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Oct 16, 2005



Great to hear a bit about the research, Mia--I can't wait to hear more. I spoke with Alan Meade at SoPIII and his work is in the early stages, but definitely worth keeping an eye on.

While beyond his efforts it may seem a bit sparse out there in the field of researching cross-cultural interaction in MMORPGs, I think you're on the right track by focusing on the actual practices of gameplay. In doing so you avoid a common mistake of cross-cultural research, which is to let the category of "culture" become an explainant in itself. On that view, "Japanese culture" and "US Culture", for example, are already assumed to exist as monolithic wholes, just waiting to manifest themselves one way or the other in the interactions at hand.

Instead, you're proceeding without a pre-conceived notion of culture (whether national, gender-based, class-based, generational, or other) that dominates player actions in MMORPGs, and that means that what you find will actually reflect the cultural aspects of what's happening in MMORPGs now, rather than simply our own preconceptions. Again, I can't wait to see the results.


A Korean professor Wi Jung Hyun, major in Management, had researched on this issues. I’m afraid that the article was written only in Japanese and Korean(you can see the Japanese version at http://www.cmikorea.or.kr/data/journal_01.pdf )

Basically, it’s about differences in user attributes between Korean and Japanese players of Lineage. Collected with the help of developer, NC Soft, data are more reliable than collected from other sources. According to his regression analysis, some differences in user attributes playing same Lineage turns out to be statistically significant. These variables are importance (from 1 to 6) on ‘online colleagues’, ‘co-operation in game’, ‘communication in game’, ‘contacts extended to off-line.’

I have some doubt about his research at empirical study level. At first, sampling bias might do serious harm to the result. 2,446 in Korean and 2,703 in Japanese are used for analysis. But, the number of original respondents in Korean case is 6,702. He explained that the inconsistent answering respondents are excluded, but such a large scale inconsistency itself may be a serious problem or to be analyzed(He didn’t report exclusion rate of Japanese players). Also, I’m not so sure that experiences in MMOG be fundamentally attributable to so-called cultural difference with various name tags.

Anyway, I hope it could be helpful to your precious research!


Great stuff, Mia!! I've spent the last several months traveling in North America, Europe and Asia (China, Japan, South Korea and Thailand), interviewing players, developers and publishers as part of my exploration into the larger context for MMO play. And while I have run into some interesting and idiosyncratic differences across cultures, the thing that has struck me more is the commonality of motivation and experience, given the similarity (largely competitive and level/status-based) of worlds within the MMO genre, and the types of players that are drawn to them, as well as the social structures that tend to arise within them. The impression that I am left with (before analyzing my data thoroughly) is that 'traditional' online game players quite possibly exhibit more similarity to one another, than to say, someone else in their geographic proximity, despite cross-cultural differences. The exception might be South Korea, where online game play has (arguably) mutated into a mainstream activity. The area where I am seeing the most difference, however, is in the future development of online games, meant to draw in ever larger audiences. In Japanese development circles, I saw more of a trend towards community sites/social worlds/cooperative play spaces with some MMO elements, in South Korea, a desire to focus more on casual games, etc. whilst simultaneously glorifying the grind, something that the Japanese don't appreciate (I am told they largely prefer cute and easy games), but apparently resonates in Korean culture (the satisfaction of pay-off and status in exchange for hard work). As the MMO market possibly fragments into audience-specific niches, it seems likely that the favoured products will begin to reflect cultural personalities and proclivites to a greater degree. But this doesn't just mean geographic cultures, but also a greater reflection of clusters and sub-cultures within socio-political boundaries. So my sense is that a complex game of copy-cat has followed MMO development these last few years, and while players have guaranteed some unique emergent behaviours, we may not see the real differences until the genre mutates into more sub-genres that better reflect the needs of the players they serve. (Many Japanese MMOs are actually Taiwanese or Korean (or inspired by them?), for example, which may reflect a design aesthetic that results in an entirely different experience than a Japanese-designed MMO).

