After examining the form and function of what’s known in the trade as MMOs – massively multiplayer online video games – an interdisciplinary team of researchers concludes that some games “promote sociability and new worldviews.”
The researchers claim that MMOs function not like solitary dungeon cells, but more like virtual coffee shops or pubs where something called “social bridging” takes place. They even liken playing such games as “Asheron’s Call” and “Lineage” to dropping in at “Cheers,” the fictional TV bar “where everybody knows your name.” “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. And they take it one step further by suggesting that the lack of real-world hangouts “is what is driving the MMO phenomenon” in the first place. The new conceptual study was published in early August in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication under the title, "Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as ‘Third Places.’ "
While they continue to draw fire from many critics, MMOs attract more than 9 million subscribers worldwide, who spend on average 20 hours a week “in-game.”
“To argue that their MMO game play is isolated and passive media consumption that takes the place of informal social engagement is to ignore the nature of what participants actually do behind the computer screen,” the authors wrote. Still, they suggest that heavy game play might not be healthy in the short term for people who need strong connections, since it could take the place of strong offline relationships. “It’s really a question of what kind of balance the person has in their life,” Williams said. "For that reason, online spaces are not a one-size-fits-all phenomenon that can simply be labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ " The authors suggest that now may be a good time to reconsider how new media are affecting people. “Perhaps it is not that contemporary media use has led to a decline in civic and social engagement, as many have argued, but rather, that a decline in civic and social engagement has led to a ‘retribalization’ through contemporary media.”
This is great news, as I can now justify scientifically the wasting of the enormous number of hours, nay, days, months, I spent playing EQ,AC,WoW,CoH/V,EQII, and all those “beta tests”. ;)