The Blurring Boundaries of Play: Labor, Genocide, and Addiction


Date Thursday July 20th 2006
Time 4:00-5:00pm
Venue George E. Pake Auditorium

PARC Forum

Every day, millions of people around the world interact and collaborate via avatars in online games such as World of Warcraft. The marketing and media rhetoric make it easy to think of these online games as fantasy worlds that are somehow cut off from “reality”, but the boundaries of these virtual worlds have always been porous. After a brief overview of what these games are, who plays them and why they play, this talk traces out several case studies in the blurring boundaries of play and challenges some assumptions of what play means in these virtual worlds. Are some players’ virtual jobs more challenging and stressful than their day-time jobs? Can you really be addicted to online games? And in a fantasy world of ogres and elves, why is it that being Chinese can get you killed?


Nick Yee is currently a Ph.D. student in the Department of Communication at Stanford University. Over the past 6 years, he has surveyed over 40,000 online gamers on a wide variety of issues, such as age and gender differences, motivations of play, relationship formation, and problematic usage. At Stanford's Virtual Human Interaction Lab, he works with Jeremy Bailenson in performing experimental studies exploring issues of social interaction and self-representation in immersive virtual reality. Nick also works with the PARC PlayOn group, helping to analyze server-side and other forms of aggregate data of social behavior in online games. His work has been noted in many news outlets, including the Wall Street Journal and Business Week. More detailed information about his research along with copies of his published articles can be found at:

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