Doctor Who, the Gentleman Adventurer and the Strange Dearth of Science in Media

The revival of the Doctor Who television series in 2005 saw the return of one of the most archetypal and well-recognised science-fiction characters, one who both came with a pre-determined set of expectations of character behaviour and activities, and wanted to break away from ‘the past’. By the time of the reboot, the previous series had been discontinued long enough to exert minimal influence over the new series.

The casting of Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor, with a more physically-imposing, rougher presence than previous Doctor Who actors, was a definite break for the character. The many changes in character between Eccleston and Tennant clearly illustrates how much of a break Eccleston was, particularly in terms of the archetypes embodied by the character. Unless otherwise highlighted, ‘archetypes’ here is intended to mean a particular type of character with defined and understood characteristics, not connected to Jungian archetypal analysis as such.

David Layton wrote an article discussing the (Jungian) archetypes present in the Doctor Who series, both in its original form (1963-1989) and the reboot (2005-present). When discussing character types  more generally, he notes that the rebooted Doctor has narrowed to “late nineteenth and early twentieth century forms in British fiction and drama: the dandified gentleman, the bohemian scholar, the gentleman adventurer, and so on” (Layton 2010).


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Color or Song or Choice Diction – Spot Check 25


How does the overall environment of gaming influence our experience of imaginary worlds? In this Spot Check I think about my experiences gaming in Denton, TX, and how the colors, music, and words combined with the performance of the Dungeon Master to shape the imaginative experience. Anthropologically, you could talk about the holistic approach, but I also really like thinking about it as “terroir,” a term that usually applies to wine but that Jeff Vandermeer explores in an expanded sense in his novel Control (which will probably be the subject of my next weekly geek-out.


Happy 10th Anniversary World of Warcraft!

Today is the 10th Anniversary of World of Warcraft! Click below to for an hour and a half of cut scenes and lore from the past 10 years.

10 years is a long time in MMO years. To celebrate, Blizzard has re-calibrated the original raid – Molten Core – for what is now level 100 style raiding. This dungeon was featured in a pretty fantastic ethnography called Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft by Pepperdine Gameful Design Lab director – Mark Chen.

The toils and struggles this group went through 10 years ago is not repeatable today unless you played on private World of Warcraft servers. Even then, the experiences are vastly different. Game histories, especially mmo histories, are unique in that they could become untrue or flat out wrong overnight. Patches, game versions, and content all move at an incredible pace. To study MMOs is to study at the speed of technological development itself.

I wanted to share a few more examples of the rich data that an anthropologist could find in the depths of archived conversation history. World of Warcraft was and is an important game because it represented something interesting. It still does. It represents what we consider a social interaction to be online. Also, it focuses our attention when we consider what a strong content provider can and will do to serve and protect a playerbase.

I remember when I first heard of World of Warcraft. I was playing Final Fantasy XI and my guild was getting tired of the content that Square-Enix was throwing at players. Gold farmers had taken over the economy completely and had inflated currency to the point where players could no longer keep trophy items (very expensive, very rare items) in their personal bazaar for maximum value because those items were now worth more than any single person could carry. This was the theme across most MMOs at the time. Everyone was ready for a new game that had a strong central power that slanted toward legitimacy of the system rather than being unable to combat illegitimate player action.

To that end, World of Warcraft is maintained by a very strong creator – Blizzard Entertainment. Take this solo of a portion of the raid Naxxramas

This person exploited their way through the dungeon by themselves using what they felt was a legitimate innovation of how the game system worked. Sadly, they discovered that Blizzard did not feel the same way and stripped the player of their loot and banned them for 24 hours. However, they didn’t become this way without significant history behind them.

One user of the Elitist Jerks MMO player forum once blogged about “The Most Important Event in Raiding History.” Sadly, elitist jerks updated their site’s look and feel and the original entry was taken down. It can still be viewed on my Scribd account.

In this entry, user JamesVZ talks about endgame content in Everquest and the debate that ensued around guilds tackling unfinished dungeons and large-scale game content. The conversation essentially became the role of the content provider in policing legitimate versus illegitimate actions taken by players in games.

World of Warcraft holds so much more history within it than these few stories. As you reminisce about your time in the game or wonder why people spend so much time in synthetic worlds, one thing is for certain – WoW doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Below are some of the papers, books, dissertations and theses that use WoW as a method of inquiry.


