Tag Archives: video games

Originally posted on the Connected Learning Research Network blog, 10.26.12:

During my fieldwork in Sackboy Planet, an online community of LittleBigPlanet2 players, I frequently observed community members sharing their designed levels with others and for various purposes.1 Usually, players share their levels-in-progress on the website’s forums for feedback from others players to improve their skills and designs, to promote their own content, and to participate in level design contests that have exciting rewards. Most often, levels were shared in areas of the forum designated for self-promotion. But on occasion players would share their content elsewhere on the website in order to strategically garner the kind of attention they want to their projects.

One such example of this can be seen in a post in the forum created by a community member named Sacklad. His post, which existed in a highly visible section of the forum designated for feedback on level design, was among the most popular posts in the section. The post, however, did not in its entirety meet the rules of this section of the forum. The administrators of the forum leave notes, called sticky posts, that set the terms for what can be shared in this section of the forum. Without these rules, discussion would be too unwieldy and difficult to navigate for people looking for other kinds of content or conversations. The first third of the 150+ pages of responses to the Sacklad’s post is devoted to topic-appropriate talk about idea development and designer recruitment for his own project, but after a certain point Sacklad stopped soliciting new ideas and new teammates. Instead, he used the remaining 100 pages of posts to share updates about the game and entice readers to follow the project until its release. Some community members became irritated that the thread drifted from the stated topic, and requested that they move their discussion to a private group. However, Sacklad felt that keeping it public was important:


I said that because I want the rest of Sackboy Planet to know that this project is still in development…and by the way, this is the most visited thread on the site…I want everyone to know ;)”

In order to promote his own content, Sacklad strategically navigated not only the rules of Sackboy Planet that restrict certain kinds of off-topic discussion but also the publics of the online community. In doing so, he developed an approach that functioned similarly to the use of a megaphone in a crowded room: he was able to generate an incredible amount of interest in his work while part of a community saturated by others’ projects.

Sometimes players preferred sharing their levels-in-progress in less public environments, and they used different content sharing mediums as well as privacy settings to reach the kind of audiences they were looking for. Instead of posting on the forums, Luchadoro created a blog post in the online community announcing his project and requesting feedback:

“I need a group of testers to play my level, identify bugs or problems with the game, and submit these errors to me. If you are interested I will send you a private message containing a highly secret code needed to access and play the level. Then you can find some friends (three, for the most fun!), play the level a lot and share any problems with me!”

Blog posts exist in a separate area of the website, and while most are viewable to the public they are less readily visible than the forums. Moreover, Luchadoro used privacy settings within the game design itself to require a code or password to view his project. I asked him why he used blogging and passwords instead of simply posting in the forums:

“I wanted to make sure [the level] was bug-proof and that everything worked smoothly. And I also wanted to award players with a preview of the level. I wanted feedback. That was my main goal.”

The use of blogs and codes allowed him to solicit feedback and avoid sharing a level that had lots of bugs, or problems, in its design. I followed up by asking him if he would have received the same kind of feedback if he posted in the much more public forums. For Luchadoro, the use of blog posts and privacy settings in the game design enabled him to reach his desired audience:

“I would have gotten feedback I think. But for one thing the level could have had a lot of bugs. And for another it’s much easier to get feedback if you actually ask people for feedback. It’s way more likely to get detailed, very informative feedback. Actually I got a message for two full pages of feedback, so it was worth it. After about six testers I turned everyone down.”

By sharing his level-in-progress through blogs, a quasi-public medium on the website, and using game codes, or privacy settings in the game that restrict who sees your project, Luchadoro strategically navigated online publics in Sackboy Planet to reach his desired audience. Moreover, he sought this particular audience because he was not ready to share it with everyone yet – it had bugs and was still in development. While the website does officially designate spaces to share levels for feedback, those spaces reach a very broad public. Luchadoro used blogs and passwords to innovatively negotiate online publics in Sackboy Planet to create a context for level development and learning most ideal for him.

