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Sep 12, 2006

Comments

1.

Dmitri -- I've got to read this before I comment, but my interest is in seeing how MMOG as a space (third or otherwise) is similar to or different than prior claims about "cyberspace" generally as a community space.

I've been meaning for a while to post about Julie Cohen's paper on the legal academy's struggles with the "placeness" of cyberspace, a topic where Dan has done some important trailblazing.

Julie Cohen's paper: https://hermes.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=898260

Dan's paper:
https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=306662

In short, there are plenty of legal concepts that hinge upon spatial frameworks (places of public accomodation, public forums, property laws) and plenty of other legal concepts that hinge upon claims of "real" community. So I'm looking forward to reading this.

2.

Gratz on the pub and the nice press!

Oldenburg's analysis of real-life public spaces seems to really resonate with people's social experience in persistent online worlds. Rheingold makes the comparison to text-based MUDs (The Virtual Community) so graphical avatars and 3D space do not appear to be essential.

Nic, Eric and I have also used the concept of "third place" in analyzing MMOs in Designing for sociability in massively multiplayer games: an examination of the “third places” of SWG (an expanded version is forthcoming in a special issue of JCSCW). While we agree with your characterization of a whole MMO game world as a third place, we take a somewhat different tack. We ask: can there be third places WITHIN an MMO?

MMOs have always had taverns as locations within cities, and they have tended to be almost entirely empty (except for NPCs of course). So we were intruigued with the cantinas in Star Wars Galaxies (in the early days) since some were always filled with players. The paper is an analysis of social interaction patterns in SWG cantinas and whether or not they fit Oldenburg's definition. We find that they only partially fit.

However, in Second Life, I know of at least one "bar" that would qualify as a successful third place (I'm sure there are many others) so it's definitely possible.

Still while devs certainly know how to design public 3D spaces, I think they (and players) are still discovering ways to create actual "third places" in particular locations within MMOs.

3.

graphical avatars and 3D space do not appear to be essential

They can't be essential: the relationships between people aren't based on physical appearance, but on social presentation. As long as all participants can agree on the medium, social interaction may be different and have different norms and etiquette, but it is not impeded. Chatrooms have been used as third places for a very long time.

But it might be worthwhile to note that it may be an easier leap for people to connect with others who have some 3d presentation, which would go a long way in explaining why text MUDs simply can't achieve MMORPG popularity.

4.

I cannot believe that there is even a discussion about whether a virtual world that is not a game should be included in discussions about virtual worlds. The uptake of 3D space tools and the continued experience of 3D worlds by non-gamers can only develop the area for everyone. Imagine if film was governed by only documentary makers or the like? Or if documentary makers only learnt from documentary makers. All forms benefit from experiments and approaches of many, not few.

5.

Sorry, posted in wrong thread. Ignore or delete if you can. Doh!

6.

Certainly 3D space isn't a necessary condition for people to feel community. But I'm hesitant to agree that offline physical values and relationships don't translate somewhat (for both better and worse). For example, Nick's forthcoming paper:
https://www.nature.com/news/2006/060911/full/060911-3.html

I also heard a paper at ICA this summer in which two Cornell students showed that simply having an avatar wear black or white changed the player's behavior. It was one of the cooler findings of the year, I thought.

Also, in our paper we aren't saying that "third places" must be particular zones or locations within the world, so it's a slightly different tack than the cantina approach. We're saying that's the function of the entire world itself--it's the third place for real daily life. We talk a little about whether the graphical settings within the world (spectacular or humdrum) make a difference, and suggest that they don't much for this function.

7.

Honestly, the point of real interest here to me is the amount of press the paper received. The headlines themselves were, as to be expected, simplified statements about what the paper was attempting to demonstrate that were essentially "no duh" statements that any gamer would have agreed with. Nearly tautological. But the response *non-gamers* have had to the article is.. well, as though we just found cold fusion.

news reporter: "GAMES?! are ... SOCIAL?! It cannot be!"
Constance: /sigh

FWIW, the first journal rejected the article outright. The second (jcmc) had serious revisions, mostly thanks to a reviewer who felt the claims made in the paper clearly ignored prior research on addiction, twinking, chinese adena farming, violence, and other social ills. Apparently, against that backdrop, our paper read like a kumbayah celebration of all things MMO.

