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The Anatomy of a Gamer Kurt D. Squire Constance A. Steinkuehler University of Wisconsin–Madison 1972 Zork 1977 Pac Man 1980 Super Mario Bros. 1985 Tetris 1985 Mortal Kombat 1992 1972 1977 1980 1985 1990 1993 1994-2004 Quake 2. c. 1997 Ultima Online 1997 Railroad Tycoon 1998

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the anatomy of a gamer

The Anatomy of a Gamer

Kurt D. Squire

Constance A. Steinkuehler

University of Wisconsin–Madison








videogames are a push technology
Videogames are a push technology

Dmitri Williams (2004)

which videogames

Massively Multiplayer Online Games

Which Videogames?


Real TimeStrategy

First Person Shooter

Arcade Games



Massively Multiplayer Online Games


Role Playing

God Games

Abstract / Rhythm Games

Survival Horror



  • MMOG Industry
  • What are MMOGs?
  • What activities constitute MMOGaming?
      • Literacy practices
      • Joint Problem Solving
      • Learning
  • Emergent Themes
mmog industry
MMOG Industry
  • 2003 U.S. Industry Profit Numbers 
    • Gaming Industry $10.0 billion
    • Hollywood box office movies $ 9.5 billion
    • Music industry $14.3 billion
    • Home video rentals $19.0 billion

mmog industry31
MMOG Industry
  • 2003 U.S. Industry Profit Numbers
    • Gaming Industry $10.0 billion

Online Games (2003) $ 1.9 billion

Online Games (2009) $ 9.8 billion

    • Hollywood box office movies $ 9.5 billion
    • Music industry $14.3 billion
    • Home video rentals $19.0 billion
  • Virtual worlds are significant:
    • Larger populations than some major real cities 
    • Larger economies than some major real countries
  • Substantial time investment
  • Diversity of those who play
what are mmogs
What are MMOGs?
  • Highly graphical 2- or 3-D videogames
  • Online social interaction
  • Persistent virtual worlds 
  • Real-time, perpetually accessible
  • Loosely structured by open-ended (fantasy) narratives, but…
  • Players free to do as they please
  • “Escapist fantasy” yet emergent“social realism” (Kolbert, 2001)
what activities constitute mmogaming
What activities constitute MMOGaming?
  • Literacy Practices
  • Joint Problem Solving
  • Learning
the literacy scare

“The collapse of literacy and the rise of violence in the electronic age”

”These students will be doing more and more bad things if they are playing games & not doing other things like reading aloud…”

“Video games have emerged as the fourth most dominant medium, displacing print media and vying with other major electronic media in the lives of both young adult and teenage males…”

The Literacy Scare

“For the most part I enjoy finding my own information, it feels somehow rewarding because the majority of the informationI come by is from interactive online communities, like fansites and forums…”~Liadon, 22Oct04

mmog fan websites42

MMOG Fan Websites

Unofficial Fandom

orally delivered narratives
‘Orally Delivered’ Narratives

Official Game Narrative

orally delivered narrative
‘Orally Delivered’ Narrative

Liadon you know hwo the fairies originally came into

Liadon Being, right?

Adeleide nohow?

Liadon Oooh, story time!

Liadon once, back when the world was young and the

Liadon gods roamed teh world as mortals, einhasad

Liadon was in the foreset

Liadon and decided to create the race of elves

Liadon none of the other creatures wanted to help

Liadon because they did not know it was einhasad in

Liadon her mortal form

Adeleide oh!

Liadon But 4 exceptionally kind creatures did give

Liadon Their assistance

Liadon that is anothe rstory entirely, but one was

Liadon The humble butterfly

Liadon She did not have much to offer, but spared

Liadon some dust from her wings to allow einhasad

Liadon to make the elves

Liadon as a reward, those butterflies who assisted

Liadon were given the gift of immortality and made

Liadon fairies

Liadon The fairy queen was the original butterfly

Adeleide how did u know all that?

Liadon Im' smart :p

Liadon Every elf knows that.

Liadon Seriously, though. the mother tree told me

Prefacing activity


Goal & Conflict




MMOG Text Talk

  • afk g2g too ef ot regen no poms

Away from keys

got to go


Elven Forest




mana pots

Just a sec.

I’m out of mana potions.

I have to go to the Eleven Forest to regenerate.



Construal of events (Ideational)

Acknowledges the intact activity structure

Coordinates the other participants who remain

Displays community standing as ‘beta vet’


Shared values & activities

joint problem solving
Joint Problem Solving
  • Several different forms but share common features:
    • Students work ingroupsor teams
    • Students areresponsiblenot only for their own learning butfor one another’s learningas well
    • Group goals&individual accountabilityare crucial!
    • Gives students opportunity topractice skills
  • Performance Results
    • Compared to traditional instruction,collaborative learning wins out61% of time
    • Equal benefits to students ofall ability levels
    • Students expressgreater liking for their peersin general as a result
    • Increases students’self esteem & self-concept

S i e g e T i m e !

collaborative problem solving
Collaborative Problem Solving

Artifacting strategy.

within comm of practice
Within comm.of practice

Within / across emergent communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991)

mmmog learning apprenticeship
MMMOG Learning: Apprenticeship
  • All higher cognitive processes develop out of social interaction(Vygotsky)
  • Throughjoint activities with more mature members of society, learners come to master activities & think in ways that have meaning in their culture
  • EXAMPLE: Apprenticeship of JellyBean
    • Who: Myrondonia level 25 / JellyBean level 10
    • What: Elven practice of hunting for mithril
    • When: JellyBean cries for help against orcs
    • Where: Elven Dungeon w/ orcs & zombies


1) walking w/out orcing




2) efficiently collectingdrops

Joint Participation









orientationto goal (mithril)

goal (mithril) made primary


focuses learner’s attention



routine & valued practice





apprenticeship of jellybean
Apprenticeship of JellyBean
  • Enculturation into Practice
    • Joint participationin meaningful activity
    • Mutually understood & valuedgoal
    • Models successful performance
    • Focus attentionon key aspects
    • Gradually hands control overto learner
    • Opportunities forpractice & situated feedback
  • Enculturation into ‘Kind of Elf like Us’
    • Socializing learner into way of understanding the worldtied to particular values
    • Display oneself as”people like us”


what does this mean
What does this mean?

