Mark Chen's dissertation on expertise development and collaboration with a group of World of Warcraft players. Focuses on the socially emergent definitions of expertise and collaborative work by trust building through camaraderie.
Hi! I’m Mark Chen at the University of Washington, College of Ed, and this is a presentation on my dissertation, which is basically a description of the practice and expertise development of a group of World of Warcraft players and how they learned to do a high-stakes, joint task together. The actual title for my dissertation is “Leet Noobs: An ethnographic look at communication, collaboration, expertise, and socialization in a World of Warcraft player group.” This work has been funded by the National Science Foundation through the Science of Learning Centers program. Specifically, I’m part of the Learning in Informal and Formal Environments Center. Let’s get started.
So… why games for learning? Well, first of all, this work comes from a sociocultural position in education that strives to understand learning as being deeply situated in specific contexts. What this means is that people learn in all sorts of settings that are personally consequential to them. I happen to be looking at online games as a site for consequential meaning-making, and I’ll quickly cover four points that make games for learning compelling.
Point one – Everyday learning and expertise
I belong to the Everyday Science & Technology Group at UW, a sub-group of the LIFE Center. My work focuses on online gaming, but, here, you can see some of the other settings that other scholars in ESTG have been looking at. Some of the most interesting work that is happening now is identifying linkages between all these sites across time, looking specifically at how experiences over a lifetime can become laminated such that people build identities as learners.
I value everyday learning because people make consequential decisions that affect their lives in everyday settings. Expertise here is defined as the ability to display embodied expert practice in a particular setting. Another way of thinking about it is through new literacy studies, which considers literacy as the ability to participate in a given Discourse or community of practice.
Ok, so expertise exists everywhere. But exactly how does an individual or a group of people gain expertise?
Well, one way to get at it is through the concepts of social and cultural capital.
We can think about expertise in terms of social and cultural capital. Social capital is being able to make friendships and build networks, and it is necessary in order to find sponsorships into expert groups.
Thomas Malaby summed up cultural capital in his book Making Virtual Worlds pretty well. The part that is important for my work is the embodied form of cultural capital, that is, knowledge of the practices of a particular domain or culture. Malaby added the concept of contingency, where successfully performing actions that are risky or have a chance at failure is more valued than non-contingent actions. In terms of expertise, being able to identify which actions are worth attempting means one has embodied capital about expert practice.
These forms of capital are important for any consequential setting. Very important for online games. One states that building relationships is important. The other values deep understanding of valid contingent actions. Both of these point to the sociocultural nature of legitimate practice and expertise.
But, what does embodied capital look like? An answer lies with the concept of new literacies, including new media literacies, and a new push towards 21 st century skills.
We live in a rapidly changing digital world, pushing towards what Henry Jenkins calls a “participatory culture.” This has forced us to start rethinking what it means to be successful in life. To be successful in this new culture and society, people need new 21 st century skills. In a mashup between the Project New Media Labs’ white paper and the National Research Council’s report on science education and 21 st century skills, I distilled their reports into these five essential skills to have. Being able to do these things performs and displays embodied capital. I’ll really quickly go through each one now.
The ability to produce, consume, remix, and critique all sorts of media is necessary for an engaged public. This remixed image is pretty salient right now…
Being able to communicate and coordinate with others means being able to take collective action on large projects and problems. This is an image of a mixed-reality game of Pac-Man in an urban setting.
Playing, tinkering, and problem solving is something everyone should be able to do. We should all be scientists and engineers. We should all be gamers. This is a mashup image of the game Portal and MC Escher.
Role-playing requires imagination and future projections about what could be. We need to be able to perform in different settings and be metacognitive about where we are in relation to our goals. Here we see Lisa Nova who is a comedienne and actress who is pretty popular on YouTube and does parody videos of other YouTube genres of videos. This is her parody of the make-up tutorial genre. -- Bransford, Brown, Cocking. (2000). How people learn.
Finally, to think in systems and form social networks that take advantage of those systems opens us up to global possibilities, taking advantage of all of our collective resources. And here’s Obama’s Facebook profile.
Just as an example of how gaming is a new literacy, here’s a screenshot from World of Warcraft , the game the people I study play. All that stuff is meaningful to me and other WoW players! To take advantage of its hugely configurable/customizable user interface, you have to know what’s important, what’s needed, what could be, etc.
Here’s an overlay view of what each element on the screen is. Even with these labels, for a non-WoW player, it’s unclear what everything is, right? And that’s the point. It’s a new literacy because it takes specialized cultural knowledge about how to participate. But why would you want to participate?
This leads to the last point about games for learning.
Games address all these 21 st century skills. Good games have systems of rules and constraints that set up a foundation for exploration that leads to emergent patterns of play as players develop practices that work around the constraints. Being able to identify these emergent patterns and exploit the systems is what makes an expert gamer.
Good games also provide sites for enacting powerful stories. People don’t just read or watch the narrative; they create it.
With all that said, what’s the deal with World of Warcraft ? Well, it’s a massively multiplayer online game, meaning there are many, many players on at the same time playing together. When I was doing data collection, it had 6 million subscribers worldwide. Today it has 11.5 million. It follows a traditional fantasy genre with races such as orcs, elves, and dwarves to play.