So, I suppose it should be a reminder that there is still a very serious disconnect between gaming discourse and the outside world, to the point that research on outlier behaviors and exceptional practices is somehow taken to be research on the norm --on the "no duh" rather than its revealing exception.

Oh, and obviously we're talking about American public here. When I first wrote on this topic for a journal in Sweden, the response was not at all the same.

8.

I laughed at the title of your paper....it's a standing joke of mine to call our guild's main Ventrilo channel "Cheers."

It doesn't surprise me that the public would view gamers as "deviant" in some way, though I do find it rather sad, and have the urge to laugh out loud. Oh hell, in this forum, I'll just go ahead and say lol, why don't I ;)I'm a 34 year old professional whose 33 year old professional brother with his 28 year old professional wife got her addicted to EQ the first week it came out, and I've never looked back. We currently play EQ2, and while they are not playing as much as they usually do (new baby and very busy at work) I still fit well within the heavy gaming demographic, though I hate to call myself hardcore....I never belong to a raid guild. Still, what else to say when you play about six hours a night? Frequently more on weekends.....

My guild is my social network for the moment, for many reasons. I moved back home recently from living very far away from all my friends and family for two years (South Dakota back to my birthplace of Florida). I don't have a lot of money at the moment, and EQ2 is excellent entertainment value for the cost, providing me with a chance to "go out" with my brother and sister in law in a venue I can afford "virtually" (haha) free, and also to "see" my very good friend I left behind in South Dakota. Since she also plays EQ2! Where else could I meet her on a Friday night? I certainly can't fly her down for dinner, but I can meet her for some grouping, or even just to chat for a couple of hours in Ventrilo while we wander around collecting sparklies (collection items). Another friend from South Dakota and I have not maintained nearly the depth of connection. The cell phone calls are not the bond that EQ2 is. There's something much more immediate about logging on and seeing her avatar and doing things with her in the virtual world...it feels as if I am WITH her in a sense. I miss doing things with her in the "real world," of course, but as substitutes go, EQ2 is far better than just a phone call.

As for the friendships I have made that did not begin first outside the game, I have always played in large part because of those relationships. Without the social aspect, any game would quickly lose its luster. My guild in EQ2 is very large (6th largest on our server) but we are also mature. We have an 18 and up policy and I would hazard a guess that our average age is about 28. We have a lot of couples, many married with children, and we have nearly a 50/50 male/female ratio. I would hazard a guess that we're a pretty broadening third space. We have a no censorship Ventrilo policy with only one rule...you don't deliberately attack anyone or say anything meant to harm. Our guild and Ventrilo chat may rival Howard Stern at his finest but anyone joining the guild is well warned in advance, and we usually save the best for Vent, where you can always leave the channel! One thing I have noted, is that those people in our guild who do not use Ventrilo for one reason or another do not become absorbed into the social aspects of the guild to the same extent as those of us who do. Our "Cheers" channel in Ventrilo is truly where the social life of the guild exists most fully, and if you are not a part of it, you are missing out on a great deal of the guild subtext. We may explain injokes to you when we make reference to them in guildchat, we will certainly talk in guildchat and joke and you might never know what you are missing, but guildchat is the social tip of the iceberg. Ventrilo is the vast depths floating beneath, and probably 80-90% of guild social transactions are conducted on it. It simply becomes so much easier to talk than to type, and voice carries with it all the endless nuances...and you still have the ability to carry on the private chat while the public voice conversations are carried on. Ventrilo, or any VOIP program, has not even been mentioned thus far, and to me it brings an entirely different fact to social interaction. You're faced with the reality of the person behind the avatar, and that brings many implications. No one in my guild particularly cares who is a guy playing a sexy high elf, we're not roleplayers in that sense, if anything, it's a joke...oh, definitely a joke. For some, it's a huge issue.

