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Frankentheory, Your Time is Now_Final Case Study

Welcome, my dear readers, to my final case study, known as Frankentheory.  Shall we begin?

You don't have to answer that question.

You don’t have to answer that.

And Away We Roll

As I have discussed in my previous case studies, World of Warcraft (WoW) is a massive, complex, global network composed of nodes functioning on different levels inside and outside of the gamespace. Attention to this Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game has been directed towards its ability to offer teachers and students a virtual environment in which to learn, while other studies have looked at MMOs in terms of what observers see as the game’s ability to fulfill player needs (social needs) and side effects (like addiction and escapism). But what are other aspects of the game and gamespace that would be of interest to someone in the field of English Studies? It is with this question that guilds and what is happening amongst their members become of interest. Since WoW’s guilds and their activities have been my focus this semester, I have been looking for a theory that would allow me to better explore guilds and their members’ positions within and outside of (though still related to) the gamespace. However, for each of the theories I have applied so far, they usually do not focus both on what is occurring in the gamespace at large as a network and what nuances are occurring on the local level within the guilds. It tends to be one or the other, especially since the players are heavily dependent on game software and hardware and on communication technology to be part of and help shape the network in which they play. So, what do we do when our theories cannot completely cover our objects of study and have blind spots? Theoretical synthesis, which is better known among my peers as Frankentheory. But how will this Frankentheory help us decide how studying WoW can be useful to English Studies?

First, let’s list my theories on the field:

Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman’s Networked Individualism

Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network-Theory (ANT)

Bitzer’s Rhetorical Situation Theory and Vatz’s “Myth of the Rhetorical Situation”

Networked Individualism and MMOs, But What Could Be Missing?

To begin the rise of Frankentheory, I have to start with a strand: Networked Individualism. Rainie and Wellman’s theory looks at how the three revolutions of Social, Internet, and Mobile are reshaping the fabric of social groups, what they call the “social operating system” (6). It is now normal for people to exist outside of close-knit communities and instead primarily operate within a variety of more loosely connected groups, with different groups fulfilling specialized needs that often have nothing to do with proximity. These new social groups, generally mediated by advancing communication technologies, allow people to enter into a number of networks that are more connected and have greater access not only to information but also to virtual spaces in which they can create and share media of their own. People become the nodes of the network, constantly exchanging information with one another: “When people walk down the street texting on their phones, they are obviously communicating. Yet things are different now. In incorporating gadgets into their lives, people have changed the ways they interact with each other. They have become networked as individuals, rather than embedded in groups. In the world of networked individuals, it is the person who is the focus: not the family, not the work unit, not the neighborhood, and not the social group” (Rainie and Wellman 6). In the changing landscape of social relationships that Rainie and Wellman find is occurring as more people are turning towards their communication devices (cell phones, tablets, computers) to center their everyday communications, information gathering and producing, and their relationships within a group, online games have become part of the “new neighborhoods” that are popping up as the social operating system shifts gears towards networked individuals rather than physical communities of people (13).

People as nodes in the network. Image hosted on VectorStock.

For gamers, this reshaping of the social operating system allows them to craft social groups for themselves (inside and outside of the game) that fulfill needs prompted by their experiences within the gamespace and, more specifically, by being members of the same guild. There is no longer the need to play games with the people who are physically close (though that does still occur) as players can now log on to servers with others from around the country or around the world, creating communities of people who may only ever meet through text chat, in-game voice chat, discussion forums, Facebook, YouTube, and Skype. Here, we have groups of people whose main connection is their interest in a computer game, though they may have other interests, characteristics, and connections that could then bind them closer together during their interactions in the game, but this depends on how much information they are willing to provide and how closely they bond with their teammates. To be in an active member of the gamespace (as opposed to a casual gamer) and to be an active member of a guild, takes work and effort, just as it does to be part of any virtual group (Rainie and Wellman 9). There is no physical presence to say “I’m here,” so the player must renew his/her account, take time to level up, and take time to talk and quest with guild members. The gamespace and the guilds let these players from all different backgrounds come together for a few hours or so a day to engage in group raids or role-playing scenarios, to talk with others who share common interests that extend beyond their daily physical lives, and to play specialized roles in a group (which is another point Rainie and Wellman point out that is happening to networked individuals).

WoW Guild. Image hosted on PC Gamer.

PC Gamer’s WoW Guild. Image hosted on PC Gamer.

WoW brings together gamers from all walks of life and gives them common ground, with fan culture emerging. Image hosted on website Intense Gamers.

WoW brings together gamers from all walks of life around the world and gives them common ground, with fan culture emerging. Image hosted on website Intense Gamers.

Rainie and Wellman’s theory acknowledges that communication technologies and people’s desires to be continuously connected are reshaping the ways in which we interact with one another and how we (re)align with social groups. By looking at the form and function of this new social operating system, application of this theory takes a look at the fabric of guild members’ interactions with one another in-game and how they keep connected even when they are outside of the game. Questions can be raised about players’ empowerment within new social, virtual dynamics as they access a wide variety of resources: Since WoW players do have access to many more resources than those found within the gamespace (official and unofficial forums, guild websites, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, guild ranking websites, and Wiki pages for the game), how does this empower players as players in the gamespace but also as members in their guild? Players are, essentially, not alone in the challenges they face in raids, on quests, and within social guild dynamics the way they would be if communication technology was not as far along as it is, but how does a player harnessing the “information at his/her fingertips” change the dynamics of the group? If the players are nodes in various networks and WoW and their guilds are only a small part of the network that the players themselves have become, where and how do players gain their agency?

Within the scope of Networked Individualism, players gain agency by doing something with all of the information accessible through their devices and making the effort to be part of the groups they have joined. Just like within physically close-knit communities, players have to reach out and engage one another, because if they do not, they will eventually lose their places within the group, even more so than if they were dealing with their teammates in person. Let’s take an example, for a guild member, there can be several forms of the group within which to stay active and to have agency. By having an interest in WoW and signing up to play, the player is taking the first step and putting in the initial effort that will lead to guild membership. The player then has options: he/she can just play the game and either stumble upon or be recruited into a guild he/she comes into contact with over the course of gameplay, or the player can look through guild rankings, explore guild websites and forums, and talk to other players about guilds and potentially joining. There are options as to how a player chooses to operate within the gamespace network and how much agency he/she takes for him/herself. Once a player has joined a guild, a new set of social dynamics occurs that does not usually happen for a player going solo through the gamespace. Most guilds set up a mentor-mentee relationship among new and veteran players in order to ease the new players into the game, into how the guild works socially, and also to train them for the specialized they will take on during quests and raids. This new player again has options to how much agency he/she has within this guild. The player can research his/her role, profession, and class in order to better acquaint him/herself with his/her character’s potential but also to become a more effective teammate. A player who does not know how to do something like add-ons for battles has a steeper learning curve than someone who actively sought out the knowledge and used his/her place in the network to better understand the gamespace and his/her group. Information is out there, across a multitude of websites, discussion posts, and player-player interaction.

This sounds like a great theory for looking at guild members playing in World of Warcraft as we are looking at players not just as nodes, but as focal points of networks themselves. By being a node in many loosely connected networks, the players become networks in themselves and has agency in how he/she uses that connectivity. So what could be missing from this theory?

Add the Second Strand as ANT Comes Marching in

While Rainie and Wellman’s theory of Networked Individualism looks at the ways in which communication technologies are allowing people to reshape their social communities (branching away from solely functioning within local groups to take part in a variety of networks in which they often play specialized roles), Actor-Network-Theory fills in the gaps of Networked Individualism in that it allows the very non-human entities of hardware and software being used by people to have just as much agency as the people themselves. For my study, this applies to the hardware and software guild members use and interact with when playing WoW. The programming code that makes everything work is not pushed off to the side; it is allowed into the discourse, becoming a major (and acknowledged) part of the network. With ANT, the actors are the nodes, but who are the actors? Gamers, of course, are on the list of actors, but so are representations of the code through non-playable characters (NPCs), loot from raids, quests logs, monsters, characters’ pets, parts of the environment, and other objects that can be handled in the game. But our list is still incomplete. We have to step outside of the game and look at what allows gamers to actually play: keyboards, CPUs with monitors or laptops, mouse, and headphones, as well as additional technologies that can now be used to access the game (thank you, add-ons from Blizzard) like cellphones. In Networked Individualism, the emphasis is on people using these technologies, but with ANT, the technologies are just as important as mediators as other people. By linking ANT to Networked Individualism, we are broadening out the scope of who/what should be studied when looking at WoW. So, is this a more complete list? Sort of. Guild activities do not only take place in the gamespace, but outside of it as well in forums, through software like Google Hangouts and Skype, through social media like Facebook, and through unofficial game websites. There could be other actors involved, especially if the guild members know each other in person, but this will be okay for now as our list is more robust than simply just listing humans. This is what a WoW ANT network for a guild would like.

Normally, when a guild is mentioned, people imagine this:

WoW guild, anyone? Image hosted on the C Trust Network.

WoW guild, anyone? Image hosted on the C Trust Network.

When really, with our newly constructed list in mind, the mental image should include these two:

Example of what a screen for what a player sees during a raid. Image hosted on C Trust Network.

Example of what a screen for what a player sees during a raid. Image hosted on C Trust Network.

Guild playing at a tournament. Image hosted on website SK-Gaming.

Guild playing at a tournament. Image hosted on website SK-Gaming.

Now that we have our larger (if not totally exhaustive list) and our handy-dandy new mental image, we must deal with a new way of conceiving how the nodes in our guild network have agency and are situated within the network. Why would I choose to list these actors? According to Latour, “If we stick to our decision to start from the controversies about actors and agencies, then any thing that does modify a state of affairs by making a difference is an actor– or, if it has no figuration yet, an actant. Thus, the questions to ask about any agent are simply the following: Does it make a difference in the course of some other agent’s action or not? Is there some trial that allows someone to detect this difference?” (71). Let’s see if we can tease out how this works within an MMORPG in a way that Networked Individualism Theory cannot. What do all of these actors even do for the network? The gamers, their hardware, and the game’s software have one major collective goal. They are all working towards the creation and maintenance of the gameworld in which the guild exists. Sounds odd that gamers are part of this, doesn’t it? But, that’s how games work. The developers design the code that then puts the gameworld into existence on the chosen platform(s) players will then access through their chosen hardware. If the gamers choose not to play, eventually the designers will have to shut the game down or the game remains in its plastic casing on a shelf. In order for the gameworld to be activated and maintained, it needs someone to be playing. But if the designers do not actively work to maintain their game and add new content, players will have no incentive to spend their money and continue populating the gamespace. A great deal of effort needs to be expended on both sides if this gamespace network is to remain active and be successful.

But, we need to narrow this down further. Our target network is not the game as a whole, but individual guilds. What gamers, the software, and the hardware do for the game at large works the same way for the guild on a more microscopic level. The guild’s boundaries must be defined and redefined constantly (which aligns with Rainie and Wellman’s discussion of the effort it takes to keep in touch with the various networks people engage in), which Latour mentions when discussing the creation and maintenance of groups: “all need some people defining who they are, what they should be, what they have been. These are constantly at work, justifying the group’s existence, invoking rules and precedents and, as we shall see, measuring up one definition against all others. Groups are not silent things, but rather the provisional product of a constant uproar made by the millions of contradictory voices about what is a group and who pertains to what” (31). In this sense, the guild is a network node inside a much larger, far more extensive network. And, the gamers, who would have been just one node among (literally) millions of other player nodes, and those are just talking about the human elements of the game. What being part of a guild does then is offer players greater agency in their own gameplay experience of WoW by making them a node in a network that is comprised of a more manageable (usually) number of human players.

However, if those guild members stop redefining the boundaries of their group, against the world, other guilds, and against players with no guilds at all, the guild itself will dissolve. The code and gamers’ hardware is not enough to maintain a guild. The guild may have an archive of some kind as having once existed, but the players are the core nodes who meet and interact in a way that makes a guild what it is. That being said, the guild would not exist without the code that is always underlining the game. There would be no reason for a guild unless the environment of the gamespace provided dungeons to conquer, raids to take on, a world to explore, cities to visit, and servers where players can face off against one another or players (PvP) face off against the environment (PvE). And, without the hardware of the computer and the headphones, players would not have access to the gamespace and to each other. All of the actors are necessary, especially with digital games.

What Ant can do that Networked Individualism cannot is allow me to follow the threads (or trace the associations) of players’ activities through the technology they are using and with one another to define what a guild is within and outside of the gamespace. What do players do with the technology of the game, their own hardware, and other communication devices, as well as resources found on the internet, to maintain the guild as a group? This complements Networked Individualism because it is adding in and granting agency to the non-human entities that help networked people to network. Actor Network Theory and Networked Individualism are similar in that they are looking at society with technology in mind: ANT as humans and non-human actants working together to create the boundaries and maintain the group (guild, in this case), and Networked Individualism as people (gamers) using technology to create diverse and yet loosely collected social groups that fulfill needs that traditional social groups (those once limited more so by proximity) cannot. For both of these theories, technology and the social are focal points in the sense that they are looking at how actors (human and non-human, though the agency is emphasized differently between the theories) are working together.

But what does Networked Individualism do/offer for ANT in regards to WoW and guilds? If the two strands are going to come together, they must each offer something to the other. Actor Network Theory takes a pretty broad view of human and non-human actors working together to define what is social (and, in this case, what is a guild). Networked Individualism narrows this focus to the needs being met for or sought by the humans within these social networks, and how these humans are using communication technology that is in turn reshaping how they interact with one another. ANT brings technology as an actant into the discourse, while Networked Individualism provides a framework for what people are doing within social groups and how they are defining the groups of which they are members. For my case study on WoW, these two theories combined will give me a macro and micro view of technology at play alongside humans, ensuring that the communication technology and game software are receiving as much attention and agency in developing and maintaining the networks within which the humans (physically, in some senses, and through their avatars) are operating.

Friends until the technological end: ANT & Networked Individualism. Image hosted on We Know Memes.

Friends until the technological end: ANT & Networked Individualism. Image hosted on We Know Memes.

Final Strand, or What is Moving through the Network

If ANT can give us a macrolevel view of how groups (in this case, guilds) are expending effort to define and redefine their boundaries in order to remain a group, and Networked Individualism is looking at how people are changing their relationships with one another by using communication technologies to have membership in different guilds that are not usually defined by physical proximity, we are still missing something.What is moving between these nodes (both human and non-human)? Rhetorical Situation Theory adds to the discourse between ANT and Networked Individualism because rhetoric is moving through the networks being defined by the human and non-human actors and shaping the kinds of experiences being had by the guild members using the technology. In a gamespace, codes in the forms of zeroes and ones are the not the only things moving within a network. In a guild, code helps to relay the rhetoric moving between players during situations (both formal, such as raid planning, and informal, such as conversations between players about the dividing up of loot). By threading Rhetorical Situation Theory in with ANT and Networked Individualism, we can explore how players in the guild are using rhetoric to define the boundaries of the group, while at the same time, the hardware, software, and players are working together simultaneously within a network defined by the relay of code and commands.

