Surveillant Assemblages of Governance in Massively Multiplayer Online Games: A Comparative Analysis

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Aphra Kerr
Stefano De Paoli
Max Keatinge


This paper explores governance in Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs), one sub-sector of the digital games industry. Informed by media governance studies, Surveillance Studies, and game studies, this paper identifies five elements which form part of the system of governance in MMOGs. These elements are: game code and rules; game policies; company community management practices; player participatory practices; and paratexts. Together these governance elements function as a surveillant assemblage, which relies to varying degrees on lateral and hierarchical forms of surveillance, and the assembly of human and non-human elements.


Using qualitative mixed methods we examine and compare how these elements operate in three commercial MMOGs: Eve Online, World of Warcraft and Tibia. While peer and participatory surveillance elements are important, we identified two major trends in the governance of disruptive behaviours by the game companies in our case studies. Firstly, an increasing reliance on automated forms of dataveillance to control and punish game players, and secondly, increasing recourse to contract law and diminishing user privacy rights. Game players found it difficult to appeal the changing terms and conditions and they turned to creating paratexts outside of the game in an attempt to negotiate the boundaries of the surveillant assemblage. In the wider context of self-regulated governance systems these trends highlight the relevance of consumer rights, privacy, and data protection legislation to online games and the usefulness of bringing game studies and Surveillance Studies into dialogue.

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Author Biographies

Aphra Kerr, National University of Ireland Maynooth

Senior Lecturer,

Department of Sociology

Max Keatinge, National University of Ireland Maynooth

M.Litt student