The volume is divided into four sections that examine World of Warcraft from different perspectives. The first, “Culture,” explores how the game reflects and reconstructs off-line culture and behaviors. The authors in this section discuss such topics as the connection between World of Warcraft and work (Rettberg); what it means to be a world of and at war (MacCallum-Stewart); how World of Warcraft both upholds and subverts traditional gender roles (Corneliussen); and Langer's argument that the Alliance and the Horde are not differentiated in terms of good versus evil but in terms of familiar versus other, specifically the racial or colonized other.

The second section investigates the “World” of World of Warcraft and how the structure of that world affects how players interact with it. Aarseth argues that World of Warcraft's lack of realism actually contributes to its success. Krzywinska and Walker Rettberg each discuss the non-linear narratives of World of Warcraft in their essays for this section. Klastrup, meanwhile, interviews players about their experiences of character death and argues that it is the penalty for death (loss of gear, time, and/or experience) that most affects players' perception of character death.

“Play” discusses how players interact with the game. In “Does World of Warcraft Change Everything?” Taylor examines how mods (third-party programs that can be run on the game's platform) allow for players to be constantly and quantifiably monitored. He argues that, although these tools can significantly aid players attempting to complete a cooperative task, they also normalize a state of constant surveillance. Mortensen investigates a variety of deviant playing strategies, defining “deviant” as both actions that are against the game rules (such as gold-farming) and actions which receive no in-game benefit (such as role-playing). In the same vein, MacCallum-Stewart and Parsler discuss the challenges of attempting to role-play in World of Warcraft.

“Identity,” the final and shortest section, examines how player-characters are established and developed. Tronstad discusses how and why players identify with their characters as well as the different types of identification. In “Playing with Names,” Hagström argues that names in World of Warcraft constitute a large portion of a player-character's identity. Because of the lack of physical and verbal identifiers, names become one of the few ways that a player can create a unique identity in the digital environment.


As one of the first book-length investigations of World of Warcraft, this collection does an excellent job of laying the groundwork for future scholarly work. This collection effectively demonstrates the numerous ways that literary and cultural theory can be applied to the study of MMORPG's, thus fulfilling one of the editors' primary goals. The essays also raise as many questions as they answer and point to a number of areas in need of further exploration. Finally, the collection provides enough background about World of Warcraft and game studies that readers who are less familiar with MMORPG's should find Digital Culture, Play, and Identity accessible.

Many of the essays tend to give a broad overview of a particular topic and some readers may be disappointed that the collection does not delve deeply into any one area. Additionally, all of the authors featured in the collection are European, which is perhaps not surprising as the editors are based in Norway. Given that World of Warcraft is created and distributed by a U.S.-based company, however, essays by American researchers might have provided an important alternative perspective on the game.


The essays in Digital Culture, Play, and Identity are excellent examples of the variety of ways in which scholars can approach the study of digital games. Although the editors of the collection mention their experiences teaching World of Warcraft, the book is aimed more at researchers than at instructors. The collection can be read and enjoyed without an extensive knowledge of the game, but it does presuppose a working knowledge of several schools of critical thought. It is probably best suited as a companion text for an upper-division or graduate level literature or culture course rather than for an introductory writing class. This collection would also be useful to instructors looking to refer students to an academic resource that covers a variety of topics related to digital games.

Reviewed by: Jennifer Kavetsky

Corneliussen, H., and Walker Rettberg, J., editors (2008).  Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 304 pages.


With ten million subscribers worldwide, World of Warcraft is currently the largest MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game) on the market. To date, much of the academic investigations of it and other MMORPG's have come from within the computer science and communication disciplines. In the introduction to Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader, Hilde G. Corneliussen and Jill Walker Rettberg argue that these games offer a rich site for analyses that employ literary and cultural theory; a position shared by a growing number of humanities scholars. The authors of the thirteen essays in the collection draw on their own experiences playing World of Warcraft and examine the game from a variety of critical positions including postcolonialism, gender studies, and textual analysis. Together, the articles in this collection provide a casebook of a major “text” (i.e. World of Warcraft) in the emerging field of game studies.