All that said, I am fascinated and gratified by stories of cross-cultural play that may result in increased RL cultural understanding. One of my American FFXI informants told me a complicated tale of western players having to come to grips with some of these nuances of Japanese culture that you mention. In this case, western players were marginalised for infractions like searching avatar inventories (I don't play FFXI, so not too sure about the mechanics of this) without permission, violating Japanese sensitivities to privacy. And though a painful learning experience for the community initially, over time an appreciation of these cultural differences has reportedly emerged, and the collective etiquette has evolved as a result of earlier conflicts and hostilities. Again this was a report from one player that I have not had a chance to corroborate, but this player felt that his world-view and sensitivity were greatly affected by these encounters.

So this is largely a random jumble of thoughts, but I wanted to raise my hand and say, yes!, this is an area that I am greatly interested in and will hopefully be contributing to in the future. I'm thrilled to see others doing similar work. I would also point you to Aaron Delwiche's work in Thailand, if you haven't perused it already... he did a talk at the SOPII identity panel that was fascinating. (you probably saw it live, though, eh?)

How exciting! I can't wait to see where this thread goes!


I'd be interested to see if FFXI has any culture of its own that isn't directly attributable to the real-world cultures of its players. In particular, I'd like to know if any norms have arisen across the player base in response to a clash of real-world cultures, or (especially) in response to FFXI's gameplay.



Oooo good schtuff. I'm specifically wondering how cultural differences will be amplified in Second Life as it gets more international.

I'd like to hear more "yoroshiku onegaishimasu" too, that sounds especially gracious. :)


Is there a Lonely Planet guidebook to explain these sorts of culture-specific expectations?


Mike Rozak > Is there a Lonely Planet guidebook to explain these sorts of culture-specific expectations?

I don't know about that, but a Japanese organization is writing an etiquette pamphlet for online gaming which I bet says things like "Don't quit the party until everyone is done leveling for the night" and things like that.


Do JP players have a similar age distribution as NA players? I play EQ and find that gaming style is more a function of age and available play time than language and cultural issues.


Arg, this article seemed only half way complete to me. You gave an example of how a Japanese group is formed but it seemed to me there was a lot of detail left missing, and some kind of conclusion as to why they work that way and how this may have related to the culture in some respect. Perhaps that wasn't the intention of the article but I really felt like there was a lot more that needed to be said. Decent so far but it just didn't seem complete.


I'm surprised no one has yet mentioned Nisbett's book "The Geography of Thought" or Hofstede's cultural parameters in relation to examining cultural differences in MMOs. IMO Nisbett's book should be required reading for anyone making (or researching) MMOs, and has become the standard starting work in many cross-cultural business, academic, and governmental circles. When reading it you have to remember that the author is himself a Western male, but it nevertheless presents fascinating vantages from which to consider the otherwise invisible chasms between those from Asian/US/European cultures, and (in the case of our industry) how these inform conduct inside MMOs (the book is also fodder for anyone considering a type of cultural constructionism by game design, but that's a different topic :) ).

Hofstede's work is a bit more controversial, but I think also valuable in this context. It would be interesting to see how his cultural parameters apply to players inside MMOs, and even whether different MMOs score significantly differently on his scales.

My own experience in this area goes back several years, to things like trying to lightly adjudicate what were ultimately cultural differences between players: in Meridian 59, the guild structure allowed sufficient player action (including voting, deal-making, alliances, etc.) that very real and culturally based differences in what "democracy" meant to someone from the US or Finland came to the fore. Different standards of acceptable language, etiquette, open questioning, and (as per Hofstede) social rank and gender roles all became issues then (1996). I'm sure that similar cross-cultural issues have continued to appear in games since then. Examining how the culture we bring to the game/world affects our conduct there, and how different games (or even different servers of the same game) evolve their own tacit cultures should be a fruitful area of study.


Very interesting. I look forward to reading more!

Maybe William Huber's paper "Fictive affinities in Final Fantasy XI: complicit and critical play in fantastic nations." could be of interest?