Rhetorical Situation Theory may seem to be the odd theory as it looks mainly at humans and human activity, but rhetoric is something being passed within a Networked Society (such as when networked individuals create content on the internet, read news articles, or communicate with friends and family) and may be part of the associations that ANT researchers trace through actors as defining and maintaining a group (such as the activities taking place within a labor union). All three of these theories are about the social (however each defines it) and about what happens within that social (to different degrees and outlooks). WoW may be an online game, but what is occurring between people, especially guild members, is what is happening among other networked societies. People still have to deal with one another, even if it is at a distance through technology with avatars in the place of human faces. By adding Rhetorical Situation Theory into the mixture, we are filling in the microlevel relay that is happening between the various nodes across the different servers that compose the WoW gamespace.

ANT diverges away from theories like Rhetorical Situation Theory because it complicates how we see interactions in a network, which is something we need now that people are producing rhetorical discourse in non-traditional spaces between people who are, often, only loosely connected to each other about social dynamics that are happening even during gameplay. So, what exactly can be moving through a guild network when we must take into account the software and hardware? How does it move among the different nodes? One of the major things moving through the network is code, zeroes and ones that render the visuals, relay information  about characters’ statuses, allow for environmental sounds and pre-established soundtrack selections, and initiate reactions from the environment, NPCs, and monsters in which the guild members interact. There are also the zeroes and ones that allow players to have their avatars do physical gestures towards one another and allow relay their textual conversations. But, that’s not all. The hardware players may opt to use like headphones and mics allow for verbal communications. Rhetorical discourse may be part of what is being conveyed, but, in this more inclusive list of network nodes, the code is central to all transmissions.

Who/what are the mediators and what are the intermediaries making all of this possible? “Every time a connection has to be established, a new conduit has to be laid down and some new type of entity has to be transported through it. What circulates, so to speak, ‘inside’ the conduits are the very acts of giving something a dimension. Whenever a locus wishes to act on another locus, it has to go through some medium, transporting something all the way; to go on acting, it has to maintain some sort of more or less durable connection. Conversely, every locus is now the target of many such activities, the crossroads of many such tracks, the provisional repository of many such vehicles. Sites, now transformed into actor-networks for good, are moved to the background; connectors, vehicles, and attachments are brought into the foreground” (Latour 220). We are looking to ANT to understand how guild members are using the technology but also how the technology is taking an active role in transforming actors who come into contact with the code (through visual representations) and through the rhetorical discourse that is being relayed through the code. So, let’s talk Rhetorical Situations (myth or otherwise) and the discourse initiated in those moments by guild members acting as rhetors.

Within WoW, Rhetoric is everywhere as players move as network nodes between interactions, joining and leaving guilds as well as joining and leaving raiding parties. Within guilds, players must convince one another of battle strategies as raids can often be difficult undertakings, requiring hours of planning and hours of execution, sometimes with little success; in player-player conflicts, with some players defending themselves and their potential virtual property against other players; when player-player conflicts cannot be resolved, there are ruptures within guilds, leading to the creation of separate guilds; and within the creation of new guilds, the recruitment of players into the guilds, especially when the gamer is new to the server or has been relatively isolated prior to creating a guild charter.

Guild social dynamics are essentially playing out in a microcosm of social and political (usually within the guild, not in the gamespace at large) tensions, mediated through character avatars over Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) and textual messages. But rhetorical situations do not only occur in-game for guilds, but also outside of games: in forums (official and unofficial), on guild websites, through YouTube videos, and in personal communications. Much of this discourse is written by guild members for guild members, creating a circular audience, though gamers outside of the guild and even non-players (depending on the medium) can have access to out-of-game texts about in-game activities. So, through Networked Individualism, if players gain agency by accessing information and creating media in order to make their presence known in the networked social groups they have joined, rhetorical discourse is what those players are creating and using the technology (ANT) to relay.

Rhetorical discourse always has a human agent, what Bitzer calls “mediators of change”: “Rhetorical  discourse produces changes by influencing the decision and action of persons who function as mediators of change” (7). Biesecker mentions that, for Bitzer and his Rhetorical Situation, rhetoric is the name given to “those utterances which serve as instruments for adjusting thè environment in accordance to thè interests of its inhabitants,” which occur in response to some event that “invites utterance” (113). Agency is taken by those who are willing to take charge and produce rhetorical discourse as a situation arises, and then agency is taken by others who hear this rhetorical discourse and do something with it, whether it is to add to what they have heard or in resistance to it as new situations arise and call for rhetorical discourse. This raises the questions of who would constitute the rhetors, the mediators of change, and the audience of those moments of discourse? The answer to these questions will always be guild members, but there are different kinds of guild members. There are differences between guild officers, raid leaders, guild leader, power players versus non-power players, and veteran players versus rookie players. The differences in-game are not based on outside elements like age, profession, race, financial status, or social class, but are based on experience and skill in-game. While the ideal is that every member of the group be given fair and equal treatment within the guild, there are often moments where players’ agency depends on their perceived level of commitment to the group and what level of guild hierarchy they have reached. It all depends on the rules established by the guild for how the guild operates in gameplay. And, by thinking about rhetoric as a way for speakers and potential mediators of change to adjust their environments to better align with their interests, this would (ideally) allow guild leaders to work within rhetorical situations (such as raid strategizing, conflicts between players over loot, other leadership roles) as they emerge to strengthen the group’s cohesiveness. Members who are active within the group’s activities are the mediators of change who will take what the guild leader says and apply it to the communal experiences within the game. If a guild leader is not successful at managing the rhetorical discourse happening within the group, then members of the group tend to splinter off to create new guilds in the hopes that someone else as guild leader may provide better group environments. The guild leader is not alone in managing the quality of the group’s interactions (as this is based on voluntary membership), but the guild leader is the rhetor in the group, one whose opinions hold the most weight in taking charge and offering solutions to problems. A guild leader who cannot successfully navigate situations that call for rhetorical discourse cause players to lose faith and find or found a new group.

Oftentimes, a guild’s success at continuing to exist is based on the quality of guild management and how much agency each member (as a node in the network) has in the relationships formed through rhetorical discourse. The conversations that arise during the whole process of raids (from the pre-planning, the decisions as to who will play what role, the instructions and conversations that crop up as the raid is taking place, and the distribution of loot after the raid has been successfully completed) reflect the quality of leadership and companionship of the guild to its members, even if to no one else. If there is a break down in communication, if the leader (or rhetor) has no responsibility placed upon him/her for the rhetorical situation he/she has decided to take advantage of or ignore, the group may become fragmented as the members (who are more than “mere hearers and readers”) become mediators of change in a way that can ultimately dissolve the guild. Players may leave the guild (alone or with others) if they feel they are being treated unfairly (such as them feeling cheated if they are not allowed loot they have requested, if they feel the loot is being hoarded by guild officers, and so on), if they feel they have outgrown what the guild can offer their character, or if the guild is not operating efficiently enough (too many members missing raid meeting times). If the rhetorical discourse require for a situation is ineffective or absent when most needed, the guild as a whole may be left at a severe disadvantage if the best players leave. Even a player who feels he/she has no agency in the group, still has enough agency to leave the group and find a new guild.

Vatz complicates Bitzer’s idea of agency for rhetors, putting more responsibility on the speaker and the moments in which the speaker decides to speak. The speaker, essentially, privileges the moments and subjects within, and chooses to discard or ignore others: “This very choice of what facts or events are relevant is a matter of pure arbitration. Once the choice is communicated, the event is imbued with salience, or what Haim Perelman calls ‘presence,’ when describing this phenomenon from the framework of argumentation” (Vatz 157). For Vatz, it is not solely that situations call for rhetoric, but that rhetoric can shape and define the character of a situation when the speaker chooses to give meaning to that situation and the rhetorical discourse happening within it. This is where the author/speaker of the rhetor gains agency, by being the person who takes the information selected for the situation and gives it meaning, especially since audience members only see an event as “meaningful only through their linguistic depictions” (Vatz 157). In this theory, agency is granted to the guild leader when he or she chooses moments in which he or she deems suitable or necessary for rhetorical discourse. This would be a guild leader finding “the right moment” to address something like player-player conflicts so as to manage the problem before it gets out of control, rather than just waiting for problems to arise and then speaking about it. There are dangers to this for the guild leader who is not at least semi-conscious about what he or she is privileging, what moments are deemed best (or better timed) and what rhetorical discourse is produced (what information is given meaning). This sense of agency for the guild leader allows him or her to establish the level of quality of the team’s work and play during raids and just as a cohesive (or otherwise) group.

From the angle of rhetorical discourse, what is moving through the network are the rules and guidelines that the members are continually establishing and putting into effect (or neglecting) for the experience they are seeking as a collective. Vatz states, “To the audience, events become meaningful only through their linguistic depiction” (157). Guild members could play the game alone (whether that gameplay would be successful or not would be another story), but it is the rhetorical exchange that underlies the guild activities that gives the events meaning for the players. A raid would be just hack-and-slash and magic-casting except that the players are using language to persuade themselves and each other that this raid, this dungeon, this boss fight means something for all of them. The raid leader may need to persuade others that a certain strategy is the correct one, but that explanation and the resulting discourse makes it a lived experience. Even a breakdown in communication or a consistent lack of quality guild management is a rhetorical discourse that can lead players to become mediators of change through guild dissolution. Rhetorical discourse is necessary for the networked individuals to stay together as a group, but they are the ones who must harness the technology and that which it affords them and actively work to maintain their boundaries. Rhetorical Situation Theory and the discourse that happens within those moments also draw attention to the networked individuals and their places within groups, drawing attention to the changes in the social landscape (social operating system) because players are aware that are meeting in non-traditional spaces and forming groups with people they would never have interacted with had the game not provided such a social space. For gamers, though, this rhetorical discourse also (often) acknowledges the technology that they are using, makings its agency and effect upon them part of their discourse.

So, why is studying World of Warcraft useful to English Studies?

Outside of pedagogy and player habits, MMOs like World of Warcraft are useful to the field of English Studies because it is, as Rainie and Wellman would say, a “new neighborhood” in the social operating system that is emerging through advancements in communication technologies and people’s reliance and implementation of those technologies. Within the gamespace and outside of it, guild members are employing rhetorical discourse to define their roles within their groups but also to define the boundaries of those groups. By studying WoW and games like it, and by studying how gamers are using the space and interactions with one another to fulfill social needs that had been filled (and are still being filled) by traditional groups, we can understand how the reshaping of our society around our virtual presences is granting us new avenues to gain agency. We are not just members of groups now, but nodes in a variety of networks, and we rely on technology to make ourselves present within those groups, reach out to new groups, and how to access and create media that engage us in the world at large. By crafting a Frankentheory from Actor-Network-Theory, Networked Individualism, and Rhetorical Situation Theory, we can start to understand how online gamespaces afford their players with spaces in which a microcosm of social dynamics can play out, but can be more inclusive in the study by understanding how technology acts upon us and changes our discourse as much as we act upon it and can change its code. For these networked societies and as networked individuals, we need the technology in order to have agency in the new landscape, and English Studies can benefit from taking the time to explore how rhetoric and interactions among people are adapting to the needs and demands being placed upon us by one another as start to navigate a more virtual society.

So long and thanks for all the network. Image hosted on tumblr, #whatshouldwecallgradschool

So long and thanks for all the networks. Image hosted on the tumblr #whatshouldwecallgradschool

References

Bitzer, Lloyd F. “The Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 25 (Selections from Volume 1) (1992): 1-14. PDF.

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Print.

Raine, Lee and Barry Wellman. Networked: The New Social Operating System. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. PDF.

Vatz, Richard E. “The Myth of the Rhetorical Situation.” Philosophy & Rhetoric 6.3 (1973): 154-161. PDF.

And Now I Bow Out

Bowing out or sinking down? Dean from Supernatural does it best.

Bowing out or sinking down? Dean from Supernatural does it best.

 


Ambience and Rhetoric Go Walking Hand-in-Hand

Thomas Rickert, a Professor of English at Purdue University. Image hosetd on website for Purdue University.

Thomas Rickert, a Professor of English at Purdue University. Image hosted on website for Purdue University.

Welcome to the final section of reading notes for the Spring 2014 semester. The focus in on Thomas Rickert‘s book, Ambient Rhetoric.

So what exactly is ambient rhetoric? How is this different from classical rhetoric? Or the remapping of rhetoric done by the creators of CHAT? What does attunement have to do with theories of networks and networks of theories? Why does Rickert unleash this new theory about a very old subject? What does this have to do with the bandwagon of other theories trailing like Hansel and Gretel’s breadcrumbs in the Forest of Theories?

How my brain feels when looking back on all the theories my classmates and I have dipped our academic toes in. Image hosted on the website Mashable.

How my brain feels when looking back on all the theories my classmates and I have dipped our academic toes in. Image of Hansel and Gretel hosted on the website Mashable.

According to Rickert, “Computer and telecommunications technologies are not only converging but also permeating the carpentry of the world, doing so in networks and technological infrastructures, houses, and buildings, manufactured goods, various sorts of content, and more. Information is not just externalized; it vitalizes our built environs and the objects therein, making them ‘smart,’ capable of action…We are entering an age of ambience, one in which boundaries between subject and object, human and nonhuman, and information and matter dissolve” (1). If the communications technologies are reshaping the “carpentry of the world,” it seems only right that our understanding of and perspective on rhetoric change also. We even get to include strains of Actor-Network-Theory, Ecology, and Castells’ Social Network Theory as we move through it and as the boundaries begin to blur actors together.

But what is ambience? Isn’t that just a type of music? Or readying the room to create the mood for a date? Well, yes but also more than that. Much more, actually. Ambience “refers to what is lying around, surrounding, encircling, encompassing, or environing. Labeling an environment ambient, then, at the very least picks out its surrounding, encompassing characteristics…ambience can mean the arrangement of accessories to support the primary effect of a work…It begins to convey more elusive qualities about a work, practice, or place. Often these are keyed to mood or some other form of affect” (Rickert 6). The example Rickert gives is the cave paintings of Lascaux and how the locations of the paintings within the cave had auditory purposes as well as visual. I found it fascinating when Rickert talks about how the paintings had been discovered quite a long time ago, but the understanding of what the paintings were for and what they meant happened more recently. It makes me wonder what changed in the flows of human knowledge that we can now better understand the purposes of paintings created thousands of years ago instead of simply seeing them as just paintings.

 

So if ambience deals with the environment and affordances of

[all the stuff]

[and more here too]

A conversation with the author himself, just to add more insight.

And so ends Theories of Networks reading notes.

Slow clap from Joffrey Baratheon. Image hosted on tumblr Game of Thrones Gifs.

Clapping from Joffrey Baratheon. Image hosted on tumblr Game of Thrones Gifs.

References

Rickert, Thomas. Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013. Print.

