Part 1 [MODULE 7A-Virtual Worlds; MODULE 7AB SL Observations]
The division of virtual worlds into gaming vs. social is somewhat arbitrary, but i will argue that there are three major differences:
1) Second Life and most of the “new build” Social worlds [Space, Sansar and High Fidelity] are user-built. Almost all items found in-world are constructed by residents, not by the owners of the world. By contrast Gaming worlds are almost entirely constructed by the owners of the world, with resulting constraints on options to users. If you want to, think of Second Life as being an expression of the Residents; gaming worlds such as Eve or WOW [World of Warcraft] are an expression of the owners of the world.
2) In-world economic systems in Social virtual worlds are largely user-user driven, with most economic transactions being of one user purchasing something from another user. The owners of the world get revenue from a combination of land rental fees and micro-transaction fees from the in-world revenue system (think a bank in RL where you have your checking account). Gaming worlds usually charge a fee to progress in the game or to play it at all (WOW for example).
3) Social virtual worlds do not have goals, and individuals don’t compete with each other to gain/win something—there are no challenges per se. By contrast Gaming worlds are built on the concept of competition (hence ‘gaming’ worlds) so they tend to be programmatic, sequential and competitive. They almost invariably have some storyline, which includes paths through which all players share.
What they have in common is the social aspect—all successful Gaming worlds have found that social interaction (and frequently cooperation) are central to the popularity of the APP, and the most durable have very strong social virtual communities which persist over long periods of time. This can be seen in Pearce’s work on a group of players in the gaming world of Uru (think Myst) that migrated as a group to Second Life when Uru was closed [Pearce, Celia & Tom Boellstorff 2011 Communities of Play: Emergent Cultures in Multiplayer Games]. The fact that this diaspora occurred is an indicator of how strong the social relationships in the supposedly fragile digital world can be. Again, think back on the emotional impact of the Catfish episode we saw.
Look over the first Module (7A), a general one looking at some of the information on virtual worlds. Then go through Module 7AB, which is basically a very short summary of the geographical research I did in Second Life several years ago. Look at this data from the standpoint of a unique, long-term social digital world that has no gaming value or goals.