A cut from the abstract:

"The arrival of European players has invigorated the 3rd-language linkshells – initially dominated by Quebecois, Hispanic, and Brazilian players in the Americas. In-game fictional nationalities and races would both inform play style and be compromised by real-world identities. . Nonetheless, Japanese and English language communities of play dominate, and national cultures of play style became articulated in in-game and extra-game discourse and forums. The relationship and interplay between the two domains of affinity, and the interpretation of the diegetic affinities, are the focus of my presentation."



I love that paper & it is certainly worth the read -- esp for anyone working on FFXI -- but I think Mia is doing something closer to an MMOG comparative ethnography-lite, whereas William seemed to be trying to read the game mythos as a text informed by a particular history and cultural situation.


Hi Mia,
I’m really interested in what you’ve observed here, it's always fascinating to hear what other people are discovering researching the same MMOs.

With regards to party forming I’ve had similar experiences in FFXI, being approached in person a number of times by a Japanese party envoy inviting me to join, while the other party members wait for its completion. Contrastingly it is very common to encounter a series of scatter-shot cold-calling tells inviting to party within US parties (sometimes a couple per hour)...
... I've also experienced times where my Ranger has travelled to meet up with the rest of the party only to see another Ranger running in a suspiciously similar direction. Now this either says a lot about my general reputation of being awful at FFXI; 'oh no it's him, invite another Ranger quick!' or evidence that US and European players are very happy to over-book a party...
... 'oh just hang around there'll be a space sooner or later'...

This is probably an aside, but I’ve noticed that bowing is a very common greeting emote in FFXI – I always choose it because of it’s feudal medieval connotations and the fact that it is just a /bow away... I wonder to what degree behaviour is defined by players finding the most efficient way to control their marionette-like Avatar via the GUI? I’d be very interested in discussing your experiences further and would be happy to share some of my data with you.

I've been noticing some pretty strong trends with regards to Avatar and gender - players from UAE showing zero incidence of female avatar, Spanish and Italian players very low incidences of the same... Tracy Spaight at SOP III noted the high proliferation of female avatars with Korean players - he concluded that this was more due to pragmatism; effectively 'I'd get more help/money/less hassle as a pretty she-elf than an ugly bearded dwarf' and also 'if I have to stare at the rear-end of an avatar for months it might as well look good'. These are examples of data that can quickly show relatively marked difference (although the reasoning for is a far more difficult thing to ascertain).

Mike – I’ve really enjoyed reading with regards to Hofstede’s and Nisbett’s works. I see them as offering two very different opinions; Hofstede saying in which way people behave differently, and Nisbett suggesting why on a fundamental level these differences occur. Reflecting on their works now I’m finding precious little, bar the notion of ‘differences may exist’ that can practically be transposed onto cross-cultural study of MMOs... perhaps I’m just not reading them correctly! I just find Hofstede too inflexible. :)

Take for example Hofstede’s value definitions and the subsequent geo-cultural groupings that he publishes in Software of the Mind, I used these as an initial starting point for my studies long before I began my data collection and analysis. At the current stage in my analysis I can find almost no correlation between any of the value lists that he presents and response groupings related to my FFXI study data. - is this unique to FFXI, will it become prevalent with further analysis, is this due to inelegancies in survey design? -

Perhaps what Richard is suggesting is true – that FFXI (as every virtual world) has its own culture which differs from real-world culture to varying extents. That this culture is informed by a combination of in part national culture, gameplaying pragmatism, the alien nature of FFXI’s hybrid-world and the effects of one social group working with another?

We should remember that FFXI is also biased by its locus of production - that FFXI is a culturally codified space a la Lisa Nakamura and Beth Kolko, and hence may hold to some degree a Japanese cultural, thematic and behavioural bias.

