Kelly Bergstrom

Please email me at kellybergstrom at gmail dot com for a PDF of my full (and up to date) CV

Updated October 2017


Assistant Professor (August 2017 – current)
School of Communications, University of Hawai’i at Manoa

MITACS Postdoctoral Research Intern (Jan 2017 – June 2017)
Big Viking Games

Postdoctoral Researcher (Sept 2015 – June 2017)
Institute for Research on Digital Learning, York University

Sessional Instructor (May 2015 – April 2017)
Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology


PhD (2016)
Language, Culture and Teaching (Faculty of Education)
York University
Dissertation: To play or not to play: Non/participation in EVE Online
dissertation abstract

This dissertation addresses a gap in the academic study of digital games whereby investigations remain focused on current players and the experiences of former or non-players are rarely accounted for. Using EVE Online (EVE), a massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) known for its difficult learning curve and homogenous community as a case study, I conducted an investigation of who does/does not play this particular game and their stated reasons for playing or not. I argue that while EVE is positioned in the MMOG market as a “sandbox” style game where in-game activities are only limited by a player’s imagination, in reality only a very particular type of play (and player) is publicly acknowledged by EVE’s developer (CCP Games), the gaming enthusiast press, and academics investigations of this game, emphasizing just how little is known about who plays EVE beyond the stereotypical imagined player.

Drawing on literature from leisure studies to articulate a framework for exploring barriers/constraints to leisure activities and theoretically informed by feminist theories of technology, I conducted an Internet-based survey to capture the thoughts and experiences of current, former, and non-EVE players. A total of 981 participants completed the survey. In my analysis of open-ended responses, I found that current players described the game in a way that emphasized its exceptionality, relied heavily on jargon, and assumed their reader was already familiar with EVE, its player community, and its surrounding norms and conventions. Non-players who were familiar with the game described their perceptions of EVE being an unwelcoming community meant they had opted out of playing without ever downloading the trial. Former players fell into three groupings: ex-players who had permanently quit EVE, a group who want to play but felt forced to take a temporary break due to external constraints (e.g. exams at school or financial limitations), and a third group would consider returning if changes to their personal circumstances and/or the game happened in future. Ultimately this research complicates what it means to play or not play MMOG, opening up avenues for future research about how access and barriers to digital game play inevitably shift over time.

MA (2009)
Communication & Culture (Faculty of Communication)
University of Calgary
Thesis: Adventuring Together: Exploring how Romantic Couples use MMOs as Part of Their Shared Leisure Time

BA Hons. (2007)
Communication (School of Communication)
Simon Fraser University
Honours Thesis: Social Capital in MMORPGs: A Framework for Future Studies

BFA (2007)
Visual Art (School for Contemporary Arts)
Simon Fraser University

Visiting Student (Jan-May 2006)
Konst, kultur och kommunikation [Art, Culture, and Communication] Malmö Högskola, Sweden



Refereed Journal Articles

Bergstrom, K. (2017). “An Unwelcome Intrusion? Player Responses to Survey Research Recruitment on the World of Warcraft Forums”. Loading… The Journal of the Canadian Game Studies Association. 10(16) 15-31. [LINK]abstract

Internet discussion forums provide convenient opportunities to recruit survey participants, but how do the everyday users of these sites feel about these requests? Using the official forums of a popular Massively Multiplayer Online Game (World of Warcraft) as a site of inquiry, this article investigates interactions between researchers and potential survey participants. Drawing on player reactions to the 163 survey requests posted to the World of Warcraft forums between December 2010 and April 2015, this article outlines the concerns raised by forum participants (including fears of account theft and critiques of survey design) and provides evidence this particular online community is suffering from survey fatigue. After highlighting these points of tension between players and researchers, the article concludes with a set of suggested best practices for future interactions with this particular online community.

