Social Regulation in an Online Game: Uncovering the Problematics of Code

TitleSocial Regulation in an Online Game: Uncovering the Problematics of Code
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsAckerman, MS, Muramatsu, J, McDonald, DW
Conference NameProceedings of the 16th ACM international conference on Supporting group work (GROUP’10)
Date Published11/2010
ISBN Number978-1-4503-0387-3
Keywordscode, ethnography, games, online communities, police, social computing, social control, social interaction, social life, social regulation, socio-technical design, software infrastructure, user study, virtual communities

More and more interaction is becoming code-based. Indeed, in online worlds, it is all there is. If software is providing a new basis for social interaction, then changing the infrastructure of interaction may necessarily change social interaction in important ways. As such, it is critical to understand the implications of code - we want to know what the use of code means for socio-technical design. In this paper, based on an ethnographic study of an online game, we examine social regulation in an online game world as a case study of socio-technical design using code. We wanted to know how changing interaction based in code conditioned use in our site. We found that code changed social regulation in three specific ways. First, code made some user actions that were socially unwanted to be immediately visible. Second, code could prevent some actions from occurring or punish users immediately. Finally, software was not able to see all action. Some user actions were too nuanced or subtle for code to catch; others were too ambiguous to place into code. Following Agre, we argue i that a "grammar of action" resulting from the use of code limits the kinds of behaviors that can be seen and dealt with. These findings suggest that there is more than just a gap between the social world and technical capabilities. There are new possibilities, tradeoffs, and limitations that must be considered in socio-technical design, and all come simultaneously.