We should design better ones!

We’re all out of jobs!

Let’s try to understandthis a little better first

Let’s turn everythinginto games

Ban themwherever we can!

  • Distributed Intelligence
  • Consumers  producers
    • Official texts appropriated into fandom
    • Disruptions of power (access, control)
  • Multiple multimedia, multimodality ‘attentional spaces’ (Lemke)
  • Fuzzy boundaries between RL || VL
  • Internet as both tool & place
  • Meaning tied to identities in communities
  • Equity issues / digital divide
games as a social push
Games as a social “push”
  • Indigenous to digital age
    • Quintessential example of new media
    • Increasingly transmedia
  • Enculturating force for youth
    • Recruits, even requires literacies
    • Kids grow up media “makers”
  • Sites of social disruptions
    • Legal (Who owns my character?)
    • Economic (Is game income taxable?)
the digital disconnect
The Digital Disconnect

Kids online more than parents

  • 78% of children 12 – 17 go online.
  • “Personally meaningful” learning
  • Virtual reference library.
  • Virtual tutor and study shortcut.
  • Virtual study group
  • Virtual guidance counselor

Key Finding:

We have not yet recognized—much less responded to—the new ways use the Internet. Pew Internet Project, 2003

emergent information spaces
Emergent information spaces


Open Source Information



Access to social affiliations

t y v m

t y v m !

third space issue of addiction
third space &

issue of ‘addiction’

3rd space
3rd space

MMOGs are social spaces.

Third spaces (Bruckman & Resnick, 1995).

Neither work nor home.

but more compelling
But more compelling

And they are quite compelling.

because mmogs function as spaces of possibility
Because MMOGs function as spaces of possibility…

Liadon when it gets close to time i'll step down [as general]and

Liadon give you a few recommendations... but I AM

Liadon comgin back when I can

Liadon Probably won't still want to be the general tho

Adeleide yea ull be v busy

Liadon Tha'ts not it

Liadon peopel make time for what is important

Liadon it would just be kinda weird, sincefantasy

Liadon games are for doing things we can't in real

Liadon life... and if I"m in the military irl, it would

Liadon be really odd ot come home and keep at it

ingame conversation, 28March04

and retribalization in a winner take all society
and retribalizationin a ‘winner take all’ society …
  • Sometimes I pause and think to myself why we do what we do online. After all, sometimes this starts to feel like another job even though it's just a game. … I think that it's because we are making so much progress. And in the end, if we can … maybe leave some kind of legacy...that perhaps years down the road there will be another generation of gamers. And maybe they will say, do you remember that pledge? Did you actually meet Princess Adeleide, or General Liadon?
  • Maybe when you get down to it, this is just another goal of life – to achieve immortality by being remembered in some way. In the end I think everyone has to ask themselves that basic question. Did I make an impact on someone's life? Positive or negative? Will I be remembered for it?
  • ~ IM conversation, 3 May 2002
and maybe even as meritocracies at times
And maybe even as meritocracies at times.

LadySin Im nothing of a leader in RL

Adeleide bah

LadySin well unless pple get to know me

LadySin then I take over

LadySin but from a distance I look like a simple silly person

LadySin Im short, small

LadySin Im not loud or talk much

LadySin im shy

Adeleide well, what made u different here than in RL?

LadySin I think physical prescence

LadySin I dont see people, people dont see me

LadySin I dont have to worry about how I look or if myhair or clothes are ok

LadySin it sounds shallow but thats what it is

critique of society
Critique of society

Perhaps these spaces are simply more compelling than “real”spaces.

critique of school
Critique of school

Such as school.


And perhaps they ought to make us critique our society.

Corporate U.S. Flag  AdBusters


Instead of gamersthemselves.

overview of research project
Overview of Research Project
  • Theoretical perspective
    • Cognition as (inter)action in the social & material world (cf. Hutchins, Lave, Vygotsky)
    • “big D” Discourse theory (Gee,1999) 
  • Goals
    • To understand the culture/cognition of MMOGs
    • To inform public: parents, teachers, designers
  • Site:Lineage I (& now Lineage II)
    • Ancillary work on other games (SWG, EverQuest)
  • Method:Virtual Cognitive Ethnography
virtual cognitive ethnography
Virtual Cognitive Ethnography
  • Primary Data Sources
    • Participant Observations (video/audio data)
    • Ethnographic Fieldnotes
    • Individual Case Studies
    • Interviews with Informants
    • Collection of Community Documents
  • Fieldwork To Date
    • Princess Adeleide, LegendsOfAden Blood Pledge
    • 25 months fieldwork, average 10-50 hrs/week
    • 12 formal interviews
    • 40+ hrs informal interviews .

Lineage I



Lineage II

Woodcock (2004)

diversity of mmogamers

Diversity of MMOGamers

Dmitri Williams (2004)