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Initial Report

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 6 months ago


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Report on independent study

of online virtual world gaming


Fall Semester 2007




    As a two-semester study, this project began with broad expectations loosely configured. The goals to be addressed were “to explore what motivates individuals to engage in an online game, to remain as a player over time, and what skills they draw out of this activity into the real world.” It was expected, from the beginning, that the work’s aims would be modified as the semester progressed and a greater understanding of existing works grew.


    In fact, the fall semester’s readings of extant literature to get a grounded sense of what research had already been explored proved relatively overwhelming. Much more work is being done in the field than expected. Academics in diverse fields are examining many features of gaming activity (1, 2, 3). The computer, advertising, and game industries have all looked into some of these questions (4, 5, 6, 7, 8) and there is no lack of popular media attention (for example, 9). Much tangential but relevant study exists that could be taken into consideration (10). To refine the work to a manageable effort for a master’s level project, this study’s last-stated goal – to explore what skills players extract from games for application in the real world – eventually became the entire focus.


    Both government and business are concerned, even alarmed, from as far back as 1992 by the paucity of “21st Century skills” in the body of present and future employees and citizens (11, 12). Yet extant research begins to suggest that games self-motivate individuals to coincidentally acquire many of these exact skills in order to excel at playing. Social games like World of Warcraft (WoW) appear to teach through peer learning in accord with Vygotskii’s notion of the zone of proximal development (13). Real or perceived transference of these skills into real world modalities has already been evidenced: a WoW guildmaster achieved a coveted senior management position in engineering for corporate giant Yahoo in part because his guildmastering experiences were judged applicable and valuable despite being acquired as “accidental learning.” (14)  A 2007 study at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York discovered that surgeons who had played video games exhibited demonstrably superior surgical skills (15). Skilled gamers of the “video game generation” are changing the business landscape as they move into managerial and entrepreneurial positions (16). I believe there is more to be uncovered understanding what skills, abilities, knowledge, and creative judgment may be developed as a result of playing games.


    Over the course of the semester, I created a publicly accessible wiki (http://whygames.pbwiki.com) to gather resources and notes of material I read, heard, or believed would be relevant. This document captures much of the work done this semester and informs the work to be done next semester.


    From this reading, I was able to carry out a number of talks and presentations on the subject of the value of games and gaming, especially in a library setting:


        •    At Pima County Public Library, I gave a “Leading Edge” talk. Leading Edge is part of the library’s internal staff education and development program, with speakers covering topics related to recent professional conferences attended and/or current projects. Because I had attended  July’s ALA Techsource Symposium (17) and was engaged on this project, I was asked to speak before a self-selected group of some 15 administrators and library staff on Oct 12, 2007.

        •    I gave a one-hour presentation at the university’s LSO Symposium on November 10, 2007 on the subject of “Games, Gaming, and Gamers: Why You Want Them in Your Libraries.” (Powerpoint available online.) I was asked to give this talk after having the LSO journal Bibliotech publish an article of the same title (18, 19).

        •    I spoke on several informal panels at Tucson’s local science fiction convention, TusCon 34, held November 9-12, 2007: one on gender perceptions of gamers and stereotypes within games (“Men are from Warcraft, Women are from Second Life”); one on the nature and practice of online gaming (“Online Gaming: Threat or Menace?”).


    I am in the process of completing the Human Subjects Protocol training before the spring semester begins. While three possible research surveys were posited for consideration in the original application for this independent study project, only the lattermost is what I now expect to address, based on my reading. As originally stated, it was:


            3. Conducting a study within a virtual world to see if or how the findings from gaming transfer to the real world.


    The plan is to explore skills learned in World of Warcraft. Bainbridge (1) suggests WoW is well suited to a non-intrusive research methodologies; the research of Nardi, Ly, and Harris (13) suggests that in-game interviews and transcripts of chats captures nuanced information. This survey would be expanded to take place through out-of-game forums and questionnaires posted at WoW-related websites.


