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.