It Has Been a Long Semester, So I Leave My Final Reading Notes with This:


State Apparatuses + Message and Meaning Encoding/Decoding_Final Mindmap Update

Mindmap: http://popplet.com/app/#/1589875

Mindmap update_April 27th

Mindmap update_April 27th

For this final mindmap update, I created nodes for Louis Althusser’s State Apparatuses (ideological and repressive) and Stuart Hall’s principles for “Encoding/Decoding,” under the heading Cultural Studies. I decided on naming this collection Cultural Studies I had previously read these two essays in a Cultural Studies course and they deal with how the populace is (in a manner) indoctrinated by the dominant class to stay subsurvient as cheap labor within the cycle of means of production, or how the masses are actually receiving messages and meanings through media outlets and changing those meanings in response. I linked out this heading to Rhetorical Theories, CHAT, Social Network Theory, and Foucault because I feel like what is going on within each of these, what is moving within those networks has to do with how and what people are processing.

For Althusser, I made a node that lists his examples of Ideological State Apparatuses (ISAs) as well as a smaller list of his examples of his Repressive State Apparatuses (RSAs). The last node I made for Althusser was his discussions about ISAs being around us from birth onwards and how school is the most influential of these because students are obligated to attend an institution that is constantly having them operate within ideology (especially ideology that promotes ideas of freedom and liberty equated with education, though the reality is often quite different).

For Hall, I made nodes that included two quotes about the circuit of production, and an image of the two-way communication between producers and consumers of media. I linked the node with the heading Encoding/Decoding with a quote from Foucault about “Enunciative levels of formation” because I feel like, for many of us, the discursive moments Foucault is talking about requires a constant taking in and releasing back out of messages and meanings as we come across them, as we produce our own responses, and as our responses reach other people, with the cycle moving on with or without further input from us.

Must Not Forget the Music:


In Which Encoding and Decoding Meet Ideological State Apparatuses

This week’s readings take a far different turn from Social Network Analysis and Networked Individualism and Rhizomes. I am familiar with two of the three (the ones I will be focusing on most here since the third is a book we’re dividing between this week and next week) from taking Cultural Studies last semester: Stuart Hall and Louis Althusser. Now, this feels like somewhat more familiar ground.

Stuart Hall, Cultural Studies Theorist. Image hosted on the blog, Book Forum.

Stuart Hall, Cultural Studies Theorist. Image hosted on the blog, Book Forum.

Louis Althusser. Image hosted on the blog, Maddalo.

Louis Althusser. Image hosted on the blog, Maddalo.

Meet Stuart Hall

While this video does not really touch the article my classmates and I read for this week, it helps me to ground myself in the work of Hall as a way to see how Cultural Studies can start to fit within the larger images of Theories of Networks and Networks of Theories.

Shall We Begin This Trip?

With Stuart Hall’s article, “Encoding, Decoding,” “it is also possible (and useful) to think of this process in terms of a structure produced and sustained through the articulation of linked but distinctive moments – production, circulation, distribution/consumption, reproduction. This would be to think of the process as a ‘complex structure in dominance’, sustained through the articulation of connected practices, each of which, however, retains its distinctiveness and has its own specific modality, its own forms and conditions of existence” (Hall 478). He was setting up this model as an alternative to the traditional model of “sender-message-receiver,” by proposing a process where the creation, distribution, and consumption is one a one-way street between producer and consumer (media stations and all of us), but a two-way avenue where the producers send out, the consumers (us) take in and then spit back out towards the producers.

Stuar Hall's Theory of Encoding and Decoding. Image hosted on a WikiSpace.

A figure of Stuart Hall’s Theory of Encoding and Decoding. Image hosted on a WikiSpace.

This moves away from the idea that the populace is composed of  passive media receptors, but are, instead, just as active in the discourse going on around them as those producing the media. According to Hall, what is moving through this continuous circuit of production, circulation, distribution/consumption, and reproduction “is meanings and messages in the form of sign-vehicles of a specific kind organized, like any form of communication or language, through the operation of codes within the syntagmatic chain of a discourse” (Hall 478). In order to better understand what “syntagmatic chain of a discourse” might be, I found a website, Semiotics for Beginners, that discusses syntagmatic analysis (sounds like fun stuff, right?). The author of this webpage, Daniel Chandler, mentions that, “The study of syntagmatic relations reveals the conventions or ‘rules of combination’ underlying the production and interpretation of texts (such as the grammar of a language). The use of one syntagmatic structure rather than another within a text influences meaning.” I have only touched on Semiotics briefly in some of my classes, so I will leave the diagram below as a way to remind myself of what components in a syntagmatic chain of a discourse may look like.

A diagram of Syntagmatic Levels. Image hosted on Aberystwyth University's Semiotics for Beginners.

A diagram of Syntagmatic Levels. Image hosted on Aberystwyth University‘s Semiotics for Beginners.

Moving along, I really liked that Hall’s exploration of the process, using the example of the creation, distribution, and consumption of a television programme, talks about how the production of media does not occur in a “closed system,” but, instead, the producers are drawing upon the different ideologies underlying the society within which the programme is being created. This conversation happens often with movies, where some people want to see the movie as existing within a vacuum, having no relevance to what is going on in the society at large. By looking at media as operating within an open system of ideas, beliefs, values, and ideologies (a cultural network, might be a way to visualize this), then we start to see that these media are loaded from the get-go: “[The producers] draw topics, treatments, agendas, events, personnel, images of the audience, ‘definitions of the situation’ from other sources and other discursive formations within the wider socio-cultural and political structure of which they are a differentiated part” (Hall 479). This comment reminds me of when I was watching the movie 300: Rise of an Empire.

While the movie is very loosely based on events that occurred in history that were rendered, with much blood spewing, in graphic novels that were then adapted to movie format, the movie itself can be seen as reflective of how Americans may see the United States right now. The film is very loud about the call for freedom, honor, self-sacrifice if the need calls for it, strength of certain women (but only if they are exceedingly obstinate in their wills, in a manly way, or just plain blood-thirsty…or into a necrophilia moment or two), and a certain degree of egocentrism (Greece is the best!). However, the film also draws upon the belief that we are a nation divided and that if a way to overcome these divisions is not found, we will collapse beneath the sandaled feet of foreign invaders. Another concept that rears its metaphorical head is the cost of war, not just for the soldiers but for the leaders who must “feel the weight” of their decisions in sending youths to their deaths, as Themistocles stares moodily out across the blood-laden waters and still decides to sail forth with his plans out of necessity but mainly pride. Yes, this is my movie tangent but also the way I process what Hall was saying about the model he was proposing and how the messages and meanings in each production of a media text changes through every step.

By looking at the changing of meaning in media, I am hoping to better understand how content moves within a network and  changes. So, taking Rise of an Empire as my example, how would the meanings and messages of the film change through each step?

The production part of creating the film Rise of an Empire is an authorship between screenwriter(s), director, producer, actors, CGI creators, craftsman, and everyone else involved in making the film. How they decided to film the movie, what scenes to keep and which to cut, what parts of the graphic novel to expand upon or downplay, what actors to use, what music for what moments are all decisions that filter into the messages being threaded into the film. It is where the film team (from the director on down) are making decisions influenced by the ideologies, values, and beliefs in the society and culture from which they are coming to which they are hoping to distribute to a financial gain. Even the studio’s decision about which movies get the go-ahead are influenced by this same open system as they make claims about which movies they think will sell and which ones they think will flop.

For the next step, circulation, this is the advertising part of the film’s pre-release (and, later, DVD/Blu-Ray release). The funny thing about trailers is that there is a second round of editing and decision-making that occurs, but is not always in the hands of the director and producer. There are some movies where the trailer and film do not match up, leaving audience members disappointed or heavily surprised. When a film is being advertised, the material that is chosen to be featured is weighted based on the value it is estimated to have in drawing in the audience. This estimation is based on ideas and beliefs about the target audience and what parts of the film will be intriguing enough to make viewers want to pay for movie theater tickets. Because Rise of an Empire is relying on the popularity of its predecessor 300, with its emphasis on burly Spartan men and their glory and gore as they face the legion of Persian armies, the filmmakers also recognize that this is a different film, one with more speeches and slightly less in-your-face action. Even the posters use the same dramatic visual flair while the words framing the image tell a different story, with the first one being a more aggressive take-no-shit-from-anyone versus a power struggle between a faltering Greece and an unquenchable desire for power.

Prepare for Glory Poster for the Movie 300. Image hosted on MoviePoster.com

Prepare for Glory Poster for the Movie 300. Image hosted on MoviePoster.com

Rise_Conquer Poster for the Film 300: Rise of an Empire. Image hosted on the website PakGames.

Rise_Conquer Poster for the Film 300: Rise of an Empire. Image hosted on the website PakGames.

But what about the viewers, with our consumption of the texts? If we are not the passive receptors previously assumed, how does the messages and meanings put forth by the author/directors/actors/film crew/advertising teams change when they reach and scramble about in our brains? This is the part that reminds me most about education and teaching students. We all come from different backgrounds, with different experiences and knowledge that help to shape our worldviews. Because of these differences, the messages that have been encoded in the texts are not always universally decoded in the same way. Where someone may see Rise of an Empire as a story of freedom at all costs, another person may see the movie as a story that shows how alike different groups of people can be in brutality. When I went to see the film with my cousin, we each came away with different parts of the movie we focused on. People consume meanings and messages and ideas and beliefs and values in line with and in reaction to that which they bring to the experience.

Which leads me to the reproduction part of how I was unscramblind (decoding?) Hall’s theory in relation to Rise of an Empire. I know that there are many people out there who do not like talking during movies (hell, they would prefer all reactions to the film’s content to be quiet affairs, best left in the brain or in the silent curling of fingers into the arms of the chair), but conversations about people’s interest, disinterest, and reactions to the movies and ideas and perceived meanings do happen. It’s hard to keep quiet when walking out of a movie theater about parts we hated, characters we loved or loved to despise, how well the music fit with the scenes, what were/are our favorite quotes, what scenes could have been left out (Transformers 3, anyone?). We talk, we rant, we swoon, all adding into a giant discourse that surrounds movie-going. Reviews happen, memes are created, Facebook pages go up, tumblrs appear. Fans are not silent, brainless entities. They shine their opinions loud and clear, and Hollywood (and its compatriots and rivals) hears what is going on (to an extent. They probably don’t look at everyone’s tumblrs).

Welcome to the network of communication and culture, which has sense broadened the grid as communication technologies reshape (Castells, Rainie, and Wellman would be so proud, or disturbed?) our societies.

It's not just this. Image hosted in the Telegraph article "3D television to burst into the living room."

It’s not just this. Image hosted in the Telegraph article “3D television to burst into the living room.”

It's also this. Discourse at the movies. Image hosted  on the website FilesNews.

It’s also this. Discourse at the movies. Image hosted on the website FilesNews.

Now We Turn Our Attention to Althusser

Within Althusser’s “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatus,” he discusses how the proletarians subordinate themselves by giving into distractions of popular culture and the ways in which various Ideological State Apparatuses (ISA) are used in order to ensure that the proletarians remain cooperative to the dominant class and the Repressive State Apparatuses (police, army, local, federal, and state laws, and so on) that effect a more direct line of trying to keep the proletarians in line. haha It’s funny to say the word proletarians because it is a societal group into which I was born raised, have worked, am still a part of, and am now (in a way) studying.

ISAs, though, interest me more and are the ones I want to talk about in this section of my post because they are so prevalent and interwoven into our daily lives that we don’t even see most of them as indoctrinating us towards certain beliefs and values. So what are the different types of ISAs? Let’s look at the list that Althusser provides in his article:

“the religious ISA (the system of the different churches),
the educational ISA (the system of the different public and private ‘schools’),
the family ISA,[8]
the legal ISA,[9]
the political ISA (the political system, including the different parties),
the trade-union ISA,
the communications ISA (press, radio and television, etc.),
the cultural ISA (literature, the arts, sports, etc.)”

No matter how far removed we think we are from being shaped or molded into subordination, every one of us is surrounded by and embedded within these ISAs. Lovingly taking him out of context, John Donne was right when he said, “No man is an island.” So, why would the dominant class want to have the proletarians’ ideologies, beliefs, values, and ideas shaped in such a manner? haha It’s all about the means of production and the “reproduction of the conditions of production” (Althusser) —> cheap labor. He wrote that culture has become monopolized, as mythologies have become very effective in winning the masses over and allow them to believe they have agency.

Morpheus, bringing down the mood. Image hosted on the Shen's Multimedia Rhetoric Blog.

Morpheus, bringing down the mood. Image hosted on the Shen’s Multimedia Rhetoric Blog.

In Althusser’s text, these ISAs are external forces that shape us, starting with the family and then branching out into the other ISAs as we get older and branch out into different societal groups: “Of course, many of these contrasting Virtues (modesty, resignation, submissiveness on the one hand, cynicism, contempt, arrogance, confidence, self-importance, even smooth talk and cunning on the other) are also taught in the Family, in the Church, in the Army, in Good Books, in films and even in the football stadium.”

However, Althusser believes the Eudcational ISA taking the place of religion, with most teachers working within and for the system by promoting the dominant ideology to millions of children and teenagers: “But no other Ideological State Apparatus has the obligatory (and not least, free) audience of the totality of the children in the capitalist social formation, eight hours a day for five or six days out of seven. But it is by an apprenticeship in a variety of know-how wrapped up in the massive inculcation of the ideology of the ruling class that the relations of production in a capitalist social formation, i.e. the relations of exploited to exploiters and exploiters to exploited, are largely reproduced. The mechanisms which produce this vital result for the capitalist regime are naturally covered up and concealed by a universally reigning ideology of the School, universally reigning because it is one of the essential forms of the ruling bourgeois ideology: an ideology which represents the School as a neutral environment purged of ideology (because it is …lay), where teachers respectful of the ‘conscience’ and ‘freedom’ of the children who are entrusted to them (in complete confidence) by their ‘parents’ (who are free, too, i.e. the owners of their children) open up for them the path to the freedom, morality and responsibility of adults by their own example, by knowledge, literature and their ‘liberating’ virtues.” This is a pretty sinister way of looking at the educational system, but think about how true that is.

When trying to wrap one's head around the thought of all those ISAs operating in our lives... Gif from the movie Silver Linings Playbook.

When trying to wrap one’s head around the thought of all those ISAs operating in our lives… Gif from the movie Silver Linings Playbook.