My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of WarcraftBonnie Nardi

Leet Noobs: The Life and Death of an Expert Player Group in World of Warcraft – Mark Chen


Human-technology relationality and Self-network organization: Players and avatars in World of WarcraftJaime Banks

Multimodality as a Sociolinguistic ResourceLauren Brittany Collister

Journal Articles

All in a day’s work: a study of World of Warcraft’s NPCs comparing gender to professions – Kelly Bergstrom, Victoria McArthur, Jennifer Jenson, Tamara Peyton

From tree house to barracks the social life of guilds in World of WarcraftDmitri Williams, Nicolas Ducheneaut, Li Xiong, Yuanyuan Zhang, Nick Yee, Eric Nickell


Space Hulk: In the grim darkness of the far future there are only elegant solutions

“Man versus alien in desperate battle” screams the subtitle to the current edition of Games Workshop’s miniature-based board Space Hulk. Something of a legend among certain sections of the board gaming community, Space Hulk has spanned three table-top editions and three computer game adaptations. The most recent, 2009 limited edition, iteration of the board game, won several awards according to The 2009 edition was re-released in September this year. Through a turn- and dice-based system, players compete to achieve victory for one of two factions: the ‘heroic’ space marines and the ‘evil’ genestealers. The former represent the elite genetically-engineered supersoldiers of the (arguably fascist) ‘Imperium of Man’ while the latter represent an alien race of six-limbed monstrosities. Both sides have divergent tactics and objectives aboard a giant, ancient, derelict space ship (the ‘space hulk’ of the title). This post attempts to conduct a tongue-in-cheek analysis of the board game utilising different branches of social scientific theory, concluding with some broad thoughts about the appeals of imagined universes like that of Space Hulk.

The most recent edition.

The most recent edition.


Firstly, some further information on the setting of the game and how this translates to the board game itself is required. The two opposing forces have contrasting motivations and tactics. The space marines are on a double quest to salvage useable technology and knowledge from within the depths of the ship and to eliminate the threat of the genestealers to humanity. As the ostensibly human ‘good guys,’ the story revolves around the space marines and individuals important to the plot (typically commanders and special weapon troops) are named. They are deployed in small groups, usually of 5-10 soldiers, and utilise a variety of ranged weaponry. Victory is generally achieved through carrying out certain in-game tasks – e.g. destroying particular areas, moving through particular board sections or eliminating a set number or type of genestealers. Limited in numbers and resources, the space marine player is often in a race against time to achieve their objectives before they run out of troops. The speedy nature of the conflict is represented in game terms by the space marine player having a limited amount of time to complete each of their turns, forcing the player to make decisions and dice rolls quickly if they are to stave off defeat.

The genestealers, on the other hand, seek to wipe out the squads of space marines, so that their infiltration of the human galaxy can continue. Masters of close quarters fighting and with a potentially infinite number of troops at their disposal, the genestealer player typically seeks to slow down the marines, whilst manoeuvring to outflank and overwhelm the space marine gun-line. Framed as inscrutable and utterly alien, space marines only represent a threat to the genestealers’ purposes. With the advantage of infinite resources and, without a timer, the clock is the genestealer player’s friend: the player can make their moves with leisure and can cheerfully sacrifice troops, safe in the knowledge that plenty more will appear as the game goes by. This combination of the setting (a claustrophobic battle for survival reminiscent of numerous other science-fiction tropes) and the rules come together to create a tense board game, involving both the skilful application of tactics and luck.

The barely more recognisably human space marine (left) and genestealer (right).

The barely more recognisably human space marine (left) and genestealer (right).


I propose that Space Hulk can be examined on three levels: the fictional setting, the game itself and how, in combination, fiction and game-mechanics link to and reflect the ‘real’ world. Firstly, examining the setting, there is a comprehensive and irrevocable divide between the space marines and genestealers. Although the two sides ostensibly inhabit the same galaxy, their experiences of reality are entirely separate and in conflict with one another beyond constant and inevitable battle. An example of the dissonance between the two sides is the way that the genestealers and space marines conceive of the ‘space hulk’ they battle across. To the space marines, the space hulk is a dark, forbidding, dangerous unknown that can also provide a source of riches to the brave. To the genestealers, the giant star ship they inhabit is a comfortable conduit to new realms and conquest, a stage in a journey that the forces of humanity threaten. The framed alterity of the two sides is complete beyond the fighting; there are no messy alternatives, no negotiations, no other interest groups, no divergent interpretations of history, no disagreement within the two sides’ camps – only war. This setting of irreconcilable opposition allows for simplicity in game terms. Each mission has clear victory conditions that must be satisfied; usually the space marine player is complete particular objectives and the genestealer player attempting to stop them. Arguably, this is a strong part of the entertainment value of the game: “a complicated dispute over the form of reality in the disputed comfort of space” has a very different ring to it than “a battle to the death in the chilling depths of space” (Space Hulk second edition’s subtitle) and probably plays out somewhat differently.

