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Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds

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The odyssey of a group of "refugees" from a closed-down online game and an exploration of emergent fan cultures in virtual worlds. Play communities existed long before massively multiplayer online games; they have ranged from bridge clubs to sports leagues, from tabletop role-playing games to Civil War reenactments. With the emergence of digital networks, however, new varie The odyssey of a group of "refugees" from a closed-down online game and an exploration of emergent fan cultures in virtual worlds. Play communities existed long before massively multiplayer online games; they have ranged from bridge clubs to sports leagues, from tabletop role-playing games to Civil War reenactments. With the emergence of digital networks, however, new varieties of adult play communities have appeared, most notably within online games and virtual worlds. Players in these networked worlds sometimes develop a sense of community that transcends the game itself. In Communities of Play, game researcher and designer Celia Pearce explores emergent fan cultures in networked digital worlds--actions by players that do not coincide with the intentions of the game's designers. Pearce looks in particular at the Uru Diaspora--a group of players whose game, Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, closed. These players (primarily baby boomers) immigrated into other worlds, self-identifying as "refugees"; relocated in There.com, they created a hybrid culture integrating aspects of their old world. Ostracized at first, they became community leaders. Pearce analyzes the properties of virtual worlds and looks at the ways design affects emergent behavior. She discusses the methodologies for studying online games, including a personal account of the sometimes messy process of ethnography. Pearce considers the "play turn" in culture and the advent of a participatory global playground enabled by networked digital games every bit as communal as the global village Marshall McLuhan saw united by television. Countering the ludological definition of play as unproductive and pointing to the long history of pre-digital play practices, Pearce argues that play can be a prelude to creativity.


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The odyssey of a group of "refugees" from a closed-down online game and an exploration of emergent fan cultures in virtual worlds. Play communities existed long before massively multiplayer online games; they have ranged from bridge clubs to sports leagues, from tabletop role-playing games to Civil War reenactments. With the emergence of digital networks, however, new varie The odyssey of a group of "refugees" from a closed-down online game and an exploration of emergent fan cultures in virtual worlds. Play communities existed long before massively multiplayer online games; they have ranged from bridge clubs to sports leagues, from tabletop role-playing games to Civil War reenactments. With the emergence of digital networks, however, new varieties of adult play communities have appeared, most notably within online games and virtual worlds. Players in these networked worlds sometimes develop a sense of community that transcends the game itself. In Communities of Play, game researcher and designer Celia Pearce explores emergent fan cultures in networked digital worlds--actions by players that do not coincide with the intentions of the game's designers. Pearce looks in particular at the Uru Diaspora--a group of players whose game, Uru: Ages Beyond Myst, closed. These players (primarily baby boomers) immigrated into other worlds, self-identifying as "refugees"; relocated in There.com, they created a hybrid culture integrating aspects of their old world. Ostracized at first, they became community leaders. Pearce analyzes the properties of virtual worlds and looks at the ways design affects emergent behavior. She discusses the methodologies for studying online games, including a personal account of the sometimes messy process of ethnography. Pearce considers the "play turn" in culture and the advent of a participatory global playground enabled by networked digital games every bit as communal as the global village Marshall McLuhan saw united by television. Countering the ludological definition of play as unproductive and pointing to the long history of pre-digital play practices, Pearce argues that play can be a prelude to creativity.

30 review for Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds

  1. 4 out of 5

    Mark Poulsen

    This is a great book detailing a very revealing study of communities of people in virtual environments. It builds on previous academic work, but also showcases new ways of thinking identity, sociality, play and culture in relation to virtual connectedness. First part is a lot of important and intriguing theory from complexity theory to formalities of virtual environments, from play to sociology and ethnography. Second part is a detailed and captivating narrative of the Uru Diaspora community. Whi This is a great book detailing a very revealing study of communities of people in virtual environments. It builds on previous academic work, but also showcases new ways of thinking identity, sociality, play and culture in relation to virtual connectedness. First part is a lot of important and intriguing theory from complexity theory to formalities of virtual environments, from play to sociology and ethnography. Second part is a detailed and captivating narrative of the Uru Diaspora community. While outdated in terms of today's examples of MMO's, this community is still a perfect example for understanding and rethinking ideas of culture and identity. The rest of the book then represents many observations and notes on the role of the ethnographer in these studies and further details about the study of Uru specifically. It ends with an account of the now dated whereabouts of the community and final conclusions concerning the future of video game design that should seek to include emergence (of culture and communities) as a design material akin to results from standard ethnography and participatory design. Great read. The story of Uru is captivating and moving on its own.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Patrick McElfresh

