February 1, 2007

Serious Play

by Noah Wardrip-Fruin · , 12:03 am

I’m excited about an upcoming event — next Thursday at UCSD — on Massively Multiplayer Online worlds, game studies, economics, and cultural politics. The off-campus guests are Julian Dibbell and Raph Koster, and the local talent includes a grad student from my department Ge Jin (aka Jingle) as well as William Huber (a grad student in Vis Arts). It’s from 4-6:30pm, and there’s more info below.

Serious Play: MMO gaming, real money, and social worlds
A Discussion

Thursday, February 8, 2007, 4-6:30pm
Atkinson Hall, Auditorium

Featured Speaker:

Julian Dibbell (author of Play Money and My Tiny Life)
“Play Money: Gold Farms, Polar Bear Rugs, and the World-Historical Relevance of Game Studies”

Julian Dibbell, author of My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World and Play Money: Or How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot, argues for a game studies that goes beyond traditional cultural and media theories — into the realms of political economy, social history, and computer science — in search of the emerging significance of computer games. Drawing on examples from his own experience in the “real-money trading” markets and other provocative social phenomena found in and around World of Warcraft, Ultima Online, and other massively multiplayer online games (MMOs), Dibbell leans hard on the best contemporary and historical thinking about games to urge game studies toward the broadest vision possible of its subject.

Graduate Research Presentations:

Ge Jin, aka Jingle (Communication Department)
“Chinese Gold Farmers: a feature length documentary on real money traders in MMORPGs”

Ge Jin, PhD candidate in Communication, is researching areas of the computer gaming culture in China, real money trade in online games and documentary filmmaking. In China, a new kind of factory hires people to play online games like World of Warcraft and Lineage and produce in-game currency, equipment, high-level characters and other virtual goods. Affluent gamers from Korea, Europe and America pay real money for these virtual goods to quickly raise their status in games. Jin’s research takes a close look at how these factories, commonly known as “gold farms”, organize the production and distribution of virtual goods.

William Huber (Visual Arts Department)
“Complicit Play in Virtual Worlds”

William Huber, PhD candidate in Art and Media History, researches videogames and software as well as aesthetic theory, human-computer interface and Japanese visual culture. His work identifies MMORPGs as cultural artifacts, as texts, and as aesthetic spaces. He also sees both sides of the production/consumption divide: how MMORPGs are designed and developed (usually collectively and iteratively), and how they are played, perceived, navigated, documented, discussed, and re-interpreted by the player-audience. Huber uses the structural elements of the game Final Fantasy XI, the categories of player experiences and the player typologies that have emerged since the release. Huber worked in the software and information technology sector before entering the UCSD PhD program.

Guest Respondent:

Raph Koster (President, Areae)

Raph is the former Chief Creative Officer of Sony Online Entertainment and lead designer for Star Wars Galaxies (SOE) and Ultima Online (EA). He got started in virtual worlds back in the days of text-only MUDs in the early 90s, working on LegendMUD. He was creative lead on the original Ultima Online and lead designer for UO Live and Ultima Online: The Second Age while working for Origin and Electronic Arts. He’s also the author of the acclaimed book A Theory of Fun for Game Design, and somehow finds the time to write constantly on his popular blog, http://www.raphkoster.com/.

This program will be available as live streaming video at: http://rpvss.ucsd.edu:8080/ramgen/broadcast/live.rm

Presented by Calit2, CRCA, and the Sanford Berman Chair of Language, Thought, & Communication

5 Responses to “Serious Play”

  1. ErikC Says:

    I’d like to know how William sees WoW as cultural artifacts/artefacts given that people ‘inherit’ WoW as an interface, and communicate in a lasting way, outside that socially inherited interface. In my view, culture does not exactly mean society, culture is an ongoing transaction involving changing and infusing material artifacts/artefacts, with social agency. Unlike traditional games, the interface viewed as a cultural (rather than artistic) artifact is a moot point.

  2. noah Says:

    ErikC, I’ll ping William and see if he can drop by to respond to your query.

    In the meantime, a quick clarification: William’s talk will be about Final Fantasy XI, one of those “not WoW” MMOs that we can sometimes forget because of WoW’s large shadow. I understand it’s one of the most popular MMOs in Japan, where people often play via consoles rather than PCs, and unlike WoW the servers aren’t regional (so players from around the world, using different languages and platforms, are on the same server).

  3. William Huber Says:

    Hello, Erik.

    I’m not completely clear on your question, and you’ll have to forgive me for translating it from “WoW” to Final Fantasy XI, which is the MMO that I’ve chosen to study. Insofar as FFXI is authored and produced in Japan, however, perhaps it is easier for us to see it as “Japanese,” as cultural production in a line with other cultural productions. (If we then are able to see FFXI as a Japanese cultural artifact, then an inability to see WoW as one could be a consequence of our embeddedness in the same cultural context that produces it, inclining us to naturalize its distinctive cultural characteristics.)

    Whether the visual interface to a game or another is specifically cultural is too broad a question for my tastes: WoW clearly allows users to modify the interface to a certain extent, though the game-mechanics almost certainly motivate some interface decisions in favor of others, and those mechanics are clearly authored. The game in toto is itself an interface to a database, of course.

    I don’t understand quite what you mean when you say that players “inherit” an MMO, either. Is this, generally, a case of a disagreement over the MMO-as-space v. MMO-as-artifact/text?

  4. ErikC Says:

    I am afraid I don’t know Final Fantasy very well and it’s cross cultural consumption makes for fascinating study, but primarily I am interested / concerned in definition here: how (in game studies) a game can qualify as a cultural artifact, rather than as an artifact which comes from a particular culture. In anthropology/archaeology, a distinction has to be made between works of an artist, and what is actually a culturally expressive/symbolic artifact, and IMO we seldom make the distinction in game theory. From their viewpoint, a work of art has to reveal something about the culture and not just be maverick artistic genius, as they are trying to discover the cultural not individual mindset. So I don’t believe, for example, that a MMO is a cultural artifact just because many people play it, and for it to be one I imagine it would have to in the minds of players actually shape their perception of their/another’s culture.

  5. noah Says:

    This just in…

    The archived webcast videos are now available for

    Serious Play: MMO Gaming, Real Money, and Social Worlds
    Which occurred Thursday, February 8, 2007, 4:00-6:30pm
    Atkinson Hall, Auditorium

    The videos for each speaker are linked below and can also be found at

    Featured Speaker:

    Julian Dibbell
    Author of Play Money and My Tiny Life
    “Play Money: Gold Farms, Polar Bear Rugs, and the World-Historical Relevance of Game Studies”

    Graduate Research Presentations:

    William Huber (Visual Arts Department)
    “Complicit Play in Virtual Worlds”

    Ge Jin, aka Jingle (Communication Department)
    “Chinese Gold Farmers: a feature length documentary on real money traders in MMORPGs”

    Guest Respondent:

    Raph Koster
    President, Areae
    Former Chief Creative Officer, Sony Online Entertainment
    Lead designer for Star Wars Galaxies (SOE) and Ultima Online (EA)

    Presented by Calit2, CRCA, and the Sanford Berman Chair of Language,
    Thought, & Communication

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