This seems like the time for an example, to prove that my nodding towards Althusser’s soul-crushing ideas of education indoctrinating young people to believe in “liberating virtues” while actually binding them within an ideology that will turn them into exploited workers. It’s at this point in the essay where I start to think about the college education inflation that is happening right now. Instead of promoting different avenues of training for young people (trade schools and the like as well as college), there is the constant societal hammering that if anyone wants to succeed in life, to be able to feed the families they will have, to achieve the shining providence promised in the American Dream (whatever that is now), people must attend college. Get those four year degrees and get to work at those fabulous Fortune 500 companies or be a doctor or a lawyer or own your own business! And yet, that’s not what is happening. Instead, there are too many people with undergraduate degrees with relatively little relevant work experience trying to find their places in an economy that is too saturated. A cycle is at play: you need an education to be a candidate for a job, but you are not a right fit for the job if you do not have experience in the field, and yet experience is now required for many, many entry level jobs because there are too many people with varying levels of education and experience applying for a limited number of jobs. Education is liberation, but there is always “and yet…” tied into the sentence. There are such drastic problems cracking the foundation of our nation’s educational system, but it’s ability to churn out legions of employees for lower level jobs is very efficient (that’s the best word for it). Education is supposed to be power, and yet (I meant it when I said that earlier) our educational system as an assembly line would make Ford proud.

Industrial Model for Our Educational System? Image hosted on the blog Funny Pictures.

Industrial Model for Our Educational System? Image hosted on the blog Funny Pictures

But, what does this have to do with the rest of my reading notes? How are these ISAs a network?

Well,  these ISAs compose a cultural/societal network. They have two levels of what is being moved through the network: the surface layer is composed of the messages being sent to the proletarians to which they submit themselves , and the underlying level that pushes forth the ideologies of the ruling class. This is not a network of computers (though Rainie and Wellman’s Networked Individualism and Castells’ Network Society start to become very suspicious in the idea of proletarians are just continuing the cycle of promoting all of the ideologies in which they are entrenched, but can now do so on a global level with the pressing of a few buttons). ISAs also make me think of the Rhetorical Situation Theories we have read in class because I start to wonder about all of the foundations upon which the rhetors are speaking and upon which the audience members are drawing upon as they form reactions to the rhetorical discourse. This then makes me think of Actor-Network-Theory because the dominant class is using state apparatuses (both repressive and ideological, but especially ideology) to keep in place boundaries and then the proletarians are propagating these ideologies in nearly everything they do. Althusser has proposed a cultural network, one that attempts to establish (and can be quite good at doing so) cheap labor forces so as to continue within the network of production processes.

Diagram of Base and Superstructure. Image hosted on the blog Mass Think.

Diagram of Base and Superstructure. Image hosted on the blog Mass Think.

References

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses.” Marxists.org. Marxists Internet Archive, 1970.  Web. 19 Apr 2014.

Hall, Stuart. “Encoding, Decoding.” The Cultural Studies Reader. 3rd ed. Ed. Simon During. New York: Routledge, 2007. [PDF].

Rickert, Thomas. Ambient Rhetoric: The Attunements of Rhetorical Being. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2013.

A Historical Drama Tribute With All the Good Graces


It’s All in the Way You Scaffold Your Theory_Assignment for Case Study #4

As my classmates and I head towards the final case study (in which the Frankentheories begin to emerge from the colossal stitching together from the breadth of theories we have read this semester), we were asked to do a scaffolding assignment (an outline in the best sense of the word) to begin thinking about how we would answer the question, “Why is studying my Object of Study useful to English Studies?” So, deep breath, and away we go.

1) Which 2 – 4 theories are you choosing and why? 

For this upcoming Case Study/Frankentheory, I am considering meshing together Rhetorical Activity Theory, Actor Network Theory, and Networked Individualism.

Rhetorical Situation Theory

-Looking at the ways in which rhetorical situations can occur within the gamespace of World of Warcraft. This theory helps me to look at the types of situations that produce rhetorical discourse for those within guilds, such as raid planning, player-player conflicts, and decisions regarding role-playing quests.

-With the application of this theory, I can look at how the quality of the rhetorical discourse within the guild can either mollify members (depending on the situation) or lead to ruptures within the group that may cause the guild to divide or fall apart completely. Vatz’s notion that rhetors must be held responsible for claiming the moment as a rhetorical situation as well as for what was done within the situation may be useful when going down this rabbit hole.

Actor Network Theory (ANT)

-This theory allows for me to explore technology as an actor (mediator as well as intermediary) alongside human actors to define and redefine the boundaries and existence of a group. It raises questions: What counts as an actor when looking specifically at a guild rather than at the gamespace at large? Are the actors the same despite narrowing of focus? And how do these actors work together, even though some are non-human?

-This theory also allows me to follow the threads (or trace the associations) of players’ activities through the technology and with one another to define what a guild is within and outside of the gamespace. What do players do with the technology of the game, their own hardware, and other communication devices, as well as resources found on the internet, do to maintain the guild as a group?

Networked Individualism

-I want to use this theory to explore how the social groups that are being created through the three revolutions (Social, Internet, and Mobile) are allowing gamers to craft social groups for themselves (in the game and outside of the game) fulfill needs prompted by their experiences within the gamespace and, more specifically, by being members of the same guild.

-Since WoW players do have access to many more resources than those found within the gamespace (official and unofficial forums, guild websites, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, guild ranking websites, and Wiki pages for the game), how does this empower players as players in the gamespace but also as members in their guild? Players are, essentially, not alone in the challenges they face in raids, on quests, and within social guild dynamics the way they would be if communication technology was not as far along as it is, but how does a player harnessing the “information at his/her fingertips” change the dynamics of the group?

How are they similar enough that you can justify getting them to work together?

Actor Network Theory and Networked Individualism are similar in that they are looking at society with technology in mind: ANT as humans and non-human actants working together to create the boundaries and maintain the group (guild, in this case), and Networked Individualism as people (gamers) using technology to create diverse and yet loosely collected social groups that fulfill needs that traditional social groups (those once limited more so by proximity) cannot. For both of these theories, technology and the social are focal points in the sense that they are looking at how actors (human and non-human, though the agency is emphasized differently between the theories) are working together. Rhetorical Situation Theory may seem to be the odd theory as it looks mainly at humans and human activity, but rhetoric is something being passed within a Networked Society (such as when networked individuals create content on the internet, read news articles, or communicate with friends and family) and may be part of the associations that ANT researchers trace through actors as defining and maintaining a group (such as the activities taking place within a labor union). All three of these theories are about the social (however each defines it) and about what happens within that social (to different degrees and outlooks, of course).

How do they fill each other’s gaps?

Actor Network Theory takes a pretty broad view of human and non-human actors working together to define what is social (and, in this case, what is a guild). Networked Individualism narrows this focus to the needs being met for or sought by the humans within these social networks, and how these humans are using communication technology that is in turn reshaping how they interact with one another. ANT brings technology as an actant into the discourse, while Networked Individualism provides a framework for what people are doing within social groups and how they are defining the groups of which they are members. For my case study on WoW, these two theories combined will give me a macro and micro view of technology at play alongside humans, ensuring that the communication technology and game software are receiving as much attention and agency in developing and maintaining the networks within which the humans (physically, in some senses, and through their avatars) are operating.

Rhetorical Situation Theory adds to this discourse because rhetoric is moving through the networks being defined by the human and non-human actors and shaping the kinds of experiences being had by the guild members using the technology. In a gamespace, codes in the forms of zeroes and ones are the not the only things moving within a network. In a guild, code helps to relay the rhetoric moving between players during situations (both formal, such as raid planning, and informal, such as conversations between players about the dividing up of loot). By threading Rhetorical Situation Theory in with ANT and Networked Individualism, I can explore how players in the guild are using rhetoric to define the boundaries of the group, while at the same time, the hardware, software, and players are working together simultaneously within a network defined by the relay of code and commands.

How do these theories align with how you position yourself as a scholar?

This question took me a little while to consider and I am still not completely sure about how all three of the theories align with my own position as a scholar (or what that position is or will, ultimately, be). While I do not consider myself a rhetorician, Rhetorical Theory meshed together with the more technologically-laden theories of Actor Network Theory and Networked Individualism seem to be inherently linked to Cultural Studies, which I am hoping to work with as I continue making my way through the PhD program. Both ANT and Networked Individualism include or revolve around, respectively, technology as working alongside the humans who are using them, which offers interesting insight into how players and software and hardware mingle together to create or disrupt the experiences that video games offer for a single player, limited groups of players, and millions of players across different servers.

How do these theories align with your own biases and background (the reason you came to this project in the first place)?

I chose guilds in Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) Games, narrowing down to World of Warcraft while working on my first case study, as my Object of Study because of my interest in Video Game Studies from an English Studies point of view. At first, I thought of looking at how narratives bind members of guilds and how such interactions could be used for college students, especially those in Composition courses. This emphasis switched, without me recognizing it until we were asked to rewrite our Object of Study Proposals, to how rhetorical activity can take place in a virtual environment and be influenced by the technology players have access to.

While Rhetorical Activity Theory was outside of my range as a scholar (I had never taken a class on Rhetoric, and had only worked with concepts from Classical Rhetoric with my Composition students for lessons on argumentation), the idea presented in Latour’s Actor Network Theory of technology as something more than just hardware and software that we manipulate really drew me in. Technology as a mediator (rather than as just an intermediary, though it can also be that too) connected with what I want to study for Role Playing Games (RPGs) on consoles (primarily PlayStation and XBox). As for Rainie and Wellman’s Networked Individualism Theory, I was familiar with how communications between people in society has been altered through advancements with the technology they use, but I am curious now to see how that Networked Individualism can play out for players in guilds whose sole communication can occur because they are networked in this way. As video game console developers continue to harness and enhance players’ abilities to communicate nationally as well as internationally with one another through the developers’ networks (PlayStation Network and XBox Live), this idea of a networked individual becomes increasingly relevant.

Though I am relatively new to the direct (conscious?) exploration of rhetorical activity in video games (I was most likely doing it without realizing it), I could say that one of my biases that came with me as I approached this project (series of case studies) was the idea that technology has a greater influence on players than just being what the players use. Game Studies scholar recognize that the limitations of technology and the constructs/boundaries of the gamespace can push players in certain directions for how they behave, how they communicate with one another, and what kinds of work-arounds they often look for or create in reaction to the limitations of the gamespace (such as the use of forums, Skype if the in-game communication system is lack or non-existent, creation of YoutTube videos).

Rise, Frankentheory, Rise!


The Mindmap and the Anti-Theory Tree Movement (Go Rhizomes!)

mindmap: http://popplet.com/app/#/1589875

Mindmap updated for April 20.

Mindmap updated for April 20.

This week’s mindmap update was a bit bigger than previous weeks (though not all previous weeks). I added nodes for Rainie and Wellman, Delueze and Guattari, and Scott (lonely man in this list, no?), and connected them as an extension of Castells’ Network Society Theory. I can definitely agree with Delueze and Guattari that the theory tree is dead; my mindmap is just a cluster upon cluster upon cluster, jutting out in all different directions.

For Delueze and Guattari, I included two quotes and a video I had found, focusing on the concept of Rhizome as a substitute for a theory tree as the organization is less clear.  Their argument reminds me a lot of Foucault (all roads lead to him for a reason) because the creation of new theories is not some neat passageway; rather, it seems like the creation of new theories takes a little bit from this theory here, tosses away something else, threads in a different theory, and loops back, reaching for a theory that seemed long since buried. I connected their theory to the Ecology Theory section as they draw upon ecological terms as a metaphor for the ways in which they see theory (hence the rhizomes).

When creating notes for Rainie and Wellman, I made sure to include a quote about the four elements of the networked individualism (personal,  multiuser, multitasking, and multithreaded) as it was interesting how these aspects are reshaping our own social interactions, which ties into the the second node I added for these authors. As I was reading their excerpt, what struck me was the idea that the information exchange going on between networked individuals is a microscopic exchange reflecting a much larger exchange going on between cities, metropolitan regions (*tips hat to Castells*), states, and nations. It was in this visualization of micro and macro levels of information exchange where I created a link between Rainie and Wellman and Castells.

For Scott, I didn’t add too much, but the node I did add was a picture of his sociogram. While I was a little fuzzy about this concept when I first read the excerpt (mathy looking stuff has never been my strong suit), after doing an activity where we compiled data to make our sociograms, the concept made a lot more sense. So, his figure became a node.

A Little Oncer Shipping for the Almost Finished Road Ahead


Plateaus, Networks, and the Mad Hatter Twins Take the Grand Stage

And, we’re back. But what to say about this week’s reading?

I guess, I should start by admitting that I probably should NOT have started with the excerpt from Guattari and Deleuze’s book,  A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. I loved Guattari’s Three Ecologies, but when I read the opening to their chapter “Introduction: Rhizome,” I was quite taken aback: “The two of us wrote Anti-Oedipus together. Since each of us was seven, there was already quite a crowd.” Maybe I’m just not up-to-speed with their understanding of math, but my first and second reactions were certainly:

Waving goodbye as we tumble down the rabbit hole. Image hosted on the blog, Pitter Patter.

Waving goodbye as we tumble down the rabbit hole. Image hosted on the blog, Pitter Patter.

We're All Mad Here. Image hosted on

We’re All Mad Here. Image hosted on Stack Exchange.

Alas, I digress before I have even begun. After my initial, “Woah” moment, I settled into reading. I particularly like Deleuze and Guattari’s conversations about books as taproots, “with its pivotal spine and surrounding roots,” going on in all different directions rather than just a dichotomy, but then move on to show that this is just as limiting as the dichotomous view that had been in place before. They offer a different image instead: “The radicle-system, or fascicular root, is the second figure of the book, to which our modernity pays willing allegiance. This time, the principal root has aborted, or its tip has been destroyed; an immediate, indefinite multiplicity of secondary roots grafts onto it and undergoes a flourish development. This time, natural reality is what aborts the principal root, but the root’s unity subsists, as past or yet to come, as possible” (5). And then comes their image of the rhizome, but an image that is not only limited to plants but certain animals as well (rats are their example) and, later, their comparison of rhizomes to books: “The rhizome is an anti-genealogy. The same applies to the book and the world: contrary to a deeply rooted belief, the book is not an image of the world. It forms a rhizome with the world, there is an aparallel evolution of the book and the world; the book assures the deterritorialization of the world, but the world effects a reterritorialization of the book, which in turn deterritorializes itself in the world (if it is capable, if it can). Mimicry is a very bad concept, since it relies on binary logic to describe phenomena of an entirely different nature” (11).

**Warning: The beginning of this video is a little weird as it has dramatic music playing through a textual/visual introduction. Once it ends, though, the video opens to an interview.

Side note: when Googling Deleuze and Guattari’s “radicle-system,” one of my image results was Christian Bale covered in blood from  his role in American Psycho. I did also find a blog entry on their Anti-Oedipus. One of the most interesting blog entries I have found employed Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of “collective assemblage of enunciation” into object-oriented rhetoric.

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Image hosted on  website for Mike Hoolboom.

,  Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Image hosted on website for Mike Hoolboom.

A Break for Some Vocabulary

Rhizome – “a rootlike subterranean stem, commonly horizontal in position, that usually produces roots below and sends up shoots progressively from the upper surface” (Dictionary.com). But, the organic definition is not the only one. For Deleuze and Guattari, “A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles” (7).

