Read my post about trolling at M.P.

Here’s my obligatory link to my most recent post over at Motivate. Play. — “The trouble with trolls”, an exploration of an ethnography of online trolling and its applications to digital gaming.

I had a lot of fun writing this post, and even more fun thinking about the ideas brought up in the comments.


News: I’m a contributor to Motivate. Play.!

Hey faithful readers — I have some news that I am belatedly sharing with readers of my blog, most of whom know about this already. I’ve been added to the staff of regular contributors at Motivate. Play., where I’ll be writing about games, game design, and motivation from an ethnographer’s standpoint.

I’m really excited about this blog and this opportunity to work with these writers from different disciplines than myself. Go on over and check out the blog, and if you’re interested in my contributions so far, you can read my short primer on ethnography and gaming, or my most recent post on game design features of World of Warcraft that help players cope with repetitive failure. 

Upcoming posts will include such fascinating topics as “what was the purpose of mailbox dancers anyway?” and “why do I keep playing the Dragon Age games over and over again?” Stay tuned!

Meaningful Play 2012

I got home from Meaningful Play 2012 two and a half weeks ago, and it’s taken me this long to parse the experience I had at that conference. This was not the first time that I’ve gone to a non-linguistics conference (I went to the Popular Culture Association conference in 2008), but it was definitely the most… meaningful. (See what I did there?)

The experience of working with Travis Ross, the co-author of the paper we presented, has been enlightening the whole way. Travis comes from a very different academic background than I do, and finding a meeting point in between our disciplines to do our work has been enjoyable (if intellectually rigorous… keeping up with his analyses is a mental workout for me!). In all, I think we had a very good presentation, even if the video recording of it turned out kind of terrible. We got a lot of awesome comments and questions. And our collaboration isn’t even over yet — there’s still a paper to write!

Meeting everybody at the conference… where do I even start? I met so many people from so many different disciplines that, looking back on it, I almost can’t believe it. I met programmers and computer scientists and digital artists and board game designers and law students and health specialists. I got my picture taken being silly. I played so many games. I have never played so many games in three days as I did at this conference — every time some new presenter talked about a game, if I could, I loaded it on my laptop and played through it. It was not just for play, but to understand.

I feel like the conference schooled me. This is what people love so much about conferences! Not that I didn’t enjoy my time at NWAV or GURT (very cool linguistics conferences with amazing people), but to sit at a round table playing Layoff and analyzing game mechanics and social messages with a group of interdisciplinary scholars? This is my bag, man.

And so now, post-conference, is the time of catching up with those I met at the conference and sifting through my notes. Oh, and maybe looking up a few job opportunities too.

Running of the Gnomes 2012

Tomorrow night, at 9PM EST, join us for the third annual Running of the Gnomes!



My World of Warcraft guild hosts this event every year. It’s easy — create a gnome character with pink hair, show up at the specified date and time, and come with the group to run together through the world. Hundreds of people showed up last year, and we’re expecting a thousand this year (maybe more??).

The point of this is, of course, to raise awareness about breast cancer. We also have a donation page set up with the Cleveland Clinic for their Tuohy Vaccine, which is almost to human trials. This vaccine can help prevent breast cancer. Click here to check out the donation page. 

This event is really important to me, and to the guild, not only because we’re doing something positive for the world, but also because it shows that virtual worlds can be a great tool for organizing events like this. If you’re reading this, consider joining us! You don’t have to have a current subscription to play — WoW is free to download and play up until level 20, and if you have a lapsed subscription we can get you a 7-day pass for free.

WoW pet names and breaking the fourth wall

In the World of Warcraft guild I study, it’s not uncommon for the hunter character to name their animal companions after their friends in the game. This usually was done to either make fun of someone or to recognize the help that friend has given them in some aspect of the game.

With the latest patch to the game, all WoW players have the ability to name their non-combat pets. These pets are collectible items that never really had a battle-related function in the WoW universe before — they were vanity items, meant to provide uniqueness to the avatar. You could have your character summon your Worg Pup, for example, and a miniature black dog-like creature would appear and follow your avatar around in your adventures. The non-combat pet cannot be killed but it does not deal damage or affect the surrounding world (in most cases), and there are many rare ones that are worth thousands of in-game gold.