This medium is not solely for pretending we're Howard, though. I would say that for other people in my situation, who, for one reason or another, do not have a strong network of friends (I do have family but you can't always lean on your family for everything all the time)relationships built online can definitely be our sounding boards and support network. I know I provide that for some of my guildmates, as they do for me, that I'm there when they log on and they can come cry on my metaphorical shoulder in a private Ventrilo channel while we take out our frustrations on hapless monsters throughout Norrath. And you can't exactly count on that availability in the lives of your real life friends! Or they'd be playing EQ2 with me...

9.

This Tuesday, a cluster of World of Warcraft realms was down for extended maintenance; people who had characters on these realms were funnelled to a handful of new ones. On one of those, I had a chance to observe hundreds of people in the human starting area (the quest mobs were spawning barely fast enough for everyone), acting as if they were survivors of some natural disaster trying to find loved ones. "Anyone here from Khaz'goroth?" "Hey, Frostmourners! Anyone?" "Anyone here from Silver Hand? Please?" And so on.
It's not just about killing monsters and getting XP and/or loot. It's about doing it with people you know and care about, regardless of how or where you met. I started playing WoW to better keep in touch with friends I haven't heard from in almost a decade. Now I see them every day. And they live all the way across the continent. We take it for granted, but it's actually quite amazing.

10.

I can completely identify with that one. Airfare rates from Florida to South Dakota were outright horrific. And I won't go into the layovers. But I could see my brother and sister in law nearly nightly in EQ1, and then EQ2. It was a virtual dinner date. Though it is hard to eat linguine and clam sauce while healing :)Perhaps the sangria helped.

11.

A third place is important for many people, but it still doesn't give an answer to the question, "Why do people play these darn things?". Virtual worlds offer people a third place, yes, but the place itself isn't so important as what you do there.

I know, I know, I should read the paper ... printing it off now.

Richard

12.

Heather, I have just finished a large experiment on VOIP among gamers, and hope to have the results published soon (which in academia means a year). I can tell you that a controlled experiment showed that VoIP was a positive social force, and that those who did not have it actually experienced losses.

Yes, Richard, read the paper and fire away. The short answer in it is that people have fewer offline outlets--fewer Cheers-like RL places--and so sometimes go online to fill that gap.

13.

OK, I've read the paper, and yes, I agree that virtual worlds function as a "third space".

What I don't agree with is the title of this thread, as being a third place doesn't explain why people play them.

Richard

14.

1. People need third places and don't have them.
2. Online games function as third places.
3. People, seeking that function, gravitate towards them.

15.

Dmitri>1. People need third places and don't have them.
>2. Online games function as third places.
>3. People, seeking that function, gravitate towards them.

People don't feel compelled to go to ordinary third spaces anywhere near like they feel compelled to play virtual worlds. Being a third place is a bonus, or perhaps a contributing factor, but it's not why people play them.

Some people do have other third places available to them, but they choose to play virtual worlds rather than go to these other places. Why is that? Why do some people prefer the real places over the virtual, and why do some prefer the virtual over the real?

You can't just say, "ah virtual worlds are third places, problem solved". I realise you're not doing that, of course (your paper makes no such suggestion), but the title of the thread seems to suggest it.

Richard

16.

Richard-> People don't feel compelled to go to ordinary third spaces anywhere near like they feel compelled to play virtual worlds. Being a third place is a bonus, or perhaps a contributing factor, but it's not why people play them.

How do you know this? I have no surveys or data on it. What I've seen are some papers factoring out motives for playing more generally. Social interaction is usually on the resulting factor analysis list. Thus, I'm suggesting it as one reason for some people. It may or may not be the primary one. I'm not prepared to say anything as sweeping as what you're saying here. What I am trying to inject into the thinking is the issue of availability. RL third places have become less available, while online ones have become more so. Given equal access and cultural norms, who knows what "people" in general would pick? I make guesses below.

Richard->Some people do have other third places available to them, but they choose to play virtual worlds rather than go to these other places. Why is that? Why do some people prefer the real places over the virtual, and why do some prefer the virtual over the real?

I would hypothesize that people make choices about the cognitive load they want, the mood they want and the company they want. Intuiting that, people choose a combination of media that fit their preferences. In some cases they want no social contact at all, and so read a book or watch TV. Sometimes they want true personal contact and so they seek FTF interactions. And sometimes they want access to particular people, or want to moderate how personal their contact will be, and so online worlds become an option. In them people often choose how much of themselves to share, via which media.

