User creativity, governance, and the new media: An introduction to the First Monday special issue
First Monday

User creativity, governance, and the new media: An introduction to the First Monday special issue by Yong Ming Kow and Bonnie Nardi

In this special issue, we present a multi–disciplinary perspective of the emergence of user creativity in new media. The papers were written by researchers in anthropology, sociology, media studies, law, computer science, and management studies. The authors examine the roles of users and commercial actors in the new media, and help answer critical questions on intellectual property, ethics, practice, and governance. Taken together, the papers expose a complex, mutable, creative ecology influencing new media product development and practice.


The creative ecology




The emergence of end user creativity in new media is receiving much research attention in the fields of anthropology (Nardi and Kallinikos, 2007; Malaby, 2009; Kow and Nardi, 2009; Ito, et al., 2010), sociology (Taylor, 2006), media studies (Jenkins, 2006; Kücklich, 2005; Consalvo, 2007; Postigo, 2007), law (Lessig, 1999; Benkler, 2006; Burk, 2009), computer science (Scacchi, 2004), and management studies (Tschang, 2007). User creativity has manifested in new media in a variety of ways including addon creation, digital media remixing, content development in virtual worlds, botting, hacking, cheating, level editing, and machinima. While user creativity is contributing to the richness of our Internet, the authors of this special issue have asked probing questions about intellectual property, ethics, practice, and governance.



The creative ecology

The paper by Tschang and Comas, “Developing virtual worlds: The interplay of design, communities and rationality,” urges a balanced view of the diverse set of tasks faced by companies developing virtual worlds. The three views of virtual worlds development — designers as “god,” virtual world as a community driven and emergent product, and virtual world as a business — can and should be reconciled.

Scacchi’s paper, “Computer game mods, modders, modding, and the mod scene,” points out that modding practices are informed by a set of socio–technical affordances: (a) game mod embodiments, (b) game software and content licenses, (c) game modding software infrastructure and development tools, (d) career contingencies and organizational practices of game modders, and (e) social worlds intersecting the game modding scene. Scacchi suggests that a different mix of affordances would derive a different set of modding practices and outcomes.

Burk’s paper, “Authorization and governance in virtual worlds,” argues that copyright law is fraught with legal ambiguities when used in virtual worlds. A virtual world operator often requires users to sign a terms of service agreement (ToS) which casts contestable copyright issues into concrete terms. But since virtual worlds are evolving products, the extent of authorization in such contracts cannot be explicitly indicated. These ambiguities seem to have made copyright law and terms of service agreements unsuitable for day–to–day governance.

Ito’s paper, “The rewards of non–commercial production: Distinctions and status in the anime music video scene,” deepens our understanding of the ethics of user communities. Her examination of a community of AMV creators unravels complex social practices and social mechanics for recognizing status, reputation, and distinctions between participants. The ethical system ensures quality production and effective recognition of good participants, while not completely neglecting beginners.

Kow and Nardi’s paper, “Who owns the mods?,” uncovers incompatible perspectives of mod ownership that exist between game companies and modding communities. These differences are rooted in contradictory ethics and practices in the two communities that are linked to their institutional and community functions. To minimize negative emotional valence and disruptions that arise in these conflicts, the technological platform method of governance may be better than the use of law and policies.

Postigo’s paper, “Modding to the big leagues: Exploring the space between modders and the game industry,” relates amateur production to professional development. Postigo questions whether modding is a participatory culture. Modders who are developing entirely new games cease to be “fans.” Also, game designers who were once modders may retain a bit of the naïveté of fandom, a trait that contradicts business rationale. Many designers continue to return to the modding community to share the passion of modding. Professional development and modding may just be two sides of the same coin.

A synthesis of the papers is shown in Figure 1. The development of new media products is seen as co–evolving across three elements — designers, users, and business rationale (Tschang and Comas, this issue). The synthesized picture as shown in Figure 1 reveals a wide and complex creative ecology.


Figure 1: The creative ecology
Figure 1: The creative ecology.


Between the three elements, interactions appear to happen. For example, Scacchi (this issue) pointed out that designers provide for a spectrum of affordances defining modding practices. These affordances are informed by business rationale. Through these interactions, spaces are created where contradictory options are weighed leading to decisions influencing the evolution of new media products.

A design space, between business rationale and designers, is where new media products are made and updated by their legal owners. In participatory spaces, amateurs and designers interact. Fandom may dissolve into a form of technology mediated work where professionalism lies ahead (Postigo, this issue). In contexts where amateur practice translates well into professional practice, user communities may provide a stable zone of activity where professionals acting in a rational business environment can return as participants to rekindle their creativity (Postigo, this issue). However, in participatory spaces where direct translation does not occur, amateurs may aspire to progress to alternative professional practices where their technical skills remain relevant (Ito, this issue).

