Games People Play and CMC

This week’s blogging assignment is actually fun because it is all about online gaming and whether or not I think “online gaming” should be a part of a CMC course. I say it’s fun because I had the opportunity to recruit two leading experts who are a major part of the online gaming world to give me some insight. These experts are my children – my nine year-old son Andrew and my eight year-old daughter, Katharine. Who would have thought that my very own children could actually help me with my graduate school homework? It is usually the other way around, me helping them with their spelling, math, and science projects. Now they know how I feel when I am in the middle of something and they yell, “Mommmmmmm how do you spell computer??” “What’s 7 times 9?” “Can you help me build my volcano for science class?” With this assignment, it was, “Andrew, which Lego game for the Wii has the best YouTube videos?” “Katharine, what is your new password so I can get on Webkinz?” “Would one of you guys please go to KinzChat so that I can write my blog?” Revenge can be so sweet!!

Anyway, it is kind of ironic, but because they do play a lot of games I thought it would be helpful if I talked with them about what they actually do when they are online. I figured they could help me find out information that I was not aware of before. I also thought I would be able to have a little bit of fun in the process. Then I thought it could also be cool if I attempted to apply some of what I learned this semester about informatics, social networking, community, technological determinism, and family time to this week’s assignment.

Starting with informatics, which is the retrieval of information, I looked for examples within the online gaming world to see if I could find any kind of a story. Right off the bat, there was an obvious example. Andrew has a Nintendo Wii and some of the games he plays include the Lego games – Star Wars, Batman, and Indiana Jones, as well as Ghostbusters, and the Sonic series. Sometimes when he is playing these games he gets stuck on a certain level and needs a little bit of help in trying to advance. Enter YouTube. Almost every American knows what YouTube is and what it does, so I am not going to get into it on this blog. However, specific to assisting Andrew in his quest of beating a video game, he usually turns to YouTube for help. For example, if I type in “Lego Batman video game Wii” in the search box over 500 results are displayed that either show game trailers or walkthroughs in how to actually beat the game. One video that I found showed a teenage boy sitting at his computer playing the game and talking the audience through it as he played. He was very serious in explaining the game – typical computer nerd. But, hey if he helps Andrew when he is stuck on one little move, it is better than having to listen to him yell at the Wii as if he is being tortured.

Now, as for the subjects of social networking and community in terms of online gaming, they can really go hand-in-hand. For instance, now that I am an active member of Facebook, and getting to know all of its nuances, I went to its web site, logged in, and looked for online gaming communities. Using “online gaming” as my search terms, once again, I ended up getting over 500 results. The communities range in content from tips and advice to actually playing games against other members of the community. Some of the tips include how to beat different games, things to do to improve your computer hardware, and how to get your hands on some of the hottest titles that are out there. You can chat with other members of your online gaming community and get to know others who are a part of the gaming world. Most of the communities are based in the United States, but I did find some based in England and Italy. Using Facebook in this manner is really an efficient way to bring gamers together who are from different parts of the world. However, my son is not old enough to be a member of Facebook, but I am. Even so, given his age and innocence, I would never become a member of any of those communities for him and then let him log onto my account and surf around as he pleases. I am okay with him visiting YouTube because he is only able to retrieve information and he cannot communicate with anyone.

The final two topics that I am going to discuss are the topics of technological determinism and family time. You might be wondering how in the world the two could be connected. Believe me, I was extremely surprised when I first made the discovery but I can certainly see the connection. Okay, as a review, technological determinism is based on the belief that a change in technology would cause a change in social behavior. Regarding family time, we already know the results from the Annenberg School of Communication study which talked about the amount of time families are spending together being on the decrease. All of this is due to the amount of time spent on the Internet and social networking sites. I could be wrong about this, but I think a classic case of social behavior being determined by technology or a development in technology is the Webkinz web site.

I talked with my daughter about how much time she spends on the Webkinz site and what she does when she is playing. A feature that is clearly an example of CMC is the KinzChat, where you can “call” friends who are on your friends list and if they are online playing you can chat with them and play games. Through KinzChat you can also meet up with each other’s Webkinz in the Webkinz Clubhouse and hang out. Where the technological determinism comes in is because the kids are spending so much time on this web site that parents want a part of the action. After finding out more about the Webkinz World, I discovered that there are parents who have their very own Webkinz and have their very own account so that they can play on the site themselves. Also, if they have more than one computer in the house, they can play with their children. I was really amazed that an adult would want to spend his or her precious free time in Webkinz world. But, I guess if it helps to improve the family time, then it is all for a good cause. In summary, the creation of Webkinz, has created a change in social behavior amongst adults. For the record, I do not have my own account, nor will I be getting one.

So, in a nutshell, do I think that online gaming should be a part of a CMC course? Absolutely. As demonstrated, there are so many examples and it opens up an entire new world where I see so many research studies that can be developed. How about the effect of the Webkinz World on parents? How about using YouTube videos as a way to facilitate the gaming experience? How about studying online communities in the gaming world? These are just a few of the many possibilities! To me the topic certainly sounds promising. Maybe it’s just that I like the fact that by studying online gaming in relation to CMC, I can be a part of my children’s community and increase our amount of family time.