November 29, 2007

Orange County Register

O.C.’s ‘World of Warcraft’ unites China

By Gary Robbins

It’s a cliche, but it’s true: East is East, and West is West. At least as it applies to the way that Americans and the Chinese play and use “World of Warcraft,” the phenomenally popular computer game developed by Blizzard Entertainment of Irvine.

UC Irvine anthropologist and informatics professor Bonnie Nardi and her graduate student, Silvia Lindtner, spent time earlier this year studying gamers in Beijing playing WoW in Internet Cafes. Nardi shared some of her early insights in a recent e-mail:

“The vast majority of Chinese players are not ‘gold farmers’ (people who play to generate game gold, which is then sold for real money). They’re ordinary players like anyone. The media has blown that story out of all proportion. Many people think Chinese play for a job. They play for fun.

"Chinese people play in Internet cafes much, much more than we do. There are cafes everywhere. They have better hardware than most Chinese people have at home or in their dorms and they are wonderful social places.

"Chinese people play the more challenging form of World of Warcraft almost exclusively. They find the less challenging form of the game ‘boring.’ Here, about 50 percent play the challenging form of the game and there, about 95 percent do.

“(The) Chinese have invented some interesting ways to play with the in-game economy (not the real world economy). Ways that I have not observed here in two years of studying World of Warcraft.

“Chinese players are more attuned to the aesthetics of the game. At least they mention them more in interviews. They talked more about color schemes, animations, architecture, and so on more than American players.

“There seem to be fewer female players of World of Warcraft in China. On the order of 20 percent here and 10 percent there.

“Here and in Europe and Australia/New Zealand people play with parents and event grandparents. Not in China. The older generation dislikes video games. People here play with brothers and sisters. But in China people don’t have brothers and sisters for the most part, so friend relationships are very important.

“Some similarities: World of Warcraft is a very social game in China, just like here. People play with people they already know. Boyfriend and girlfriend may play or husband and wife. Social relationships deepen through the game. People also make new friends online.”
O.C.’s ‘World of Warcraft’ unites China