Anthropologist Studying Culture of WoW Raiders

Anthropologist Studying Culture of WoW Raiders

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Alex Golub, Ph.D., is a professor of anthropology at the University of Hawaii who specializes in the study of the local peoples of Papua New Guinea. These days, however, Golub is immersing himself in the strange, foreign culture of another group of people - hardcore raiders in World of Warcraft.

Golub, who plays a level 80 Restoration-spec Shaman in a raiding guild, tells WoW Insider that he's researching the culture that drives gamers to "do something as crazy as run [25-man raid dungeons] four days a week." Now, actual academic research on WoW isn't exactly anything new, but instead of writing about it from the view of the proverbial ivory tower, Golub is following his anthropological instincts and immersing himself in the culture: "My unique angle is that I am doing anthropological fieldwork in WoW, living and playing with a raiding guild and putting in 20+ hours a week keeping them healed and decursed."

Golub says the inspiration for this project came during a 2-year stay in Papua New Guinea, where the locals' stereotyping of "you white people" made him realize that for all he spent studying other cultures, he didn't know much about his own. He resolved to start a new project on American culture, and for his vehicle, he chose World of Warcraft.

He hasn't given up on his original Papua New Guinea project; he plans to return sometime this summer for additional research there, but once he returns, Golub says that his goal is to write a book about WoW "(T)hat anyone can read -- sort of Malcolm Gladwell meets Arthas. I want to produce something that my guildies can read and say 'Yeah, that's totally what it's like to raid,' but I also want it to be a book that you could give to your folks and say 'See, I'm not just sitting in this chair for five hours a day. My best friends and I save the world every night.'" The book, explains Golub, would try to take people standing baffled and scratching their heads outside the WoW phenomenon and explain to them exactly what it was about the game that people found important and brought them together.

And that's just the first third of the interview - the rest delves into the more nitty-gritty specifics of the project, like asking Golub if it's more difficult to interact with his WoW guildmates as people and fellow raiders when they know he's researching them for a project. One of Golub's most interesting responses comes as an answer to a question about things he's noticed in online behavior vs. "real-life" behavior - how studying WoW and other virtual worlds have made social scientists like him realize that "real" interactions and "in-the-room" interactions are two very different things:

"There is a guy in my guild who works in a cheese factory, turning over 90-pound blocks of cheese all day. I bet I know him better than he knows the guys in the control room measuring cheese temperatures or whatever, even if he sees them every day."

As someone who raids in WoW myself (Resto Druid here - solidarity with my brother-in-healing!) perhaps I'm a bit biased, but I think this is an absolutely fascinating read, and I look forward to the book itself when it comes out.

Or perhaps it's just an excuse to get a research grant to play a videogame all day instead of live in the heat of Papua New Guinea. In which case, good plan, man. Good plan.

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Golub says the inspiration for this project came during a 2-year stay in Papua New Guinea, where the locals' stereotyping of "you white people" made him realize that for all he spent studying other cultures, he didn't know much about his own. He resolved to start a new project on American culture, and for his vehicle, he chose World of Warcraft.

He's sure to learn a lot about American culture by playing WoW [/sarcasm]. Clever plan though (to use his report as an excuse to play games) but rather obvious.

Is he going to Korea next to tackle the Starcraft life?

I would like to have his job. Being able to claim that playing 20+ hours of WoW per week is working.

Obviously, it's cool to transform a gaming obsession into a book. That said, the book sounds like it will be genuinely interesting.

This strikes me as more of a Sociological concept than an Anthropogical one, but those Cultural Anthropologists always love invading the territory of other disciplines.

Still it's nice to see some active and community involved academic research towards the phenomenon.

stormcaller:
Is he going to Korea next to tackle the Starcraft life?

While that's certainly an interesting subculture in and of itself, I think what he's getting at here is the fact that WoW raiding is inherently cooperative, and there's a sense of fellowship that doesn't come along with beating the pants off someone in SC.

I think that although it might have NOTHING to do with american culture (because thousands of people EVERYWHERE play the game)
it will definitely offer an interesting perspective into the mind of the hardcore gamer

While it may not directly be an observation of the american culture, it certainly gives you a pretty good picture of the mindset of your typical middle-class gamer. I did something like this as a mini-research project for one of my psychology classes.

You can learn a lot about the people without ever having to meet them, by playing a game with someone several times a week for a long time you'd be surprised how well acquainted you become with your fellow raiders.

I think that this study is awesome and I fully encourage this man and his work.

CantFaketheFunk:

stormcaller:
Is he going to Korea next to tackle the Starcraft life?

While that's certainly an interesting subculture in and of itself, I think what he's getting at here is the fact that WoW raiding is inherently cooperative, and there's a sense of fellowship that doesn't come along with beating the pants off someone in SC.

Yeah got that I was just trying to be a smart-ass though, anyhow I do understand what he's getting at there's alot more to raiding then clicking until your finger cramps up, you have to be ready to move at the slightest hint of an ability and be in sync with the others you are working with, I also think I know a few of my guild mates better then I knew a few people in my class last year.

CantFaketheFunk:

stormcaller:
Is he going to Korea next to tackle the Starcraft life?

While that's certainly an interesting subculture in and of itself, I think what he's getting at here is the fact that WoW raiding is inherently cooperative, and there's a sense of fellowship that doesn't come along with beating the pants off someone in SC.

But a 6v6 Big Game Hunters is the ultimate in co-op gameplay...there just happens to be the hunter and the hunted :P

I wish I could get a gig like that. I spent my college playing wow and my professors always told me that it is not a sub-culture and could never be studied. This guy all of a sudden shows up and gets PAID to play and write a book. Once again it shows that you first have to be a Grad student or a professor before you can really make a subject into education.

I would like to see a quote from his Papua New Guinea subjects on what they think of his new course of research.

Tenmar:
I spent my college playing wow and my professors always told me that it is not a sub-culture and could never be studied.

Well that's just a giant load of crap, with all the people who play WoW, it's practically an entire CULTURE on it's own, let alone a sub-culture, it doesn't take much to see that people who play online games develop their own ways of talking, acting, and playing. It even differs from game to game, the communities that sprout up out of these games are pretty remarkable.

Brokkr:
I would like to have his job. Being able to claim that playing 20+ hours of WoW per week is working.

It is. Well, it felt like it to me.

Afterward he will return to Papa New Guinea, where he will promptly curl up into a ball and go through a massive case of WoWcrack withdrawl.

Brokkr:
I would like to have his job. Being able to claim that playing 20+ hours of WoW per week is working.

Yeah, it must be awesome to get paid to play video games and write about them.

....

CantFaketheFunk:

Brokkr:
I would like to have his job. Being able to claim that playing 20+ hours of WoW per week is working.

Yeah, it must be awesome to get paid to play video games and write about them.

....

Ouch...

Awkward...

On topic, I think it'll be interesting to see what he thinks drives the community in WoW.

Personally I think something more like Eve Online would be a better topic, but I will pick the book up.

I never made it past level 40 in WoW anyway.

I wouldn't mind seeing him do a study on the moron type of gamers who for some reason play a game till they drop dead from lack of food and sleep.

Aries_Split:

CantFaketheFunk:

Brokkr:
I would like to have his job. Being able to claim that playing 20+ hours of WoW per week is working.

Yeah, it must be awesome to get paid to play video games and write about them.

....

Ouch...

Awkward...

On topic, I think it'll be interesting to see what he thinks drives the community in WoW.

Personally I think something more like Eve Online would be a better topic, but I will pick the book up.

I never made it past level 40 in WoW anyway.

Exactly what I was thinking. With Eve you actually find a stratified "society". There's more player interaction because you can't just decide not to interact with other players like you can in WoW. Everything is player driven. You want ammo? Have to get it from a player. Want a ship? Have to get it from a player. Want to travel? Better hope there isn't a player looking to kill you at the gate. Add in the fact that the only thing that doesn't stay gone forever ,if lost, is you(you're cloned) and you have a much more immersive and intense game.

 

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