Culture and Creativity: World of Warcraft Modding in China and the US
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Modding - end-user modification of commercial hardware and software - can be traced back at least to 1961 when Spacewar! was developed by a group of MIT students on a DEC PDP-1. Spacewar! evolved into arcade games including Space Wars produced in 1977 by Cinematronics (Sotamaa 2003). In 1992, players altering Wolfenstein 3-D (1992), a first person shooter game made by id Software, overwrote the graphics and sounds by editing the game files. Learning from this experience, id Software released Doom in 1993 with isolated media files and open source code for players to develop custom maps, images, sounds, and other utilities. Players were able to pass on their modifications to others. By 1996, with the release of Quake, end-user modifications had come to be known as “mods,” and modding was an accepted part of the gaming community (Kucklich 2005; Postigo 2008a, b). Since late-2005, we have been studying World of Warcraft (WoW) in which the use of mods is an important aspect of player practice (Nardi and Harris 2006; Nardi et al. 2007). Technically minded players with an interest in extending the game write mods and make them available to players for free download on distribution sites. Most modders work for free, but the distribution sites are commercial enterprises with advertising.
WoW is a transnational game, available in seven languages, providing an opportunity to examine issues of culture with a stable artifact as anchor. We have studied WoW modding in China and the United States, focusing on the largest single national group of players - the Chinese - and our own local player community. At the time of writing, about half (5.5 million) of all WoW players were Chinese while just under a third (2.5 million) were North American (Blizzard Entertainment 2008).