Social dimensions of expertise in "World of Warcraft" players

  • Mark Chen University of Washington
Keywords: Digital game, Ethnography, Expertise, Games, Learning, MMOG


Expertise development in the massively multiplayer online game World of Warcraft (Blizzard Entertainment, 2004) depends greatly on a player's use of social skills to gain access to expert player groups and accrue social and cultural capital. Drawn from ethnographic research, this paper maps out various forms of expert practice and highlights the social aspects of game play that often eclipse the importance of game-mechanics knowledge. At the time of this research, playing World of Warcraft and developing expertise in the game happened roughly within a two-stage process: (1) leveling up, or advancing one's character or avatar while learning the mechanics of the game, and (2) drawing on social capital gained during the first stage to join a group of up to 40 players to partake in high-end or endgame content.

Author Biography

Mark Chen, University of Washington
Mark Chen is a PhD Candidate at the University of Washington-Seattle, College of Education, looking at groups of gamers in the massively multiplayer online game, World of Warcraft (WoW). He uses ethnographic methods, emphasizing personal narrative and his experience as a lifelong digital and table-top gamer. With his work on WoW, he focuses on group learning and teamwork, communication, and expertise development. Mark has also started looking at socialization and marginalization in WoW communities. Prior to doctoral work, Mark was the webmaster and a game developer for the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) in Portland, OR. He holds a B.A. in Studio Art from Reed College, grew up in the Bay Area as a child of the 80s, and once rode his bicycle across the U.S. For the Horde!