As a new and emerging research area, computer games demand the development of new theoretical frameworks for research and analysis. In addition to the specific requirements of a new medium, the advent and rapidly rising popularity of multiplayer computer gaming creates further challenges for researchers when the text under analysis forms a locus for human interaction – structuring and mediating communication between large numbers of people, and spawning social practices and identifications within a cultural economy extending beyond the game itself. While multiplayer gaming practices develop within existing social, cultural, technological and economic structures, they are also producing significant shifts within these structures.
Here I will be discussing the gaming practices surrounding multiplayer, first-person shooter (FPS) computer games such as Quake III Arena and Half-Life Counter-Strike. Since the mid-1990s, a large and remarkably cohesive online community has developed around these games, involving hundreds of thousands of players, with up to 100,000 FPS gamers actively playing online at any one time (http://www.gamespy.com/stats, Mar 5, 2003). In addition to actual gameplay, the FPS community engages in practices of game development, criticism, commentary, debate, information exchange, file-sharing and social organisation. Online access to open-source game development tools, the provision of venues for distribution and publicity of player-generated game content and modifications, the use of the online community in game testing, and increased communication between game development companies and players are currently shifting the boundaries between the traditional roles of media producers and consumers and changing the ways in which these games are made. Study of the practices surrounding multiplayer FPS games can provide insight into new and emerging models of media production, consumption and distribution, play, community formation and challenges to existing structures of social and economic power.