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Professor Gets $100,000 World of Warcraft Grant

Bonnie Nardi, an infomatics professor at the University of California, Irvine, just got a $100,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to "study" Blizzard's mega-hit MMO World of Warcraft.

Nardi, herself a World of Warcraft player, will use the grant "to figure out why Americans go to greater lengths than the Chinese to modify World of Warcraft," according to the Orange County Register. Nardi presumably refers to the thriving collection of user-produced "mods" for the game that add everything from maps and tactical advice to in-game money management and combat information.

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World of Warcraft, played by 5 million Chinese

"We are examining the many reasons for this disparity, including cultural and institutional factors," said Nardi.

The coming study isn't Nardi's first foray into gaming academics, either. According to the Register, she spent time last year observing players in Beijing internet cafes.

Blake's Take: It'd be easy to shrug this story off and say that a WoW addict has just finagled a dream job. And that could be true, but this study is good news for gaming academia. What's actually easy is to commission a study relating to dollars and cents--how to make money from a virtual world and get a piece of Blizzard's pie.

Earlier this week at the Austin Game Developers Conference, futurist Bruce Sterling predicted that eventually the real-world financial sector would take notice of virtual currency. China is already in the early stages of that.

In the midst of that, it's actually really cool that the oft-neglected 'liberal arts' of gaming is getting attention. Prof. Nardi's work is essentially anthropology applied to gaming worlds. Prof. Megan Winget at The University of Texas at Austin is looking into recording history that happens inside MMO worlds, such as the Corrupted Blood plague that once hit World of Warcraft.

Likewise, there could be tons of people out there who remember where they were when Lord British was assassinated. And as virtual worlds become more important to society, it's good that there are people out there getting 'the human story' and not just reports on who's making money.