Information behavior and meaning-making in virtual play spaces: a case study of City of Heroes
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The intent of the researcher was initially to examine two questions: How are groups and/or peer cultures formed in the virtual play space of Massive Multiplayer Role Playing Games (MMORPGs), particularly City of Heroes; and how do information behavior theories, including meaning-making, and play theories, particularly in combination, might serve to explain the phenomenon of group formation and maintenance? Two other questions emerged and were added to the study. What, if any, other in-game social relationships can be explained or understood in light of information behavior theories, including meaning-making, and play theories, separately or in combination? What, if anything do in-game social relationships contribute to successful play, particularly in terms of information and meaning? The researcher gathered data through participant observation, examination of the official and unofficial Web pages relating to the game City of Heroes and other data gleaned from casual conversation with other game researchers, players and people in the game industry. Information seeking in the game was described using McKenzie’s (2002) model of information practices. Meaning-making was examined through the lens of dramaturgy (Hare & Blumberg, 1988; Brissett & Edgley, 1990; Goffman, 1959, 1974). The researcher found that group formation and maintenance was not as important at this time in this particular game as was first assumed. However, temporary teaming added significantly to the play experience. Further, the researcher determined that the virtual play space must be considered as a “deliberately created culture” with both real seeming and obviously artificial elements. There were parallels in the virtual play space to elements of everyday life information seeking in real space. Finally, the “deliberately created culture” had important similarities to a theatrical space, and the examination of the play space through the elements of dramaturgy led to further understanding of how meanings are made in the social interactions of the space, and how those meanings aid in the game play.