Urban Photo Rhizome. Image hosted on blog, Bhopal 2011: Requiem & Revitalisation.

Urban Photo Rhizome. Image hosted on blog, Bhopal 2011: Requiem & Revitalisation.

Collective Assemblage of Enunciation – “focus on the manner in which impersonal statements are tied to collectives, and are not attributable to subjects…the subject is no longer divided in Cartesian sense between an enunciation (‘I think’) and a statement (‘I am’) that could constitute its being”  (The Deleuze and Guattari Dictionary by Eugene B. Young 70). These remind me of neurons in the brain that I had to read about with Neurobiology a few weeks ago.

Machinic Assemblages - “One side of a machinic assemblage faces the strata, which doubtless make it a kind of organism, or signing totality, or determination attributable to a subject; it also has a side facing a body without organs, which is continually dismantling the organism, causing asignifying particles or pure intensities to pass or circulate, and attributing to itself subjects that it leaves with nothing more than a name as the trace of an intensity” (Deleuze and Guattari 4)

Abstract Machine – “connects a language to the semantic and pragmatic contents of statements, to collective assemblages of enunciation, to a whole micropolitics of the social field” (Deleuze and Guattari 7)

Principle of Connection and Heterogeneity – “Any point of a rhizome can be connected to anything other, and must be. This is very different from the tree or root, which plots a point, fixes an order” (Deleuze and Guattari 7)

Principle of Multiplicity – “it is only when the multiple is effectively treated as a substantive, ‘multiplicity,’ that it ceases to have any relation to the One as subject or object, natural or spiritual reality, image and world. Multiplicities are rhizomatic , and expose aborescent psuedomultiplicities for what they are… A multiplicity has neither subject nor object, only determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions that cannot increase in number without the multiplicity changing in nature (the laws of combination therefore increase in number as the multiplicity grows” (Deleuze and Guattari 8)

Principle of Asignifying Rupture – “Against the oversignifying breaks separating structures or cutting across a single structure. A rhizome may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines…Every rhizome contains lines of sementarity according to which it is stratified, territorialized, organized, signified, attributed, etc., as well as lines of deterritorialization down which it constantly flees” (Deleuze and Guattari 9)

Principle of Cartography and Decalcomania – “a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model. It is a stranger to any idea of genetic axis or deep structure. A genetic axis is like an objective pivotal unity upon which successive stages are organized; a deep structure is more like a base sequence that can be broken down into immediate constituents, while the unity of the product passes into another, transformational and subjective, dimension” (Delueze and Guattari 12)

After moving through their introduction, picking up vocabulary concepts along the way, I did find an image that helped me to visualize kind of where they were going with decoupling the tree root metaphor and moving towards rhizome. It was an adjustment to think of theories not as trees, branching outwards from the ground up, but as rhizomes branching out from wherever they can. This makes more sense, especially after doing the Theory Tree group work with some of my peers. We had encountered a problem, initially, with deciding how to shape the pathways of the authors, as they were drawing upon one another, crossing topics and subjects, looping back and adding outwards. Theory does not move in a linear fashion along a timeline, but links to other theories, even some that may be startling with their connections. In this way, Delueze and Guattari remind me of Foucault, in that they are tearing away at the image of the tree that had been so heavily embedded in how theorists saw their work moving into the network of theories playing out, but also looking at how those theorists (like Ninetieth) were undercutting what was seen as established: “Joyce’s words, accurately described as having ‘multiple roots,’ shatter the linear unity of the word, even of language, only to posit a cyclic unity of the sentence, text, or knowledge. Nietzsche’s aphorisms shatter the linear unity of knowledge, only to invoke the cyclic unity of the eternal return, present as the nonknown in thought” (Deleuze and Guattari 6). The shattering of unity of language and knowledge, sounds a lot like what Foucault was proposing with history and the history of ideas. There is no one unifying tree trunk because there is no linearity beyond that which we impose, but even that comes with selective inclusion and exclusion.

But, as soon as I start to follow Delueze and Guattari’s threads of thought, they produce sentences like, “Drunkenness as a triumphant irruption of the plant in us” (11). Seriously people, I think they are just messing with readers at that point. Or, maybe, in the haze of their LSD experiments, a statement like that (as well as the one where two people are seven) actually means something deep and awe-inspiring? Either way, such commentary leaves me brain-addled in the desert of rhizomatic confusion. Though, I must say, their declaration for readers to “Follow the plants” makes sense (I feel totally batty for having just written that) because plants find interesting ways of adapting to their surroundings and the climate and they branch off in anyway that will give them access to greater amounts of sunlight.

Someone's conceptualization of Delueze and Guattari's ideas. Image hosted on the website Lab404.

Someone’s conceptualization of Delueze and Guattari’s ideas. Image hosted on the website Lab404.

Rainie and Wellman Come Falling Down

Lee Rainie, Director of  Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project. Image hosted on the University of Maryland's website for the Human-Computer Interaction Lab.

Lee Rainie, Director of Pew Research Center‘s Internet & American Life Project. Image hosted on the University of Maryland’s website for the Human-Computer Interaction Lab.

Barry Wellman, professor at the University of Toronto. Image hosted on the website for the Workshop on Information in Networks.

Barry Wellman, professor at the University of Toronto. Image hosted on the website for the Workshop on Information in Networks.

Changing the metaphorical (and theoretical) gears, we turn to Lee Rainie and Barry Wellman’s book Networked: The New Social Operating System. This book was very different than our rhizome-obsessed dynamic duo, though the introduction tripped me up considerably as it was about a woman tripping and then having brain surgery. Rainie and Wellman’s focus turns towards individuals networking through technology: “When people walk down the street texting on their phones, they are obviously communicating. Yet things are different now. In incorporating gadgets into their lives, people have changed the ways they interact with each other. They have become networked as individuals, rather than embedded in groups. In the world of networked individuals, it is the person who is the focus: not the family, not the work unit, not the neighborhood, and not the social group” (6). It was interesting to read their ideas about how our interactions with communication technologies are reshaping the “social operating system” that they call “networked individualism” (6).

Distracted walking. Image hosted on Australian news site, SFGate, in the article "Tourist Walks Off Australia Pier While Checking Facebook."

Distracted walking. Image hosted on Australian news site, SFGate, in the article “Tourist Walks Off Australia Pier While Checking Facebook.”

It was a curious thing to think of people as part of an operating system, casting us in roles similar to the computers we make, buy, operate, upgrade, and love and hate. However, such an idea makes sense. Unless we are completely isolated, we function as nodes within groups at home, at work, at school, in places where we shop, eat, drink, relax. After looking at the picture above, those who are part of societies fluent in these communication technologies visually look like they are moving nodes in a network, always connected, exchanging information. We move through crowds of people on their phones, checking Facebook, Twitter, their emails, websites, Google Maps, and so on through the interwebs.

To push forth their idea of networked individualism, Rainie and Wellman list four aspects of the social network operating system: “personal–the individual is at the autonomous center just as she reaching out from her computer; multiuser–people are interacting with numerous diverse others; multitasking–people are doing several things; and multithreaded–they are doing them more or less simultaneously” (7). We’re all looking a little cyborg now. This reminds me of the articles I read on Cloud Computing at the beginning of the semester as we are part of the external framework of the global network, along with the computer hardware constantly at our fingertips. But Rainie and Wellman make a good point, one that resonates with Castells, that this social network operating system is founded on social networks that were already in place; it is not a new system (social groups already existed), but a newer system (one where proximity is not as important a detail anymore) that is enhanced by advancements in technology, giving us a broader reach and an ability to juggle more with (usually) efficiency. The authors are pushing back against people who warn against technology making us more isolated, finding that what people do with the technology is a constant reaching out rather than a drawing inward. However, they also found that people still want the physical connection and find that networking through communication technology is taxing in that they must constantly work at staying connected (sound like Latour with his observation that individuals in a group must constantly define and redefine the boundaries of their group. It takes work to be and stay connected.)

The more I think about it, the more I can see it both ways. Through my phone and computer, I can be in constant contact with someone, anyone, and yet, by being on my phone while I am physically near someone, I am (in a sense) constructing a mental wall against that person. This reminds me of family dinners where I would be sitting next to my mother, stepfather, and younger sister, only to have no one speaking. My mother and stepfather would be playing word games with each other, but messaging through the text feature, and my little sister would be texting her friends or following her favorite celebrity (Justin Bieber, at that time). The same thing happens all the time in restaurants, on buses or light rails, or even just walking down the street. The people around us can become physical shadows we don’t pay much attention to because there are people with whom we can connect virtually who more clearly share our interests, are friends from back home, or are family members who can now be reached without using the seemingly obsolete snail mail.

 

How to escape a social function like a ninja? Phone call. Image hosted on a website for House of Cards.

How to escape a social function like a ninja? Phone call. Image hosted on a blog for House of Cards.

Rainie and Wellman discuss three revolutions that have taken place as communication technologies shape how we interact with others: 1) “The Social Network Revolution has provided opportunities–and stresses– for people to reach beyond the world of tight groups” (it’s no longer enough to be an isolated tribe. Need to link outwards); 2) “the Internet Revolution has given people communication powers and information-gathering capacities that dwarf those of the past” (which can sometimes result in this); 3) “the Mobile Revolution has allowed ICTs [information and communication technology] to become bodily appendages allowing people to access friends and information at will, wherever they go” (11-12).

Analytical Scott Joins in the Chorus

[add more here]

John Scott's figures of compiling a Sociogram, on page 45.

John Scott’s figures of compiling a Sociogram, on page 45.

And so ends our story of Rhizomes, Networked Individuals, and Sociograms. Just for a while, loves. These things always crop back up.

Enough internet for Dean Winchester, from Supernatural.

Enough internet for Dean Winchester, from Supernatural.

References

Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. [PDF].

Raine, Lee and Barry Wellman. Networked: The New Social Operating System. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2012. [PDF].

Scott, John. Social Network Analysis: A Handbook. 2nd Ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2010. [PDF].

Long Live the Multiple


Virtual Ecosystems of World of Warcraft_Case Study #3

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm expansion. Image hosted on Blizzard's official website for WoW.

World of Warcraft: Cataclysm expansion. Image hosted on Blizzard’s official website for WoW.

Literature Review

Much of the scholarship surrounding World of Warcraft (WoW) focuses on social dynamics, such as whether or not people are isolated or more connected, gold farming in China, and how Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) games can be used in classrooms (the game specifically or skills learned and honed in-game by players. For Steven L. Thorne, Ingrid Fischer, and Xiaofei Lu, in their article “The Semiotic Ecology and Linguistic Complexity of an Online Game World,” explore the affordances and environment of what they term the semiotic ecology of the gamespace, though they conclude that “external websites function as keystone species within WoW’s broader semiotic ecology” as players in their sample admit to constantly seeking advice and information from these external websites in regards to quests, armor, and lore. They also found that, while in-game text chat functions can help gamers internationally come together and learn each other’s languages, “The analysis of the text samples from the external websites revealed a high degree of lexical sophistication, lexical diversity, syntactic complexity, and based on the D-level scores, a significant proportion of structurally complex sentences…the most popular WoW-related external websites are relatively rich in lexical sophistication and diversity, include multiple genres – from informational and expository prose to interactive ‘I-you’ and conversational text types, and illustrate a high proportion of both complex syntactic structures as well as interactive and interpersonally engaged discourse. It also bears noting that related research focusing on the cognitive content of strategy and game-play websites shows that these texts are rhetorically and logically complex.” MMOs like WoW may be games and research may fluctuate between considering such games as having positive and negative effects on players, but researchers are finding that these games and the literature that was created outside of the gamespace do provide players with environments in which learning can take place, especially that of the semiotic.

Other ecological theories, beyond that of semiotics have been applied to the MMO. In their article, “Social Mediating Technologies: Social Affordances and Functionalities,” A. G. Sutcliffe, V. Gonzalez, J. Binder, and G. Nevarez place WoW into discourse with other social media technologies, like Facebook, Wikipedia, and Blacksburg Electronic Villagein order to understand the affordances that the technologies provide to their users. They draw upon theorists like Gibson, Norman, and Ackerman, as well as “Clark’s common ground theory,” when giving a broader overview of computer-mediated communication (CMC). The authors found that, when looking at communication modalities, “The game provides visual and audio interaction, which meets most of the modalities criteria, with partial support for reviewability as long as the feedback from previous actions persists; the game does not meet the criterion of revisability unless editing settings and skills levels are considered.” The authors then drew upon other scholarship, and their own, in order to understand how the goals for players in WoW matched up with people who were using other forms of social media: “Sherlock (2007) explored the role of groups in WoW and compared the game with social networking websites, arguing that WoW ties the formation of groups to shared objectives and motives (i.e., guilds). When forming or joining a group for quests, the members need a good balance of skills and abilities and a shared goal. This contrasts with SNS, where interest matching, shared background, or other social factors shape group formation. WoW shares social affordances with Wikipedia and BEV, the other community based SMTs.” They conclude that WoW provides players with a variety of social affordances that allow them to keep in touch, exchange information in-game as well as out of game, and participate in multiplayer activities.

Let’s Begin

While World of Warcraft is an online game, the code underlying the game allows for virtual representations of ecosystems, but ones that truly alter only when an expansion set or a patch rework the code. The gamespace across the servers can be seen as a virtual ecosystem, separate yet not from the rest of the online world, and each server, in turn, becomes a smaller ecosystem. The same occurs for cities within each server. These cities, populated permanently by non-playable characters (NPCs) and temporarily by players, are surrounded by pixelated flora and fauna. What is interesting is that the cities do not really bleed over into the wilderness, and monsters from the wild cannot approach the city without NPC guards rushing forward to kill the monsters. In this sense, the programmed ecosystem of the gamespace can never fully emulate or imitate a natural ecosystem, as the software only allows for activity within the parameters of its code. Everything has its particular place, except the players, who are free to move as they will, looking for boss battles, dungeons, side quests, and one another.

A city center in WoW. Image hosted on the blog, World of Games&Fixes.

A city center in WoW. Image hosted on the blog, World of Games&Fixes.

For players, the programmed cityscapes and landscapes are the environments in which their avatars as beings-in-the-virtual-world maneuver, offering their avatars social affordances as well as virtual but purposeless representations of real world affordances. Each player lives in the “meat space,” operating within the ecosystem of his or her house, neighborhood, city, and so on, but, when they log onto the internet and a game, players allow their attention and activity to also blend over into an informational ecosystem, composed of digital content created by zeroes and ones. Their bodies tap keyboards, adjust screens, and shift in chairs, but their minds extend beyond the skin (as Bateson would put it) into a gamespace where they act as nodes in a series of ever-larger networks composed of millions of players whose physical proximity is not necessary. Players’ avatars can inhabit, interact, and move through the virtual gamespaces, with players’ physical presence only filtering in as voices and text across chat systems, as well as second-hand through avatars’ actions.

