I spent most of my life as a journalist working on the digital side of publications like Wired, Wired.com, and MIT’s Technology Review.

One of the reasons I left the profession was the decade-long fight I had with print folks related to how to structure online communities. Still today, it’s not hard to find so-called forward thinking media pundits discussing how to create communities around news, and what systems news organizations should use in order to create passionate users.

My argument then (as it is now) is simple: Game companies long ago mastered the art of building, finding, and communing with their fanbase. The answers have long ago been established in social science research, e.g. The Strength of Weak Ties, and practical application, e.g. Amy Jo Kim’s Community Building on the Web.

I’ve written several reported columns about the specifics of these mechanisms for various outlets. The best companies have invested in community managers, they’ve developed outreach tools that encourage participation, and they have treated their players with respect by creating virtual feedback looks (sometimes with technologies, and sometimes with humans). It’s surprisingly simple to engage your community  if you deploy both the right human and technological resources necessary to accomplish a single goal: support your community.

After a long break talking about this issue, I’ve decided to delve back into the world of games and communities although you’ll find no mention of journalism (other than this introduction). Instead, I’ll be writing a series of academic papers that explores the social theories that drive community building and experiences in games.

Here are the working titles, and brief summaries:

A Return to Role Play: An examination of “hard fun” and why players create role-playing experiences within massively-multiplayer online universes

  • This paper explores several guilds that focus on role playing, and examines the current landscape of MMO game development as it relates to this sometimes forgotten aspect of modern computer games.

From Dungeons to Dreamers: How communal tabletop games helped create modern Internet communities

  • This paper examines the historical and community elements of Dungeons & Dragons, explores how those elements permeated through computer games, and explains how those communal elements have impacted social interactions beyond the computer game communities, from message boards to Facebook.

Managing Memory: The evolution of memory-making in online role playing game communities

  • As game developers in the mid-seventies and into the new millennium continually tried to re-create the interactive, social storytelling experiences in virtual worlds. While the succeeded in singular ways, none found a way to commoditize social memory. Instead, they turned to people outside the game to do that: Tabletop games, an episodic memory; MUDs, a real-time room-based memory; Single-player games, series-based memory; and MMOs, a player-owned community memory (guilds)

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