User:Yong Ming Kow

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Pursuing PhD at Informatics, ICS, UCI, with Bonnie Nardi. Area of interest: Society and Technology

Background

My long term interest is in understand how information technologies is changing our society. This is of course a gigantic task, perhaps a lifetime endeavor. But within the next few years, my scope is: (1) Massive Multiplayer Online Game (2) Social Network + Anthropology. For methodological concepts, see [1] (3) Knowledge systems

What are knowledge systems? There are many theories of knowledge, and mostly developed as a content of the mind. Yet, recent movements in knowledge management move on towards seeing cultural forms as part of knowledge community of practice. I proposed that we need to be bolder and see artifacts and our societies as part of knowledge as well [[2]]. This is an extension from Vygotskian psychology, developed by Lev Vygotsky who argued against the mind-body duality. Rather, we are more interested in the relationships between the two. Therefore, a knowledge system extends into a network of human relations, infrastructure (artifacts relations), and also the activities between humans and artifacts. This idea is being developed in a paper for a special issue.

Current Project

Participants Bonnie Nardi [3], Douglas R. White

Problem Descriptions Today’s gamers are supported by a large system of communities, beyond and above a game package and a PC. Players play within a virtual world and their experience is enhanced by services provided by internet communities. One of these communities is the "modding" (MOD=acronym for 'modification of gaming platforms' in the gaming community) community. They provide software packages that modify part of the game for enhancing experience.

World of Warcraft is a game played by 2 million in US and 5 million in China. There are no fundamental differences between US and China version, except that the China version was localized by a company known as The9. As such, the language, distribution channel, and payment structure is different. The distribution channel in China, for instance, consists of bit-torrent sites, which are not found in the US. Other than that, we are not yet aware other dissimilarities.

In both environments, a large number of players have created mods. These include stand-alone mods to change the user interfaces, collect in-game information, provide statistics, or automate actions. There are also compilation mods that integrate a few or many of these stand-alone mods into a complete package. Some of the most successful in the US include CTMod and Cosmo UI. Distribution of these mods is provided by a number of sites, the most popular in the US being curse.com, which is hosting about 6676 mods.

Chinese players use many mods similar to the ones in the US. On top of that, they also develop their own mods. The three major Chinese compilations include Bigfoot, wowShell, and Yue Guan Bao He (月光宝盒). Cosmo, on the other hand, is not as popular. Within compilation such as Bigfoot, many western stand-alone mods were found, leading to our hypothesis that there are a large amount of cross-pollination of artifacts across the pacific.

The web services that distribute the mods in China are almost totally different from US. While language use are different, there may also be subtle difference in terms of mods performance and distribution. Gamers at both end of the pacific are well used to local gaming sites, such as curse.com in the US, and games.sina.com in China.

Researching and understanding the formation and development of these different communities is first a problem of depth, and then a problem of scale. Research needs depth to identify the motivation, actions, and artifacts that form the communities. It needs scale to connect the depth to the evolution of the system. The key questions are:

(1) How much of mods knowledge is imported/exported between WoW US and China?
(2) How much of the information supply chain is shared between WoW US and China (versus being localized)?
(3) What are the roles (ethnographically) of mod creators to WoW, and what does it mean to global software development?

Methods

This research will be conducted by means of both social network analysis and ethnographic interviews. First, the links within both US and China mod distribution sites will be examined. Components and roles within the network will tell us the terrain of the virtual information space. Second, ethnographic interviews will be targeted at actors in different components and roles. It is ideal to examine actors exhibiting high centrality, for they will have higher access to information about other actors within their vicinity.