For anthropology graduate student Evan Conaway, computer games aren’t just a past time. The self-proclaimed “gamer nerd” has dedicated his doctoral education to studying them and the people who interact with them. Now four years into his doctoral program at UCI – and many years after teaching himself to type by playing the online game “EverQuest” – Conaway has received a grant from the National Science Foundation to support his current research on computer servers and the communities that form around them.
Conaway’s study examines the ways in which gamers, particularly those who play “World of Warcraft (WoW),” interact with computer servers, the machinery that supports the Internet itself and online multiplayer games like WoW. He is also interested in how people express feelings of nostalgia for older games that are no longer around.
“I want to understand how gamers think about servers in spatial or geographic terms, how they relate their memories and feelings of nostalgia to servers, and how they are using them to restore and preserve older versions of games that no longer exist, despite certain legal barriers,” he says.
He points to an example of such nostalgia at Blizzard Entertainment, the company that created WoW, in which decommissioned physical servers were made into commemorative objects and auctioned off to raise money for charity.
“As a part of my larger project, I’m looking into the values and beliefs that are revealed by the very existence of these things,” he says. “For example, I found out recently that a group of WoW players bought one of these server objects and periodically meet as a group and sign it as a ritual practice of commemoration.”
Conaway plans to use the grant funds for travel and fieldwork, specifically traveling to Northern California where he says people are “investing time and resources into digital game preservation.” In terms of impact, he hopes that this study and others like it will encourage anthropologists to study computer games and gamers more extensively. UCI, he says, is already home to some brilliant research on such digital technologies, and he is excited to see what the future holds.
Conaway has been awarded a National Science Foundation grant in the amount of $25,200 with a grant period from June 15, 2018 to November 30, 2019.