Research shows multiplayer games act as the new hangouts of old

Massive multiplayer online (MMO) games may play an important social function that has otherwise been lacking in present-day society. At least, that's what an interdisciplinary team of researchers have presented in a report published in the US Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication early this month.

In the report, titled "Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as 'Third Places' ", authors Dmitri Williams of the University of Illinois, and Constance Steinkuehler of the University of Wisconsin, suggest that gamers have been driven to MMOs by the lack of hangouts in real life.

"By providing places for social interaction and relationships beyond the workplace and home, MMOs have the capacity to function much like the hangouts of old," they said.

Through surveys, experiments, interviews with gamers and even personal experience of the games Lineage I and II, and Asheron's Call I and II, the researchers concluded that some MMOs even "promote sociability and new worldviews".

"With relative anonymity," Williams explained, "people are exposed to a wide range of other people they might not normally meet - think different ages, genders, political orientations, religions, etc."

"These relationships are also often positive because they begin with a common interest, and can be cemented by the game's mechanic."

He noted, however, that while anonymity may promote what he calls "social horizon broadening", it also means that players often do not share their true backgrounds and real-life experiences. This can lead to in-game relationships that are shallower and shorter-term than those fostered in real life.

The researchers report that there are more than nine million people worldwide who spend an average of 20 hours a week in MMO worlds. That's more than twice the population of Sydney spending an equivalent time in-game as others would on a part-time job.

And not all these gamers are getting the social benefits of game play that the researchers suggest.

"Our conclusions about sociability in these games apply to MMOs in which there is an incentive to work together, which is nearly all of them and for most play styles - but not all," Williams said.

Williams expects the same trends to apply to most games - be they role play (RPG), strategy (RTS) or shoot 'em ups (FPS) - where gamers are required to cooperate over multiple sessions, or extended periods of time.

He said, "Sociability is only going to build over time if the players can repeatedly run into one another, and in some popular games like StarCraft, that doesn't happen very much.

"For FPS titles, we [sometimes] see the formation of clans comprised of players who want exactly that longer-term association. What starts as a reason to succeed in the game could translate into out-of-game contact. We don't know how common or uncommon that is."

As an academic in the field of speech communication, Williams was hesitant to suggest a healthy amount of in-game time.

"I'm sure it varies from person to person and has a lot to do with moderation and balance in one's offline life," he said.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Liz Tay

PC World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?