Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Roskilde day II - T.L. Taylor

T.L. Taylor's talk "Bricolage, play and the games researcher" is the first one today. What are our objects of study? Is it "just the game" or does it include websites, third party additions, forums etc? Taylor indeed thinks so and found that her object of study was larger than she had imagined. Multi-faceted ethnography: Follow the people, the thing, the metaphor, the plot/story/allegory, the life/biography, or the conflict. She describes her method as an interrelated assemblage, with Deleuzian connotations. Games and their play are constituted by the interrelations between many components, for instance "boundary objects." Taylor moves on to the concept of embodiment and she highlights the body as an important site of information — even crucial for an ethnographer and she links it to accountability and credibility. Bodies are the site of skill (or unskill). They are our interface and shape how we are perceived. How to choose an avatar? When does an avatar feel right? As ethnographers these issues take on new meanings.

Another important issue is the game environment. Taylor points out that the data you get differs considerably between one server and another in World of Warcraft (RP, EU etc), and draws parallels to the very differing environments in Second Life as well. Taylor shows a snippet of dialogue which illustrates the intertwined relationships between the players, their alts, different accounts and multiple computers running simultaneously. She describes the games as very complex socio-technical objects and draws parallels to her work on raids in the World of Warcraft. She shows a snippet of a movie of a guild killing a dragon and draws our attention to the emotional tension and happiness when the guild succeeds in their achievement.

Another thing she wants to draw our attention to is the user-interface modifications that are available that can change the user-interface completely, often allowing for surveillance from the raid commanders. It alters the experience of the game, and it becomes a part of the stratification and the building of hierarchy in a group or community. As researchers we become a part of these systems. The mod even becomes a social actor by providing information and giving orders to those who have downloaded it. Quotes: Michel Callon: "Indeed engineers transform themselves into sociologists, moralists or political scientists at precisely those moments when they are most caught up in technical questions" T.L. Taylor: "There is no "fly on the wall" position." There is no outside as an ethnographer.

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