China Beat Archive



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October 28, 2008 in The China Beat


Copyright October 28, 2008. Used by permission.


World of Warcraft (WoW) is the most popular massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) ever created, with more than 10 million players worldwide—half of them in China. Before WoW launched in 2004, conventional wisdom placed the potential playerbase for MMOs numbering in the hundreds of thousands. WoW quickly broke those numbers, drawing in new gamers with its cartoonish graphics, tongue-in-cheek storylines, and mix of collaborative and solo player options. Stories on WoW in China a few years ago emphasized a phenomenon known as “gold farming”—sweatshop laborers in China playing the game to raise in-game currency to then sell for real money to overseas players (or, alternatively “power-leveling” those players’ characters—playing through the boring early levels of the games with another player’s avatar so that the client could more quickly access the endgame content). But most of China’s millions ofWoW players aren’t gold farmers—they’re regular gamers visiting and enjoying WoW’s fantasy world just like players in the U.S. and Europe.

When we found out UCI Professor of Informatics Bonnie Nardi was conducting comparative studies of WoW players in China and the U.S. in our own backyard (Blizzard, WoW’s developer, is also located in Irvine), we asked Miri Kim if she would sit down for a (fittingly, virtual) chat with Nardi. An avid WoW player herself, Nardi had lots of information to share about gaming in China, the U.S., and the virtual space in between.