Play Between Worlds
Exploring Online Game Culture
206 pp., 6 x 9 in, 13 illus.
- Published: February 13, 2009
- Publisher: The MIT Press
- Published: February 24, 2006
- Publisher: The MIT Press
A study of Everquest that provides a snapshot of multiplayer gaming culture, questions the truism that computer games are isolating and alienating, and offers insights into broader issues of work and play, gender identity, technology, and commercial culture.
In Play Between Worlds, T. L. Taylor examines multiplayer gaming life as it is lived on the borders, in the gaps—as players slip in and out of complex social networks that cross online and offline space. Taylor questions the common assumption that playing computer games is an isolating and alienating activity indulged in by solitary teenage boys. Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs), in which thousands of players participate in a virtual game world in real time, are in fact actively designed for sociability. Games like the popular Everquest, she argues, are fundamentally social spaces.
Taylor's detailed look at Everquest offers a snapshot of multiplayer culture. Drawing on her own experience as an Everquest player (as a female Gnome Necromancer)—including her attendance at an Everquest Fan Faire, with its blurring of online—and offline life—and extensive research, Taylor not only shows us something about games but raises broader cultural issues. She considers "power gamers," who play in ways that seem closer to work, and examines our underlying notions of what constitutes play—and why play sometimes feels like work and may even be painful, repetitive, and boring. She looks at the women who play Everquest and finds they don't fit the narrow stereotype of women gamers, which may cast into doubt our standardized and preconceived ideas of femininity. And she explores the questions of who owns game space—what happens when emergent player culture confronts the major corporation behind the game.
A fascinating peek into the formal and social architecture that undergirds and shapes the cultural phenomena that is EverQuest.
Jane C. Park
New Media and Society
Reading Play Between Worlds is anything but grinding. Taylor has long been one of the most nuanced scholars of life in the massively multiplayer game world, someone who knows her orc from her dark elves, who understands the complex intertwining of online and offline identities, and who has interesting things to teach us about the ethics of power gaming. At the same time, she is someone who asks big questions about the relationship between work and play, about the debates surrounding gender and games, and about issues of online governance and intellectual property which will shape the future interactions between gamers and game companies. Each of the book's chapters could be read and taught on its own terms; taken as a whole, they add up to a vivid picture of a world where many of us are spending lots of time these days.
Henry Jenkins, Director of Comparative Media Studies, MIT
An articulate and thoroughly researched work, Play Between Worlds is an intriguing look behind the curtain of the world's hottest entertainment phenomenon: virtual-world gaming. Unlike other academics who merely play tourist in these games, Taylor spent four years in one world and became part of the community. You get to reap the benefits of her close association with the people who make these worlds exciting: the players.
Jessica Mulligan, coauthor of Developing Online Games: An Insider's Guide