While these examples stand as interesting cases that show how gaming and online communities can provide multiple avenues to share work, solicit feedback, and learn, scholars of new media and culture may find them interesting, as well. Members of Sackboy Planet have the opportunity to not only consume game content but alsoprosume – players produce levels for others to play, as well.2 Moreover, on Sackboy Planet attention can be rather scarce. Not every created level is played by everyone and receives feedback and commendation, a reflection of a form of inequality termed attention scarcity.3 But sometimes attention scarcity is not simply about the need to reach any audience but it is rather a problem of reaching the intended one amid a larger crowd. In her research, boyd (2008) shows that teens navigate multiple channels of communication online for varied purposes and with different consequences.4 Similarly, members of Sackboy Planet strategically negotiate online publics to share their work with peers and overcome dimensions of attention scarcity, creating the kind of experience they seek as community participants and budding level designers.

(1) All group and individual names have been changed to protect the identity of respondents.

(2) Rizter, G. and N. Jurgenson. 2010. “Production, consumption, prosumption.” Journal of Consumer Culture. 10(1): 13-36.

(3) Hargittai, E. 2000. “Open Portals or Closed Gates? Channeling Content on the World Wide Web.” Poetics. 27(4): 233-254.

(4) boyd, d. 2008. Taken Out of Context: American Teen Sociality in Networked Publics. PhD Dissertation. University of California-Berkeley, School of Information.

Special thanks to Rona Sheen who assisted with data collection and analysis for this post.

Originally posted on the Connected Learning Research Network blog, 9.12.12:

While news about sexism in gaming came as a shock to many media outlets in recent months, researchers of gender and game culture were not surprised. In fact, much scholarly work over the past decade has documented how sexism, racism, and homophobia persist in many online communities, including gaming communities.1 There are some recent studies, however, including discussion of Starcraft communities by my colleague Yong Ming Kow, that reveal the persistence and success of some female gamers. In this post I hope to briefly review some perspectives on gender and sexism among gamers and in online communities, an important barrier to examine in the interest of understanding connected learning environments, and conclude by comparing and contrasting some of my own data from online communities of LittleBigPlanet2 players. I conclude by arguing that questions still remain as to whether we are seeing online communities embrace gender equitable social standards, how women gamers negotiate gender status in these communities, and why.

Recent data suggests that while interest in gaming among young female players is growing, young women are still playing console and handheld games at rates far less than are young men.2 Two related perspectives provide leads as to why this may be the case: the cultural barriers of the community impede the proliferation of women gamers, and the enabling or constraining effect of gender categories that women adopt as gamers. With regard to the first suggestion, recent news coverage has demonstrated that many online contexts can enable sexism towards women not unlike that faced by women in many face-to-face contexts.3 One important example is Anita Sarkeesian, who after posting youtube videos that critique sexism online, was vociferously condemned through comments and emails, her life was threatened, and people posted violating pictures and video games in her likeness that simulate violent assault. Social codes may exist in online communities that do not restrict but rather condone sexist behavior. This suggests that cultural contexts can matter in shaping whether or not sexism is allowed.

The second perspective argues that as young women grow and adopt dominant, age-specific gender identities that place restrictions on gaming, fewer women play games. This perspective assumes that cultural ideals of femininity and womanhood that exist in the context of the child (situated locally, nationally, and globally) inform whether and how gaming is taken up by players. In this view, collectively endorsed ideals of womanhood do not accommodate most forms of gaming or gamer identity; for a woman to be a gamer she may not be taken seriously, and may not even be a “real” woman at all. Contemporary research on technology, gender and selfhood finds that technologies can become gendered through their cultural appropriation, and that women differ in the ways that they engage with technology. Most pertinent to the cases at hand, Royse et al. (2007), in their study of women gamers, find that women adopted three types of gendered selves with regard to gaming.4 Some women, like those Kow identifies in his post, are “power gamers” who play many kind of games and employ gaming technology in ways that contest and produce different kinds of gendered selves that enable gaming. “Moderate gamers” used games casually as distractions, and typically reinscribed gender divisions. And lastly, “non-gamers” saw games as a waste of time, and reproduced a gendered femininity opposed to gaming altogether. No research to date has quantitatively examined the whether these identities are adopted in different magnitudes and can be used to explain observed gender differences in statistics, but it remains a likely possibility.