In order to apply Ecology Theory to a virtual world, we must acknowledge that a virtual world only functions within the parameters which had been established before and reestablished over the course of the game’s lifespan. Beasts (recognizable and fictitious) populate the gamespace, but only because they have been programmed into being visually represented as pixelated images. As well, the various ecosystems represented in the game, and the NPCs and beasts within them, behave in a certain way because of the code underlying them. It is not a natural ecosystem where surprising phenomena can take place and ecosystems can blend together, rupture one another, or disappear quietly, unless new codes are implemented into the software. The software does not age NPCs or monsters; no matter the length of time a player has an active account, most of the virtual inhabitants of the game will be moving through the same cycle of selling wares, wandering through streets or forests or deserts, and guarding or attacking those passing by. The only thing that can occur organically within the virtual gamespace are the relationships among the players-avatars. Even these relationships cannot totally escape moderation, but they do exist and function more naturally. For WoW, like other MMOs, it is a virtual world in which the outside world is constantly in contact. In this sense, guilds and guild members in WoW can be considered ecosystems and as parts of larger ecosystems, but such ecosystems are artificial. Ecology Theory looks as guilds as wholes, but also at guild members as beings in an artificial environment.

Throughout the gamespace, there are different kinds of terrains, each sporting different types of monsters and dungeons. Cities are scattered throughout the servers, offering players transportation (in the form of flight paths, teleportation, zeppelins, or trams), banks, inns, and auction houses (for Faction cities). Though these are virtual spaces, the different terrains in Azeroth (name of the game world) have a variety of affordances for players’ avatars. The code creates a landscape upon which avatars can walk, climb, run, swim, and ride, but if there are bugs in the system, the landscape has moments where that affordance disappears (such as when a character falls through a wall or drops through a floor into virtual nothingness. There are also virtual solid substances in the game, such as weapons, armor, clothing, food, oils, stones, with the list extending outwards. Some of these items come pre-crafted, but others can be, in a sense, “fabricated by hand,” though the concept of manual labor in a game is never an accurate description of what occurs in-game (Gibson 131). Each of these affords players, through their avatars, something that will, hopefully, aid them in the game, but the gamespace does not change because of them, so players, even working within guilds, have limited agency within the scope of the artificial ecosystem.

Players only truly have control over how their avatars move through the various ecosystems represented throughout the game. An example of this would be a guild moving through a city. The city does not change because of their presence, their money does not alter how a vendor operates, and the city guards do not react when a large group moves through the space. Instead, players’ behaviors change due to the new environment in which they are playing (some players use the safety afforded by cities and towns to let their characters idle while they attend to responsibilities in the “meat space” or search online for advice and guides for in-game activities). They are not engaging bystanders in battle, they may be using a guild bank, and gathering supplies in the form of potions and armor. Once they leave the city, the behavior of the guild alters to adapt and meet the challenges of dungeons, random battles, and quests.

Where guilds and guild members have the greatest agency in-game is though the social affordances of the game, with pathways like text chats, voice chats, message boards, and guild banks. Through these social affordances, it is information (strategies, character details, object details, quest advice, social facts about the guild and the gamespace at large, roles of the sub-groups) moving within the microscopic level of the guild and between the members, not flowing down in a hierarchical fashion, but like a spider web of information to all members. Because the guilds are part of the ecosystem and do not quite compose an ecosystem onto themselves, guild members as nodes can do little to affect the programmed ecosystem around them. Instead, they leave their marks through reputation, activities, and guild rankings outside of the game, and the existence of their guild for other players. The guild as a node is only as important as the draw and interest in produces in other players throughout the gamespace. Guild officers have more power, in a sense, than non-power and new gamers because they have greater access and (usually) more experience with what can be accomplished through the social affordances provided by the gamespace, but even they do not have much agency in the ecosystem of the server or the ecosystem of WoW. The social affordances allow these nodes to have access to one another, sharing similar experiences with their avatars as beings-in-the-virtual-world, and carving out a communication and informational space that they can use to craft spaces outside of the gamespace as their own, causing the activities in the artificial ecosystem of the game to bleed over into the informational network of the internet.

However, affordances in the gamespace are not only directed at avatars or as social affordances for player communication. Some perceived affordances, Don Norman’s concept, are equally useful for players, especially for advanced players, and their navigation and success in the gamespace. Players can access addons in order to modify and enhance the user interface, such as damage meters, performance measurements, and raid cooldowns as well as communications. These perceived affordances, which can be created officially by Blizzard or unofficially by players, can help give players greater agency in-game, especially during group raids where information can be crucial for the team to perform cohesively (with each player successfully fulfilling his or her role) but also to look back and judge places where performance could be tweaked or failed completely, as a way to enhance group performance for the next raid or the next completion of the same raid.

World of Warcraft Usability. Image hosted on the website, elsabartley .co.uk

World of Warcraft Usability. Image hosted on the website, elsabartley.co.uk

Because gamers are dealing with a virtual ecosystem, what they can physically do to interact with the gameworld is afforded to them by the keyboard and the mouse, and how they can interact with their fellow guild members is afforded to them through the keyboard and/or a headset. While only certain keys afford certain actions in-game, running, cast spells, healing, attacking, making gestures, and so on, not all keys will afford players actions. The software of most MMOs also sketchy when it comes to touch-screen affordances, as touching such screens will cause movement of the player or the camera angle, but do so sloppily because the software is not truly programmed for such technology.

The perceived affordances of the gamespace are based on cultural constraints and convictions, but they also help to redefine those same constraints and convictions internationally. The layout, however, was constructed by Blizzard, a company that is located in the United States, so the cultural conventions and constraints are heavily influenced by US cultural norms. But, since the game has been around for almost a decade or more, the visual layout for things like the menus, the action boxes, and help guides are now familiar to players, regardless the country from which they are playing. These players may not be from a single culture, but they do constitute a group. They are WoW gamers, which becomes an aspect of their identity tying them together. These are perceived affordances players expect to be there when they log on to the game, and their familiarity is useful for new or returning players because it is a system where they can seek advice in-game and out of game.

Like any group of organisms functioning within a much larger ecosystem, guilds do emerge and disintegrate, mutating into smaller and larger versions of themselves as people begin and quit the game, separate into separate guilds due to in-fighting or stagnation, and vanish altogether. These guilds use the various kinds of affordances offered to them within the gamespace (as well as those external but related) to enhance their performance as individuals and groups, to stay in contact and relay information (though that information can sometimes become misinformation), and to share experiences that bind them as a unit (though such experiences and players’ interactions with and reactions against each other may also be what destroys a group). The guilds as groups and players as individuals are the organic reactions within a highly artificial set of ecosystems.

Where to Go From Here?

While Ecology Theory is very interesting in looking at what an MMO gamespace can afford players (as visual imitations of real world affordances—houses, banks, transportation—, social affordances in the way information can be relayed throughout the virtual environment, and perceived affordances granted to players from the creators and through player-innovation), from the theorists we read, it is hard to talk about the ecosystems of the gamespace. I was surprised by how hard it is to reconcile conversations about organic ecosystems with virtual ecosystems that have players’ avatars moving through different terrains, because the artificial ecosystem is programmed to run on a cycle and be the same for everyone. Players of MMOs have very little agency in the workings of the gamespace, finding only small alterations that respond to their actions, generally with certain NPCs making comments about a quest being completed.  Players are operating their avatars within a sandbox world, and yet there is very little they can do to affect the world at large.

Instead, it is the interactions of the players and the information moving between them where they have the greatest agency in WoW’s different levels of ecosystem. As well, players have greater agency in how they can tap into the information output of the game and their (and their fellow guild members’) activities by using addons. It is the perceived affordances of the gamespace that allow players to move more successfully through the gamespace as individuals and as groups. It was also intriguing to realize that the artificial ecosystems being depicted in-game are so strictly divided: wilderness does not intrude upon civilization, or at least not for long as city guards are programmed to fight and defeat any monsters who leave their territory. If I were to try discussing the ecosystems of WoW on a scale beyond the theorists we have read, I would definitely look more into virtual environments and how the perceived affordances of the gamespace make up for the meaningless imitations scattered throughout. The gamespace is an ecosystem, one that could still continue existing (for a while, at least) without people connecting to it, but the people, especially through guilds, are where the most interesting analyses of WoW come into play as their avatars moving through the virtual space are the “organisms plus environment.”

References

Bateson, Gregory. “Form, Substance, and Difference.” Steps to an Ecology of Mind. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, 1987. [PDF].

Gibson, James J. “Theory of Affordances.” The Information for Visual Perceptions. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1986. [PDF].

Norman, Don. “Affordances and Design.” JND.org. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

Sutcliffe, A. G., V. Gonzalez, J. Binder, and G. Nevarez. “Social Mediating Technologies: Social Affordances and Functionalities.” International Journal of Human-Computer Interaction 27 .11 (2011): 1037-1065. Academic Search Complete. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

Thorne, Steven L., Ingrid Fischer, and Xiaofei Lu. “The Semiotic Ecology and Linguistic Complexity of an Online Game World.” ReCALL 24.3 (September 2012): 279-301. Cambridge Journals. Web. 13 Apr. 2014.

Just Because I Can

 


Mindmap Doused with Network Societies

Mindmap: http://popplet.com/app/#/1589875

Mindmap updated_April 13

Mindmap updated_April 13

So it begins. Rise of the Network Society Theory by Manuel Castells, and it all wraps up into the mindmap. How to connect a theory that is so vast, encompassing economics, technology, culture, societal growth, metropolitan regions, global relations, historical pathways? Castells’ theory, at least what I read in volume 1 (the other two volumes were not assigned), had a lot of traces of Actor-Network Theory, Ecology Theory, Hardware/Software Theory, and Genre Tracing Theory. There were probably others, especially since Foucault is that which is always found to be underlying theoretical works we have read since our introduction to him, but these four theories made the most sense for me to connect to Network Societies for the frame of my mindmap.

Now that we have the overarching (though consciously limited) connections out of the way between Castells’ mega-theory and previously dealt with theories, let’s see what nodes I’ve made.

First node: “The most important characteristic of this accelerated process of global urbanization is that we are seeing the emergence of a new spatial form that I call the metropolitan region, to indicate that it is metropolitan though it is not a metropolitan area, because usually there are several metropolitan areas included in this spatial unit. The metropolitan region arises from two intertwined processes: extended decentralization from big cities to adjacent areas and interconnection of pre-existing towns whose territories become integrated by new communication capabilities…It is a new form because it includes in the same spatial unit both urbanized areas and agricultural land, open space and highly dense residential areas: there are multiple cities in a discontinuous countryside. It is a multicentered metropolis that does not correspond to the traditional separation between central cities and their suburbs…Sometimes, as in the European metropolitan regions, but also in California or New York/New Jersey, these centers are pre-existing cities incorporated in the metropolitan region by fast railway and motorway transportation networks, supplemented with advanced telecommunication networks and computer networks. Sometimes the central city is still the urban core, as in London, Paris, or Barcelona. But often there are no clearly dominant urban centers” (Castells xxxiii). I linked this quote with one from Latour regarding “the question of the social,” with social actors defining and redefining the movements. Networks of people, businesses, cultures, and social groups, along with the objects and technologies they employ to function, are the actors in ANT, but the groups within which they move and act and trace are part of a lager network that is part of an even larger network, with the layers extending out into the global society.

Second node: “the network enterprise makes the material the culture of the informational, global economy: it transforms signals into commodities by processing knowledge” (Castells 188). I chose this quote because it reminds me of the ways that Cloud Computer, hardware/software, Foucault’s archives, Latour’s conversations about technology and objects are helping to transform what are the material goods of our globally interlaced, informational economy. Goods are still being sold, but information tends to have a higher price.

Final node: “the shift from industrialism to informationalism is not the historical equivalent of the transition from agricultural to industrial economics, and cannot be equated to the emergence of the service economy. There are informational agriculture, informational manufacturing, and informational service activities that produce and distribute on the basis of information and knowledge embodied in the work process by the increasing power of information technologies. What has changed is not the kind of activities humankind is engaged in, but its technological ability to use as a direct productive force what distinguishes our species as a biological oddity: its superior capacity to process symbols…The informational economy is global. A global economy is an historically new reality, distinct from a world economy…A global economy is something different: it is an economy with the capacity to work as a unit in real time, or chosen time, on a planetary scale” (Castells 101). I linked this quote with Foucault’s concepts of “History of Ideas” and the dangers to the historian being too complacent by that which has been written in history books. I made the strongest connection here and chose this quote specifically because it was a new way of seeing how different societal economies do not just end. Instead, they continue folding back into the newer movements going on. Agriculture never ends because people always need food. Industry never ends because people want (and, usually, need) things. History is not linear, even within movements towards societal restructurings. It also showed that the network of society is founded on many things, and different types of economies create the foundation upon which people work and live, even when certain types are maginalized, pushed out of view except to be viewed with nostalgia (reminds me of the truck commercials with farmers).

It’s Another Day, Another Week


Let the Network Society Rise, and Other Tales of Information, Economy, and Technology

Internet Map. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Visualization of the Internet mapped. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

This week’s reading tackled a very large topic (in terms of research but also in terms of scope). Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the work of Dr. Manuel Castells, encompassed in his book (we read Volume 1 out of 3) The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture.

Manuel Castells. Image hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

Manuel Castells. Image hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

A Little Vocabulary Goes a Long Way

Mass Self-Communication - “This form of communication has emerged with the development of the so-called Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, or the cluster of technologies, devices, and applications that support the proliferation of social spaces on the Internet thanks to increased broadband capacity, open source software, and enhanced computer graphics and interface, including avatar interaction in three-dimensional virtual spaces” (xxvii)

Social Spaces of Virtual Reality – “Combine[s] sociability and experimentation with role-playing games,” such as Second Life (xxix)

Culture of Real Virtuality – “In which the digitized networks of multimodal communication have become so inclusive of all cultural expressions and personal experiences that they have made virtuality a fundamental dimension of our reality” (xxxi)

Space of Contiguity – “Space of places.” “Cities are, from their onset, communication systems, increasing the chances of communication through physical contiguity” (xxxi)

Space of Flows – “the material support of simultaneous social practices communicated at a distance. This involves the production, transmission and processing of flows of information. It also relies on the development of localities of nodes of these communication networks, and the connectivity of these activities located in the nodes by fast transportation networks operated by information flows” (xxxii)

Metropolitan Region – “a new spatial form…to indicate that it is metropolitan though it is not a metropolitan area, because usually there are several metropolitan areas included in this spatial unit. The metropolitan region arises from two intertwined processes: extended decentralization from big cities to adjacent areas and interconnection of pre-existing towns whose territories become integrated by new communication capabilities…These ‘cities’ are no longer cities, not only conceptually but institutionally or culturally” (xxxiii-xxxiv)

Economies of Scale – “can be transformed by information and communication technologies in their spatial logic. Electronic networks allow for the formation of global assembly lines. Software production can be spatially distributed and coordinated by communication networks” (xxxvii)

Economies of Synergy – “Spatial economies of synergy mean that being in a place of potential interaction with valuable partners creates the possibility of adding value as a result of the innovation generated by this interaction…economies of synergy still require the spatial concentration of interpersonal interaction because communication operates on a much broader bandwidth than digital communication at a distance” (xxxvii)

And away we go…

This was definitely a long book, and intricate. Very intricate. I can’t even begin to imagine what the three volumes look like together, much less read like. That being said, though, I enjoyed the way Castells intertwined the aspects of culture, society, technology, information, economy, and power, weaving his way through these layers to find how the threads of their relationships are the fabric for movements, changes, and stagnation in a way I don’t think most of us pay much attention. Most of us are a part of a giant web of interconnectivity, in a way that reminds me of the Cloud Computing articles I read at the beginning of this semester. We have moved into an era where global communication technologies are an underlying fabric for our lives, our cultures, our societies. Think of the way I am relaying this post to you. Here I am, writing in some cities in the United States, but this post could be read anywhere and I can link it out to websites about anything. I am creating my own network of information, but Castells is looking farther, deeper into the structure and the beams holding it up, holding it together.