    In the end, the ultimate question is not “Why Games?” as the project’s wiki is entitled, but “Why Libraries?” Libraries are loci of both entertainment and education, and are positioning themselves as an important community nexus, the much talked-about “third place.” As such, games have the potential to be a core service once myths about them have been exposed: games are not brain rot, they are not anti-literacy, and they are often necessarily social. They attract a broad demographic, some not often seen in the library today, and if the hypothesis of this study is borne out – that a massively popular game like World of Warcraft can develop valuable skills applicable to the real world – then the idea of bringing gaming into libraries will become a given instead of a matter of controversy and doubt.







  1. Bainbridge, W. (2007). The Scientific Research Potential of Virtual Worlds. Science, 317(5837), 472-476.

  2. Castronova, E. (2006). Synthetic Worlds: The Business and Culture of Online Games. Chicago: University Of Chicago Press.

  3. Jenkins, H. (2006). Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Media Consumers in a Digital Age. New York City: New York University Press.

  4. DeMarco, M., Lesser, E., & O'Driscoll, T. (2007). IBM - Leadership in a distributed world: Lessons from online gaming - IBM Institute for Business Value studies. Retrieved December 3, 2007, from http://www-935.ibm.com/services/us/index.wss/ibvstudy/gbs/a1028184?cntxt=a1005263

  5. Bartle, R. (2003). Designing Virtual Worlds. Berkeley: New Riders Games.

  6. Glassner, A. (2004). Interactive Storytelling: Techniques for 21st Century Fiction. Natick: Ak Peters.

  7. Sharp, C., & Rowe, M. (2006). Online games and e-business: Architecture for integrating business models and services into online games. IBM Systems Journal, 45(1), 161-179.

  8. Bulik, B. (2007). Who is Today's Gamer? You Have No Idea. Advertising Age, 78(20), 28.

  9. Levine, R. (2007). Spoils of Warcraft. Fortune, 155(5), 151-156.

10. Re-Mission: a game & community for young people with cancer. (n.d.). Retrieved December 2, 2007, from http://re-mission.net

11. Secretary's Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills (SCANS). (2006). Retrieved December 2, 2007, from http://wdr.doleta.gov/SCANS/

12. Casner-Lotto, J., & Barrington, L. (2006). Are they really ready to work? Employers' perspectives on the basic knowledge and applied skills of new entrants to the 21st century U.S. workforce, n.p.: Conference Board, Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Corporate Voices for Working Families, & Society for Human Resource Management.

13. Nardi, B., Ly, S., & Harris, J. (2007). Learning Conversations in World of Warcraft. Forthcoming in HICSS 2007.

14. Brown, J., & Thomas, D. (2006). Wired 14.04: You Play World of Warcraft? You're Hired! Retrieved November 14, 2007, from http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.04/learn.html

15. Rosser, Jr., J., Lynch, P., Cuddihy, L., Gentile, D., Klonsky, J., & Merrell, R. (2007). Impact of video games on training surgeons in the 21st century. Archives of Surgery, 142, 181-186.

16. Beck, J., & Wade, M. (2004). Got Game: How the Gamer Generation Is Reshaping Business Forever. New York: Harvard Business School Press.

17. ALA Techsource Games Learning and Libraries Symposium, July 2007 . Retrieved December 1, 2007, from http://gaming.techsource.ala.org/index.php/Main_Page

18. LSO Symposium 2007:. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2007, from http://www.sir.arizona.edu/lso/symposium07/presentationsFinal.htm

19. Danforth, E. (2007, October 3). Games Gaming and Gamers: Why You Want Them in Your Library. Retrieved December 2, 2007, from http://lsobibliotech.blogspot.com/2007/10/games-gaming-and-gamers-why-you-want.html


[ I hear people are having trouble accessing some of the links above. I recommend you cut and paste: http://lsobibliotech.blogspot.com/2007/10/games-gaming-and-gamers-why-you-want.html and


if you are interested -- although these "new" links appear to function.]

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