Summer Research Update: Rodger Caudill, League of Legends, and altruism online

Hi all,

I asked our department’s five student summer research award recipients to provide us with a brief update about how their projects are going. Here’s what Rodger Caudill had to say about his research project concerning altruism and online gaming.

Photograph of Cognitive Gaming's Heroes of the Storm team, practice-playing in front of a live audience in San Jose, California.

Photograph of Cognitive Gaming’s Heroes of the Storm team, practice-playing in front of a live audience in San Jose, California.

With my ethnographic dive into altruism in League of Legends, I have been examining communication between professional E-sports players, and the role of minority identities in the community. I originally aimed to go down to Riot Games HQ in Santa Monica, but due to the presence of sensitive information, I was denied access to their headquarters. While this was a slight hang up, I managed to become involved with the competitive E-sports organization, Cognitive Gaming, in addition to having many interviews with both professional players, and active members of the League of Legends and E-sports communities. These past few weeks I have been an observer of a professional gaming team, Cognitive Gaming, as they had been preparing for Qualifiers to attend PAX, Penny Arcade Expo, in Seattle this year. Spending the past two weeks with Cognitive’s Heroes of the Storm team, a game very similar to League of Legends, and interviewing unique members of the League of Legends community from the player behavior team of League of Legends, to stand-up League of Legends comedians, my daily schedule has only just returned to a state of normalcy. Watching and interviewing a competitive E-sports team on a daily basis has given me incredible insights into what it takes to be a professional gamer.

Most interesting is the emotional state of the E-sports scene, which creates an environment where professionals typically do not last more than a year. The stress and intensity of a game like League of Legends can literally destroy careers after less than a year of “play”.  A competitive team must practice for at least eight hours a day to remain relevant, and when they are not practicing as a team, each member practices individual mechanics, or reflex skill, on their own time. Being allowed to sit in during Cognitive’s scrims has given me insight into what it takes to be one of the best teams in the region. The hours of coding and observations that I have done has led to patterns that, when asked to share my data with teammates of Cognitive, has even surprised them. My interviews and observations have led to long lasting relationships with some of these professional, and influential community members. With the opportunities Cognitive gaming has given to my research, interviews others have provided, and the Goffman texts I have waded through, I enter another long period of data harvesting to finalize my ethnographic research into the heart of League of Legends and its community.

I think it’s a truism of ethnographic fieldwork that things never quite go as expected, and there are always unforeseen hurdles and challenges. It sounds like you’ve done a great job navigating those challenges, Rodger, and good luck wrapping up your analysis in the remainder of the summer. Thanks for the update!



Summer Research Update: Elena Becker, the Midway Point, and a Sea of Contradictions

Hi all,

Elena Becker traveled to Malaysia this past summer as part of our Southeast Asia field school initiative, supported by the Henry Luce Foundation. She made use of her summer research award to study representations of ethnicity for the tourist market. Here’s what she had to report about her research in Malaysian Borneo.

Elena (center) with a group of performers at the Mari Mari Cultural Village in Sabah. This photograph was the official, encouraged post-performance photograph.

Elena (center) with a group of performers at the Mari Mari Cultural Village in Sabah. This photograph was the official, encouraged post-performance photograph.

The man across the desk is nodding earnestly at me, and that’s a problem. It’s my fifth-to-last day in Kuching and he had just finished signing me up for a tour to visit the Sarawak Cultural Village when, while waiting for the receipt to print, he asked me what I was doing in Borneo. When I gave him the shorthand version (“I’m studying cultural authenticity at tourist sites”) he weighed in on it. “I think [the cultural village] is quite authentic” he said politely, intensifying the aforementioned head-nodding. “It represents the culture of Sarawak, and you can see the dances. Of course, it’s not as authentic as a longhouse, but it’s a good substitute if you don’t have time to visit one.” I was fully prepared for him to denounce this sort of cultural tourism in the same way that many others had – “it’s a façade,” or “it’s about the money” — and this gentle, albeit abrupt sidetracking of my expectations was a surprise. That said, the fact that it happened was nothing less than par for the course.