In a market space, between users and business rationale, users are consumers; they demand quality products which shape business rationale (Tschang, 2007). Both communities — users and companies — have at their disposal specific measures of governance (see Figure 1). These measures are linked to the ethical mechanics that exist in these communities (Ito; Kow and Nardi, this issue). Governance measures limit the extent of contingencies and bring stability to the product in use, in addition to furthering the community’s own interests. The empirical data seem to have implied that governance exists only in the participatory space. But rules and norms are always present in social relations, and companies are also social communities.

Interactions among elements in the creative ecology, while bearing contradictions due to conflicting ethics and interests, also serve to connect, extend, and define new media in emerging practice.




The creative ecology is one complete whole, and is dependent on mutually beneficial relationships between companies and user communities. We believe that the papers in this issue illuminate the trajectories of development of the communities bound within the creative ecology, and the subtle ways in which interactions may produce unexpected results. Hopefully the papers and questions presented here will inform future research and practice. End of article


About the authors

Yong Ming Kow is investigating modding communities as a subset of the emerging new media culture. His other works, co–authored with Bonnie Nardi (advisor), include a book chapter on cultures of modding communities in the U.S. and China, and on the new media construction of distorted images of the Chinese gold farmer (forthcoming in First Monday). His research interests include creativity and the new media, cross–cultural research methodology, anthropology in design, and network analysis. Yong Ming is currently working on his Ph.D. dissertation at the Department of Informatics, School of Information and Computer Sciences, University of California, Irvine.
E–mail: mail [at] kowym [dot] com

Bonnie Nardi is a professor in the Department of Informatics, School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. She is the author of many scientific books and articles concerning technology in human activity. Her most recent book is My life as a night elf priest: An anthropological account of World of Warcraft (University of Michigan Press, 2010).
E–mail: nardi [at] uci [dot] edu



We thank all the reviewers for volunteering their time to provide critical and timely feedback.



Yochai Benkler, 2006. The wealth of networks: How social production transforms markets and freedom. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.

Dan Burk, 2009. “Copyright and paratext in computer gaming,” In: Charles Wankel and Shaun K. Malleck (editors). Emerging ethical issues of life in virtual worlds. Charlotte, N.C.: Information Age Publishing, pp. 33–53.

Mia Consalvo, 2007. Cheating: Gaining advantage in videogames. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Mizuko Ito, Sonja Baumer, Matteo Bittanti, danah boyd, Rachel Cody, Becky Herr–Stephenson, Heather A. Horst, Patricia G. Lange, Dilan Mahendran, Katynka Z. Martinez, C.J. Pascoe, Dan Perkel, Laura Robinson, Christo Sims and Lisa Tripp with Judd Antin, Megan Finn, Arthur Law, Annie Manion, Sarai Mitnick, David Scholssberg and Sarita Yardi, 2010. Hanging out, messing around, and geeking out: Kids living and learning with new media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Henry Jenkins, 2006. Fans, bloggers, gamers: Exploring participatory culture. New York: New York University Press.

Yong Ming Kow and Bonnie Nardi, 2009. “Culture and creativity: World of Warcraft modding in China and the U.S.,” In: William Bainbridge (editor). Online worlds: Convergence of the real and the virtual. New York: Springer–Verlag, pp. 21–41.

Julian Kücklich, 2005. “Precarious playbour: Modders and the digital games industry,” Fiberculture, issue 5,, accessed 17 April 2010.

Lawrence Lessig, 1999. Code and other laws of cyberspace. New York: Basic Books.

Thomas Malaby, 2009. Making virtual worlds: Linden Lab and Second Life. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

Bonnie Nardi and Jannis Kallinikos, 2007. “Opening the black box of digital technologies: Modding in World of Warcraft,” 23rd EGOS Colloquium, (5–7 July), at, accessed 17 April 2010.

Hector Postigo, 2007. “Of mods and modders: Chasing down the value of fan–based digital game modifications,” Games and Culture, volume 2, number 4, pp. 300–313.

Walt Scacchi, 2004. “Free and open source development practices in the game community,” IEEE Software, volume 21, number 1, pp. 59–66.

T.L. Taylor, 2006. Play between worlds: Exploring online game culture. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Ted Tschang, 2007. “Balancing the tensions between rationalization and creativity in the video games industry,” Organization Science, volume 18, number 6, pp. 989–1,005.


Editorial history

Paper received 8 April 2010; revised 14 April 2010; accepted 17 April 2010.

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“User creativity, governance, and the new media: An introduction to the First Monday special issue”
by Yong Ming Kow and Bonnie Nardi is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution–Noncommercial–Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

User creativity, governance, and the new media: An introduction to the First Monday special issue
by Yong Ming Kow and Bonnie Nardi.
First Monday, Volume 15, Number 5 - 3 May 2010

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