Short Talk Panel DML: Civic Dimensions of Play

Gamers with a Civic Life? Research Findings on League of Legends, from Protest to Volunteerism

Presenter: Benjamin Stokes

Do mainstream youth gamers have typical civic lives -- from volunteering to protesting? Commercial games are very rarely studied for their connection to offline civic engagement. In this presentation, researchers will share findings from an unusual study of League of Legends (LoL). This was until recently the most popular PC game online -- with more than 1.4 million players active daily. Our findings shatter some stereotypes, and raise some new questions.
For this study, more than 20,000 players answered survey questions about their civic activity, from protest, to advocacy, donating, and staying informed. Contrary to stereotypes, this study reveals that the civic participation rates of gamers is actually comparable to typical American parents (a normative stalwart), but that some civic acts are much more popular than others. For example, nearly 3 in 4 players of this game report having raised money for a charitable cause, while only about half have been active around elections with advocacy.

In terms of learning, one surprising finding stands out: these small-group gamers had unusually high rates of "peaceful protest, march, or demonstration" – more than twice the lifetime rate of American parents. We advance a few ideas on why this might be, and call for further research into role-play and "ethical spectacle" as learning processes. Our statistics show that protest rates are closely tied to many behaviors in the game (like whether they had recruited others to play), as well as to traditional politics, like being politically liberal. We also find that the odds of protesting increased by approximately 5% for players who were more helpful inside the game, which indicates some consistency across the game boundary.

Importantly, civic acts can have very different causes. For example, we find that protest rates hardly change based on the number of hours spent gaming each week, but that volunteering rates are lower. Such findings can help our sector avoid the temptation to lump "civic participation" together, and insist that we are more specific about the civic acts we target.

This study was made possible by an unusual collaboration between the University of Southern California led by Dmitri Williams, and the Riot Games, the maker of League of Legends. We will also discuss some ways that such partnerships can be brokered in the future.


Gabriel's Heart Mountain 3.0

Presenters: Gabriel Tajima-Peña, Renee Tajima-Peña

Case study of a youth-originated project to explore Japanese American WWII concentration camps on the Minecraft online video game

Gabriel Tajima-Peña, a 13-year-old student, proposes a case study of his civil liberties history project, Heart Mountain 3.0. Constructed on the multi-player online building game, Minecraft, it is a virtual interpretation of the internment camp where his grandmother, and over 10,000 Japanese Americans, were incarcerated during WWII. The project has evolved from a fun diversion to ease the boredom of a visit to the historical site, into a curriculum and interactive web project. Gabriel will be joined by his project collaborators, game-based learning designer Randall Fujimoto, who leads the curriculum development, and Renee Tajima-Peña, mother and documentary filmmaker who is creating web video content. Using a Minecraft demonstration and video clips of Gabriel’s process, the presenters will discuss the possibilities for using Minecraft to facilitate fun, creative, and self-directed explorations of the history.

Heart Mountain 3.0 shows how game-based platforms can arm youth with creative tools to engage in themes of civil liberties, democracy and race, and share those ideas through the social networking capabilities of online games. Minecraft is inexpensive and accessible for use at home, schools, or community spaces on a growing number of devices, including PC’s, Xbox, Android, and IOS. It is a game that a young person can master, hack, work on individually or collectively and peer-teach, thereby encouraging a sense of empowerment and engagement. Creating and teaching Heart Mountain 3.0 has prompted Gabriel to address unexpected ethical and pedagogical issues. For example, how to integrate contextual information about history onto a changeable and interactive game; how to deal with “griefing” (vandalism) by online players on a social justice site; and how to balance historic accuracy with play.

Gabriel is an 8th grader at a Los Angeles public school. In August of 2011, he joined his family on a pilgrimage to the grand opening of the Heart Mountain Interpretive Center, near Powell, Wyoming. On the trip, Gabriel grew bored. He is a kinetic learner who is not particularly drawn to traditional museum installations and programs. He also is not a coder or history buff; he simply loves to play Minecraft. For fun, Gabriel started to build a Minecraft Heart Mountain on the family laptop, He then explored the site with his grandparents, talked to former internees, and scanned the exhibits for inspiration in constructing barracks, guard towers, and symbols of internee-created community such as the swimming hole and gardens.
After returning home, Gabriel continued to work on his project, often with other Minecraft friends. Last summer, Gabriel was invited by Fujimoto to peer-teach a pilot Minecraft workshop at a local Japanese Cultural Institute. A multi-ethnic group of twelve kids, researched the history and created their own virtual Manzanar Relocation Centers on Minecraft. Gabriel’s re-creation of the camp will form the center of the Heart Mountain 3.0 curriculum website, which will be deployed for use in schools, community and culture venues, and homes. In the presentation, we will discuss how youth-created projects can move young audiences from passive viewership to active engagement in learning, discussing, and sharing themes of equal justice.


Cosplay, Learning, and Perfoming

Presenters: Daisuke Okabe, Rie Matsuura

Japan is home to numerous amateur cosplay events. Costume play is a female-dominated niche grounded in a DIY and anticommercial ethic of costume making and performance. Although not characterized by formal forms of evaluation and hierarchy, cosplayers (who dress up as characters from manga, games, and anime) are highly conscious of quality standards for costumes. Only handmade costumes that conform to “otaku” (nerds) interests; those cosplayers who dress up outside of otaku-dedicated venues or who display mainstream forms of sexuality to attract the male gaze are ostracized from the community. Cosplay events and dedicated SNSs for cosplayers are a valuable venue for exchanging information and learning from each other about costume making, as well as for evaluating each other's work.

In this presentation, we discuss various cultural practices characterizing the cosplay community based on our interviews with female cosplayers and fieldwork.

We first share an overview of the history of cosplay in Japan, and then discuss in detail the following aspects: (1) performance and learning based on Holtzman (2009)’s “learning to perform and performing to learn”, (2) peer review, and (3) reciprocal learning.
Building stages for their own performances and practices of peer-based niche knowledge exchange make the cosplay community distinct and a meaningful object of study. Compared to learning environments in most schools, the cosplay community has always been based on peer-based, reciprocal learning, with members creating their own rules and codes of conduct. We might look to them as models for designing interest-driven communities and collaborative learning environments.

Benjamin Stokes
Gabriel Tajima-Peña
Renee Tajima-Peña
Daisuke Okabe
Rie Matsuura
Discussant: Renee Tajima-Peña