17.

Dmitri said: "RL third places have become less available..." and "In some cases they want no social contact at all."

I'm not sure where you're getting your data about 3rd Places being less available in RL. Church attendance in the US is way up over the last two decades; religious "places" always having counted as one of the major non-work, non-home 3rd areas of life. Sporting club attendance for children in the US is also way, way up over the past decade (eg, "little league" sports and sports classes such as martial arts, gymnastics, dancing, etc.) More and more parents are getting kids into activities that they feel will benefit them both from a lifestyle perspective, and from a "good on the pre-college resume" perspective. As demand has increased, so has the market.

And the not-for-profit side of this market has also increased; towns and cities are providing more adult and after-school activities than ever in the continuing, enhanced and "lifestyle" educational areas. There are more community colleges in the US than at any other time in history, and many of these support students who are learning not for "degree prominence," but as part of a learning lifestyle; which is partly a desire for a "learning place."

Starbucks is the lounging coffee shop and Barnes & Noble is the coffee shop book store. Both are examples of retail "3rd spaces" that were not available 15 years ago.

People in these places are "getting out" of their 1st and 2nd places to worship, learn, play, drink, read and hang out. Sometimes with others... sometimes alone. One thing we need to remember is that the 3rd space/place is not necessarily social at all times for all users. It may have socially enabled parts... but you don't need to talk to anyone to enjoy church, a ball-game, a StarBucks, etc.

I love VWs/MMOs. I think they are incredible examples of online, virtual 3rd places. But my guesses as to why they are so popular is that:

1. They are available now. We didn't have wide access to broadband even a few years ago. So... you can't have acceptance before availability, eh?

2. They are "near" to where many more of us are working. As more people get comfortable with complex, computer-driven work tools, the idea of complex, computer-driven play-tools is less scary.

3. We have less leisure time available. It takes far less time to "drive to the hard drive." To enjoy an evening in an RL 3rd space, I have to factor in quite a few logistical hiccups that negatively impact my experience. To enjoy an evening in a virtual 3rd space... I double-click.

4. They are different. We like different. Different is fun.

5. They are cheap. Compared to a night out at the movies or even a friggin' mocha-choka-latte-grande at Starbucks... 8 hours of WoW is deep cheep.

And before we get all hot and bothered about virtual 3rd places... let's put this all into perspective, eh? WoW now has, what? 6 million users worldwide? Let's imagine that they log on every day for one hour. I think that's more than generous. If that was a TV show, it still wouldn't make the Nielsen ratings Top 20 for just the US (#20 on the list last week, "American Inventor," had 8.8 million households viewing in America).

So while I am a huge proponent and advocate and fan... let's remember: these 6 million players, plus those using SL and EVE and all the other VWs out there... well... while no longer a "blip," it's not even a minor league sport.

18.

Me>People don't feel compelled to go to ordinary third spaces anywhere near like they feel compelled to play virtual worlds.
Dmitri>How do you know this? I have no surveys or data
on it.

Ray Oldeburg suggests, on the Project for Public Spaces, that examples of third places include: beer gardens, main streets, pubs, cafés, coffeehouses and post offices. Some of the other examples on the page are: bars, coffee shops, general stores, coffee houses, bookstores and community centres.

Now which of those do people visit for 2-4 hours every day, week after week, month after month, sometimes for years? Maybe bars, I suppose, but beyond that?

So no, I can't support with data my assertion that virtual worlds are more compelling than coffee shops. It would take me 5 years to get the funding and perform the data acquisition to demonstrate what actually looks fairly obvious. Virtual worlds are compelling in a way far beyond that which is explicable by appealing to their being a third space. It's what you do in them that makes them compelling, not the fact that they're one third place among many third places.