Bergstrom, K. (online before print). “Temporary Break or Permanent Departure? Rethinking what it means to quit EVE Online”. Games and Culture. x(x) 1-21. [LINK][contact me for PDF] abstract

To date, much of the research about Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) and the people who play them has focused on studies of current players. Comparatively little is know about why players quit. Rather than assuming MMOG play begins and ends with personal interest, this article uses a leisure studies framework to account for barriers and participation to play. Drawing on survey responses from 133 former EVE Online players, this article demonstrates that quitting is not a strict binary where one moves from playing to not playing. Furthermore, quitting in the context of MMOG play is not always a definitive act as some players will leave and then return to a particular game numerous times. Ultimately, this article argues that the voices of former players are an under attended demographic who can add further insights allowing game scholars to better understand why players gravitate towards particular games and not others.

Bergstrom, K., Fisher, S., & Jenson, J. (2016). “Disavowing ‘That Guy’
Identity construction and massively multiplayer online game players”. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies. 22(3) 233-249. doi:10.1177/1354856514560314 [LINK] [contact me for PDF] abstract

Using Goffman’s ‘keys and frames’ as an analytical framework, this article explores depictions of massively multiplayer online game (MMOG) players in newspaper coverage, popular media (South Park and The Big Bang Theory), and Web-based productions (The Guild and Pure Pwnage) and player reactions to these largely stereotypical portrayals. Following this discussion, we present data from a longitudinal study of MMOG players, focusing on our study’s unintentional provoking of participants to react to (and ultimately reject) these stereotypes in their survey responses. We argue this is of particular interest to researchers studying MMOG players or members of other heavily satirized communities, as these stereotypes influence the ways study participants practice identity management and frame their own gaming practices, even in the context of an academic study that was explicitly not about addiction or the negative effects of digital game play.

Bergstrom, K., Jenson, J., Hydomako, R., & de Castell, S. (2015). “The keys to success: Supplemental measures of player expertise in Massively Multiplayer Online Games”. Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds. 7(1). 101-121. [LINK] [PDF]abstract

In this article we describe an investigation of player expertise deployed as part of a mixed-methods longitudinal, multi-site study that examined whether and how players’ offline characteristics are recognizable in their online interactions in Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs). After detailing our methodology and analytical toolkit, we narrow our focus to a case study that examines three players with previous experience in First-Person Shooter (FPS) games playing Rift (Trion Worlds 2011) (a fantasy-themed MMOG) for the very first time. This case study illuminates how interpretation of data can be inadvertently influenced by the researcher’s choice of technologies and methods employed in their study design. In particular, we demonstrate that initial research assessments of a player’s level of skill may be inaccurate and how the use of multiple data sources acts as a means for triangulating observations and analyses providing a richer – yet more complicated – view of player expertise.

Taylor, N., Bergstrom, K., Jenson, J., & de Castell, S. (2015). “Alienated Playbour: Relations of Production in EVE Online”. Games and Culture. 10(4) 365-388. doi:10.1177/1555412014565507 [LINKabstract

This article explores the play practices of EVE Online industrialists: those primarily responsible for generating the materials and equipment that drive the game’s robust economy. Applying the concept of “immaterial labor” to this underattended aspect of the EVE community, we consider the range of communicative and informational artifacts and activities industrialists enact in support of their involvement in the game—work that happens both in game and crucially outside of it. Moving past the increasingly anachronistic distinctions between digitally mediated labor and leisure, in game and out of game, we examine the relations of production in which these players are situated: to other EVE players, in-game corporations, the game’s developer, and the broader digital economy. Seen from this perspective, we consider the extent to which EVE both ideologically and economically supports the extension of capital into increasing aspects of our everyday lives—a “game” in which many play, but few win.

Bergstrom, K. (2011). “Don’t feed the troll: Shutting down debate about community expectations on”. First Monday. 16(8). [LINK] abstract

While many online communities have explicit codes of conduct that one must follow in order to participate, there are often many “unwritten rules” or community expectations that users are expected to abide by. In this case study of, a news aggregate Web site whose affordances seem to imply a transient and fluid approach to online identity, I outline an example of a community member (known as “Grandpa Wiggly”) who ran afoul of community expectations of authentic representation of one’s “true” off–line self. I also detail how accusations of trolling were used as a justification for shutting down debates about community expectations, as well as justifying actions against Grandpa Wiggly that violated the Reddit terms of service (and his privacy).

