[iDC] Corporate Ideology in World of Warcraft

Scott Rettberg scott at retts.net
Fri Sep 11 20:07:53 UTC 2009

Hello everyone,

Trebor asked me to join the discussion list and write a short email  
introducing an essay I wrote for Digital Culture, Play, and Identity:  
A World of Warcraft Reader (MIT Press, 2009).  While I will be in  
Norway at the time of the conference, I'm looking forward to following  
your discussions, labors, and play, and appreciate the invitation to  

My essay "Corporate Ideology in World of Warcraft" -- available in the  
book and in an earlier draft online at: <http://retts.net/documents/rettberg_corp_ideology.pdf 
 > is the product of a year of my life spent playing one of the  
world's most popular massively multiplayer online role-playing games.  
While I knew at the time I started playing the game that at the end of  
the experience I would write something, I had no idea what that might  
be. I joined a guild, the Truants, both as part of an academic  
enterprise, and in order to spend some time with my girlfriend. At the  
time I lived in New Jersey, and she lived in Norway. The guild was  
composed of new media researchers, each of whom would eventually write  
a chapter in the book.

While at the time I joined the guild and started playing the game, my  
intent was to spend not very much time at all in the World of Warcraft  
and to write something about the nature of stories within the game, to  
my surprise I both ended up spending a quite ridiculous number of  
hours in the game and found my interest more focused on the nature of  
the attraction I felt to the activity than on the narrative content of  
the experience itself. The nature of play in the game, I argue in the  
essay and I'm sure any player will tell you, is labor, and often of a  
very repetitive nature. What surprised me is that in World of Warcraft  
and in other sorts of play enterprises like it, the repetitive labor,  
the token economy in which it is couched, the fellowship of fellow  
laborers, and the accelerated sure and steady rise up the virtual  
corporate ladder are the most compelling and addictive aspects of the  
gameplay. I argue in the essay that the game is both training for  
participation in corporate structures and a contemporary manifestation  
of the protestant work ethic. A particular kind of fun, avoidance of  
"the real" by immersion in a fairy tale of capitalism.

Both the essay and the game are more complex and hopefully more  
entertaining than this reduction. But I agree with what I take to be  
the basic premise of this conference: that play and work have become  
conflated in interesting ways: that perhaps in the contemporary period  
our ideas of leisure become convoluted, the borders between digital  
work and play blurred to the extent that we can no longer distinguish  
between them. Play becomes a manifestation of our interpellation in  
the world of 24/7 real time labor/consumption (consumption having  
become an aspect of labor and labor an aspect of consumption).  
Sisyphus might have ultimately been convinced to pay a monthly fee for  
the pleasure of pushing that rock up the hill.

I look forward to following the discussion and wish you a great  

All the Best,

Scott Rettberg

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