Naked Gnomes Unite: Engagement and Citizenship in Persistent Online Communities
In early 2005 hundreds of disgruntled citizens gathered at a place called the Ironforge Auction House to protest a series of government policies intended to limit their rights and autonomy. The crowd grew larger than expected. Reporters and photographers arrived to cover the gathering, uploading reports and photographs to the Internet as the event unfolded. Behavior soon turned disruptive with many protesters disrobing and shouting profanity. They eventually succeeded at making the auction house and surrounding community inaccessible to all visitors. Eventually the authorities intervened and forcibly removed dozens of protesters from the area. Punitive actions against the ringleaders included suspending or even permanently revoking their citizenships. This was not, however, a real situation. Or was it? In fact, the events described occurred in the World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG). This episode, and similar ones in other MMORPGs, raises interesting and complex questions about the definitions of community, social interaction, and new forms of communication in a persistent online medium. This paper explores the ways online environments such as "World of Warcraft", "Everquest", "Final Fantasy", and "City of Heroes" are redefining our notions of social community and producing new models of engagement among "citizen/players" and game designers. Of particular interest is the emergence of a distinctive MMORPG culture that offers new models for creating and communicating identity in a highly diverse environment.
Keywords: Engagement, Citizenship, Online, Community, Role-playing, Gaming, Identity
Prof. Michael Abbott
Associate Professor, Theater Department, Wabash College