Edited Books

Carter, M., Bergstrom, K. & Woodford, D. (eds.) Internet Spaceships are Serious Business: An EVE Online Reader. University of Minnesota Press. [LINK]

Book Chapters

Bergstrom, K. “Everything I know about this game suggests I should avoid it at all costs: Non-player perceptions about EVE Online”. (2016). In Kafai, Y., Tynes, B. & Richard, G. (eds.) Diversifying Barbie and Mortal Kombat: New Perspectives on Race and Gender in Gaming. (pp. 118-132) Pittsburgh, PA: ETC Press. [LINK]abstract

To date, much of the research about games and the people who play them has remained overwhelmingly focused on the study of current players. Very little is known about non-players or former players. Rather than assuming non/participation in games begins and ends with personal interest, in this chapter I argue that there is much to be learned by asking players about what games they do not play and their reasons for quitting and/or never purchasing or downloading a particular game in the first place.

Refereed Conference Proceedings (full papers)

de Castell, S., Flynn-Jones, E., Jenson, J. & Bergstrom, K. (2017). “Learning Links: A study of narrative learning through games with The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker”. Proceedings of the 50th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. [PDF]abstract

This paper details the iterative design and preliminary findings of a school-based study of whether, what and how students can learn about narrative — a foundational learning goal in elementary language arts — by playing a narratively structured commercial game. Working with a Grade 6 teacher, we ran 3 lunchtime programs that involved playing The Legend of Zelda: Windwaker, under three different conditions, from a minimally interventionist “just play” approach, to an explicitly insurrectionist “knowledge delivery” one. Only in the third explicit instruction) phase of the project were we able to generate evidence of significant “learning through play”. We conclude by considering impediements, both practical and theoretical, that stand in the way of bridging the gap betwene “claims” and “evidence” in digital game-based learning research.

Bergstrom, K., de Castell, S. & Jenson, J. (2016). “Digital Detritus: What Can We Learn From Abandoned Massively Multiplayer Online Game Avatars?”. Proceedings of 1st International Joint Conference of DiGRA and FDG. [PDF] [LINK]abstract

Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) player data has been used to investigate a variety of questions, ranging from the sociality of small groups, to patterns of economic decision making modeled across entire game servers. To date, MMOG player research has primarily drawn on data (e.g. server-side logs, observational data) collected while players (and their avatars) were actively participating in the gameworld under investigation. MMOGs are persistent worlds where avatars are held in stasis when the player logs out of the game, and this is a feature that allows players to return after an extended absence to “pick up where they left off”. In this paper we explore the sorts of information that can be gleaned by examining avatars after their creators have played them for the last time. Our preliminary findings are that “abandoned” avatars still contain a wealth of information about the people who created them, opening up new possibilities for the study of players and decision making in MMOGs.

Carter, M., Bergstrom, K., Webber, N. & Milik, O. (2015). “EVE is Real”. In Proceedings of DiGRA 2015 Conference: Diversity of play: Games – Cultures – Identities. 1-17. [PDF] [LINK]abstract

Used in a wide variety of contexts, a common colloquialism among EVE Online players is the phrase ‘EVE is real’. In this paper, we examine the various ways in which EVE is considered ‘real’ by its players, identifying a nuanced and powerful concept that goes significantly beyond real/virtual distinctions that have already been critiqued in game studies literature. We argue that, as a form of paratext, colloquialisms like this play an enormous role in shaping EVE Online’s informal rules (in particular towards treachery), constructing the identity of EVE Online players, communicating the seriousness of EVE Online play while in other cases, emphasizing the gameness of the MMOG.

