Step 1: Choose a Cauldron (The Site)
For this fascinating project, I chose to explore the wonderful world of Pottermore. Now why would I do that you ask? Well, I thought this particular site would offer (and it did!) and interesting look into how a website dictates how identity can be created by those who use that site. Pottermore is a very strictly designed game. There are features that allow for extensive exploration into the world of Harry Potter as well as many little tidbits to unlock that reveal more about the author and about the world she created. It is a very popular site with the fan base of Harry Potter. At this point, as of December 8th, 2013; there are over twenty million students on Pottermore. The site, while entertaining for the knowledge base also has a limited chat feature and I wanted to explore how this plays into the online single-player gaming world that is Pottermore. Identity is very limited through very little interaction between players yet there seems to be a vibrant community that interacts with in-depth use of the chat features and it adds to the experience that those players have within the site. And consequently, I chose this particular site to further explore this gaming phenomenon.
Step 2: Collect the Ingredients (Participants)
I chose to look at how players used the chat features in Pottermore to create an identity where in other areas of the game there really is no opportunity to interact with other players. While in other games, there is usually a way to create a character (or at least chose one to identify with) there is not really an opportunity for that sort of personalization in Pottermore. The only avatar creation is a one-time deal in the very beginning when the student buys a pet and that pet’s picture (very generic and easily the picture for thousands of other students) becomes the avatar photo for that student. The only other personalization is the house which each student is sorted into (also at the very beginning). Since there are only four houses and the students are placed into houses based on their answers to questions, this is also not a very definitive identity-creating scenario. Therefore, if a students wishes to create something more unique to themselves on the site they must go out of their way to create their identity through the chat features (also very limited). There are two areas for chatting: one is in the student's House Common Room where players from the same house can chat with each other and the second chat area is in the Great Hall where students from all four houses can chat together. I chose to look at how all students use both of the chat features to interact with each other.
Step 3: Collect Your Tools (My Part)
My place in this whole collection scheme was to get to know Pottermore. I created my own account and played the game. As an avid Harry Potter fan, I was interested in the site not only for its research potential but also for its Harry Potter lore and extras. I think this offered me an interesting perspective as a researcher because I was personally vetted in the game as well as how the game allowed certain types of interaction in the online world. Most of the interaction was between the user and the game itself and as such I was fascinated by the chat features that seemed somewhat out-of-place. As far as my play goes, I played the game and explored the world of Harry Potter through the single-player aspects just as much as any other player would. For the chat feature, I only introduced myself and asked one question in my House Common Room chat. Other than that, I stood back and watched how others had created an identity for themselves on the different chat features of the game. It was a really fascinating way to watch how the limitations of the primarily single-player game opened a world of creative interaction through chat.
Step 4: Prepare the Ingredients (Data)
As I said before, I chose to study the chat features of Pottermore. To choose specific data sets to study, I frequently read the chat feeds from the two different conversation areas: the Great Hall and the Gryffindor House Common Room (since I was placed in Gryffindor House of course). I then chose some of the more interesting or enlightening clips that seemed particularly relevant. I tried to choose data that highlighted some of the ways that the students created identity in Pottermore. Some such defining characteristics that I watched for were tags, code names, specific book references that seemed to create a closed discussion, and unusual comments. I only chose consecutive posts from the chat feed to gain a more authentic feel for how that particular aspect of the game is really used by the students. Once I chose highlighted sections, I renamed each player (both their tag names and their student names) to protect their anonymity.
Step 5: Stir Twice Counter-clockwise and Wait Five Minutes (Analysis)
I chose to look at the chat feeds and study how students had made an identity for themselves through that particular online space. There were specific tags that students used to identify themselves when using the chat features and I chose chat feed that demonstrated that use of identification as well as other defining characteristics. I analyzed the data sets for identification markers, group identity, friendships, and action clues. Some of the data was especially interesting to look at in regards to how new players versus pros used the site. Later in the study, I also did a separate analysis that went through the initial steps of creating a Pottermore account and discussed how the site limited its players in identity creation so as to give the analysis a more in-depth perspective when it comes to identity and site limitations.
Step 6: Bottle and Save for Later (Traditions)
I focused my study on the idea of how identity can be created in an online space. For reference, I chose to follow the idea of affinity spaces from Rebecca Black and Constance Steinkuehler's "Literacy in Virtual Worlds" and Angela Thomas' "Digital Literacies of the Cybergirl" for information on how identity can be created in online environments. Their studies also lent me a model for how to structure a study based on online practices.
Black, R. W. & Steinkuehler, C. "Literacy in Virtual Worlds." In L. Christenbury, R. Bomer, & P. Smagorinsky (Eds.), Handbook of Adolescent Literacy Research (pp. 271-286). New York: Guilford, 2009. Print.
Rowling, J. K. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. New York: Scholastic Press, 2000. Print.
Thomas, Angela. “Digital Literacies of the Cybergirl.” E-Learning 1.3 (2004): 358-382. Print.