Like Kow’s post on female players in Starcraft II player communities, I did not find many active and/or prominent women gamers in the online communities. However, among the few that I identified, I found that they did adopt variations of “moderate gamer” and “power gamer” identities, and these variations informed the kinds of activities that they pursued in the online community and in the game. One moderate gamer, Julie, was an active leader of a game-based competition modeled after the “Survivor” television series; as part of her job, she oversees the organization of the contests that occur in both the game and in the forums, and handles conflicts between players.5She was not interested in other aspects of the game, such as level design, which is widely held by the community to be the most desirable activities and skill sets. Julie could not pinpoint exactly why she was not interested in level design – she simply was not interested. Mary, another player, is respected by the community for, and prides herself in, her regular welcoming of new members on the Introductions page of the community. Her own created avatar wears a dress and has lipstick, which many consider to be female-identifiable clothing. She also favors community management and social upkeep over level design. These two players represent women in the community who are not typical game players, but rather engage in community- and game-level activities not atypical of women in other settings.

One player who stood out in my data was Abby, who was well known among the community as a respected level designer. She considers herself quite tech-savvy, much more tech-savvy than most women she knows. She confirmed that there are very few other women who are gamers, let alone level-designers, but she saw this as an opportunity rather than a hindrance. Abby, whom her older brother introduced to the game, reflected that gamer guys treat gamer women much differently than they do other boys, noting that the majority of them think it is really cool when a girl is a gamer. It gives her more attention among gamers:

It’s fun to win against a bunch of guys in a game (i.e. Call of Duty) because at the beginning, they just think ‘Oh she’s a girl, she probably isn’t a real gamer.’

For Abby, the position of woman gamer identity affords an “underdog” effect in a community dominated by male gamers. Moreover, this effect reveals the cultural assumption in this context that the categories of “woman” and “gamer” are not assumed to be typical.

Although my sample of observed and interviewed women gamers is small (N=3, people!), data reveals that cultural assumptions persist among community members regarding the lack of alignment of the female gender category and gamer identity. These assumptions may permeate among the identities of women themselves, but certainly persist in the cultural context of the players. A more interesting question may be how online communities vary in the extent to which these supposed competing codes of “woman” and “gamer” are policed; LittleBigPlanet2 online communities typically have low barriers for entry across a number of skill and status characteristics (including age, nationality, and skill), and may be less sexist than other online contexts such as those in which Anita Sarkeezian endured gender-targeted violence. Identifying characteristics of online communities that maintain low barriers for entry, including the maintenance of a gender-inclusive environment, is an important goal for research on peer-supported learning and engagement.

(1) Gray, Kishonna L. 2012. “Intersecting Oppressions and Online Communities.” Information, Communication & Society, Vol. 15, Issue 3, pp. 411-428.

(2) Kaiser Family Foundation. 2010. “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds.”

(3) Newitz, Analee. 2012. “The Great Geek Sexism Debate.” io9.

(4) Royse et al. 2007. “Women and games: technologies of the gendered self.” New Media & Society, Vol. 9 (4): 555-578.

(5) All individual names have been changed to protect the identity of respondents.

Originally posted on the Connected Learning Research blog, 8.7.12:

Q: how do you know someone is a n00b?


Q: hahahaha. so all caps probably!

A: Or all lower case XD

Q: ah, like me 🙂

A: run on sentences 😛


The above excerpt is from an interview with a community member at a popular online website for LittleBigPlanet 2 players, Sackboy Planet (1). In an earlier post, I shared my first experiences with the Playstation 3 game and reflected on the learning opportunities of its community-driven, companion online communities. In the above example, I asked questions of my respondent using all lower-case lettering; little did I know that this was considered by members of Sackboy Planet to be indicative behavior of “n00bs,” or beginners. On Sackboy Planet, community members actively identify and police behavior to uphold an etiquette of interaction idealized by the community. “n00bs,” along with other labels such as “troll” and “idol,” are classifications used strategically by members to develop a shared culture and purpose through peer interaction on Sackboy Planet.

