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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:

Ecology of the Theories of Networks Course

Welcome to the Ecosystem of Theories of Networks!

I know it may sound a little odd to call a course an ecosystem, let alone applying ecology theory to it. But, it is an ecosystem, and for me, it an ecosystem that is part-physical classroom, part-virtual existence, and part-home environment. Most of the residents of my ecosystem show themselves in messages on Facebook, as talking-moving squares on a screen on the classroom television, and as data spilling out onto Google docs. Once a week, three others share the same physical space I do, but always for a (roughly) two hour period of time. But, you ask, can this even remotely be classified as an ecosystem? Well, I turn my attention to Bateson’s Ecology of the Mind, especially with the concept of the cybernetic epistemology and the “larger Mind.” With the way technology has become such a part of our lives, our environments are both physical and virtual, and should not be separated. Welcome to the future.


Larger Mind? Mind as Computer? Image hosted on the website Advanced Apes.

Larger Mind? Mind as Computer? Image hosted on the website Advanced Apes.

As Gibson points out, in his chapter “The Theory of Affordances,” humans have modified our environments “to change what it affords [us]. [We have] made more available what benefits [us] and less pressing what injures [us]” (130). Gibson tells us that, “The affordances of the environment are what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill” (127). So what affordances are now offered to me in this hybrid ecosystem of my course? What can be afforded within a virtual environment? Many things, actually.

Take, for our first example, this blog. What does this digital space provide for me? I am the organism and this is my environment. While it does not allow me to modify everything in my space (especially as I am lacking in things like HTML know-how), but it does allow me to draw in images, videos, and text so as to express my ideas, creating a space for me. The blog then becomes my place, with the class shared folder and Facebook back channel as my habitat, from which I can interact with the other residents of my ecosystem and neighboring ecosystems. The class website is another space within the ecosystem that offers me affordances (making me accountable for the work I do) as it becomes the center of which all of my work and that of my peers revolve around. The schedule affords me deadlines and the ability to time-keep based on assignments, provides me links to external readings and reminds me of what I need to read, allows me to add quotes to the discourse of the class, and further my understanding of the coursework with the sporadic inclusion of videos throughout the schedule.

But which learning space allows for me to lay out my ideas, made connections, without feeling like I have to explain those connections as I make them? Ah, the mindmap is the part of the ecosystem (as all of our mindmaps are accessible through our blogs, which are then accessible through the course website), but the affordances of Popplet is very limited compared to that of the blog and the website. Through the software, I am afforded the creation of nodes that can be filled with text and visual objects, as well as creating multiple connections between those nodes. However, the affordances of this particular environment are limited by the capabilities of the code that underlies its structures. Once the mindmap becomes too large, it is impossible to see the entirety of the mindmap without the words  becoming blurry, but the software allows for differentiating among thoughts by having nodes color-coded (though the color choices are limited). The larger affordance of Popplet is that I can share my work, deciding whether I want to make it private, public but only to those with the link, or public to the whole of the Popplet ecosystem. I can stay in my semi-hiding place or I can be out in the midst of my habitat.

Now, the last technology/application I am going to touch on in my ecosystem, with the distributed consciousness of the other residents of my Theories of Networks ecosystem kept in mind, is that of the Google docs, where we can work alone (isolation for personal projects) or come together to work simultaneously in a shared virtual space. We may not physically share the same space, but out minds, through code, can occupy and mingle together. The affordances of this space come through in the ability to modify the visual appearance of the text, and to link among parts of the document, out to other documents, websites, images, and videos. It affords multiple organisms in the environment to work together without on a single document, presentation, drawing, and still be able to talk through chat. Google docs then affords me to save the work I have done, or export it out, as well as import in documents created outside of Google doc, allowing it all to exist within the Google Drive ecosystem in which part of the Theories of Networks ecosystem thrives, but only part. This collective consciousness I share with my peers always exists within several ecosystems that are already in play, and we can carve our own space out of the worlds founded by code, zeroes and ones represented through user interfaces.

Where to go from here: Terminator, BBC style?

What happens when technology goes too far? Nah, that'll never happen. Image hosted on Photobombs section of Likes.

What happens when technology goes too far? Nah, that’ll never happen. Image hosted on Photobombs section of Likes.

To the Victor Goes the Spoils: