TechHui

Hawaiʻi's Technology and New Media Community

How to Play WOW For a Living, Get Tenure, and Live in Hawaii - Really

The World of Warcraft (WOW) has claimed many souls. Seriously addicted players rack up countless hours in front of the glowing screen, fighting battles with fellow guildies and ascending the ranks of this intricate and still wildly popular virtual word game that is considerd by many to be the finest example of MMOG (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) artistry. Alex Golub is among the lucky WOW fanatics. He plays WOW as his day job. No, really. Are you reading yet? Heh.

Golub is a tenure-track anthropology professor at the University of Hawaii Manoa. For most of his academic career, Golub studied societal relationships in Papua New Guinea. He lived with families, learned the language, and gained intimate insights into the culture. But while he was doing his research there, Golub was struck by an odd thought. "When Papua New Guineans referred to white people, they really meant Australians because those were the people who were the colonizers. While my skin was white, I didn't feel I was the same kind of white because I was not an Australian," recalls Golub.

From this thought emerged a desire to study contemporary American culture. "WoW is a way of getting at contemporary American culture. I wanted to do something about the Internet and I wanted to explore how people's personalities were shaped online," says Golub. He also wanted to test conventional wisdom in an area that has become an increasingly popular hangout for geeky anthropologists, namely, the realm of virtual worlds. For the most part, anthropologists who have studied behavior in virtual worlds have opined that participants use the games as an escape mechanism, a way to stimulate their visual cortex and fight-or-flight reactions.

But Golub wanted to be sure he got the real goods. So he truly immersed himself in the game to gain trust and witness both the carnage and the conversations. "I played for a year before I started interviewing guild mates and doing serious research," says Golub, who wanted to ascend to an appropriate skill level and rank in order to be consider a mate rather than an academic voyeur. What Golub found in hours of conversation with his close guild mates was enlightening

bases his assertions on thousands of hours of online interviews with his "guild mates" in the "World of Warcraft" (WOW), one of the most popular multi-player virtual world games that exist on the Internet today. Golub has spent several years playing 20 hours per week, immersing himself as a participant while also making detailed observations about behavior, motivation, and actions. "I see WoW as a way of getting at contemporary American culture. I wanted to do something about the Internet and I wanted to explore how people's personalities were shaped online," explains Golub.

What he found seemed to contradict current academic consensus. In numerous interviews with his guild mates, Golub heard time and again that the shared sense of purpose and goals was what made WOW so interesting and immersive, rather than the visual and aural fireworks. Further, Golub observed that interactions inside of WOW tended to mimic real world interactions. Guild members interacted in ways that put a high value on long-term relationships and getting along with each other. "Golub's guild, which comprised students, plumbers, and techies alike, was largely male and reflected how males interact when they "hang out."

The actions of individual parties conformed largely to societal norms because those norms also helped hold the guild together.
"The key feature of the actual world which virtual worlds must share with it in order to become compelling is not its visual and sonic “realism,” but the fact that it is a forum in which we give our lives meaning by entangling them in projects we undertake with others. Worlds become real when we care about them, not when they look similar to our own," writes Golub in a paper to be published in the journal Anthropological Quarterly.

Golub has written a book manuscript about his virtual world experience and he hopes to publish it in the next six months. And he believes that both the societal and academic view of virtual worlds will change to reflect the reality that these are not at all a world apart. Says Golub, "If we want to study virtual worlds, we have to study their relationship with other parts of our lives. They are deeply a part of our whole life."

Views: 604

Comment

You need to be a member of TechHui to add comments!

Join TechHui

Comment by Kevin Luttrell on March 28, 2010 at 11:54am
I think a central anthropological byproduct about Wow has been overlooked by this "study." The game is overrun with criminals who prey on people's love of the game an discovered that they can use the game as a premise to set up attack websites, phishing email or simply run scam guilds to send out key loggers, Trojans and other viruses in an attempt to steal both Wow accounts and personal banking and credit card information.