Frank – with regards to age distribution in FFXI here is some of the data that my study has thrown up:
Age distribution, no gender separation:

Average age GENDER MIX
Norway 19.75
Belgium 20.26
UAE 20.20
Finland 20.31
Denmark 20.67
Australia 21.30
UK 21.71
Sweden 22.23
Italy 22.17
Canada 22.33
New Zealand 22.42
Netherlands 22.51
Mexico 22.71
USA 22.71
Spain 22.37
China 23.00
Germany 23.17
Singapore 23.38
Puerto Rico 23.82
France 24.49
Switzerland 24.75
Hong Kong 25.06
Taiwan 27.09
Japan 27.38

oh well, here is the data differentiated by gender:

Average age FEMALE
Spain 19.00
Singapore 20.11
Denmark 21.00
Australia 21.00
Mexico 21.00
New Zealand 21.50
Sweden 22.00
Belgium 22.25
Italy 22.44
France 22.86
Canada 23.23
Hong Kong 23.25
Norway 23.50
Germany 23.60
Netherlands 24.00
China 24.00
USA 24.62
UK 25.17
Finland 26.00
Taiwan 26.00
Puerto Rico 27.00
Japan 27.46

Average age MALE
Norway 18.81
Belgium 19.73
Finland 20.13
UAE 20.20
Denmark 20.63
UK 21.29
Australia 21.37
Canada 22.13
Italy 22.14
Sweden 22.24
USA 22.34
Netherlands 22.39
New Zealand 22.53
Spain 22.79
Mexico 22.85
China 22.85
Puerto Rico 22.85
Germany 23.13
Singapore 24.19
Switzerland 24.75
France 24.84
Hong Kong 25.31
Taiwan 27.23
Japan 27.36

I hope this is of some interest.



A couple relevant cites:
Egenfeldt-Nielsen, S., & Smith, J. (2003). Online Gaming Habits: United States, United Kingdom and the Nordic Countries. Copenhagen: Game Research Consulting.

Lai, S. (2003, August 8). The presentation of archetype and cultural values in massive multiplayer online role-playing games. Paper presented at the Critical Issues: Imaginative Research in a Changing World, Prague, Czech Republic.


I'm intrigued by this thread, and so rather than highjack it, I'm starting another purely on intercultural relations and politics (vs. on play style and cultural norms).


Thanks to everyone for the great feedback. This is of course still in progress as research, so there's lots more to think about (and probably refine) as I go forward. I'd agree that there is something of a "culture within" the game, and also probably that players construct race/culture as much as they encounter it. So, give us one or two instances of some different behavior, and then we can interpret future ambigious data in particular ways. Case in point: early NA players of FFXI complained that the JP players were unwilling to group with them or talk with them much, for whatever reason. Last night (for example) an English speaking player sends a /tell to a Japanese player asking for a raise for a dead party member. Gets no response. Complains about JP players not answering tells in English, even if only to refuse them. But what if the JP player was AFK? We can easily start 'reading' race or culture into behaviors or actions that may be based on completeley different factors.

Alan: those numbers for JP players would confirm what I found with interviews. The college students all played Ragnarok or Lineage (I and II) and not FFXI. FF seems to be an adult game, which would also explain the limited XPing times on weekdays.


Good stuff! Can't wait for the book o.0!!


What a great thread! I had the opportunity to hear about Mia's work over a beer in Bloomington and I'm delighted to see the topic make its way onto TN.

Thanks Alan for posting the age stats. The formality of the grouping process in FF as Mia described it strikes me as a particularly "adult" style of etiquette so it's interesting to see the numbers that Alan posted. Lisa's point about taking clusters and subcultures into account is extremely important to avoid interpreting the practices of one subculture or group as being representative of an entire nation and I suspect the generational divide with regards to online social practices in Asia is just as relevant as it is anywhere else in the world.


Betsy - you've certainly hit upon a significant issue -

"I suspect the generational divide with regards to online social practices in Asia is just as relevant as it is anywhere else in the world".

It's something that I've wondered about in the past with regards to my study - do I compare international responses to like agegroups or would the process of continually limiting sample size and producing increasingly specific subcultures reach a point of abstracting the results too far and therefore reduce the practical application of the data?

worded differently: to what extent is social group / sub-culture clustering useful, and at what point does it become too specific, or adversely too general to be of any use?


Thanks Alan for the age/gender stats. I can think of so many statistical analyses I would love to see with the underlying data that my head is spinning.

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