Within about 10 minutes of each other, I read two news reports offering opposing implications on the social impact of virtual spaces. First,* Alexandra Alter of the Wall Street Journal reports on how some Second Life players are ruining their real life relationships by spending too much time in SL (Forget for the moment that the RL relationship in question didn't sound overly solid to begin with. Move along, these are not the droids you are looking for). Next, GamesIndustry.biz reports the abstract version of Mark Griffith's latest research on MMO players, namely that they are very social. (Forget for the moment that Prof. Griffith offers a lengthy and nuanced series of papers on the grey areas of play, sociability and compulsive use. Don't look at the man behind the curtain.)
Newspapers like to cultivate drama. Maybe they're just meta-guilds, eh? A more in-depth review of each case will tell you that SL probably isn't the problem in the WSJ couple's marriage, and that Griffiths isn't exactly saying we all need to solve Putnam's social capital crisis by jumping into EQ2.
Still, in that grey area between the two extremes there's interesting room for speculation and exploration. Would the WSJ couple's marriage have floundered anyway? I'm intrigued by the fact that the reporter never questioned that, making this a technology/virtual world story and not a relationship story.
Or, is there something intrinsically different about this hobby that makes it different from, say, a trip to the local bar or softball league to hang out with friends? In other words, we get the now familiar question I run into a lot in research: simple one-for-one displacement, or something totally new? Without the option of diving away from his life and into SL, would the husband have gone on with his life and marriage? And, would it have been a life of quiet desperation, or marital bliss?
*Thanks for the link, Jesse.