Your own argument isn't exactly data-driven either. The main thrust is that there are certain criteria for what makes a third place, and a virtual world taken as a whole is an example of one. You do have data to support this. Nevertheless, it would undermine your argument if it were the case that there were third places within virtual worlds, because then the virtual world as a whole couldn't be a third place. Can you pick this up from your data? I'm guessing not, because your data was acquired for other purposes and you didn't ask questions on that topic. To me, WoW's instances look pretty good candidates to be considered third spaces: neutral ground (yes), leveler (yes), conversation main activity (hmm), accessible (yes), regulars (yes), low profile (hmm), playful mood (often), home from home (yes). The ones with "hmm" are weaker than the others, but they're just as weak in the virtual world as a whole.

It might be that case that there's a progression and you start off by looking at the virtual world as a whole as a third place, but then over time you find third places within the virtual world and your viewpoint shifts. Does your data support that, or even suggest the possibility?

>I'm suggesting it as one reason for some people. It may or may not be the primary one.

This is fine, I've no problem with that. I think it opens the door to more research, and that can only help us in our understanding of this phenomenon.

What I'm ranting against is the title of this thread: "why do people play these darn things?". You don't answer that question. You may provide one contributing factor, but that's as far as it goes.

>What I am trying to inject into the thinking is the issue of availability. RL third places have become less available, while online ones have become more so. Given equal access and cultural norms, who knows what "people" in general would pick?

But why is their behaviour in a virtual world so much different to that which is exhibited in other examples of third spaces? Oldenburg lists 8 criteria for what makes something a third space, but doesn't list some things that mitigate against being a third place. For example, a prison would satisfy all those criteria, but wouldn't count because people spend so much time there that the "home away from home" becomes "home". Could the same be said of virtual worlds? How long do you have to be in a place before it becomes less of a break and more of a stay?

As you mention yourself, Amy Bruckman has been talking about virtual worlds as third places for over a decade. It's not a new idea. What's new in your paper is that you have some data which support her position, which is great, and you link in the social capital idea, which is even better as it offers an explanation as to why some virtual worlds fail as third places. All I'm saying is that this doesn't answer the question you pose at the start of this thread. It doesn't tell us why people play these darn things.

Richard

19.

I think we are talking past one another. The short version of the "why" question is "Because people seek social capital." Corrolaries would include the fact that they need it because of shortages, and that those shortages are due to a sustained decrease of civic institutions (third places being one of these).

However, Andy asserts that RL third places are having a resurgence, which would work against my hypothesis if true. The evidence I have seen is more mixed than Andy's though. For example, bowling is up, but actual league membership is down. Commuting kills social capital ("Packed like lemmings into shiny metal boxes" says Sting), and there isn't a drop in commuting. See also Andy's point #2 in support.

For reams of data, updates, etc. see https://bowlingalone.com/
https://www.bettertogether.org/
and
https://www.ksg.harvard.edu/saguaro/

The religion example is a good one, I think, and no coincidence. Lacking community on other levels and in other places, people go to churches to seek it. Atomized into sealed suburban containers, people come out once a week to connect with other humans. Of course, I'm agnostic, so where do I go? Orgrimmar, it turns out...

20.

Dmitri>I think we are talking past one another.

This is entirely possible.

>The short version of the "why" question is "Because people seek social capital."

So you're saying that the answer to the question "Why do people play these darn things" is "Because people seek social capital"?

I don't buy that for one moment. I'll buy it as a factor, or as a partial answer to the question, but it's not the answer.

In other words, "seeking social capital" may be a necessary condition for people to play these games but it's not a sufficient one. Your paper argues for the former, but your thread title seems to suggest the latter.

Richard

21.

Richard->I don't buy that for one moment. I'll buy it as a factor, or as a partial answer to the question, but it's not the answer. In other words, "seeking social capital" may be a necessary condition for people to play these games but it's not a sufficient one. Your paper argues for the former, but your thread title seems to suggest the latter.

Just a factor, and not for everyone. I wouldn't even say it's a necessary condition. In many cases, I doubt it's particularly conscious, but that doesn't make it less real.

We're just making the case that it is *a* factor. To readers of TN that is probably a "no shit" statement. But the public reaction via the press and the emails I get suggests that it's surprising and affirming. I mean geez, it's in the Wall Street Journal today.

So I could retitle the thread "Why *some* people play these darn things" but that's not very interesting, is it?

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