When I first visited Sackboy Planet and registered with the community, I was automatically directed to the “Introductions” section of the website. I scrolled through hundreds of posts where other new members posted a brief introduction about themselves to the rest of the community. New users often share brief stories about why they joined the website or what their favorite things are about the game. Some new users, however, write introductory posts that direct people to their created levels or other user-created content (some examples of content are discussed here), but they are met with responses that offer correctives to their language: “Before asking people to subscribe to your Youtube account, please tell a little more about who you are.” Others respond in kind: “Let people get to know who you are first before asking us to look at your creations.” Community standards of talk are expressed and enforced through interaction online, requiring certain ways of communicating in order to maintain legitimacy. Before users demonstrate this base level of literacy they are overlooked. Interviews with group members revealed that there was more to this than simply a few rules about introductions. After asking one member what determines who gets heard most on the forums, they expressed that “if it appears to be a ‘n00b’ then their post will mostly likely be skimmed or skipped.”

What, exactly, is a n00b? Are there other status labels that exist in the community? How are they determined, and what impact do such labels have on interaction more broadly? These were questions I began to think about as I found that identity categories exist within the online community that are attached to particular kinds of talk and behavior. Through interviews and forum participation, I found that three main categories permeate the forums – n00bs, trolls, and idols – and community members strategically employ them through interaction to identify “good” and “bad” forum behavior, informing not only the status of other members but also the valuation of their shared content. As in the quote at the beginning of this post, n00bs use forms of grammar that do not meet the standards of English used by other members of the forum, such as use of all capitals or all lower case lettering. n00bs are also often described as immature, or children, or both. On Sackboy Planet, n00bs, along with trolls, represent the least reputable members of the community. One interviewed member described to me how he was labeled a troll and was harassed by community members after he called someone a n00b in a forum thread. In these online contexts, trolls are members who actively insult other members and are perceived to intentionally cause harm, creating threads or posts that irritate or defame others in the community.

While n00bs and trolls represent unsocialized and unwelcome types of members, respectively, idols are the embodiment of community ideals. When asked about one popular user on Sackboy Planet, a member expressed that “He was my idol. The levels he made were so awesome I wanted to know his secret. What was he able to do that I wasn’t?” Idols are celebrities who are often considered to be role models that motivate other members to improve their craft and succeed. Idols can take a number of forms, though on Sackboy Planet they are often skilled level designers, or are well known for other roles such as organizing popular social events or serving as curators of undiscovered content in the level databases. In interviews, idols describe many perks of their status: “Celebrity status helped me reach more people and I could find those people I work well with.” Idols gain exclusive access to other celebrity players to collaborate with on projects. Additionally, content created and shared by celebrity players is almost always readily viewed and evaluated, whereas n00bs and trolls have a more difficult time getting similar attention to their creations. Interestingly, while n00bs and trolls are labels tied primarily to certain ways of talking or acting in forums, idols’ status is also fueled by the perceived skill or service to the community.

Community-informed status categories, such as n00b, troll, and idol, are used by members to distinguish “good” and “bad” behavior in the forums and to cultivate a peer-supported community centered on their shared interest and purpose. These categories allow typical users to socialize new members (n00bs) into the norms of the website, police unwelcome behavior (trolls), and sacralize community ideals (idols). The cultural etiquette on the forums dictate whose “voice” is heard in the community, and also whose user-generated content is viewed, shared, and celebrated. In sum, these labels are employed to inhibit unwelcome types of interactions on the forum and reward good behavior. Although Sackboy Planet provides an example of how these categories are used to ward off hostility and maintain low barriers for entry to unskilled players, these standards are by no means universal to all online communities. In fact, the meaning and use of terms such as n00b and troll may vary and be applied to different types of behavior. Persistent stigmatization of n00bs or the elective isolation of skilled idols from new members that need mentorship may act as barriers to an integrated learning community. On the other hand, established idols may also participate as active and engaged role models, energizing the community around shared set of interests and creating an ideal environment to play and learn.