It also follows the tradition of allowing players to choose an archetype to play, such as Warrior, Priest, Mage, and Rogue. Each of these archetypes plays a specific role in the game, giving a player a narrowed set of abilities that lets him or her specialize in the role of their archetype.
A player’s goal, after creating his or her character, is to complete in-game quests and kill monsters for loot and experience. With enough experience, the character gains a level and becomes more powerful, able to take on greater challenges. Same thing with better loot.
And it has a huge participatory culture. WoW has the biggest wiki after Wikipedia. But back during my data collection, all of that stuff—web resources and such—were just getting started. In other words, the time in which my research takes place situates it well in understanding the emergent practices of a new culture.
The specific activity I study is called raiding. It involves a large group of players aligning their schedules to meet up in game, attempting to kill certain boss monsters together, which they normally wouldn’t be able to tackle alone. This is an image of Molten Core, where most of the raiding occurred with my group of players, and up at the top-right is a map of the raid zone. Each dot and line shows where monsters are located. Raiding is highly coordinated and takes a huge amount of organization and leadership.
How much organization and leadership? This is a diagram from Moses Wolfenstein who is doing research on leadership in WoW and in schools. I won’t go into it in detail, but basically this lists all the tasks that go into leading a raid.
I followed the tradition of games ethnography, similar to what Constance Steinkuehler did with another MMOG called Lineage and now with WoW. The way I collected my data was through participant-observation. In other words, I was a player with a newly formed raid group at the end of 2005 and followed the group through its endeavors until the group broke up in mid-2006. Most of my data is chat logs, but I also have about 100 hours of video data and various posts from web forums that my raid group used. The language used by players was specific to the game, and by playing, I gained what Stevens and Hall call a “disciplined perception” of the talk and actions in the game. Here’s an example of how using ethnographic methods was useful. -- Stevens, R. and Hall, R. (1998). Disciplined perception : learning to see in technoscience , pages 107-147. Learning in doing. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, U.K. ; New York.
Here’s the chat in plain English. And yet, it’s still not understandable unless you know what some of these terms mean.
And so here’s an unpacking of some of the terms.
Along with discourse and interaction analysis, I used Rogoff, et al.’s Functional Pattern Analysis and chat visualization techniques to identify patterns to then investigate. With FPA, I wrote synopses of specific encounters to find patterns across encounters and identify differences or disruptions. -- Jordan, Brigitte and Austin Henderson. (1995). Interaction analysis: Foundations and practice. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 4 (1), 39-103. Rogoff, B., et al. (2002). Mutual contributions of individuals, partners, and institutions: Planning to remember in girl scout cookie sales. Social Development, 11(1 ), 266-289.
The two chapters from my dissertation that I’ll cover in this presentation are on the social dimensions of expertise and how communication and coordination depended on trust and camaraderie.
Expertise could be thought of in terms of the game mechanics. WoW has a lot of numbers to keep track of.
But I posit that expertise includes much more than knowledge of game mechanics. In fact, it’s possible to offload the cognition needed in order to keep track of all those numbers onto other resources within the network. Expertise, then, is doing what experts do… E.g., using external resources, using certain addons, and also negotiating roles and responsibilities, making arguments about game strategies, and building social networks so you have access to expert groups. In other words, the way in which players did their work in the game was emergent out of the push-pull relationship between constraints and player workarounds. Here’s a shot from a Rogue’s point of view. To be effective, I had to depend on addons and negotiated ways of playing that weren’t tied to what the game provided.
How did we do this? We used many different chat channels during our raiding activity. Here’s a list of the common ones. Say, whisper, party, and raid were available to everyone. The others were specialized, roughly divided by character class or role and assigned responsibilities during a fight.
It was hierarchical in the sense that the different roles would keep their discussion about strategy internal until there was something that needed to be elevated to the larger raid group. It was interwoven, sometimes hopping from voice to text or say to raid, etc. And, similar to Hutchins’s description of a naval vessel navigating a bay or harbor, often when one group was talking about a particular strategy, another group was also talking about it! They didn’t know the others were talking about it, but it was simultaneous and coordinated in that way.
What I found was that the level of chat during a given play session was a good indicator of how well we were performing that night. When we did well, there was a lot of talk and most of it was jovial. When we did poorly, our chat activity was low, and it was sometimes terse and tense. This makes me think that trust can be measured by chat activity and quality. Furthermore, the kinds of trust that we had in each other was borne out of the emergent expertise that we had developed together .
When the group did not communicate effectively (and did not joke around) the group did poorly. I think the trust players had in themselves and each other was temporarily disrupted until they could recover through alignment work to make sure individuals were on board with the group’s values and goals.
Brandt, D. (1998). Sponsors of literacy. College Composition and Communication, 49 (2), 165-185.
Cognitive frameworks for expertise need to be rethought in social settings. Expertise is about the community around the game, not the game itself. Specifically, it’s about the emergent practice the community engages in. What’s more, the details suggest that trust (through social and cultural capital) can be used to understand how groups develop this emergent practice!