Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Jessica L. Beyer's "Expect Us"

Jessica L. Beyer is a Research Scientist at the University of Washington in the Jackson School of International Studies and the Technology and Social Change Group in the Information School.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Expect Us: Online Communities and Political Mobilization, and reported the following:
Expect Us is a comparative ethnography that focuses on four online communities and asks why some end up mobilizing politically offline and others do not. The four communities I examine are Anonymous (, The Pirate Bay, World of Warcraft (WoW), and the posting boards attached to

Page 99 brings the reader into the middle of the WoW chapter—a chapter about an online community where people know each other well, where online identities are often closely tied to offline relationships/identities, and where people debate politically significant issues all the time. WoW is not one of my communities that mobilized politically in the offline world. Most people are interested in my “sexier” cases that did mobilize offline—Anonymous and The Pirate Bay—but my favorite chapter in the book is this chapter about WoW.

WoW is a massive multiplayer online roleplaying game that had 11.5 million people playing it at the height of its popularity. I found that in WoW, people are constantly debating and negotiating norms/ideas that have political significance, such as norms of fairness, public speech, and appropriate distribution of scarce resources. I also found that the reason that this micro-level, politically significant behavior never manifests as group-level political mobilization, as it does with an online community such as Anonymous, is because the ways in which people are allowed to communicate, establish reputations, and interact in the online space thwart large-group identity. Even in-game or game-related activism is largely individualized action.

With that as backdrop, p99 comes at the end of a section about guild norms and regulation that is dedicated to the ways in which guilds – a type of stable small-group identity – are left to self-regulate. Guilds are tiny, largely undemocratic, fiefdoms, serving to splinter the WoW community into thousands of small communities. They are often the settings for debates around issues such as appropriate public speech. Through guilds, players gain reputations. And, guilds are one of the major forces for behavior regulation in the game. Guilds self-regulate to such an extent that if one were to complain about derogatory or offensive language within a guild, the official response from Blizzard would be that the offended individual should leave the guild in question, rather than pushing the guild to change its behavior.
It is important to note that Blizzard does not seem to intervene in guilds that allow only male or female players, guilds that only allow people of a certain nationality (e.g., Dutch-only), guilds restricting membership based on age, or guilds that restrict on the basis of language (e.g., French Canadian guilds). There are also many Christian guilds, with places such as the Christian Gamers Alliance hosting lists and contact information for interested gamers. Other religion-based guilds appear to be rarer—with some impossible-to-substantiate rumors that Muslim-only guilds are not allowed. There is no evidence that race-/ethnicity-based guilds exist, which indicates that Blizzard is likely regulating them quickly or there are very few.

As I have discussed, because guilds form little worlds within the larger world, players devote a great deal of effort to regulating behavior inside the guild. However, because of the importance of reputation in WoW, they also expend a great deal of effort in regulating player behavior outside the guild.
Learn more about the book and author at Jessica L. Beyer's website.

--Marshal Zeringue