(1) All group and individual names have been changed.

Originally posted on the Connected Learning Research Network blog, 7.20.12.

When I first started playing LittleBigPlanet2, a Playstation 3 game created by the company Media Molecule, I was both excited and frustrated. I was excited because the graphics, characters, and story of the side-scrolling platform were stunning and engaging. I controlled a character named Sackboy, an adorable humanoid creature made of fabric, as he navigated puzzles and dispelled baddies on the way to saving his home planet, Craftworld, from an evil inter-dimensional vacuum cleaner. But I became frustrated as I discovered some of the more creative and challenging features of the game, including the level design editor. I tried to design the simplest elements of a level — such as creating fireworks — and failed miserably. My fireworks didn’t look like fireworks at all, and I felt as though I was a disappointment to my Sackboy and the Craftworld universe.

After spending more time in Craftworld, I discovered that many other players just like me were creating levels and sharing them with other players. Players were creating all sorts of levels, including similar side-scrolling games, remakes or remixes of old games like Tetris or The Legend of Zelda, and creating music videos or producing their own movies.  To my surprise, I found a level created by a user who had not only figured out how to do fireworks, but assembled an entire recreation of the Disney fireworks display. I was in awe. Reinvigorated by not only the potential of the game but also of my peers, I desperately Googled to find out whether other players had shared information or guides, so that I could learn more about how to use the editor. It was then that I discovered Sackboy Planet, and both my appreciation of the LittleBigPlanet2 and engagement with the level editor have never been the same (1).

The over 1,000 active members of Sackboy Planet (23,000 have registered since its launch several years ago) collectively produce and curate in-depth tutorials and informational YouTube videos for new learners.  Moreover, sections of the website are devoted for “feedback to feedback,” or users reciprocally providing assistance to others as they work through issues with their designs. The editor provides a low barrier to entry by making basic level creation as simple as dragging a paintbrush across a canvas. However, it also allows for incredibly complex creations using logic, math, spatial relations, sophisticated camera control, and musical composition, resulting in a very high ceiling for achievement. In this way, LittleBigPlanet2 provides an academically-oriented context for players.  Moving back and forth between the game and Sackboy Planet, players engage in production-centered level design and share their creations both in the game and in forums on the Internet, such as Sackboy Planet. They can earn publicly visible badges for creating popular levels.

My research interests in peer-supported contexts make LittleBigPlanet2 and Sackboy Planet ideal environments through which to study learning. For the past 9 months I’ve been conducting ethnographic fieldwork on LBP2 creator communities, centered on Sackboy Planet. After just a few short weeks of hanging out on Sackboy Planet, I became acquainted with a major community ritual: contests. The first time I visited the contest section of Sackboy Planet I was stunned by its level of activity. There are routinely hundreds and sometimes over a thousand responses to contest threads soon after they are posted. The most popular contests provide opportunities for community members to submit original level designs created through the game’s level editor. Contest judges select a theme that must be used in the submissions, such as recreating an old video game or developing a unique movie production. As the contest continues, submitted levels are played by not only the judges but also the entire community. Peers provide supports through comments that say “Great job!” or “Try to improve this part of the level”; contestants often revise their levels as they receive feedback from community members before they are evaluated by judges and the winner is announced.  Rewards for winning also vary, and have included badges and small gift cards. However, a primary motivation behind the contests is the opportunity to share creations with an engaged community which supports players’ hard work at improving their craft.

Sackboy Planet embodies an interest-powered learning community, and provides a number of exciting mechanisms, such as contests, for learning and improvement through a shared purpose.  Together, LittleBigPlanet2 and Sackboy Planet provide the tools, contexts, and supports needed to develop a shared culture and purpose through peer interaction.

(1) All group and individual names have been changed to protect the identity of respondents.