An anthropologist of ‘World of Warcraft:’ author explains how her work became play

by Heather Newman on May 27, 2010

More book details The University of Michigan Press released Bonnie Nardi’s new book on the online world video game World of Warcraft this week. For Nardi, an anthropologist by training and informatics professor by profession, it was the end of a long educational process, both for herself – she had never played the game before – and for her colleagues watching her work.

Here’s her take on the aftermath of writing My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft:

“My colleagues sometimes ask me, “Are you still studying World of Warcraft?” I can tell they are hoping I will say no, that I am finally done with that video game.

“I usually mumble something about another field study I am undertaking (an exploration of—very interesting site!), but the truth is I continue to  discover things about World of Warcraft that fascinate me. It is, after all, an artifact that engages the attention of more people than live in Sweden, people who freely choose to play, who have participated in skillfully and creatively rematerializing the game far outside its own borders with activities such as theorycrafting and modding.

“Beyond the intellectual interest the game sustains, the quirky texture of WoW still grabs me. I never get tired of hearing Putricide call out, “Good news everyone!” in that postmodern many-double-quotes-evil-child-mad-scientist voice. (Eds. note: Read on to hear him for yourself.)


“I like to check out guild and character names when pugging, e.g., a guild called Coniglietto Avariato. I asked what it meant and the pugger said, “Bunnies Gone Bad.” Tee hee. (Apparently a former guild master was Italian. I did not stop to ask why the singular was used…)

“It’s fun to get glimpses of people’s lives—kind of like  reality TV, only real—in voice chat, with references to experiences far outside my own life such as playing paintball, eating possum, working as a security guard at a nuclear power plant, to name a few recent things I heard in Vent.

“I’m not done with WoW because WoW is not done with itself. It is acquiring a history. Old schoolers remember how much harder it used to be to level, the presence of more elites, the grinding needed to acquire every possible potion and elixir for raiding.

WoW moves on like life. It has reintroduced temporality to modernity which has a tendency to do everything possible to drive it out. With WoW, our lives have more temporal refinement than just slogging our way to the weekend.

“We care about Tuesday and the fact that we may get a new patch or release (and darn it we can’t login for several hours, our weekly penance). We anticipate the Darkmoon Faire rolling around once a month. We look forward to annual holiday events. Every few years we get a BIG release—this year, nothing less than a Cataclysm!

“Which reminds me, it was just announced that the tickets for Blizzcon, that annual lovefest of Blizzard and gamers, will go on sale soon. It’s a game itself to figure out how to get one.”

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