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In- and Out-of-Character

Title: In- and Out-of-Character: The Digital Literacy Practices and Emergent Information Worlds of Active Role-Players in a New Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game.
Name(s): Hollister, Jonathan Michael, author
Latham, Don, professor directing dissertation
Dennen, Vanessa P., university representative
Burnett, Gary, committee member
Ho, Shuyuan Mary, committee member
Florida State University, degree granting institution
College of Communication and Information, degree granting college
School of Information, degree granting department
Type of Resource: text
Genre: Text
Issuance: monographic
Date Issued: 2016
Publisher: Florida State University
Florida State University
Place of Publication: Tallahassee, Florida
Physical Form: computer
online resource
Extent: 1 online resource (277 pages)
Language(s): English
Abstract/Description: This dissertation explores and describes the in-character and out-of-character information worlds and digital literacy practices of role-players, those that create and enact their characters' or avatars' stories, both within and outside of WildStar, a Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) (Carbine Studios, 2015). Utilizing Jaeger and Burnett's (2010) theory of information worlds alongside the Partnership for 21st Century Learning's (2011a) framework for information, media, and information communication technology literacy skills as lenses for qualitative content analysis, the researcher describes the social context(s) of the digital literacy practices used by role-players. These skills are crucial for success in the 21st century, in general, as well as in the virtual worlds of MMORPGs due to the amount of information and research needed to advance through the game (Martin, 2011, 2012; Martin et. al, 2012; Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2011a). This study employs a hybrid ethnographic approach, which is multi-sited and adaptive to allow for a closer following of the research phenomenon and the opportunity to explore emergent behaviors, is accelerated and data intensive, and includes overt engagement in role-playing activities alongside informants in addition to traditional observation. Qualitative data was collected from in-game chatlogs, screenshots, audiovisual recordings, and a sampling of community artifacts, such as forums and other community-mediated websites. Additionally, 17 sets of semi-structured interviews were conducted both in- and out-of-character to better understand the intersections between the informants' real and virtual lives. The findings both confirm and expand upon previous work on the social aspects of digital literacy practices of MMORPG players. Role-playing, as a social and creative activity, is highly dependent on the effective exchange of information. This exchange of information is impacted by the social norms, information values, and boundaries within and across the community. For instance, out-of-character information or disputes should never find their way into an in-character dialogue unless it has been previously discussed during role-playing events or storylines, or unless consent has been granted by both parties involved beforehand. Intuitively, the digital literacy practices of role-players consist of a symbiotic interaction and combination of the normative information behaviors and information value systems of the community. This reinforces the contextual nature of digital literacy and may suggest that issues with the transference of digital literacy skills for use across different settings, such as academic, work, personal, etc., are due to conflicting information value systems despite potentially similar types of information or information behaviors being used. As the first study to apply the theory of information worlds to an ethnographic study of role-players in a MMORPG, the researcher evaluates and potentially expands upon the theory in order to determine its usefulness given the research context and methodology. Additionally, the methodological complications caused by the competing aspects of a study dually tasked with creating a detailed description and protecting the informants of a small and open online community are discussed. Finally, the researcher also discusses how role-playing might be used in the library or classroom for digital literacy skills instruction.
Identifier: FSU_2016SP_Hollister_fsu_0071E_13100 (IID)
Submitted Note: A Dissertation submitted to the School of Information in partial fulfillment of the Doctor of Philosophy.
Degree Awarded: Spring Semester 2016.
Date of Defense: March 28, 2016.
Keywords: digital literacy, ethnography, information worlds, MMORPG, Role-Playing
Bibliography Note: Includes bibliographical references.
Advisory Committee: Don Latham, Professor Directing Dissertation; Vanessa Dennen, University Representative; Gary Burnett, Committee Member; Shuyuan Mary Ho, Committee Member.
Subject(s): Information science
Persistent Link to This Record:
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Host Institution: FSU

Choose the citation style.
Hollister, J. M. (2016). In- and Out-of-Character: The Digital Literacy Practices and Emergent Information Worlds of Active Role-Players in a New Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game. Retrieved from