May 16, 2008

Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader

by Scott Rettberg · , 10:55 am

WoW Reader CoverYou’ve played the game, now read the book. This month Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: a World of Warcraft Reader was published by the MIT Press and is now available for purchase on Amazon. My colleagues at the University of Bergen, Hilde G. Corneliussen and Jill Walker Rettberg, edited this volume, which is the first book-length anthology to carefully read the culture of the world’s most popular massively multiplayer online game. The anthology is the product of a unique collaboration. The volume’s contributors all played the game together for a year in a guild of academics known as “The Truants” before writing their chapters, each of which examines the game from a different theoretical/analytical bent. There are thirteen chapters in the book. The chapter I wrote, “Corporate Ideology in World of Warcraft,” examines both the economic model of MMOGS and the economies within the game, with the thesis that the reason why so many players are willing to spend so much of their lives playing the game is that the game is in fact a form of play that itself is enough a form of work to appeal to the protestant work ethic which has plagued America since its foundations. In her chapter “Never Such Innocence Again,” Esther MacCallum-Stewart examines the tropes of war and histories in the game. Hilde Corneliussen considers WoW as a playground for feminism, while Jessica Langer examines the familiar and the foreign in considering the game from a postcolonial perspective. Espen Aarseth considers the surreality of the conception of space in WoW in his “A Hollow World.” Tanya Krzywinska considers how the designers of the game create lore and mythology to create a sense of “world” in considering WoW as a “rich text.” In one of my favorite chapters, Lisbeth Klastrup considers the curious concepts of death and dying in this virtual which destines its players to spend hours not only facing their mortality, but floating from the graveyard back to their corpse, over and over again. Jill Walker Rettberg looks at the quest structure of the game from a narrative perspective. T.L. Taylor looks at some of the ways that WoW has changed the model of MMOGs by examining “How a PvP Server, Multinational Playerbase, and Surveillance Mod Scene” gave her pause. Torill Mortensen considers how players try to break and remold the game in her chapter on deviant strategies. Raginhild Tronstad contemplates how players come to identify with their avatars and Charlotte Hagström considers the very interesting question of how and why players name their avatars within the game. As a contributor the anthology, I will refrain from referring to it as “tour de force” but I would encourage you to do so. This is a volume likely to be of interest to anyone who has played the game and anyone who is interested in the way that online games are changing the nature of entertainment and social interaction in contemporary culture. In offering so many varied perspectives on this important and popular cultural artifact, the book should be very useful to teachers interested in getting their students to consider the texts that they are not only reading but playing or even in some cases “living” in every day of their lives.

7 Responses to “Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader”


  1. andrew Says:

    congrats, this looks great!

  2. Alex Says:

    Sounds really interesting, will it be available in any sort of ebook format?

  3. Grand Text Auto » Nideffer and Szeto’s WTF?! Says:

    [...] Alex on Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader [...]

  4. scott Says:

    Alex — I don’t know of ebook plans for the anthology, but I agree it would be a good text for that format. I’m not sure what plans the MIT press has for ebooks.

  5. Adam Ruch Says:

    Don’t make everything an eBook. I still need to fill several walls of my new office… a USB thumbdrive full of PDFs just isn’t as impressive.

  6. Brent Darst Says:

    I felt I need to stop by and say that I am thoroughly enjoying the book, bravo for being able to make a book that looks at things like the seriously.

  7. djlotu5 Says:

    This books looks awesome. Is there a book with this kind of breadth about Second Life? Or do people approach studies of Second Life very differently because it is considered a “metaverse” and not a game?

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