Graduate Student, University of California, Irvine
Contributing Editor, Platypus: The CASTAC Blog
- Digital Anthropology
- Intellectual Property
- Materials and Materiality
- Video games
- Virtual worlds
Evan P. Conaway is a PhD student in the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, Irvine. His dissertation work examines how servers shape the way gamers experience place. Currently, he is exploring how gamers are using servers to preserve, memorialize, and restore virtual worlds, asking how virtual space is maintained and reproduced in relation to the material technologies that create it and what politics are embedded in present-day efforts to engage with the pasts of online game worlds.
Contributions to Platypus: The CASTAC Blog
When you’re playing an online game and it gets shut down, typically a message flashes on the screen that says something like: “You have been disconnected from the server.” This very message indicates that it is not just “the game” per se that you’ve been disconnected from. What is “the game” after all? In reality, players are connected to a shared version of a virtual world thanks to the workings of servers, those digital devices that make up the backbone of the internet and of virtual worlds, like Second Life and World of Warcraft. When a virtual world dies, when it’s “turned off,” the player is no longer accessing the same server as their friends. In fact, they’re not accessing any server at all. When the server is turned off, the game world is popularly said to have been abandoned—its software becomes referred to as “abandonware.” And just like that, a whole world dies. This post reflects the work of one group of video game enthusiasts and how they are actively working to bring so-called “abandoned” online games back to life by reshaping copyright laws and redefining games as cultural heritage. (more…)
Editor’s Note: This is the third post in our Law in Computation series.
When we play an online game like World of Warcraft, where are we? This is not just a metaphysical question—are we in the fantasy world of Azeroth or in front of our computers—but a legal one as well. And there are multiple answers to that legal question. We might take a look at the space of intellectual property at the level of code and creation, whether corporate or by the players. There is also the space of law within the game, of the rules and norms guiding play (De Zwart and Humphreys 2014). What I’m concerned with here, though, are the servers, located in physical places, that connect players through infrastructures of connection whose worlds are sometimes disconnected by proprietary and computational decisions of game world owners.
Servers keep online games alive. When online gamers talk about a game world being disconnected, they often point to the server as being “unplugged” or “turned off.” While official game servers are typically owned by game developers and corporations, players are now harnessing this power themselves, using privately-owned servers (“private servers”) as a viable solution for restoring and sustaining older versions of online games previously consigned to oblivion. But why? (more…)
When we think of servers, like web servers and Amazon servers, we don’t usually think of them as occupying physical space. We might think of a remote data center, thanks in large part to images that have been circulated by companies like Facebook and Google. But still, these only visualize unmarked buildings and warehouse rooms, showcasing a particular tech aesthetic of colored wires and tubes, and neatly assembled rows of blinking machines (Holt and Vondereau 2015). Such imagery is hardly meant to provide the public with a sense of where servers are actually located. For most day-to-day computer users, it often doesn’t matter at all whether servers are in the U.S. or China or Russia, so long as they work. But server location matters, and many groups of people value certain material benefits and effects of the placement of servers and their own proximity to servers. It matters for online gamers, who want to play as close to servers as possible to get the fastest connection (known as “ping”) and to reduce lag. It matters in a similar fashion for Wall Street traders, who sometimes strategically locate themselves closer to servers to gain a speed advantage in stock trading. Because racks of servers generate loads of heat, server location matters for cloud computing service corporations; they tend to situate their data centers in colder climates to make use of financially-sound “free cooling,” a process by which cold air is circulated from outside in place of an electric cooling (more...)