Digital Designs: Cultural Identity and China’s Online Role Playing Game Industry
By: Heather Barnick
In 2005, a new genre of computer games collectively referred to as Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) took the world by storm. In Mainland China, MMORPGs such as World of Warcraft, League of Legends, and Journey to the West absolutely captivated youth. In this context, MMORPGs hold special appeal in the way that they facilitate new opportunities for social interaction, act as points of access to worlds outside of Mainland China, and provide safe venues for political protest and dissent. During fieldwork in Shanghai, I sought to tackle these facets of MMORPGs from several perspectives: those of the gamers, game designers, concerned parents, and government officials. This presentation is intended to be both a description of the central themes and questions that have emerged from my field in Shanghai and an exposé of the often unspoken processes of doing a doctoral work as a digital anthropologist. I address topics from my dissertation such as discourses of gaming addiction, government censorship and control of online life, cultural identity, and the art of game design. At the same time, I tell the story of the bizarre twists and turns that led me from research on international youth travel to studying MMORPGs in China and becoming a gamer myself. I conclude by advocating for the perspectives and insights of anthropologists and anthropological methods, both of which have great potential to guide the assimilation of digital technologies with everyday life.