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Press Release

American Journal of Play Explores Online Play

Published April 24, 2020

Friday, April 24, 2020
For Immediate Release

Shane Rhinewald, 585-410-6365, srhinewald@museumofplay.org

Noelle McElrath-Hart, 585-410-6325, nmcelrath@museumofplay.org


ROCHESTER, NEW YORK—Pick up a controller, create your own online avatar, and tune in to Twitch. In a time of social distancing, massively multiplayer online games, esports, and game live streaming help to connect people from across the globe and build community. T. L. Taylor, professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-founder of the esports organization AnyKey, explores the rise of this type of digital play in a new interview in the latest issue of The Strong’s American Journal of Play. Taylor discusses the communities built around virtual worlds—complete with real-time engagement and their own value systems—and the bonds that can be formed despite the sometimes-massive geographical distances between players or their audience.

Taylor argues that playing and socializing online can be just as meaningful as offline play and socializing. She says, “Whether through chatting and collaborating in-game or the collective knowledge building or sharing that happens outside the game (on websites, in places like Discord, and others), digital play is interwoven with the social. It’s also important to understand that the social is not simply about synchronous talk or social organization but also about the way imaginaries and nonhuman actors work to shape and structure play.”

In massively multiplayer games, players often explore, complete quests, or upgrade skills, alongside elements of strife, negotiation, and battle. “And then there is the whole side of building a community together with others,” she says, pointing to how players engage in loose assemblages and to the creation of formal guilds, each with its own structure and rules.

In the world of professional esports, there’s also a big element of community and support systems, not just the individual players. “Our current moment in esports is, beyond the specificity of particular games, deeply shaped by everything from infrastructure and platform development (think about the growth of the internet, services and platforms, and the rise of spectatorship online) to institutional development (think about teams, leagues, and broadcasters)…”

Even game live streaming—where others watch an individual play a game on sites such as Twitch or YouTube—provides more than passive engagement. Taylor describes it as performative play, where the player is finding a new way to connect and share their experiences. For the audience, it may be about finding some educational or entertainment value, but there’s also social value. She says, “Sometimes it’s what I call ambient sociality and wanting something on in the background to keep you company.” No matter the motivation, players and their viewers become part of the same world, tied together by a common understanding.

At a time when people cannot congregate in person, Taylor reminds everyone, “The social is always present in our gaming, whether we are with other people or not.”

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Additional articles in this issue include a review of the history of play studies, an examination of the cognitive processes underlying pretend play, a look at playfulness and assortative mating, and an exploration of the rise of computer tablet play among children. The American Journal of Play can be read freely at journalofplay.org. Individual and institutional print subscriptions are available.

About The Strong
The Strong is the only collections-based museum in the world devoted solely to the history and exploration of play. It is home to the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, the National Toy Hall of Fame, the World Video Game Hall of Fame, the Brian Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play, the Woodbury School, and the American Journal of Play and houses the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of historical materials related to play.