Tag: behavioral studies

Uranus’ Castrated Penis: centiSperm Glazed Ceramic Sculpture


centiSperm Glazed Ceramic tribute to Robert Arneson and the NorCal Funk Artists

centiSperm Glazed Ceramic tribute to Robert Arneson and the NorCal Funk Artists

The centiSperm was applied to Uranus’ Castrated Penis as a glaze. The sculpture fired well. The centisperm effect is basically un-perceptible. Yet, there is a pearly sheen to the penis of Uranus. Certainly, the ritual process of anointing the lingam, even the lingam forcibly removed, is of discerning taste. Here are some pictures of Uranus’ Castrated Penis. This sculpture is a tribute to Robert Arneson (a former teacher) and the NorCal Funk Artists.

tribute to Robert Arneson and the NorCal Funk Artists

tribute to Robert Arneson and the NorCal Funk Artists


MMO Ethnography: The Customs and Cultures of Online Gamers


Ethnography is the field that turned my interest towards games in academia. As a lifelong veteran of MMORPGs, the concept of being a participant-researcher in this space was something I could really appreciate. One of the tenets of ethnography, as stated by Paul Dourish in Ways of Knowing in HCI, is that “ethnography directs our attention towards the importance of participation not just as a natural and unavoidable consequence of going somewhere, but as the fundamental point.”

Pictured above is one example of how online communities and cultures create their own rituals and mythoi. "RNGesus", a portmanteau of the Christian Jesus and the acronym for "random number generator", has become a deity for many players of ArcheAge, who erect shrines to him in their homes in the hopes that it will bring them luck.

Pictured above is one example of how online communities and cultures create their own rituals and mythoi. “RNGesus”, a portmanteau of the Christian Jesus and the acronym for “random number generator”, has become a deity for many players of ArcheAge, who erect shrines to him in their homes in the hopes that it will bring them luck.

Ethnographers subscribe to the belief that participating in an event reveals much more observable and notable events than pure, divorced observation can; this is a fact of which I am personally convinced, especially regarding online interactive environments. As in the image above, there are some unique and outlandish aspects of online culture that one would not understand without taking part in it themselves. In the case of ArcheAge’s “RNGesus”, a seemingly parodic interpretation of Jesus Christ, players actively conduct rituals in his name. In my initial weeks of studying the game for my master’s thesis, I laughed off elements of culture such as this, assuming it was purely in jest. However, it wasn’t long before I was joining in the ritual activity, whether that entailed throwing captured fish back into the oceans to garner his favor, or sacrificing members of the enemy faction at the foot of his effigy.

A number of prolific scholars in this field have noted their experiences in online communities in a similar fashion. Bonnie Nardi’s anthropological work in World of Warcraft came to be titled “My Life as a Night Elf Priest”, and T.L. Taylor’s seminal work “Play Between Worlds” contained numerous stories of her personal experiences in both virtual space and real life conventions. I have repeatedly heard ethnography defined as a field of scientific cultural storytelling, and I think that branding is right on the money, as it were.

Remaining distanced and purely observational in the study of online culture and game spaces fails to take advantage of the interactive element that is inherent in the medium. Ethnographers interact within a space, prompting events and observable situations through their actions, just as a player operates within the function of a game system. At the heart of ethnography is a desire to understand what its like to inhabit a space or culture, and video games allow one to do so with relative ease.

I consider ethnography to be a qualitative methodology that serves to aid in interpreting the knowledge acquired through quantitative means, especially with regard to the understanding of player behavior and motivation in these spaces. One could argue that every player is a potential ethnographer, or at least a participant-observer.

This sense of understanding and experiential learning is why I aim to incorporate ethnographic studies into the majority of my work. While quantitative measures are certainly critical in identifying and applying the psychology of the players, there is a narrative element to this data that can be most successfully expressed through ethnographic study.

Game Studies: The Psychology of the “Player”


Recently, I have been introducing myself to the variety of fields that are often included in the interdisciplinary area and related subjects of game studies. Of all these assembled disciplines, psychology has shown itself to be rather pervasive and useful, joining ethnography and human-computer interaction in a trio of methods with which I intend to study player behavior and social capital as I move into my PhD work. As Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) are my current medium of choice, I want to use this blog entry to highlight some of the active topics of research in that sphere. In aiming to keep this post to a manageable size, I’ll focus on the concepts of social capital, trust, and motivation.