Visual of Network Innovation. Image hosted on Daniel Hjorth's profile on NetworkSociety.org

Visual of Network Innovation. Image hosted on Daniel Hjorth’s profile on NetworkSociety.org

And, in the theory Castells is proposing, humans are the nodes, but so are the technologies people are creating (Actor-Network Theory, anyone?). It’s more than that. There are layers and layers of networks in this Network Society. People make up the culture and the society, and then those cultures and societies form larger networks. A metropolitan region, which contain heavily populated cities, are a network: “It is a new form because it includes in the same spatial unit both urbanized areas and agricultural land, open space in a discontinuous countryside. It is a multicentered metropolis that does not correspond to the traditional separation between central cities and their suburbs” (xxxiii). This was not a new concept to me, as I had heard of the growth of cities and science fiction often deals with issues surrounding regions like this, but it also feels odd to think about how there is no real separation between urban and rural in places like this. In my nostalgic musings, the city will always be the city while the country will always be the border between simple living and this wild space. Yet, here they come together, one overshadowing the other as it we always seem to demand progress, progress, progress.

Metropolis, thy name is Los Angeles. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Metropolis, thy name is Los Angeles. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

 

[add pictures here]

[more notes]

Reference

Castells, Manuel. Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture. Vol. 1. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.

All Roads Lead to the Network

 


Let the Network Society Rise, and Other Tales of Information, Economy, and Technology

Internet Map. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Visualization of the Internet mapped. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

This week’s reading tackled a very large topic (in terms of research but also in terms of scope). Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce the work of Dr. Manuel Castells, encompassed in his book (we read Volume 1 out of 3) The Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture.

Manuel Castells. Image hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

Manuel Castells. Image hosted on the University of Cambridge website.

A Little Vocabulary Goes a Long Way

Mass Self-Communication - “This form of communication has emerged with the development of the so-called Web 2.0 and Web 3.0, or the cluster of technologies, devices, and applications that support the proliferation of social spaces on the Internet thanks to increased broadband capacity, open source software, and enhanced computer graphics and interface, including avatar interaction in three-dimensional virtual spaces” (xxvii)

Social Spaces of Virtual Reality – “Combine[s] sociability and experimentation with role-playing games,” such as Second Life (xxix)

Culture of Real Virtuality – “In which the digitized networks of multimodal communication have become so inclusive of all cultural expressions and personal experiences that they have made virtuality a fundamental dimension of our reality” (xxxi)

Space of Contiguity – “Space of places.” “Cities are, from their onset, communication systems, increasing the chances of communication through physical contiguity” (xxxi)

Space of Flows – “the material support of simultaneous social practices communicated at a distance. This involves the production, transmission and processing of flows of information. It also relies on the development of localities of nodes of these communication networks, and the connectivity of these activities located in the nodes by fast transportation networks operated by information flows” (xxxii)

Metropolitan Region – “a new spatial form…to indicate that it is metropolitan though it is not a metropolitan area, because usually there are several metropolitan areas included in this spatial unit. The metropolitan region arises from two intertwined processes: extended decentralization from big cities to adjacent areas and interconnection of pre-existing towns whose territories become integrated by new communication capabilities…These ‘cities’ are no longer cities, not only conceptually but institutionally or culturally” (xxxiii-xxxiv)

Economies of Scale – “can be transformed by information and communication technologies in their spatial logic. Electronic networks allow for the formation of global assembly lines. Software production can be spatially distributed and coordinated by communication networks” (xxxvii)

Economies of Synergy – “Spatial economies of synergy mean that being in a place of potential interaction with valuable partners creates the possibility of adding value as a result of the innovation generated by this interaction…economies of synergy still require the spatial concentration of interpersonal interaction because communication operates on a much broader bandwidth than digital communication at a distance” (xxxvii)

And away we go…

This was definitely a long book, and intricate. Very intricate. I can’t even begin to imagine what the three volumes look like together, much less read like. That being said, though, I enjoyed the way Castells intertwined the aspects of culture, society, technology, information, economy, and power, weaving his way through these layers to find how the threads of their relationships are the fabric for movements, changes, and stagnation in a way I don’t think most of us pay much attention. Most of us are a part of a giant web of interconnectivity, in a way that reminds me of the Cloud Computing articles I read at the beginning of this semester. We have moved into an era where global communication technologies are an underlying fabric for our lives, our cultures, our societies. Think of the way I am relaying this post to you. Here I am, writing in some city in the United States, but this post could be read anywhere and I can link it out to websites about anything written by people writing anywhere. I am creating my own network of information, but Castells is looking farther out and deeper into the structure and the beams holding it up, holding it together.

Visual of Network Innovation. Image hosted on Daniel Hjorth's profile on NetworkSociety.org

Visual of Network Innovation. Image hosted on Daniel Hjorth’s profile on NetworkSociety.org

In the theory Castells is proposing, humans are the nodes, but so are the technologies people are creating (Actor-Network Theory, anyone?). It’s more than that. There are layers and layers of networks in this Network Society. People make up the culture and the society, and then those cultures and societies form larger networks. A metropolitan region, which contains heavily populated cities, are a network: “It is a new form because it includes in the same spatial unit both urbanized areas and agricultural land, open space in a discontinuous countryside. It is a multicentered metropolis that does not correspond to the traditional separation between central cities and their suburbs” (xxxiii). This was not a new concept to me, as I had heard of the growth of cities and science fiction often deals with issues surrounding regions like this, but it also feels odd to think about how there is no real separation between urban and rural in places like this. In my nostalgic musings, the city will always be the city while the country will always be the border between simple living and this wild space. Yet, here they come together, one overshadowing the other as we always seem to demand progress, progress, progress. But, “space is the expression of society. Since our societies are undergoing structural transformation, it is a reasonable hypothesis to suggest that new spatial forms and processes are emerging…space is not a reflection of society, it is its expression. In other words: space is not a photocopy of society, it is society. Spatial forms and processes are formed by the dynamics of the overall social structure. This includes contradictory trends derived from conflicts and strategies between social actors playing out their opposing interests and values. Furthermore, social processes influence space by acting on the built environment inherited from previous socio-spatial structures. Indeed, space is crystallized time” (440-441). I love this idea of “space as crystallized time” as it makes me imagine walking along the streets of a city, where others have come and gone before me, leaving their marks in places I can and cannot see. Human history is embodied in the places we leave behind, as archaeology is constantly reminding us, and our cities are intergenerational projects. We do not rebuild a city from the ground up every time a new type of society emerges. We may transform aspects of our cities to fit new needs and demands (think of how we built factories and then cities grew around them, even when those factories became obsolete and were abandoned).

Metropolis, thy name is Los Angeles. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

Metropolis, thy name is Los Angeles. Image hosted on Wikipedia.

But, a metropolis is never a unified whole. Instead, it is a series of places that have been linked through transportation, through business deals and physical businesses, through families and rivals, politics, telephone lines, electricity and water and sewage. A metropolis is a collection, eccentric as it is, of different cultures, societies, identities. Sometimes they mesh, though often they don’t. A metropolis is a collection of actors, human and non-human, moving through the paces of living, growing and shrinking with the changes that happen to cities over the course of their timelines. Castells’ comment about identity strikes me as I think of cities expanding outwards, enveloping the surrounding areas whether they are urban, suburban, or rural: “In the absence of active social demands and social movements the mega-node imposes the logic of the global over the local. The net result of this process is the coexistence of metropolitan dynamism with metropolitan marginality, expressed in the dramatic growth of squatter settlements around the world, and in the persistence of urban squalor in the banlieues of Paris on in the American inner cities. There is an increasing contradiction between the space of flows and the space of places…few people in the world feel identified with the global, cosmopolitan culture that populates the global networks and becomes the worship of  the mega-node elites. In contrast, most people feel a strong regional or local identity…in a world constructed around the logic of the space of flows, people make their living in the space of places” (xxxix). This idea of people being drawn to a regional or local identity as a way as an alternative to the “mega-node” imposing “the logic of the global over the local” reminds me of Spinuzzi’s discourse regarding local work-around solutions, except that this here it is in terms of identity rather than work measures, though Castells does have a section on workers later in the book. But, this also reminds me of Ecology Theory. The city is an ecosystem, but each section, each neighborhood, and each family become smaller ecosystems operating within and spilling over into the surrounding ecosystems. And then the ecosystem of the metropolis functions within itself and then spills over into the surrounding cities that compose the metropolitan region. This region goes through the same cycle on a much larger scale. In order to function within a totalizing group, smaller networks crop up within to humanize people. The mega-node can become so big because there are small networks within, operating on their own while simultaneously connecting outwards in all different directions.

As I was working through these concepts of regional identities and mega-nodes and ecosystems, I found that the best way to visualize this was to think of the Lego Movie where the different parts of the world were represented as different Lego sets (big city, Wild West, fantasy land, and so on). Each of these “worlds” had its own distinct flavor and yet all of the worlds were interconnected as a web of symbols sprawled out across a large table. So, as a treat (or torture), here you go:

Another huge part of the Network Society has to do with economics, productivity, and wealth. Castells makes an interesting point about how our society is no longer dominated by industry, but by information, but that these two are never separate: “The informational economy is a distinctive socio-economic system in relationship to the industrial economy, but not because they differ in the sources of their productivity growth. In both cases, knowledge and information processing are critical elements in economic growth, as can be illustrated by the history of the science-based chemical industry  or by the managerial revolution that created Fordism. What is distinctive is the eventual realization of the productivity potential contained in the mature industrial economy because of the shift toward a technological paradigm based on information technologies” (99). What I liked about his exploration of our society’s economic changes between agricultural to industrial to informational is that he talks about how none of those economic structures ever really disappears. A country still needs to produce food and material goods still need to be made, even as the society itself moves towards a “technological paradigm based on information technologies.” The underlying foundation of technology being an integral part to society makes sense, not only as we move into an era of global connectivity, but also just looking at Castells’ examples of the past, what worked and what didn’t. I was struck by his section on China throughout the ages and how it is direction of the government that ultimately limits or propels technological progress. In a way, I am reminded also of H. G. Wells’ Time Machine, in that prosperity and peace can stagnate a culture and its technological ambitions. A country can have all the wealth in the world, but without the drive to move forward, it stalls out, lagging behind those countries that need the technology and that want what benefits they can get out of progressive movements.

Global fabric of data. Image hosted on the website for the FCSIT Student Government.

Global fabric of data. Image hosted on the website for the FCSIT Student Government.

Reference

Castells, Manuel. Rise of the Network Society: The Information Age: Economy, Society, and Culture. Vol. 1. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010. Print.

All Roads Lead to the Network

 


In Which Neurobiology Walks into the Mindmap, and Everything Gets Synaptic

Mindmap: http://popplet.com/app/#/1589875

Mindmap update for April 06

Mindmap update for April 06

Ah, neurobiology, my old foe. It’s time to take your place in the midst of my mindmap (or on the outskirts?), but where should you go? Hell, what should I add? How do I place science within a brainstorming network of other (less science-y) theories of network? Well, that’s always a good question. Neurobiology is the perfect network, with everything (ideally) functioning as a highway system of information, constantly moving between the neurons. The two theories that make the most sense for a direct connection are Hardware/Software Theory and Ecology Theory (with Bateson, in mind, as the top contender). The trouble I had choosing the nodes and making the connections was how specific neurobiology is and how technical the jargon remains.

Now that I have my overarching connections between theories, let’s start with my new nodes.

First node deals with learning and memory: “So how could this intricate electrical mechanism act to form new memories? LTP [Long-Term Potentiation], like learning, is not just dependent on increased stimulation from one particular neuron, but on a repeated stimulus from several sources. It is thought that when a particular stimulus is repeatedly presented, so is a particular circuit of neurons. With repetition, the activation of that circuit results in learning. Recall that the brain is intricately complicated. Rather than a one-to-one line of stimulating neurons, it involves a very complex web of interacting neurons. But it is the molecular changes occurring between these neurons that appear to have global effects. LTP can lead to strengthened synapses in a variety of ways. One such way, as discussed in the video, is by the phosphorylation of glutamate receptor channels, which is accomplished by a calcium-triggered signaling cascade. This results in those channels passing more ions with subsequent stimulation, strengthening the signal to and from the neuron.” The inclusion of a quote on memory made the most sense to me. Memories are the very fabric of information coming and going. It seems like for every memory that is created, another one is replaced (or, it seems, five in my case). The idea of repetition of stimulus reminds me a lot of what I imagine occurs within the cloud network that connects all of our lives, and how the transfer of data would play out in the Ecology of the Mind.

The second node I chose was about memory and the Hippocampus: “It is widely agreed that while the hippocampus is undeniably important for memory, the “recording” of information into long-term memory involves plasticity, or physical changes, in multiple regions throughout the entire nervous system. Another interesting distinction that scientists have made in types of memory is between declarative memory, which allows you to remember facts and is extremely complex, and reflexive memory, which usually consists of learning by repetition and often involves motor learning. While declarative memory can be reported, reflexive memory is exhibited by performance of a task and cannot be expressed verbally. It is now thought that the two types of memory may involve two entirely different neuronal circuits.” I connected this node and the one above to Hardware/Software theory because a lot of how the writers describe processes in the brain sounds a great like how computer techies describe processes in computers. The hippocampus reminds me of a CPU and how it stores all of the information, sending out data to be represented as pixelated images on the monitor and being accessed by people through movements with the mouse (or screen if it’s touch sensitive). However, I also chose this quote for another reason. The writers describe “entirely different neuronal circuits,” which sounds similar to what I have been reading about for this week’s reading notes in Manuel Castells’ book The Rise of the Network Society. Next Sunday, my plan is to create a node regarding how there are different layers of networks within the Network Society to connect to this quote about the hippocampus. When I think of the brain, I think of one mechanism moving everything through, so the idea of different neuronal circuits operating in conjunction gives me a different picture of how my mental process works.