    Read like a thesis. Not a bad thing per se, but for reader not formally studying this field, it wasn't terribly engaging at times. Other times, it was interesting. Also at this point (end of 2018) somewhat dated. Read like a thesis. Not a bad thing per se, but for reader not formally studying this field, it wasn't terribly engaging at times. Other times, it was interesting. Also at this point (end of 2018) somewhat dated.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Shinynickel

    Off this review: Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds By Celia Pearce and Artemesia (The MIT Press) It is a rare book that names a videogame avatar as a coauthor, but that is exactly what makes this “cyberethnography” an important read. Pearce embeds herself as “Artemesia” in a virtual world with refugees from a recently shutdown multiplayer online game, and observes and interacts with them as they try to reestablish the social circles and culture of their Off this review: Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games and Virtual Worlds By Celia Pearce and Artemesia (The MIT Press) It is a rare book that names a videogame avatar as a coauthor, but that is exactly what makes this “cyberethnography” an important read. Pearce embeds herself as “Artemesia” in a virtual world with refugees from a recently shutdown multiplayer online game, and observes and interacts with them as they try to reestablish the social circles and culture of their videogame “homeland.” For skeptics of this relatively new field, Pearce provides an excellent review of the game studies literature, but her findings support themselves as clearly relevant to understanding how cultures are formed and sustained, as well as the productive nature of play.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Cassie

    An excellent ethnographic study of a community of game players and how they responded to the sudden closing of URU, their game world. Pearce is a thoughtful and careful ethnographer whose reflections on how the method can be used to study virtual communities and digitally-mediated spaces would be a great introduction for newcomers to the field while maintaining a level of sophistication appropriate for a specialist. For my own research purposes, I will be reflecting deeply on the notion of "inte An excellent ethnographic study of a community of game players and how they responded to the sudden closing of URU, their game world. Pearce is a thoughtful and careful ethnographer whose reflections on how the method can be used to study virtual communities and digitally-mediated spaces would be a great introduction for newcomers to the field while maintaining a level of sophistication appropriate for a specialist. For my own research purposes, I will be reflecting deeply on the notion of "intersubjective flow" that Pearce offers as a modification of Csikszentmihalyi's ideas about flow, a psychological concept that Pearce deploys in other realms.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Emily (Fractured Mirror Publishing)

    While I initially enjoyed this book, and I am a huge fan of the whole anthropological approach to studying MMOG/MMOWs,Pearce seemed to be constantly straddling the lines between knowing what she is doing and being absolutely clueless. And, by the end, I was left with a vague feeling of disappointment--as though she wrote about this group of Uru refugees as nicely as she could because she didn't want them to be angry or hurt with her (something which had happened previously, according to the book While I initially enjoyed this book, and I am a huge fan of the whole anthropological approach to studying MMOG/MMOWs,Pearce seemed to be constantly straddling the lines between knowing what she is doing and being absolutely clueless. And, by the end, I was left with a vague feeling of disappointment--as though she wrote about this group of Uru refugees as nicely as she could because she didn't want them to be angry or hurt with her (something which had happened previously, according to the book). I don't necessarily feel as though this is fully the fault of Pearce, but rather the fault of her lack of knowledge of both anthropological work and MMOWs in general.

  6. 4 out of 5

    David Kirschner

  7. 5 out of 5

    Manisha

  8. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

  9. 4 out of 5

    John

  10. 4 out of 5

    Beth

  11. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

  12. 4 out of 5

    ThatCarlyGirl

  13. 4 out of 5

    Till

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jacob Sanchez

  15. 4 out of 5

    Raine

  16. 4 out of 5

    John

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kristian Bjørkelo

  18. 4 out of 5

    Robin Powell

  19. 5 out of 5

    Torill Mortensen

  20. 4 out of 5

    Emilie Sciarli

  21. 4 out of 5

    Leandro Pondoc

  22. 5 out of 5

    Maria Essig

  23. 5 out of 5

    Sue Scheibler

  24. 4 out of 5

    Brent Shelley

  25. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

  26. 4 out of 5

    Katie King

  27. 5 out of 5

    ./

  28. 5 out of 5

    Renato O.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  30. 5 out of 5

    Max

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