[Chinese DiGRA 2014] Yong Ming Kow on Grassroots cultures and participatory practices

[This abstract is from the Chinese Game Studies Conference at Ningbo Nottingham University, Spring 2014.]

Grassroots Cultures and Participatory Practices

Yong Ming Kow, City University of Hong Kong

Participatory practices are forms of “grassroots cultural production” (Jenkins, 2006). In this dissertation research work, we investigated the relationship between grassroots cultures and participatory practices (Kow & Nardi, 2009; Kow & Nardi, 2011; Kow & Nardi, 2014; Kow & Nardi, 2012). We define grassroots culture as the ways members of a social group cooperate and self-organized for mutual benefits outside governmental or corporate institutions. Local grassroots cultures may differ due to varying economic and social conditions.   

We examine participatory communities of the online video game World of Warcraft, which is available in nine different languages including English and Chinese. We conducted twenty-five in-person interviews in California and China. We participated in Chinese and U.S. online forums and chatrooms between April 2008 and January 2011. All in-person and phone interviews were transcribed. All forum and chatroom interviews were electronically logged. 

We found that the modders in the American and Chinese modding communities had similar goals, but cooperated differently. For example, the U.S. modding community gave each participant the same right to post and write messages in the forums and chatrooms. The Chinese modding community controlled participants’ ability to write and post in the forums and chatrooms. While U.S. modders benefitted economically when advertising companies bought out sites or employed sites’ administrators; Chinese modders had not seen such support from Chinese advertising companies. Thus, the Chinese modders thus had fewer incentives to participate in an open environment.   

In the global environment, participatory communities vary due to varying local histories and environment. We urge researchers to pay attention to grassroots cultures as gaming research scales to global level. 


Jenkins, H. (2006). Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Media Consumers in the Digital Age. NYU Press.

Kow, Y. M., & Nardi, B. (2009). Culture and Creativity: World of Warcraft Modding in China and the U.S. In W. S. Bainbridge, Online Worlds: Convergence of the Real and the Virtual. London: Springer-Verlag.

Kow, Y. M., & Nardi, B. (2011). Forget Online Communities? Revisit Cooperative Work! ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work. Hangzhou, China: ACM Press.

Kow, Y. M., & Nardi, B. (2012). Mediating Contradictions of Digital Media. UC Irvine Law Review, 2 .

Kow, Y. M., & Nardi, B. (2014). Rethinking Participatory Culture: Lessons from Core Teams in China. In D. Wong, & W. Kelly, Videogames and Virtual Realities in East Asia. London, UK: Routledge.