Simplicity has its appeal beyond the confines of board games. Indeed, many current policy disputes in the real world are dominated by efforts to institute a simplistic form of reality. For example, during recent debates on immigration in the UK, right-wing politicians and journalists have seemingly instituted an elegant framing of a complex situation. Within this framing, uncontrolled immigration is the cause of a myriad of social problems and the simple solution is to restrict it. Time and again in geopolitical disputes, there is an appeal to the idea of a single, simplistic, definite understanding of complex reality with concomitant clear rules regarding the nature of disputes and their resolution. Utilising the language of Space Hulk, problems can be conceived of as ‘missions,’ where ‘objectives’ need to be achieved for ‘victory’. Social science (and particularly anthropology), however, takes issue with such simplistic approaches to otherwise complex, complicated, ‘messy’ situations. For example, the ‘ontological turn’ within social science, has drawn attention to the politicised nature of defining and instituting particular forms of reality (Latour 2004). Beyond the ontological turn, cultural theory has problematised the idea that instituting a single, agreed definition of problems as a necessary first step in any policy setting (Verweij et al. 2011b). Instead, cultural theorists assert that what are desirable are ‘clumsy’ “noisy and argumentative institutional arrangements” (Thompson 2008). According to cultural theory, “there are four primary ways of organizing, perceiving and justifying social relations (usually called ‘ways of life’, or ‘social solidarities’): egalitarianism, hierarchy, individualism and fatalism” (Verweij et al. 2011a:3). Each solidarity then tends to produce different ways of perceiving nature; thus, in any given conflict, there is likely to be four plausible yet conflicting accounts of the situation.

In this thinking, complex social situations are built on the combination of these limited fundamental forms of social organisation. According to cultural theorists, ‘clumsy institutions’ provide a space for all four groups (although fatalistic actors are usually silent) to be able to respectfully discuss any matter at hand. What is produced is a “vibrant multivocality In which each voice puts its view as persuasively as possible, sensitive to the knowledge that others are likely to disagree, and acknowledging a responsibility to listen to what others are saying” (Thompson 2003:5111). Returning to Space Hulk, the game setting is ‘elegant’ ‘closed hegemony’; it is based on the logic of one dominant social solidarity. In this case, the hierarchical solidarity – the universe is understood to be largely indifferent to the actions of the combatants, yet can be managed in a ‘rational’ manner. In such a situation, individuals under the control of qualified commanders within firm, nurturing and long-lived institutions can safeguard the interests of all within their faction by achieving victory in each mission (cf. Thompson 2003).

Now, part of the appeal of both science fiction and board games is the role they can play in escapism. As such, I don’t begrudge Space Hulk its elegance. It’s fun. As other posts on this site make clear, however, science fiction and fantasy have a role in perpetuating and reinforcing particular discredited attitudes and narratives regarding the ‘natural’ progress of history and the separation and alterity of different cultures. It is not hard to find examples of simple, morally unambiguous ‘un-messy’ fictional realities, for example the situations depicted in the Star Wars films and the Lord of the Rings have remarkably clear resolutions considering the scale of conflict. Space Hulk has a similar approach: there are no clumsy solutions on Space Hulk unless one were to change the rules. The question of the extent to which the games we play and the worlds we imagine have on our daily lives remains open and complex. To my mind, however, it is sometimes worth thinking about what fantasy realities mean for the ‘real’ forms of reality we construct and act upon. See you at your local hobby shop for the next pan-galactic conference for fostering greater understanding of potentially-inhabited, unpowered space craft!

The front cover of the most recent edition highlights the opportunities for dialogue within space marine-genestealer interactions.

The front cover of the most recent edition highlights the opportunities for dialogue within space marine-genestealer interactions.