I played wow since the vanilla version was released over 5 years ago, befriended good people, had great virtual adventures but we've all quit the game. We noticed that over time the nature of the game had changed from shared goals to tons of new players with selfish intentions...and criminal desire to fulfill those intentions. Blizzard, despite making grip-loads of money off this game, has done very little to curb these activities with security or aggressively going after abusers. MY account was hacked, my friends all has their accounts hacked...and we all got tired of dealing with selfish little kids. Game over.
Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on March 25, 2010 at 10:19am
While I'm not anti-academic, I've found this type of disconnect to be extremely common in many fields be it geography, computer science, computer security, etc.. and I think it's a really a product of an intrinsic bias many academics have - if the discussion isn't driven or produced by someone with credentials then it either never pops up on their radar or they won't even consider it worth reading.
I think this goes back to an earlier point about certain 'arrogance' displayed in scientific/academic communities, as it is often the case that are not willing to listen to the underlying common-sense simply based on the presentation factor. IMO such approaches are limited and short-sighted. It also makes me appreciate the following quote:

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. ~ Leonardo da Vinci

So, then, let me ask these questions.. What defines/constitutes a respected academic/scientist? What guidelines should/do they follow? What goals are they trying to achieve?
Comment by Daniel Leuck on March 23, 2010 at 7:35pm
Brian Russo: I used to play WoW 50-60+ hours a week. I still know many people that do. 20 hours a week is nothing.
He probably had to reserve some time for the professor stuff ;-)
Brian Russo: Anyway, if it took him a year to figure out that 'shared sense of purpose and goals' was what made it immersive rather than 'visual fireworks'; then wow.. the 'academic' community is incredibly out of touch with the gaming world.
Golub put a year into the research, so I imagine it has some depth. I bet his paper is an interesting read.
Comment by Alex Salkever on March 23, 2010 at 7:30pm
Brian, WADR he probably figured it out long before then and waited to start talking to people because he wanted to gain their confidence and trust. Ironically, the academic community is very often a key source of innovation in the gaming world. Georgia Tech's masters in game development program is a pipeline to the big studios. Lots of guys who build very innovative physics engines and other key components have academic backgrounds. So best not to paint with a broad brush.
Comment by Daniel Leuck on March 22, 2010 at 6:00pm
Brian Russo: If he's only playing 20 hours a week then he doesn't understand WoW.

LOL. Do you have something to confess Brian?
Comment by Mika Leuck on March 22, 2010 at 5:58pm
Anyone who can figure out how to make a living playing games in Hawaii must be very, very smart :-)
Comment by Konstantin A Lukin on March 19, 2010 at 7:18pm
If we want to study virtual worlds, we have to study their relationship with other parts of our lives. They are deeply a part of our whole life.
This is pretty interesting from a neuro-science perspective. Basically a player makes a 'connection' with a virtual world that is taken into real life. The longer one plays, the more 'persistent' this connection becomes. This somewhat reminds me of Avatar movie (see discussion). I wonder how such games affect players' neuro-nets? Why are some games more addictive than others? What constitutes an addiction?

Since Golub is arguing that virtual worlds are somehow interconnected with reality, which I fully believe so, it's interesting to do a more thorough scientific study as to how that happens. For one thing, we could use this knowledge to create educational virtual worlds skillfully tailored towards visualizing/absorbing other types of information. IMO This has potential to fully transform educational system the way we know it today :)
Comment by Alex Salkever on March 19, 2010 at 6:49pm
He didn't actually. He felt the game was a pretty healthy outlet compared to many others and that, actually, the game taught useful social and life skills.
Comment by Cameron Souza on March 19, 2010 at 6:36pm
Wow. I knew I was in the wrong profession :-)

I wonder if Prof. Golub ever felt like he was in danger of falling victim to the addictive qualities of the game.

Sponsors

web design, web development, localization

© 2014   Created by Daniel Leuck.

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service