Entrance to the Sarawak Cultural village. The text above the gate translates as

Entrance to the Sarawak Cultural village. The text above the gate translates as “Welcome to the Sarawak Cultural Village”

In my nearly six weeks in Malaysian Borneo (I returned right around the fourth of July) I had my mind changed again and again about what I was seeing, what I thought about it and what all these observations meant for my research. One guide told me that his wife (ethnically Bidayuh ) had been retaught her traditional dances so that she could perform them for tourists. As a result, she felt more connected to her history, and the tourism that had sparked it seemed to be a good thing. A week later I would learn in a nod-nod, wink-wink, off the record conversation that dancers at a particular cultural village were not hired with regard to their ethnicity, so that often Ibans would learn and perform dances that were traditionally Melanau, or a Bidayuh would play the part of a member of an Orang Ulu tribe. I would immediately recalculate, worrying about the ways in which tourism encouraged the commodification of indigeneity and identity loss. The findings that I thought would fall at my feet like a gift from anthropology gods remained hidden, peeking out from behind these sorts of contradictions, double negatives and non-answers.

Once I returned home, ending the fieldwork portion of this research and starting the sift through my data, the answers became a little clearer. I’m still working on a finding – that’s what the rest of the summer is reserved for – but with a little more perspective I’m realizing that the contradictions I encountered in the field are critical to the way I understand the answer to my research question. Rather than being limited to a particular pattern, staging in the tourism industry seems to be a complex web of factors that includes development, colonial stereotypes, expectations, money, politics and, yes, culture. Back in Tacoma now, I’m excited to keep trying to tie those threads together – after all, it will probably only take a week more before I stumble across another contradiction, and recalculate once again.

Great to hear your update, Elena. Good luck analytically navigating those contradictions!


SBOH: The Salmon Beach Oral History project

Hi all,

Those of you who’ve taken SOAN 299: Ethnographic Methods recently are already aware of this project, but over the first few weeks of summer I had the time to pull some initial interviews together and post them on their own blog. Here’s a brief description, and you can have a look at the initial iteration of the page here:

SBOH headerThe purpose of any oral history project is, at least, to build a compendium of stories, perspectives, and experiences told by those who lived it. That is this project’s core purpose. We build this compendium semester by semester, with small groups of students from an Ethnographic Methods course at the University of Puget Sound. These students loosely guide interview/conversations to thematic waypoints that the class determines to explore. From that angle, the Salmon Beach Oral History project provides multiple pathways by which the history of this truly unique community can be explored.

The community of Salmon Beach traces its roots back over a hundred years. What started as fishing shacks congregated around a boathouse became weekend and summer camps and cabins. Those cabins became cottages, electricity arrived, and decades of growth and change ensued. Through those decades, cottages grew upward and outward, summer cabins became homes, and the history of the present became more clear. Equally of note, automobiles are a ten minute walk up more than 200 stairs. Those stairs ascend a bluff that constantly threatens property owners. Property comprises a small strip of beach and houses on posts over the tidal zone of Puget Sound. Collective organization of the community is a structural necessity: utilities, the legal framework of ownership, and the management of communal spaces require it.

For the time being, the oral history interviews and other materials are housed here. The process of migrating these materials to the institutional safety of the Collins Library at the University of Puget Sound is under discussion. In both manifestations, this compendium will be publicly available. Anyone interested in exploring the particular experiences of this unique community is welcome.

Andrew Gardner, Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of Puget Sound, April 2015

The Salmon Beach Oral History project commenced in September of 2014. The curriculum at the University of Puget Sound’s Department of Sociology and Anthropology (SOAN) requires all students to explore the craft and techniques of the interview. By orienting this perennial assignment to the collection of oral history interviews about life — past and present — in the Salmon Beach community, SOAN students are steadily building a substantial archive of knowledge about this fascinating community.