LATOUR, B., 2004. Whose Cosmos, Which Cosmopolitics?: Comments on the Peace Terms of Ulrich Beck. Common Knowledge, 10(3), pp. 450-462.

THOMPSON, M., 2008. Clumsiness: why isn’t it as easy as falling off a log? Innovation: The European Journal of Social Science Research, 21(3), pp. 205-216.

THOMPSON, M., 2003. Cultural Theory, Climate Change and Clumsiness. Economic and Political Weekly, 38(48), pp. 5107-5112.

VERWEIJ, M., DOUGLAS, M., ELLIS, R., ENGEL, C., HENDRIKS, F., LOHMANN, S., NEY, S., RAYNER, S. and THOMPSON, M., 2011a. The Case for Clumsiness. In: M. VERWEIJ and M. THOMPSON, eds, Clumsy Solutions for a Complex World. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan, pp. 1-27.

VERWEIJ, M., THOMPSON, M. and ENGEL, C., 2011b. Clumsy Conclusions: How to Do Policy and Research in a Complex World. In: M. VERWEIJ and M. THOMPSON, eds, Clumsy Solutions for a Complex World. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 241-249.



The Weekly Geekout: Knitting..?

Every Monday, TGA editors write about the geeky things they love. Anthropological and sociological analysis aside, sometimes we just like to geek out and share what we are passionate about with our readers. So far, we have written about things like Adventure Time and the Day[9] Daily. And today, I am writing about knitting.


Indeed. If geeks are generally considered to be highly enthusiastic, intensely dedicated or even slightly obsessive about the things they love, then it could be said that knitting is in many regards a very geeky hobby.

If I were to fall into clichés, I might say that while a geek might strive to collect every Batman comic ever made, be able to name each starship from the Star Wars expanded universe or learn to speak elvish, a knitter might obsess over high quality hand dyed yarn, learn dozens of cast-on or cast-off methods or collect various types of needles, knitting bags, and scissors. It takes a lot of love, skill, dedication, passion and time to build a replica of the Death star, and so does knitting an Aran afghan.

Celtic Aran Afghan from Sharondipity Designs

Celtic Aran Afghan from Sharondipity Designs

But let’s step away from the clichés: the point I am trying to make is not so much that knitting is a geeky hobby, but rather that as a geek and a knitter, geeking out and knitting necessarily go hand in hand for me.

On the most basic level, that means that when I watch my favorite TV shows or movies, I knit. When I feel like knitting, I watch my favorite TV shows or movies at the same time. Having finished a scarf, I’ll remember I knitted it while rewatching the entire ninth season of Supernatural or the only three Star Wars movies ever made. That’s right. Only three. So far.

But the relation between the geeking out and knitting goes deeper for me. If I read a comic or watch a TV show and see a character wearing a nice sweater, I tell myself that I should knit one exactly like it. So what happened when I saw The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey? I zoomed on to Gandalf’s scarf the moment I saw it. I lost track of the action and started asking myself what stitch and which yarn I might use to make my own. It turns out the scarf was made using a loom and pure sheep wool from New-Zealand and thin metallic thread, but I’ll find a way to make my own.

Gandalf's Scarf from the Hobbit Trilogy

Gandalf’s Scarf from the Hobbit Trilogy

I am not the only geek knitter out there of course: for instance, after the release of the latest Hunger Games movie, Catching Fire, knitting and crochet patterns for Katniss’s cowl appeared all over the internet (alright, all over Pinterest and Raverly). Needless to say, a geek who can knit or crochet has a great advantage when it comes to creating accurate cosplay.

My geeky interests also provide inspiration for original creations, as they do for many other knitting and crochet enthusiasts. Love Doctor Who? Why not make a lovely Dalek doily? And why not knit a tribute to Star Trek sweater while watching Star Trek? My next project is to make a beautiful Khajiit Cowl similar to the one my character in Skyrim wears.

I recommend knitting as much as I recommend you watch the Star Trek TNG episode ”The Inner Light” (S5E5): 150%, even if you don’t like Star Trek. Knitting is useful, it keeps your brain engaged while you watch TV, and it can help you make better cosplay (and Christmas presents).

So here is a list of my top 3 go-to resources for knitting (and crochet):

1. Raverlry, for patterns and ideas.

2. New stitch a day Youtube channel, for useful video tutorials on different stitches and patterns.

3. VeryPink Knits Youtube Channel for video tutorials about basic knitting techniques.