Sociology of games reading please!


Hey y’all - I am busy on a sociology of science essay at uni, and just realised that I have a hivemind of hyper articulate well read people that I can draw on. I’m looking for some sociology reading that might be specfiic to games and virtual spaces, but if the themes come up anywhere else in whatever context I’d be super interested to hear about it.

The thing I’m looking at is the location, in time and space, of virtual environments. There’s an obvious impression that virtual spaces are unlocated - they exist outside of regimes of time and space. That seems to come from them being persistent and permanently accessible on demand, and to them being discontinuous to ‘real’ space with a different sets of geometries, physics and logics to them.

That clearly isn’t the whole story - there needs to be a server somewhere, you need the hardware to hand, instances exist for moments and then cease, they sometimes require an agency or player to be in temporary command to function, the labour and expertise of individuals in different, ‘real’ times and places has been required to build it.

I’m basically trying to find if anyone has done any work or writing on this kind of tension, on the apparent unlocatedness of virtual spaces and how they actually do link to real places. This tension is not at all unique to games and virtual spaces, clearly since I’m using it to talk about science and technology more widely. If you have anything in mind you think might be relevent, please hmu x


The one thing I can think of is Cory Doctorow’s novels, Little Brother and For The Win. They both deal with virtual spaces as the start of activism and labour and how that interacts with the real world. They are speculative fiction, but maybe reading up on those could lead you to other, non-fiction, sources.


To add to that, I just read Doctorow’s graphic novel with Jen Wang “In Real Life”, which is a heartwarming little story about labor and gaming. It’s not quite as highbrow as Doctorow’s other work, but it provides some great insight on the world of grey-market gold mining in MMOs.


I doubt you haven’t already read this but Umberto Eco’s Fortresses of Solitude is a short thing about the time he visited a bunch of American waxwork museums and amusement parks. He talks specifically about simulacras and hyperreality, though I’m not sure that’s what you’re trying to look for.


Do you have access to Jstor? This could be of interest: THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF VIRTUAL SPACE
Keith McIntosh, Michigan Sociological Review, Vol. 22 (Fall 2008), pp. 196-214

Also this perhaps:
Research Commentary: Virtual Worlds: A Performative Perspective on Globally Distributed, Immersive Work, Ulrike Schultze and Wanda J. Orlikowski, Information Systems Research, Vol. 21, No. 4 (December 2010), pp. 810-821.

Let me know if you don’t have access to Jstor, I can get these to you.


Not reading, but I really recommend Cool Ghosts’ Best Game Ever series. Specifically, the episodes about Breath of the Wild and Anatomy should be relevant. Also, some parts of hbomberguy’s video on Bloodborne.


@Seva I do have jstor access, I’m def gonna check those - I usually find actually knowing what I’m going for is safer than blind searching archives but those actually look super relevant so thanks!

@BigNoNo i have kinda been a cg patreon for 4 odd years or so now lol but the reminder about the anatomy video in particular is really solid x


I haven’t been up to date with the virtual space lit for a while (way, way lapsed soc PhD here), but you might get a hook into a bit of this from something that actually far predates the internet:

Chester Barnard was an early AT&T executive and he wrote some foundational stuff on management and organizations that influenced early sociology of organizations. He made this observation that really struck me (and stuck with me), on the relationship between the physical space of telephone switchboards — that if the switchboard operators’ arms were longer (say, like those of monkeys – he really suggested this), then the switchboards could be even bigger and more efficient, requiring fewer operators to connect more lines.

Extrapolate that physicality a little and you get implications for physical infrastructure (servers, etc) and virtual connectivity. There’s really a lot to unpack there, including gender (because of course the switchboard operators were women) and capital/work relationships, as well. That doesn’t give you a whole paper, but maybe it gives you a useful hook to think and write with.

Barnard writes about this in The Function of the Executive, I think.


Huizinga’s book Homo Ludens is a foundational work for sociology & games! I found Brian Sutton-Smith’s The Ambiguity of Play more useful, though. I think it briefly touches on virtual spaces.

Half-Real by Jesper Juul, maybe?

Hamlet on the Holodeck SOUNDS useful, but it’s mostly concerned with the evolution of narrative, so I don’t know if it’s what you want or not.


Two other seminal works not mentioned yet in game studies are Man, Play, and Games by Roger Caillois, and The Grasshopper by Bernard Suits. These are specifically sociological, also!

Texts which I know less about but might be of interest are Play Matters by Miguel Sicart, Reality Is Broken by Jane McGonigal, Coming of Age in Second Life by Tom Boellstorff, Synthetic Worlds by Edward Castronova, and Rise of the Videogame Zinesters by Anna Anthropy.


Interesting topic! These articles/books might be helpful. Sorry if you’ve seen them already.

Also made me tangentially think about the environmental impact of bitcoin mining ( and the labor that goes into that.

In regards to the work I do (archiving), the fact that people consider virtual space and digital data as persistent and permanent is a huge problem. So much of today’s information and history is digital but also proprietary. It’s difficult to preserve things like social media, video games, and websites when companies and servers are here today but could be gone tomorrow.


ahh amazing - i hadn’t come across any of these texts, definitely gonna check them out x
got a confirmation of my spot on an undergrad continuation masters a week or so ago, so gonna have a lot more opportunity to explore this stuff.