Before, these non-combat pets would just have names like “Captured Firefly” or “White Kitten”; only a select few had names assigned to them, and they were not unique to players. Now, all players can individually name their pets, and this has resulted in a number of interesting naming practices in the guild. As an extension of the hunter pet naming practice mentioned above, several players have taken to naming certain pets after guildmates who are associated with those particular creatures — for example, the pet Lil’ Tarecgosa, named after a legendary staff in the game, I’ve named after our guildmate who spent months and months in her efforts to acquire the staff. There’s the Alliance Balloon pet, which most people in the guild independently named after our druid tank who insisted the balloon pet was his good luck charm.

There are also clever naming conventions, usually involving cultural references. Personally, I’ve named my firefly pet Captain Tightpants, and I’ve heard of others naming cat pets “Cheezburger” and little bear pets “Pedo”.

And then there’s this conversation I had on Facebook with a guildmate with whom I regularly engage in hockey-related banter about the evil Philadelphia Flyers:

(Oh, Ilya Bryzaglov, your fascination with bears and tigers never gets old.)

The naming practices here are another way of linking WoW practices to broader cultural knowledge, which is something that has been done in World of Warcraft for a very long time. With the existence of non-player characters like “Haris Pilton”, who sells overpriced bags and sunglasses, and “Ophera Windfury”, a ‘caregiver’ — this practice of breaking the fourth wall is something that developers and players regularly engage in. These references may be departing from the idea of an ‘immersive experience’, but the practice reflects the idea that virtual worlds and games do not exist independently from the broader society. Especially in a game like World of Warcraft, which is so oriented to player socialization, the player base comes to expect that other players (and the game itself) will bring in elements of the “real world” to the gaming experience. Furthermore, WoW is so well-known outside of gaming circles that it is frequently adopted as a stand-in for gamer culture and even the Internet in general, from South Park parody episodes to the game’s name being a throwaway term in conversations about “net addiction”. In a cosmic reversal, WoW takes elements from the broader culture and makes fun of them inside of its own universe, reflecting the ways that elements of the game are used in other circles.

And now, with the naming of the pets, all players can engage in this practice on their own terms. Whether it’s honoring another player, poking fun at your enemies, or crafting clever cultural references, everybody breaks the fourth wall. guest post!

If you can’t get enough of my nattering about World of Warcraft, head on over to the LingAnth blog and check out my guest post about my dissertation research. Here’s a link!

My advisor sent out their call for graduate student guest posts, and my work fits in the Linguistic Anthropology field*, so I put together this guest post in a few hours. I hope you enjoy it!

*Even though anthropology is the study of humans, and my university’s IRB once famously told me that my work didn’t qualify as research under their guidelines because it “does not involve human subjects”.

“If you don’t allow yourself the possibility of writing something very, very bad, it would be hard to write something very good.” -Steven Galloway

How did I learn to write?

I can attribute most of my writing ability to fanfiction.

Yes. Fanfiction. There, I said it. There is some kind of strange taboo about writing fanfiction, like it’s not “real” writing, or that authors are “stealing” ideas from the creators of the original source. There has been a lot of scholarly writing about fanfiction, notably Henry Jenkins.

I have been a writer of fanfiction probably since I could write. The earliest stuff I remember writing was something about the characters in the fighting game Killer Instinctand I still have some of the Sonic the Hedgehog 3 fanfiction I wrote. Note that I was ten years old when these games came out.

I wrote in a number of fandoms, mostly keeping it to myself (before I discovered that fandom was actually a thing and there were other people in it). My most prolific fandom years were  2003-2006, which was when my greatest output was and my greatest involvement in the community. I wrote some really terrible things in that time, but I also wrote some things that I still consider to be pretty good. My whole time in fandom was about experimenting — giving myself the opportunity to try writing, to find my style, to write something really terrible and learn from it. It was a safe space, essentially, where even the most terrible thing would be received with some kind of joy from someone, and where an opportunity to learn and grow as a writer could be found. I met some amazing fanfiction writers and fandom roleplayers in that time, from whom I learned the craft of writing and the value of critique. I count these folks among the greatest influences on my writing style, and moreso on my enjoyment of the writing process.

The point of this is that writing fanfiction was an enjoyable exercise, through which I learned a lot about the craft of writing. Mostly, it taught me that writing is fun if you’re doing it right. Even now, when I’m writing my dissertation, I can see ghosts of my fanfiction writing past. The introduction to my dissertation is an arrival story, taking the form of a narrative about how I arrived as a researcher in World of Warcraft. This is, essentially, a fanfic about myself; is it still fanfic if you’re writing it about yourself?

So there you have it, my admission of my past. How did you learn to write?