Social Capital, Bridging, and Bonding

According to a 2008 report by the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), there are over 147 million Chinese people playing online games, 53% of which are MMORPGs. World of Warcraft alone hit a peak subscription count of 12 million active subscriptions, which begs the questions of how online social interaction differs from its offline counterpart.

Researchers have pursued answers to this question for years, and studies such as Zhong (2011) out of Guangzhou’s Sun Yat-Sen University have shown that there are several interesting relationships between online and offline socialization. This and other studies have corroborated findings that online collective play have highly significant positive effects on offline civic engagement, and various online social structures can grant enhanced skills in social bridging and bonding. The concept of the gamer as largely anti-social is fading as more studies surface, and it’s no surprise that MMORPGs and online-enabled games are the big focuses for this era of game development. New titles such as Destiny are releasing to audiences of over nine million active users, and games rarely lack some form of online-enabled social design. As a result, online interaction is one of the hottest topics of study.

Trust and Truthfulness

One of the subsets of online interaction is the concept of trusting another individual or trusting in your social structure, whether these are players, guilds, or even entire factions. As Shen et al. (2010) note in their paper entitled “Schmoozing and Smiting”, trust is not only a vital element of social interaction and healthy relationships, but one that is radically shifting in the information age. Traditionally, the structures that work to establish and build trust were found in social institutions and societies at large. According to Giddens (1991) however, trust today is more a product of personal, individual interactions and commitments. This is largely due to the removal of unions, clans, and the concept of the neighborhood, thus leaving people to fend for themselves in society at large. This is not dissimilar to how MMORPG socialization functions, as  frequently  an individual player must work their way through the online world alone, with the only existing social structures being guilds and player cliques. This is a relatively literature-light section of games research, but one that is rapidly becoming a hot topic as social design affixes itself as a required element in video games.

Motivation and Commitment

Motivation is one of the key starting points for understanding the psychology of MMORPG players, and as such there have been a number of suggested archetypes for these individuals. Nick Yee in particular, whose Daedalus Project sought to compile a broad range of research into the psychology of these online games, sought to define these player types. One of his most circulated works is titled Motivations for Play in Online Games, and asserts that there are a large number of these motivating factors which group into three categories: achievement, social, and immersion.

While I won’t go into detail in the various elements of these player archetypes, many interesting motivations (and areas for study) exist in his model, such as optimization of characters, escapism, discovery, and provocation. This is a particularly relevant area of study for a reason that Yee states quite nicely at the end of the paper, asserting that while grouping people into “mmo players” may be nice for making sweeping generalizations about behavioral issues such as deviance and addiction, it fails to take into account that people play MMORPGs for a variety of reasons.

These reasons and their resultant effects on player behavior and social interaction are certainly a hot topic in game studies, and I would argue that they are the root of many research inquiries in the future.

I hope you found this to be an interesting look into the psychology of player behavior in MMORPGs, and that this piques your interest the subject! These are three areas that I have found to be frequently represented in critical discussion, and they are certainly things I will be exploring in my own studies of online games. My next entry will take a more personal look into the actions and social groups of players in these spaces, as I look at the field of ethnography and the cultures to be found in spaces such as Everquest, World of Warcraft, and ArcheAge.



Leonardo Fellow in Game Studies


Greetings, Leonardo readers! My name is Richard Wirth; I’m a master’s student at the University of Texas at Dallas, and Leonardo‘s first graduate student fellow. My primary area of research is in games and simulation, which I have recently been approaching through the lenses of behavioral studies and ethnography. Currently this is taking the form of a study on the communities and social structures of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs).


Whether analyzing the function of trust and truthfulness, social constructs such as guilds and alliances, or the way in which certain elements of game design affect player behavior, I find computer games to be some of the most interesting interactive media. Over the course of my fellowship, I will be posting blog entries relating to the study of games and their players. My previous work has been predominantly in the realms of interactive narrative and game design, and as such I intend my blog posts to coincide with my own ventures into related fields.

My initial research has found me exploring an interdisciplinary swath of areas, such as ethnographics, social psychology, human-computer interaction, perception, and more. During the course of my residency, I intend to write posts giving an academic beginner’s look into the correlation between game design and established fields of science. Additionally, I will attempt to relate various subject areas within game studies through brief forays into specific titles.

I look forward to relating my experiences in game studies through this blog, and will hopefully be able to use these writings to give an accessible look into my area of research!