Bergstrom, K., Carter, M., Woodford, D., & Paul, C. (2013). “Constructing the Ideal EVE
Online Player.” In Proceedings of Digital Games Research Association 2013 Conference: DeFragging Game Studies. 172-180 [PDF][LINK] abstract

EVE Online, released in 2003 by CCP Games, is a space-themed Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG). This sandbox style MMOG has a reputation for being a difficult game with a punishing learning curve that is fairly impenetrable to new players. This has led to the widely held belief among the larger MMOG community that “EVE players are different”, as only a very particular type of player would be dedicated to learning how to play a game this challenging. Taking a critical approach to the claim that “EVE players are different”, this paper complicates the idea that only a certain type of player capable of playing the most hardcore of games will be attracted to this particular MMOG. Instead, we argue that EVE’s “exceptionalism” is actually the result of conscious design decisions on the part of CCP games, which in turn compel particular behaviours that are continually reinforced as the norm by the game’s relatively homogenous player community.

Bergstrom, K., Jenson, J., & de Castell, S. “What’s ‘Choice’ Got to Do With It? Avatar Selection Differences Between Novice and Expert players of World of Warcraft and Rift”. In Proceedings of the International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games (FDG ’12). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 97-104. DOI=10.1145/2282338.2282360 [PDFabstract

It’s a now familiar refrain among both players and academics that healing is a ‘feminine’ activity and tanking a ‘masculine’ one within Massively Multiplayer Online Games. In this paper we present data from a multi-site study of World of Warcraft and Rift that examines this stereotype across novice and expert players. Our findings suggest that gender role stereotyping is progressively internalized as players become more competent in their gameworld of choice, with experts being more likely than novices to adopt this convention in their avatar selection.

Bergstrom, K., McArthur, V., Jenson, J., & Peyton, T. (2011). “All in a Day’s Work: A study of World of Warcraft NPCs comparing gender to professions”. In Proceedings of the 2011 ACM SIGGRAPH Symposium on Video Games (Sandbox ’11). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 31-35. DOI=10.1145/2018556.2018563  [PDF]

Refereed Conference Proceedings (extended abstracts)

Bergstrom, K. (2016). “You don’t ever stop playing EVE Online, you just take a break”: Rethinking what it means to quit a Massively Multiplayer Online Game”. In Proceedings of the 1st International Joint Conference of DiGRA and FDG. [PDF]

Bergstrom, K. (2015). “Feminism is for angry white women: Exploring images of feminism on”. In Selected Papers of Internet Research 16.0. [LINK]

Bergstrom, K. (2013). “EVE Online Newbie Guides: Helpful information or gatekeeping mechanisms at work?” In Selected Papers of Internet Research 14.0 [PDF] [LINKabstract

 EVE Online is a space-themed Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) that has a reputation of having an exceptionally punishing learning curve. It has been argued that its difficulty stems from the in-game tutorial purposefully leaving out important information, forcing novice players to consult outside resources to be successful in this game. Through content analysis of player-created “newbie guides”, this paper argues that not only do the outside resources speak primarily to a particular demographic of player, their use of exclusionary language and imagery actively discourages participation from other demographics of potential players. EVE is a game whose player base is almost entirely composed of white males, and in this paper it is argued that these newbie guides are an example of a gatekeeping mechanism that works to maintain the exceptionally homogenous player community composition of this MMOG.

Jenson, J., Bergstrom, K., & de Castell, S. (2013). “Playing ‘for Real’: A Lab-Based Study of MMOGs”. In Selected Papers of Internet Research 14.0 [PDF] [LINKabstract

 In this paper we report on a 3-year, mixed-methods study of Massively Multiplayer Online games, focusing on the ways in our lab-based studies were indeed sites of ‘real’ play, notwithstanding their limited ecological validity (Williams, 2010). We document the ways in which we observed players’ real commitment to a play session that had few or no opportunities for follow up – investing considerable time and attention to, for example, naming and customizing their avatars, and selectively equipping them. We illustrate here some of the insights available through lab-based play that cannot be captured otherwise. We also draw attention to the ways in which relying on only one type of data can create a false and/or incomplete picture of a participant’s level of engagement with the game. This research suggests that labs might well be a site where ‘authentic’ play is indeed possible, and can therefore offer rich potential for MMOG research as they can give significantly greater context than is possible from data that is generated by game servers.

