China WoW

As previously reported on CDT, the Chinese government has a record of treating the massive popularity of World of Warcraft (WoW) and other online games as a social ill which distracts Chinese youth from their social responsibilities or, alternately, threatens the stability of a harmonious society.  New research comparing U.S. and Chinese players of WoW conducted by Professor Bonnie Nardi at the University of California, Irvine offers a different view of the world’s most popular MMORPG from within Chinese society.  From

The National Science Foundation has given UC Irvine $100,000 to figure out why Americans go to greater lengths than the Chinese to modify “World of Warcraft,” the hugely popular multiplayer online game produced by Blizzard Entertainment of Irvine.

About 5 million Chinese play “WoW,” which is twice the number of American players. But Americans produce far more modifications, or “mods,” to enrich the gaming experience.

“We are examining the many reasons for this disparity, including cultural and institutional factors,” says Bonnie Nardi, the UCI informatics professor who’ll conduct the study with help from doctoral student Yong Ming Kow.

In a virtual interview with the The China Beat, Nardi shares more details from her findings, including demographic observations about WoW players in China:

Bonnie Nardi: The time we spent in Internet cafes in China led us (me and my collaborators Silvia Lindtner, Yang Wang, Scott Mainwaring, He Jing, and Wenjing Liang) to see digital activity as occurring in “mixed realities” which fuse the virtual and the physical. We did not invent the term, but use it to analyze the layered experience of sitting in a café, with its comforts of food, cigarettes, soft drinks, and most importantly, other people, enmeshed at the same time in a rich digital space of enticing games, movies, social networking software, and other apps. In China, people often play games in Internet cafes with their friends, sometimes from the same immediate neighborhood. They may play awhile and then go out to dinner or for tea. They call each other on their cell phones and text and IM. It’s a very stimulating social experience comprised of physical and digital elements.

[…Bonnie Nardi:] In North America, Nick Yee found that about 23 per cent of characters played by real life males were female characters. In China there is something of a prohibition against this practice. Male players who play female characters risk being called “lady-boys.” As far as I can tell, this term (人妖 renyao) connotes transvestite or transsexual. I tried to pin down my research assistants on the exact meaning, but they were a little vague. China is a more puritanical country than the U.S., and I think they themselves (who were young women just starting graduate school) were not exactly sure of how far the connotations stretched. They definitely invoked transsexuals in trying to explain the concept to me.

[…Bonnie Nardi:] In China we also met people from varied social classes. They included students, a factory worker, a middle school teacher, a bank employee, a marketing supervisor, a vice president of design for a Chinese game company, and a venture capital broker. As mentioned, there is less age diversity among WoW players than in North America.


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