

This paper presents findings from an ethnographic study of eight children (aged 9–15 years) playing video and computer games in their homes. We observed not only how young people play games, but also how the meaning of and their engagement with games transformed during play. We describe game play as situated activity (Suchman, 1987), shaped through interactions between game, individual, and social/environmental influences. We include a discussion of interactions between game designer and game players and what occurs when game mechanics and player goals conflict. Cases drawn from the study illustrate how children’s interests, experiences, and shared histories with other players influence the roles they assume within that setting and transform the meanings they hold for events and artifacts that occur in the game.

Paper 3: Embedded Play: An Analysis of Games in Popular Websites

This paper investigates community in games and game-related content that are embedded in popular websites among K–12 youth. These games are of interest because they are free, require no extra equipment (beyond a computer and Internet access), can often be played in one sitting, and are deeply embedded in affinity groups that often extend beyond the games themselves. This paper analyzes five websites that include games and game-related content and that represent a range of affinity groups and ages. Using discourse and semiotic analysis (Gee, 1999; Fairclough, 1995; Kress & van Leeuwen, 2001), this paper examines how these sites (and embedded games) recruit young people to engage in particular discursive practices, identities, and affinity groups.

Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, D. C.: National Academy Press.

Fairclough, N. (1995). Media discourse. London: Arnold.

Felkins, L. (1999). A rational justification for ethical behavior. Retrieved December 3, 2005, from

Gee, J. (1999). An introduction to discourse analysis: Theory and method. London: Routledge.

Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. New York: Palgrave.

Kress, G., & van Leeuwen, T. (2001). Multimodal discourse: The modes and media of contemporary communication. London: Arnold.

Leander, K. & Lovvorn, J. (2006). Literacy networks: Following the circulation of texts, bodies, and objects in the schooling and online gaming of one youth. Cognition and Instruction, 24(3), 291–340.

Steinkuehler, C. (2006). Massively multiplayer online video gaming as participation in a discourse. Mind, Culture, and Activity, 13(1), 38–52.

Suchman, L. (1987). Plans and situated actions: The problem of human machine communication. Cambridge: Cambridge University.

Taylor, T.L. (2006). Play between worlds: Exploring online game culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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