MMORPGS: THE LONG-TERM SOCIAL IMPACTS?
If you look at the MMORPG powerpoint you will see several points that drive this post. A number of studies show that social interaction in gaming is central to the experience. This can be more important than other aspects of the game world, or conversely awkward social interaction design can doom an otherwise attractive game world.
But while MMORPGs share this desire with social interaction with the more free-form social virtual worlds (such as SL), they are (unlike SL), very structured, controlled virtual environments designed by a development company. All aspects of the gaming world, such as goals, images, dialog and almost every other aspect of the experience are programmed by the company who built the MMORPG. In this way they are different from the more fluid social virtual worlds such as SL.
This can be seen in the quote from Yee’s work: “Online games are like school in many ways. Both provide predefined rewards for a set of highly constrained and objectively measured activities… Wherever you are in the education treadmill, you know exactly where you are, where you’ll be next, and how to get there. For about sixteen years of our lives, this is the model of progress we are all taught. And then we’re let loose into the real world, where these rules go away. Goals are no longer defined for you. Performance in many jobs has no clear objective measure… The real world is tough, and it’s often unfair.
Not so in online games. Everyone who kills the evil bandit gets the same amount of experience points. Goals are clear, predefined, and fair. Your achievements are displayed in a multitude of easy-to-read progress bars.” (Nick Yee Proteus Paradox 2014: 34-5)
Yee also notes that this structure—of a predictable progression leading to clearly defined goals—can be very attractive compared to the chaotic nature of reality. As Bauerlein notes, digital media can encourage self-directed and self-centered attitudes, especially in the 10-25 age group. Rather than larger social networks, this shrinks into a smaller group sharing common experiences. His argument is based on digital reality in general rather than gaming specifically, but he sees gaming as being a factor with some groups.
This brings us to one of the biggest fears of digital gaming–that of the gamer turning into “otaku”, of someone who is so consumed with their digital realm that it starts to play a dominant role in their real existence. Or at it’s most extreme, the “hikikomori” who basically removes themself from much of reality to spend the majority of their time in their digital world. Both these concepts have been around in Japanese society for the last several decades, with hikikomori coming to more general attention in the last 15 years [feel free to google both and see what you get]. [Remember your earlier reading].
Note that this shift in real-world social engagement (or shifting orientation) is very different than the older concerns about gaming as a trigger for anti-social behavior [including in SL terms, ‘griefing’]. This has been around since pinballs in the 1950s but grew in volume with the growth of gaming consoles in the 1980+ period. As the gaming media has shifted, and as the quality (especially visual) has improved, the concerns have grown, despite the lack of compelling evidence to show a clear correlation between explicit anti-social games and real-world anti-social behavior. A current example of this issue can be seen if you google “gaming addiction”, an example being at this website= http://www.techaddiction.ca/computer_game_addiction.html
The issue of gaming addiction [more accurately gaming compulsion] is treated very seriously in Asian societies, in part due to the heavy expectations placed on 10-25 age group to fulfill family and social expectations. So anything that gets in the way of academic success is treated harshly. This can be seen in the documentary on gaming addiction intervention at https://youtu.be/uOm5aXXjzzM?t=11. This can also be seen in a number of articles such as the one by Li et al (2012) “Effects of Digital Game Play Among Young Singaporean Gamers” JVWR 5:2 Sept. 2012). A common thread to most of these is the escapism/irresponsible wasting of time, rather than the projection of gaming violence into the real world.
It’s of interest given our topics that gaming addiction is seen as a much more troubling phenomena socially than social media addiction. In your view, why? This will be one of our topics in the next Hangout session.