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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!