Review by Angela Harrison: | "Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft® Reader" Edited by Corneliussen, Hilde G. and Jill Walker Rettberg
MIT Press, 2008 ISBN: 978-0262033701 304 pp. $31.95 | Web-Article Design by Jeff Hewitt

"Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader" - Corneliussen, Hilde G. and Jill Walker Rettberg (Editors)

Reviewed by Angela Harrison

Introduction | Culture | World | Play | Identity
Conclusion / Final Assessment | References


The first section of the book, entitled "Culture," connects the events and characteristics of the game to the real world. The first chapter, "A Corporate Ideology of Warcraft," by Scott Rettburg, examines the ways in which playing World of Warcraft mimics the mechanics of a corporate world. He cites examples such as the ideology of working hard and becoming successful, the importance of gold, the social systems the game creates and enforces, status symbols, supply and demand, and raid management. All of these examples show how Warcraft "trains" consumers and operates in the corporate world.

The second chapter, "'Never Such Innocence Again': War and Histories in World of Warcraft," by Esther MacCallum-Stewart, examines the representations of war and opposition in World of Warcraft. Stewart highlights the importance of the factions' tumultuous truce, and how the game encourages both sides to kill one another. She cites the battleground of Warsong Gulch as an example of how neither side is "right" or "wrong" but contested. Such a scenario, Stewart claims, is similar to real, modern war. The game also contains several references to war history, including zeppelins and bi-planes. Stewart uses these icons as a representation of World War I and how the war signified an end of innocence. In World of Warcraft, such items are used to signify the tension between the sides. She concludes that the landscape creates an area in which war is seen as a state of normalcy and raises questions of right and wrong in warfare.

The third chapter, "World of Warcraft as a Playground for Feminism," by Hilde Corneliussen, analyzes how gender is built and performed in World of Warcraft. Corneliussen gives three feminist positions as a framework for how to look at gender constructions in the game, and claims that though Warcraft is a fantasy world, it still retains the "hegemonic Western discourses of gender" (p. 65). Corneliussen inspects areas such as background story of characters, visual representation of characters, nonplayer characters, and in-game activities to conclude that there are many ways that the representations of women do reinforce such Western hegemonies but manage to break away from them as well.

The final chapter in the section, "The Familiar and the Foreign: Playing (Post) Colonialism in World of Warcraft," by Jessica Langer, considers the use of post-colonial rhetoric and visual representation in World of Warcraft. By creating a binary of familiar and other, Langer claims that the Horde faction had become the "other" in the face of the more familiar faction of the Alliance. The consequences of such a binary, Langer states, not only have implications in-game, but in the real world as well. The construction of Horde races seems to closely resemble the races of those who have been "othered" throughout history: Trolls=Jamaicans, Taurens=Native Americans, Orcs=Africans, Blood Elves = Drug Addicts, Undead = Abject. The Alliance, on the other hand, is composed of mostly white European races. The problem Langer highlights is that such constructions of race closely represent real life ones, and the implications are severe.

Culture Assessment

Cultural Studies is a popular discipline for approaching video games. The collection of essays in this chapter cover a wide array of cultural studies topics, from capitalism to postcolonialism. The purpose of this section, the authors state, is to dismantle the idea that the game is simply a game and to pinpoint the ways in which gameplay can affect real culture (p. 11). The selection of essays chosen could be easily debated in the classroom. It is also a fairly broad brush stroke of cultural studies topics, and it is exciting to see them collected into one volume rather than scattered in various journals.

However, I find the selection of essays slightly problematic because they are all negative representations of culture. Corneliussen's essay is the closest to any sense of neutrality because she states that feminism can be explored in the game, but the rest of the essays show how these video games negatively impact culture. Such a selection suggests that Warcraft has nothing or little positive to offer the player culturally, and considering the overly negative cultural perceptions that most video games have, it would be far more empowering to have at least one essay about how Warcraft contains cultural value instead of negatively impacts it.

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