Tag: virtual worlds

Do We Inherit Abandoned Game Worlds?

When you’re playing an online game and it gets shut down, typically a message flashes on the screen that says something like: “You have been disconnected from the server.” This very message indicates that it is not just “the game” per se that you’ve been disconnected from. What is “the game” after all? In reality, players are connected to a shared version of a virtual world thanks to the workings of servers, those digital devices that make up the backbone of the internet and of virtual worlds, like Second Life and World of Warcraft. When a virtual world dies, when it’s “turned off,” the player is no longer accessing the same server as their friends. In fact, they’re not accessing any server at all. When the server is turned off, the game world is popularly said to have been abandoned—its software becomes referred to as “abandonware.” And just like that, a whole world dies. This post reflects the work of one group of video game enthusiasts and how they are actively working to bring so-called “abandoned” online games back to life by reshaping copyright laws and redefining games as cultural heritage. (read more...)

A Ludicrous Relationship? A Conversation between Anthropology and Game Studies

Editor’s Note: This is a co-authored piece written by Spencer Ruelos and Amanda Cullen, both PhD students in the Informatics department at UC Irvine. Most work at the intersection of games and anthropology is centered around how ethnographic methods can be applied to video games, especially those based in virtual worlds. Boellstorff’s (2006) essay in the inaugural issue of Games and Culture was central in articulating the possibilities of ethnographic fieldwork in game studies research. While game studies continues to draw on anthropological traditions of ethnography, this seems to be where the conversation between the two disciplines ends. Many of us who work in both game studies and anthropology find ourselves lacking a sense of academic belonging in either field; this post is, in part, an attempt to build deeper connections between these two disciplines. (read more...)

Our Digital Selves: What we learn about ability from avatars

Editor’s Note: This post was written by Donna Davis, PhD – University of Oregon and is the sixth post in the series on Disabling Technologies Imagine sitting on the beach on a beautiful day. The sun is rising and the birds singing. Wisps of clouds gently float by as the surf rhythmically rolls in and out at your feet and the children frolic in the sand. You can almost feel the heat of the sun, only you can’t — because you’re sitting in a virtual world. Such is the experience of the childless agoraphobe who may never see the ocean again. Virtual worlds have always been places of both escape and entertainment. For people with disabilities, this notion of escape comes with far greater opportunity but also risk. The risk is that this escape is tied to a simplistic understanding of both virtual reality and disability – especially where people who have never experienced either assume an individual with disabilities may want to abandon their physical experience for the comfort of a virtual one. (read more...)

Privacy and Piracy: Investigating Unauthorized Online Gaming

Editor’s Note: This is the third post in our Law in Computation series. When we play an online game like World of Warcraft, where are we? This is not just a metaphysical question—are we in the fantasy world of Azeroth or in front of our computers—but a legal one as well. And there are multiple answers to that legal question. We might take a look at the space of intellectual property at the level of code and creation, whether corporate or by the players. There is also the space of law within the game, of the rules and norms guiding play (De Zwart and Humphreys 2014). What I’m concerned with here, though, are the servers, located in physical places, that connect players through infrastructures of connection whose worlds are sometimes disconnected by proprietary and computational decisions of game world owners. Servers keep online games alive. When online gamers talk about a game world being disconnected, they often point to the server as being “unplugged” or “turned off.” While official game servers are typically owned by game developers and corporations, players are now harnessing this power themselves, using privately-owned servers (“private servers”) as a viable solution for restoring and sustaining older versions of online games previously consigned to oblivion. But why? (read more...)

Pokémon GO and the visibility of digital infrastructure

This blog post is about the popular augmented reality game, Pokémon GO. If you are unfamiliar and/or want a brief overview of it and its cultural history, this is a useful resource. As a virtual world anthropologist and a Pokémon nerd, I have become immersed in Pokémon GO. As the game continues to gain traction and I wander around meeting strangers and friends who are also playing the game, I have taken note of numerous issues of anthropological concern, like new forms of social interaction and the re-mapping and flattening of cityscapes. Colleagues and I have even speculated about whether Pokémon GO is a virtual world—by which I mean a computer-simulated, persistent, and shared environment online—and, if it is such a world, how it represents one that is visible even to non-players. Participating in and observing the Pokémon GO phenomenon, I’ve found that players have been confronted by another recurring topic related to visibility: the visibility of game servers. I recently attended a large gathering of about 1000 Pokémon GO players in downtown Riverside, CA. We all walked around together, yet apart, huddled among small groups of friends with phones in hand, capturing virtual pets. Servers are the typically invisible and distant machines that allow such an event to happen. They connect people to the game world and to one another by receiving and returning signals to and from our mobile devices. They are an integral part of the ecology of media that enables the shared experience of being in a virtual space overlaid upon the actual world—and, curiously, players have a vague understanding of this. Pokémon GO servers have become very visible. If you ask any Pokémon GO player, servers are to blame for some of the greatest downfalls of the game, like faulty connections, glitches, outages, and lag. Developers have repeatedly mentioned servers as the root of many issues with the game, and, as a result, many players continue to point fingers at servers. So why have servers, things we can’t see or even explain, become the targets of so much anger and frustration? How can we characterize the very visible role servers play in the social worlds of Pokémon GO? (read more...)

Some Thoughts on Computing, Materialism, and the Virtual

In the past decade, social scientists have paid increasing attention to a series of novel approaches to the analysis of materiality. Lately and loosely grouped under the rubric of the “new materialisms,” work by scholars such as Jane Bennett, Graham Harman, and Hans-Jorg Rheinberger has pushed for a robust expansion of our understanding of the social to include the material world. While engaged in a polyvalent intellectual undertaking, these materialists are bound together by their shared assertion of the significance of matter, its properties, and its effects for truly robust social analysis. In a sense, this should be old news to anthropologists; the analysis of material culture has been part of our stock in trade since the foundation of the discipline. However, the new, interdisciplinary focus on the material by these thinkers seems to me to offer an occasion for anthropology to revisit certain issues in the anthropological study of (read more...)