Online Gaming in Context: The Social and Cultural Significance of Online Games

Online Gaming in Context: The Social and Cultural Significance of Online Games

Online Gaming in Context: The Social and Cultural Significance of Online Games

Online Gaming in Context: The Social and Cultural Significance of Online Games


There is little question of the social, cultural and economic importance of video games in the world today, with gaming now rivalling the movie and music sectors as a major leisure industry and pastime. The significance of video games within our everyday lives has certainly been increased and shaped by new technologies and gaming patterns, including the rise of home-based games consoles, advances in mobile telephone technology, the rise in more 'sociable' forms of gaming, and of course the advent of the Internet.

This book explores the opportunities, challenges and patterns of gameplay and sociality afforded by the Internet and online gaming. Bringing together a series of original essays from both leading and emerging academics in the field of game studies, many of which employ new empirical work and innovative theoretical approaches to gaming, this book considers key issues crucial to our understanding of online gaming and associated social relations, including: patterns of play, legal and copyright issues, player production, identity construction, gamer communities, communication, patterns of social exclusion and inclusion around religion, gender and disability, and future directions in online gaming.


The chapters in this book cover scholarship on a wide range of subjects such as communities, empowerment, consumption, game aesthetics and forms, identities, language, productivity and patterns of exclusion, by authors from a number of fields including communication studies, English, media studies, game studies, journalism, informatics, religious studies, sociology and visual culture. The uniting theme is, of course, online games and their game play.

Online games, i.e. games (and most typically what we would term ‘video games’) played on or over an Internet connection, have, in a relatively short period, become a significant cultural phenomenon. The most obvious, and frequently discussed, examples of this being the large number of massively multiplayer online role playing games (frequently abbreviated to MMORPGs or MMOs), which attract player communities larger than the population of many small- to medium-sized countries. The most popular game currently is World of Warcraft, which (at time of writing) has more than 11 million registered players. However, online gaming is not just about MMORPGs. Beyond these contemporary examples, video gaming and the Internet have a long and mutual (even, at times, symbiotic) relationship, with video games providing a key early use for computer networks, which in turn have played a significant role in video game development and culture, by allowing games to be accessed, distributed, modified and discussed over network connections. But the history of the Internet, and its links to video gaming, is rather complex.

This chapter therefore provides a brief introduction to the study of online gaming. It begins with a short history of the Internet and online gaming, and then (following Burn and Carr 2006) considers three key areas of debate in game research – the ludic, representational and communal aspects of online gaming. The final section of the chapter provides a brief overview of the structure and content of this book.

A brief history of online gaming

As any historian of worth would tell you, all history is contested. History is made, and then told by people, and people are inevitably subjective. Therefore, there is neither one history of the Internet nor that of video games, but rather a variety . . .

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