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Walk-Walking and Other Bannable Offenses: Discipline and Deviant Play in World of Warcraft

As in most sames, World of Warcraft’s player characters’ virtual bodies are designed and built to comply with, and be acted upon by, the governing systems of the gameworld they inhabit. The technical equations that determine how a body walks, the rules that define what walking is and what bodies are, are co-developed with a specific definition of a world in mind, and vice versa-both the player character’s body and the terrain on which it stands are constructed in order to more effectively reinforce the functions and norms of the other. What can we discover by looking at the way these creations interact with and influence each other? What room is there in the space between what a virtual world and body can do, and what they shouldn’t do, and how can players make use of it?

This thesis closely reads World of Warcraft’s formal elements, its mechanics and its aesthetic grammar, in order to argue that the game’s virtual bodies and environments are embedded with ideologies and normas designed to reinforce its developer’s financial and political governance over their virtual world. By better understanding the methods by which these norms shape the world in World of Warcraft, players can experiment and co-create new forms of play that complicate, break, and perhaps even overturn the rules that seek to mark their play as deviant.

Laurel Carney
Written by
Laurel Carney

Laurel Carney is a writer from California. She earned her bachelor's degree in English from the University of California, Davis, where she studied early modern execution laws. Her undergraduate thesis combined original historical research, textual criticism, and fiction writing to examine the role that story-telling played in early modern debates over pregnant women’s criminal culpability.

A lifelong gamer, she is interested in communities formed around rule-breaking in virtual worlds and the ways developers push back against "deviant" play via punitive systems and environmental design. She currently works as a research assistant in the Imagination, Computation, and Expression Lab.

Her variously concomitant interests include 80's-90's adventure games, MMOs, television, animal rights/welfare, theme parks and dark rides, folk ballads, and Bong Joon-ho movies.

Laurel Carney Written by Laurel Carney