Bergstrom, K. “Virtual Inequality: A woman’s place in cyberspace”. In Proceedings of the International Conference on the Foundations of Digital Games (FDG ’12). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 267-269. DOI=10.1145/2282338.2282394 [PDFabstract

EVE Online is a space-themed Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) that to date has remained largely unexplored in an academic context. This particular MMOG has a reputation among players as being both extremely difficult to learn how to play, as well as being unattractive to female players. In this paper I describe my proposed dissertation research that will trace the relationships between the human and non-human actors that have resulted in the EVE Online player community’s demographic makeup being so different than other, more gender-balanced, MMOGs.

Other Publications

Bergstrom, K. (2012). “What Can Advice Animals Teach Us About Feminism?” Fembot: Gender, New Media & Technology.  [LINK]

Bergstrom, K. (2009). “Introducing Surveylady: A case for the use of avatars in game studies research”. Stream: Culture/Politics/Technology 2(1) 18–22. [LINK]

Bergstrom, K. (2007). “Conducting Research Through MMORPGs”.  The Digest. Issue 18. [LINK

Book Reviews

Bergstrom, K. (2013). “Deadly Fever: Racism, Disease and a Media Panic.” Canadian Journal of Communication. 31(1) 139-140. [LINK]



Selected Conference Talks & Papers


Bergstrom, K. “This game is not for me: Non-Participation in EVE Online”. Meaningful Play. East Lansing, MI: October 20-22, 2016.

Bergstrom, K. “You don’t ever stop playing EVE Online, you just take a break”: Rethinking what it means to quit a Massively Multiplayer Online Game”. The 1st International Joint Conference of DiGRA and FDG. Dundee, Scotland: Aug 1-3, 2016.


Bergstrom, K. “Unexamined Masculinities: Reframing the discussion about gender in the EVE Online Community”. Presentation as part of “Confronting Masculinities in Digital Games and Digital Cultures”, Gerald Voorhees (chair), at Console-ing Passions. Dublin, Ireland: June 18-20, 2015.

Bergstrom, K. An Unwelcome Intrusion? Player responses to survey recruitment on the official World of Warcraft Forums”. Canadian Game Studies Association. Ottawa, ON: June 3-5, 2015.


Bergstrom, K. ““We aren’t your personal research facility”: Survey Fatigue on the World of Warcraft Forums”. Digital Games Research Association. Snowbird, UT: August 3-6, 2014. [PDF]

Bergstrom, K., Jenson, J., Hydomako, R., & de Castell, S. “The Keys to Success: Supplemental Measures of Player Expertise in Massively Multiplayer Online Games”.  International Communication Association.  Seattle, WA: May 22-26, 2014. [Winner of Top Paper Award in the ICA Games Studies division]

Bergstrom, K.  “Smash the Matriarchy! Memes and the Rise of Anti-Feminism on”. Console-ing Passions: International Conference on Television, Video, Audio, New Media and Feminism. Columbia, MO: April 10-12, 2014.


Bergstrom, K. “EVE Online Newbie Guides: Helpful information or gatekeeping mechanisms at work?” Association of Internet Researchers – ir14. Denver, CO: October 23-26, 2013.

Jenson, J., Bergstrom, K., & de Castell, S. “Playing ‘for Real’: A Lab-Based Study of MMOGs”. Association of Internet Researchers – ir14. Denver, CO: October 23-26, 2013.

Bergstrom, K. “Real + Imagined Player Communities”. Presentation as part of “Constructing the Ideal EVE Online Player”, Kelly Bergstrom (chair), at Digital Games Research Association, Atlanta, GA: August 26-29, 2013. [LINK]

Bergstrom, K. “There’s no crying in New Eden: Theorizing why women don’t play EVE Online”. Presentation as part of “Studying Gender & Games: Using Multiple Methodologies”, Kelly Bergstrom (chair), at International Communication Association, London, UK: June 17-21, 2013.

Chee, F. and Bergstrom, K.  “On playing “like a girl”: a comparative analysis of quasi-affirmative (re)action”. Presentation as part of “Communicating the Diverse Debates and Divisions within Game Studies”, Kelly Bergstrom (chair), at Canadian Communication Association, Victoria, BC: June 5-7, 2013

Bergstrom, K.  “Hypocrites and Harpies: Image macros and (Mis)Representations of Feminism Online”. Presentation as part of “Hackers, Cyberspaces and Heterotopias: Online Publics against a Managed Web”, Fenwick McKelvey (chair), at Canadian Communication Association, Victoria, BC: June 5-7, 2013


Bergstrom, K., Taylor, N., Jenson, J., and de Castell, S. “Not just spinning a ship: The importance of the backchannel to EVE Online play”. Presentation as part of “The Serious Business of Internet Spaceships: Studying EVE Online”, Kelly Bergstrom (chair), at Association of Internet Researchers – ir13.  Salford, UK: October 21-23, 2012.

Bergstrom, K.  “A Counter-Terrorist in King Arthur’s Court: Does FPS expertise transfer to a MMOG?” Presentation as part of “Traveling circuits: Studying assemblages in and across multiple online games”, Nick Taylor (chair), at Association of Internet Researchers – ir13.  Salford, UK: October 21-23, 2012

Bergstrom, K., Jenson, J., and de Castell, S. “What’s ‘Choice’ Got to Do With It? Avatar Selection Differences Between Novice and Expert players of World of Warcraft and Rift”.  Foundations of Digital Games, Raleigh, NC: May 30-June 1, 2012.

Bergstrom, K. “I’m a REAL girl gamer”: Internalized sexism and border patrolling among online girl gamer communities”. Presentation as part of “Performing Bodies: Sex, Gender and Community Online”, Whitney Phillips (chair), at International Communication Association, Phoenix, AZ: May 24-28, 2012.


Bergstrom, K. “Hulkageddon: the polarization of play in EVE Online”. Association of Internet Researchers – ir12, Seattle, WA: October 10-13, 2011.

Bergstrom, K., de Castell, S., & Jenson, J. “Worlds beyond Warcraft: studying multiple MMOs”. Presentation as part of “Re-assembling the Ludic”, Nick Taylor (chair), at Association of Internet Researchers – ir12, Seattle, WA: October 10-13, 2011.

Bergstrom, K., Fisher, S., & Jenson, J. “I’m not “that guy”: player narratives about stereotypes of excessive video game play”.  Videogame Cultures and the Future of Interactive Entertainment, Oxford, UK: July 8-10, 2011.

Bergstrom, K. “On the Internet, nobody believes you’re a female gamer: Comparing “gamers” to “girl gamers” on”.  Canadian Communication Association, Fredericton, NB: June 1-3, 2011.

Bergstrom, K., de Castell, S.,  & Jenson, J. “Beyond “one size fits all”: Recognizing Differences in MMOG affordances and player demographics”. Canadian Game Studies Association, Fredericton, NB: May 30-31, 2011.


Bergstrom, K. “A Troll By Any Other Name: Reading Identity on”.  Association of Internet Researchers – ir11, Gothenburg, Sweden: October 21-23, 2010.

Bergstrom, K. “EVE 101: Exploring the research potential of EVE Online”. Canadian Game Studies Association, Montreal, QB: May 28-29, 2010.


Bergstrom, K. “Adventuring Together: Exploring the use of World of Warcraft as a third place. Canadian Communication Association, Ottawa, ON: May 28-30, 2009.

Bergstrom, K. “Do couples bowl online? Exploring how romantic couples use World of Warcraft to spend leisure time together”. Canadian Game Studies Association (Graduate Master’s Session), Ottawa, ON: May 23-24, 2009.

Bergstrom, K. “Introducing Surveylady: A case for the use of avatars in game studies research”. Popular Culture Association, New Orleans, LA: April 8-11, 2009.