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 second section of the book, entitled "World," is a move away from the more cultural readings of the game into the more compositional features of it. Espen Aarseth's chapter, "The Hollow World," looks at the features of the gameworld of Azeroth as a spatial practice. He approaches the game through two perspectives: ontology, the "discipline that seeks to identify general principles and formal models with which to define games," and aesthetics (p. 112). At the core of Aarseth's argument is the notion that while advances have been made in areas such as graphics in a game like World of Warcraft, the activities and events that play out on the screen are no different than that of less graphically sophisticated games. He also argues that the world of Azeroth is not expansive, but truly small. The smallness, he comments, is a major part of the game's appeal. The point of the game is not immersion, but escapism, much like a theme park or a playground.

Tanya Krzywinska's essay "World of Warcraft as a Rich Text," takes a more narratological approach, claiming that "aspects of myth and the mythic play significant roles in making the 'World' of Warcraft" (p. 123). These mythical aspects add structure and depth to the game. Ultimately, Krzywinska claims that myth is remediated within the game. A couple of these remediations include nonlinearity and a measure of player agency. The most notable pattern used in the game, Krzywinska continues, is the epic hero quest. Krzywinska looks as aspects such as the execution of the quest, rhetoric of the language and landscape, the journey structure, and the use of festivals as remediations and concludes they give the player a level of immersion when playing.

The third essay in this section, Elisabeth Klastrup's "A Note on Death and Dying," analyzes the event of player death in World of Warcraft and what stories about player death "tell us about what behaviors and experiences in general matter to the players of World of Warcraft" (p. 143). She looks at not only the ways the players experience death, but also how they exploit it. She comments that death becomes more of a punishment or learning lesson to players and serves as a vehicle for what to do and what not to do in game. Klastrup also notes that the removal of the player from the "real" world into the death world gives the player a loss of time and power. Other reminders of death in game include the presence of skeletons, dead bodies, and graveyards, as well as an overly gothic aesthetic. She then moves to player attitudes towards death, remarking that players view death in a multitude of ways, including strategic, punishment, and social separation. She draws up a typology of deaths, separating the stories about death into three groups: "heroes, fools, and accidental nature of life in the gameworld" (pp. 159-60).

The final essay in this section is a closer look at the quests in World of Warcraft. In "Deferral and Repetition," Jill Walker Rettburg examines the structure of gameplay. The two components of deferral and repetition, she argues, are what make up the structure of the quests. She breaks down the basic parts of the quest: the quest giver, the background, story, objectives, and rewards, and how these parts contribute to an overall deferral of means within the game. Because the game has no end, the parts are "structured both as promises that there is more to come and deferrals of those goals" (p. 179). The game also contains constant repetition that parallels the routines that humans go through in everyday life. Just as the constant repetition of quests tells narratives about a character, the repetition in real life tells narratives about us, as well. She concludes that the success of this game is the appeal of the repetition.

World Assessment

This set of essays, while looking at compositional features of the game rather than the cultural, does not seem as cohesive. Aarseth's essay is contradictive when he claims that the real world is not fully resembled in the fictional world, thus discounting the entire cultural approach to games. He also assumes much about what players feel about certain events in the game, thus not taking all views into account. These assumptions raise questions about the line between the player and the scholar. To assume that players would play as a scholar would is an unfair assumption.

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