Social interaction in MMORPGs
Social Interactions in MMORPGS are the virtual behaviors, social interactions and relations that take place in massive multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs). Interaction is typically integral with the mechanisms of these games. Through their interactions players may form relationships, varying from simply a cohesive team, or friendship, to a romance.
A study by Nicholas Yee, titled The Psychology of Massively Multi-User Online Role-Playing Games: Motivations, Emotional Investment, Relationships and Problematic Usage, found that combat-oriented collaborations can become very complex. Typical battle scenarios involve groups of four to eight users facing sophisticated artificial intelligence. Strategies decided upon via communication via typed conversations, and individual actions, based upon their individual personalities, may risk others in the group. Unlike many real world situations, MMORPG users can choose team members and find like-minded others. While some individuals may be outcasts in the real world, they can become whomever they want in these virtual worlds, and can find other players with similar interests and personalities. In one survey, 39.4% of males and 53.3% of females felt that their MMORPG companions were comparable to or even better than their real world friends. PBS Frontline's documentary, Growing Up Online, found that humans seek not only mental and emotional connections, but also physical presence. For some, MMORPGs can provide valuable lessons that then can be applied to the outside world. However, reliance on the internet, or possible internet addiction may also lead to "physical" social isolation.
Virtual relationships in MMORPGs
MMORPGs are primarily developed around two systems: one that is class-based, and the other that is skill-points based. With a class-based system, one's chosen class determines his or her character's strengths and weaknesses. While most users simply collaborate with others to form teams that balance out strengths and weaknesses in order to complete a mission, some users have taken their relationships even further. According to Nicholas Yee, 15.7% of male MMORPG players and 5.1% of female MMORPG players physically dated someone they met in an MMORPG.
Users can choose a specific avatar (a virtual representation of oneself), which may or may not characterize their actual appearance. In some cases, users may select an avatar that represents their ideal self, that is, what an individual aspires to look like. Nicholas Yee classifies an avatar into two categories, namely a projection or idealization of one's identity and an experiment with new identities. Thus, the receiver may perceive attractiveness through the appearance of one's avatar. While these perceptions are often inaccurate, this lack of cues and increased control over how they present themselves may facilitate romantic relationships.
In MMORPGs, players can choose what type of character they want to play and design their appearance. One potential positive side effect of that is difficulty in stereotyping, as all players have equal ability to design themselves, regardless of their initial appearance. There is also the potential for "identity tourism". The choice to enact oneself as a dark-skinned female elf, say, could allow a male, white player to appropriately role-play his character in the desired fashion; without being rejected by the community. Anonymity may encourage aggression, as most MMORPG players feel safe and immune to physical attack as users span the globe.
MMORPGs function as communication platforms not unlike established social media like Facebook. As such, the CIA expressed great worries about the use of MMORPGs as a secret communications channel for terrorists. On February 15, 2008, the office of the Director of National Intelligence provided Congress with the Data Mining Report. In this report the existence of the so-called Reynard Project was disclosed. The aim of the Reynard Project is described as follows:
"Reynard is a seedling effort to study the emerging phenomenon of social (particular terrorist) dynamics in virtual worlds and large-scale online games and their implications for the Intelligence Community.
The cultural and behavioral norms of virtual worlds and gaming are generally unstudied. Therefore, Reynard will seek to identify the emerging social, behavioral and cultural norms in virtual worlds and gaming environments. The project would then apply the lessons learned to determine the feasibility of automatically detecting suspicious behavior and actions in the virtual World. If it shows early promise, this small seedling effort may increase its scope to a full project."
References and notes
- R.Schroeder & A. Axelsson (2006). "The Psychology of MMORPGs: Emotional Investment, Motivations, Relationship Formation, and Problematic Usage". Avatars at Work and Play: Collaboration and Interaction in Shared Virtual Environments. Nicholas Yee. London: Springer-Verlag. pp. 187–207. ISBN 1-4020-3883-6.
- "Growing up online". FRONTLINE. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
- Yee, N. (2006).The Demographics, Motivations and Derived Experiences of Users of Massively-Multiuser Online Graphical Environments. PRESENCE:Teleoperators and Virtual Environments, 15, 309-329.
- TheDaedalus Gateway – The Psychology of MMORPGs: Player Demographics, Site chronicles the findings of the Daedalus project, which conducted surveys of MMORPG users.
- Dretzin, R. (Director), & Maggio, J. (Director). (2008).Growing up online [Film]. Melbourne: PBS Video.
- Shapira, N.A., Lessig, M. C., Goldsmith, T. D., Szabo, S. T., Lazoritz, M., Gold, M. S., & Stein, D. J. (2003).Problematic internet use:Proposed classification and diagnostic criteria. Depression and Anxiety, 17, 207-216.'