The last of my nodes was an image of a Synapse. I connected with a quote from Syverson: “In a complex system, a network of independent agents–people, atoms, neurons, or molecules, for instance–act and interact in parallel with each other, simultaneously reacting to and co-constructing their own environment” (3). The reason I chose this quote in particular is because it helped me to imagine what she talking about. Here, each piece has a part to play to keep the system functioning. The neurons, pre- and post-, within the synapses, working to create memories, crafting the mental environment. The images and videos gave me an idea of how stuff moves between networks more concretely than the idea of just information, though I’m amazed at the idea of electricity in the brain helping to move stuff along.

Image of a Synapse. Image hosted on Annenberg Learner, textbook on Neurobiology.

Image of a Synapse. Image hosted on Annenberg Learner, textbook chapter on Neurobiology.

Memory, Neurons, and Music Mix on a Fine Sunday Afternoon


Neurobiology Comes to Play with Theories of Networks

Okay, I can admit that this week’s Reading Notes topic scared me…a lot. When I heard that we would be reading an online textbook on Neurobiology, my brain just couldn’t deal… I’m pretty sure that every time I opened the website, peeking between my fingers, my face looked like this.

Bloo from Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends makes the best faces.

Bloo from Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends makes the best faces.

And, I may have done this… once or twice.

Running and screaming. I found this gif (and the one of Bloo) from a review by Katrina Passick Lumsden (amazing reviewer that she is) on Good Reads.

Running and screaming. I found this gif (and the one of Bloo) from a review by Katrina Passick Lumsden (amazing reviewer that she is) on Good Reads.

My relationship with science ended after my first year of freshman year in college when I took Astronomy and Physics back to back. So, what do I remember from days with the terms “centripetal force” and “kinematic equations”? Ummm, yeah.

Chemisty cat meme embodies all that I can remember of science.

Chemisty cat meme embodies all that I can remember of science.

Once I stopped panicking over words like “neuronal” and “postsynaptic neurons,” it was time to get to work. I know that the brain, with its seemingly endless nodes and connections, all contained within the skull, was the essence of a network. But, I had to really think about how I could use nueroscience within an English course. The brain may be where all of our ideas begin, allowing us to be creative and critical, but how would that fit with Foucault, with ecology, with rhetorical situation and genre boundaries? How could I curl neuronal impulses into my understanding of World of Warcraft guilds? That’s really the whole point, though, isn’t it? The brain is at the heart of all human activity (even when it appears otherwise), its design inspiring the shape and functionality of our networks of communication, of architecture, of science. I may not understand all the ways in which potassium, calcium, and sodium help in terms of neurotransmistters and synapses, but I do understand that our brain is really just an information highway that is always sending and receiving, and that what scientists are currently uncovering are new understandings of how memory works.

So, Let’s Start with Vocabulary (mainly pulled from the Annenberg Learner website)

Neurons

—->Presynaptic neurons  – “The transmitting neuron. Its synaptic terminals extend into synapses.”

—->Postsynaptic neurons – “The receiving neuron in a synapse; formed by a neuron’s dendrite.”

Neurogenesis - “The formation of New neurons from precursor stem cells.”

Synapses - “A functional connection between two neurons where information can be exchanged.”

Amygdala – “is an almond-shape set of neurons located deep in the brain’s medial temporal lobe” (Science Daily)

Exocytosis – “The release of neurotransmitters from their vesicles into the synapse.”

Hippocampus- “A region of the brain associated with both short-term and long-term memory formation. Also the site of long-term potentiation (LTP).”

Long-Term Potentiation – “The phenomenon in which a neuron becomes more sensitive to stimuli after receiving synchronized stimuli.”

Reward Pathway – “A region of the brain that is stimulated when an animal is engaged in pleasurable activities.”

Neuron in the hippocampus colored by green stained protein. Image hosted on the Neurobiology section of Learner.org

Neuron in the hippocampus colored by green stained protein. Image hosted on the Neurobiology section of Learner.org

Now that we have some vocabulary whirling around in our brains, what do we do with all of this information? How do we process it without feeling those very brainwaves start to implode the system? I wish I had an easy answer for that. What I understood from this textbook (besides the totally encompassing feeling that I know very little, even after years of being in an academic setting, trying rigorously to put an end to my ignorance. Socrates and Plato would be proud), is the ideas of connections, of information moving from place to place, initiated by the sensorial neurons that go into our system, get us thinking, and then the neurons that lead that information outwards into reactions. What surprised me was the research that had uncovered the fact that our brains do not stop changing, stop growing after a certain point. Instead, new connections are constantly being made on a daily basis, with the activities and encounters of the day helping to shape the interactions going on in the brain. The brain may be something that needs just as much exercise (mental exercise) as muscles do, but I found it absolutely fascinating that researchers could push past older ideas about how the brain works, especially in terms of aging, to explore Neurogenesis.

Once I got off on that train of thought, I started thinking about how these scientists are playing into and reacting against what the larger Mind of Bateson’s Ecology of the Mind was talking about. By harnessing advancements in computer technology, the neurobiologists are constantly pushing deeper into activities in the brain. For every new discovery, this information could be filtered outwards into the collective imagination of a non-scientist population (of which I am heartily a member), to help with innovations in the classroom (the memory research is quite useful in understanding how and why educational practices succeed and fail) as well as with daily life for adults. The textbook blew my mind with the idea that, “Memory and, thus, learning involves molecular changes in the brain. During the last few decades, researchers have started to map the molecular processes involved in memory formation. They have been increasingly able to link the ability to remember with physical changes in the structure of neurons.” When I think of memory, I don’t think of molecular processes (it’s sort of like going to the grocery store and not wondering where all of the food actually comes from. It’s just there, is usually nutritious, and is already categorized along aisles like it won’t be when I stuff it in my shelves or fridge). Memory for me has always been about the experience and reconstruction of that experience in my faulty memory recall. Daniel Kahneman’s TED Talk “Experience vs. Memory” and a smattering of science articles on the processes of the brain were really all the foundation I’ve had.

I wish I could say that I retained more of the reading for this week, but I mostly walked away with the image of the scientist slicing the rat brain apart so he could experiment on the pieces, and with the understanding of how drugs like cocaine affect the rewards pathway of users. The reward pathway is an interesting concept, allowing me to understand why we do what we do in order to stimulate parts of the brain through activities that reward us in some way (usually with pleasure), such as eating and exercising. This makes me wonder about research that looks at people’s brains when they are playing video games and whether or not the constant buzz of boredom that video game scholars have discussed causes the reward pathway to be activated. It’s something to think about, actually it’s all something to think about. Overall, this week’s readings made more sense when friends tried to explain pre/postsynaptic neuron activity with analogies that included Terminator, gnomes and elves and dwarves, and Riders of Rohan. One lesson to take away? As in any network, information traveling from place to place, interacting with and reacting against other information being dispersed outwards.

**Side note: To supplement the textbook reading, I turned to PBS, with their video Blueprint for the Brain. Again, the focus was on the connections being made, the pathways neurons follow, and what these connections do for us.

How did it feel to reach the end of the textbook with most of my synapses and neurons and long-term pontentiation intact?

Dancing and flailing. Image hosted on Tumblr All the Supernatural Gifs.

Dancing and flailing. Image hosted on the Tumblr All the Supernatural Gifs.

References

“Unit Chapter: Neurobiology.” Learner.org. Annenberg Foundation, 2013.  Web. 27 March 2014.

Major Tom, I’ll Meet You Up There:


Rewriting the Object of Study_Round 2

 

World of Warcraft. Image hosted on IGN.

Guilds of World of Warcraft. Image hosted on IGN.

As the semester advances, steadily gaining on the last month of Spring 2014, my peers and I have been asked to rewrite our Object of Study Proposals. My original proposal stated that I was going to look at guilds in MMORPGS like World of Warcraft and Guild Wars 2. However, I found that all of my case studies have revolved around WoW, so this is part of how I wish to narrow down my object of study version 2.0 here.

From my original proposal, I am keeping my description of the guilds: Guilds essentially allow players to form small to large groups, with smaller questing and dungeon parties being formed either on a need-basis or more permanently. Unlike more traditional Role Playing Games (RPGs) on video game consoles where a player usually ventures into the virtual world alone as a single character (like Assassin’s Creed) or as a group of controllable companions (like Final Fantasy games), MMOs create environments that encourage player-player interaction within the game as certain activities like raids and dungeon boss battles are easier to navigate when players take on different roles (the healer, the tank who draws enemy attention, and the character classes that do damage-per-second are some of these roles) in order to enhance the effectiveness of the group. Guilds are not only for questing and raiding, but are also ways for new players to be mentored by veteran players and come with a number of perks and opportunities that a lone player would not have access to, such as item trading. Though MMOs do have an underlying storyline driving the game world and creating overarching goals for players, it is the interaction between players that comes to embody the bulk of their experiences within the games, transforming individual gameplay from a solitary experience to one with a seemingly infinite number of connections. One of the biggest draws of guilds is the communication nexus that exists between members, as players find not only companions within the game worlds, but also connections outside of the games, through general discussion forums on official game websites, guild forums, in-game channel chats, social media like Facebook, and personal emails and phone calls.

The further I work through applying network theories to WoW guilds, the more I understand them as ecosystems, as social dynamics playing out on a microcosm space, but I have not (as I originally intended) sought to understand the social dynamics for how students in classrooms could work more cohesively or for how the application of narrative elements by players enriches the group’s overall experience (beyond the occasional comment about role-playing guilds). Instead, I have found myself looking at the social facts and speech acts that gather together to create genre sets used by players, granting them greater agency as a group and as individual nodes within those groups; the rhetorical situations and discourses that emerge through player-player interaction, leading to the creation, maintenance, and dissolution of those groups; and how taking technologies into account as “objects with agency” changes the shape and angle of scholarship looking into the rhetoric playing out within the guilds. Looking back at my original proposal, I was not expecting to tackle rhetorical activity, but scholarship rarely takes the pathways I expect of it.

With rhetorical activity being what emerges through my case studies, guild members are still that which I believe to be the framework and nodes of the network. However, how that framework appears to be structured seems to depend on the theory being applied. For Rhetorical Situation theory, there is the idea that certain veteran players taking officer-style positions within the group creates a fluid hierarchy of speakers and mediators of change who can take that rhetoric and improve the group’s experiences. In that hierarchy, each player who is invested then becomes a link (rather than a “mere hearer or listener”) to other players, taking on battle and questing roles and keeping in communication within their parties. In other theories, the hierarchy is flattened, requiring a more collective agreement among players on activities, or there is a demand for the increased understanding of how technology allows for that guild, that hierarchy, and those activities to exist. Code and rhetoric become twin elements moving among and through the nodes of the network, something that will become even more important in English Studies as our discipline adapts to changes in technology and continues to implement those technologies for our work.

For the rest of the semester, my new proposal for WoW guilds as my object of study is to continue exploring how that virtual environment allows for the guild to become an ecosystem that extends even beyond its programmed borders. The players’ abilities to harness the technology of the game and use it parallel to other software and technological devices shapes new boundaries for a human-constructed ecosystem of minds, rather than physical proximity of bodies. I am curious to see how rhetoric molds and is molded in return by gamers who voluntarily enter into a community and struggle to maintain and redefine the group(s) they have chosen for themselves.

Just One of Those Nights:


Mindmap Gets Another Update_Ecology Theory, Ecosophy, and New Connections

Mindmap: http://popplet.com/app/#/1589875

Mindmap updated for 30 March 2014.

Mindmap updated for 30 March 2014.

haha Every time I look at my mindmap anymore, I am reminded of the skill system from Final Fantasy X.

Grid sphere system from Final Fantasy X. Image hosted on the website The Philippine Final Fantasy Portal.

Grid sphere system from Final Fantasy X. Image hosted on the website The Philippine Final Fantasy Portal.

The grid sphere system, especially upon first sight, sprawls out like some curled serpent moments from waking. The more I look at my mindmap, the more impressed I am by how large it has gotten in the last three months. For my own sanity, I keep a mindmap drawn on paper with the overarching theories drawn on it.

But, enough about that. Time to talk about what I have added, my three nodes and my little links between them. This week continued Ecology Theory, with Felix Guattari’s Three Ecologies, Frank Spellman’s Ecology for Nonecology, and Margaret Syverson’s Wealth of Reality. This week’s additions were a bit easier since I had already laid the ground work for Ecology nodes.

So, what did I add?

First things first. A definition of Guattari’s term ecosophy – “‘An ethico-political articulation…between the three ecological registers (the environment, social relations and human subjectivity)’ that Guattari believes could help the ‘ecological disequilibrium’ that has been generated by the ‘period of intense techno-scientific transformations’ we are facing (19-20).” I wanted to make sure I had this in my mindmap because it gives me an idea of what ecology theorists may want to do with their theories. Why link ecology to computer systems and politics, why have so many texts that try to make sure people know just how inextricably connected we are to all the ecosystems we don’t think about? Guattari’s text may be short, but it gave me a lot to think about.

What, then, could follow Guattari? Spellman’s discussion of an organism’s environment:

“The organism’s environment can be divided into four parts:
1) Habitat and distribution – its place to live
2) Other organisms – whether friendly or hostile
3) Food
4) Weather – light, moisture, temperature, soil, etc

There are four major subdivisions of ecology:

Behavioral ecology
Population ecology (autecology)
Community ecology (synecology)
Ecosystem” (Spellman 5)

This was another thing I wanted to be sure to add as it dealt with concepts I had read about in the prior week with Gibson and Bateson, drawing in information played out in the video on the Cary Institute’s website. Here, there were habitats, affordances, and neighboring ecosystems, but also the subdivisons that make up an environment with the different kinds of ecologies. I linked this node to a node I had made for Gibson’s “Theories of Affordances,” which I think linked to a node about CHAT’s creators defining what CHAT is supposed to be: “As objects and environments are formed and transformed through human activity, they come to embody the goals and social organization of that activity in the form of affordances for use.”  The Ecology Theories we have been reading give me more perspective on what “affordances” meant (something I wasn’t totally sure about before), but also gave me the understanding that this definition of CHAT is looking at the modification that Bateson and Gibson had been discussing. This was hindsight leading me down new rabbit holes.

For my last node of the week, I pulled from Syverson’s text: “In a complex system, a network of independent agents–people atoms, neurons, or molecules, for instance–act and interact in parallel with each other, simultaneously reacting to and co-constructing their own environment” (3). This quote reminded me a lot of Foucault’s discussion of the physician and the role the physician plays being dependent upon everything going on in the field around him or her. The complex system that Syverson is discussing is more organic than the constant restructuring of the medical field with advancements in technology and anatomical understanding, but it was the idea of “simultaneously reacting to and co-constructing their own environment” that seemed to underlie the constant cycle and layering of discursive statements that populate history. Is this what was meant by Bateson’s cybernetic epistemology and ecology of the mind?

Add This to the Ecosystem of Sounds Filling the Room: