When my WoW guild was first getting started, I invited a couple of kids to the guild because they really wanted to join. At the time I thought that our guild should be all inclusive (well… to a degree obviously) with the assumption that anyone who was not yet a good fit could learn to fit in. Ah the naive days of the opening weeks…
I was also playing around with action research ideas and using the guild as a testbed for enacting various ways of designing an online community, one which could live long after the founders had left. I was approaching it from a lot of what Kollock and Smith (and Ostrum) say make for effective online communities when they wrote about discussion listservs.
Sooo… I thought that even if the guild didn’t want to collectively try to teach these kids how to fit in, I could guide them myself. It didn’t work out so well. Actually, one of them was fine (the younger one). He seemed to get things and socialized easily. The other one just didn’t fit in and he didn’t improve no matter how many times I explained things to him. He kept begging other guild members for gold, kept rerolling characters and asking for them to be invited to the guild, kept being rather chaotic or something…. I felt really bad, but in the end, after talking it over with the other guild officers, we decided to let these kids go and find them a different guild to join.
Nick Yee asked me during DIGRA 2005 why I felt so compelled to help these kids rather than gkick them. I said something like I felt that it was my moral responsibility to help as many people as possible, especially when I take on the mindset that *everyone* should be given a chance. Today, I’d say that it is because I’m an educator in a democratic society, and part of my responsibilities as such are to cultivate civic participation and fight against social injustice. Leaving kids behind (virtually) because one has given up on them seems like an injustice to me.
I have this new frame of mind due to getting more and more involved with social justice issues both within UW’s College of Ed and education in general (and having taken part in the UW Teacher Education Program renewal project). It seems that we as educators should be striving to provide equal opportunity to resources to as many people as possible.
UW CoE right now is contemplating what this means for TEP. One approach, as supported by our new prof Morva Mcdonald, is to take a stance and say that we’re only going to accept students into our program who want to work in urban schools. Yes, a lot of good work can be done in middle-class schools, but there is a huge inequity in how good teachers are divvied up among public schools. We should address that issue.
This makes me wonder about games research. I should mention that I’ve also read Freire and hooks and Many Children Left Behind and a whole slew of other books in the last couple of years. In other words, social inequalities have been weighing heavily on my mind. Claude Steele came recently and did a presentation on stereotype and identity threat. (Forgive me Claude, for I am about to butcher this description…) Stereotype threat happens when people do poorer (or better, though that wouldn’t be threat) when they’ve received social cues about preconceived notions about how they will perform. For example, if you gave a math test to a white kid and as you gave it to him or her you said, “by the way, Asians tend to do better on this than others,” the performance of the white kid will be worse than if it wasn’t presented that way. It happens with gender, race, and pretty much any sort of stereotyped image. The identity threat concept says that people identify most with those identities which are the most threatened. So, for example, working-class girls might not see any gender preferences in their lives because they are so much more threatened by being from low-income households and therefore identify as being from that social class. Middle-class girls, on the other hand, unthreatened by their social class, see gender inequities all over the place and most identify as being female.
So, back to wondering about games research. It seems like a lot of people have been looking at player motivation to classify and understand behavior. For examples, see Richard Bartle’s classic taxonomy of player types and Nick Yee’s more recent data-focused classification system (click on the Motivations of Play in Online Games paper). I want to know… is it possible to use a completely different categorization scheme? What if we let players self-identify, not as player motivation types but as social group types and see if they most identify with those identities which are most threatened? For example, on my WoW server, the Horde are outnumbered… by A LOT. Many of the Horde really identify as being Horde. They really do feel oppressed. But would other players from other servers or whatnot most identify as being from a particular guild, or maybe identify as being from a real-life social group, or what? And would this new classification scheme give us insight into a way to look at player behavior which motivation doesn’t?
On the other hand, maybe we should be classifying classroom students based on motivation rather than perceived social group? hmmm….