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Apr 24, 2006



NPC interaction would heighten dehumanized loss, unless this NPC was built to pass the Turing test AND have good mentoring capability. I'm not convinced that we can do that, have the technology or no.

Dehumanized loss is addressed by socialization, I think. Taking advantage of the usefulness of The Amazon Search Tool, I read a few paragraphs out of the book. It seems to me that dehumanized loss has to do with the fact that they did not grieve with other human beings.

An effective response to that would be to expose them to other people who can share that feeling and ease it. It's hard to imagine a capably written AI that can reliably do that.

That said, if it IS possible to create an AI to assauge such pain, should it be done? Would it increase or decrease the erosion from community, if you could just go to an AI for help?


1) We shouldn't be quick to assume that connections built in the virtual world contain the same "weight" in the physical world. Just as we often state that people can separate game violence from real world violence, they may also separate game achievements and relationships from real ones.

2) "Devaluation, erosion of community, dehumanized loss, and rage" are all elements that damage an individual's bonds with a social group. Many of these reports focus only on the break from "mainstream" social structure, with other social structures given less attention.

If you have strong social ties with a community, it may not extend to other communities, and oftentimes, in the case of "rivalries" it can encourage destructive behavior against others. Anyone (else) out there ever vandalize or "prank" other schools? In the name of school spirit? Ever find yourself amost engaged in a brawl drawn largely on school lines? Sure, they're nonlethal, and (usually) mild on the destruction side (usually...)

It could be argued that these people had a strong sense of community, but only at the scale of that school. Similarly, bonds that extend only to an MMO might not contribute to a sense of connection to schoolmates.

These Columbine-style kids do have a severe dissociation with the "mainstream" in the school, but they also have found another circle- their co-conspirators. This circle can have its own social reinforcements that make the group stronger, perhaps even increasing the isolation from... or the animosity toward... the school's "mainstream."

The "mmo-sphere" is a great social reinforcement tool. If an "at risk" kid shares this medium with some "mainstream kids" from his/her school then yes, the achievements and bonds built ingame *might* reinforce the mainstream bond, perhaps enough to prevent columbine-like action.

It's equally possible that the "at risk" kid's guild being comprised solely of other "at risk" kids, potentially reinforcing that bond.

Or, maybe the real-world prejudices and barriers will extend to the online world, where the "at risk" kid finds himself isolated from the kids from his school. The baggage of the real world extends into the online world... or the misdeeds of the virtual world are carried into the real world.

Of course, there's also the possibility that the MMO doesn't reinforce OR damage any real-world social bond, leaving the "at risk" kid's tenuous tie to the mainstream school culture no weaker or stronger.

But.. could that the time online have been better used in ways that do reinforce those bonds?

- - - -

As for the "rage" aspect.... well, here we risk going back into the classic debate on whether violence serves as cathartic release or whether it conditions a person to be more accepting to violence....


Dr. Castronova,

I'm not aware of the number of aggrieved and violent teenagers in the country who might be deriving, or might possibly derive, benefit from a therapeutically designed game. I'm also not aware of how many spouses whose gamer partners have completely or significantly withdrawn from domestic childrearing to play games like Everquest and it's derivatives, but my visits to "gamerwidow" websites convince me that the number isn't small. And since typically there are multiple children in a childrearing household, the number of negatively affected teens will be some multiple of the negatively affected childrearing households.

So, before we make big press of the fact that MMPORG computer games are a potentially new therapeutic venue and let's everyone be nicer to the game industry, let's consider aggregate social utility of the MMPORG genre. If the games provide a therapeutic value to a small number of teens, but disrupt the childrearing of many more future and present teens through an emergent "addiction" or "compulsion" problem in them or their guardians, I think we should be very hesitant to laud MMPORGS games as a net benefit to youth. "When properly designed and implemented, potentially therapeutic for a certain class of people" seems to be a more realistic conclusion.

As an acknowledged expert on virtual worlds, you should be careful to make statements likely be brandished by the gaming industry as it awakens to it's coming predicament with virtual addictions. Though the moral issues may not effect your paycheck, your statements (if not responsibly qualified), will be used as a mask for the aggregrate social effects of this new virtual drug the game industry knows it is pushing.

Granted, there is potential truth to what you say. After all, even Curare has medicinal value with focused use by professionals...That doesn't make it something we want in everyone's dinner glass each night.

I hope you will broaden your perspective on this. MMPORGS are a marvel of human culture, art, and technology, with potentially unifying effect. They are also microeconomies with more or less real and committed actors, and valuable as thought tools. I've enjoyed them and found them both stimulating and social at time.

But they are also a cesspool of misery, withdrawal, and denial for many. You should pay some mind to "gaming's other half." Overall, I see much more panem et ludem here than potential therapy.

It strikes me as perverse that a man of your scholarship and learning will so sanguinely reach into sewer of fantasy violence, magical thinking, and broken real-life social ties to pull out one small potential pearl of therapeutic value for a demographic niche of questionable proportion to a larger, arguable negatively affected population. By all means, carry on with your discussion of therapeutic value, but I would balance it.

For example, how about more discussion of how to design games so they are less potentially damaging to families to start? How would you feel about some industry changes, such as a software backed voluntary weekly hour cap? Offline progress a la EVE to balance online progress games only such as WoW? About a compulsive gamer program similar to Missouri's compulsive gambler program?

I look forward to more of your candid discussion.



Child likes runescape


Child likes runescape


It's one thing to object that there's no demonstrable cause and effect between gaming and violence -- that I would expect from ludologists in general and from the premier ludologist Dr. Castronova.

But I have to marvel at the concept of gaming as *therapy* "just because it seems so". There's something very "off" about that, and it really sounds speculative. I'm glad it's not only me asking for some sort of hard research and numbers to back this up.

Re: "devaluation, erosion of community, dehumanized loss, and rage" -- all of these factors may only get a temporary palliative in a game. And it strikes me that when the teenager has to the cross from that game back into RL, just like an analogous situation of a drug high, the crash may be so great, the disconnect so great, that it may intensify the rage.

Most of the time when I see my son and his friends play WoW, they seem to be light-hearted and having fund. But at times I see it take on a real edge as the levels get higher or as they experience some huge frustration. I've actually seen them get really angry and pound the table if a Paladin kills them or whatever after they've been angling to get something achieved. The long hours over many sessions that you have to put in to get these skills and assets make you very frustrated if they are suddenly lost. Of course, this can happen in school football. But there's something about game immesion that is different, for sure.

I think it's good Castronova has opened the subject of games and massacres, and I think it's good that a notion of games as possible therapeutic spaces is taken up, but it requires a lot more real research.
Nobody has actually demonstrated that war games are therapeutic, that devaluing human life in a game is therapeutic (!).

There aren't child psychologists out there or social workers in schools touting the commercial immersive games (as distinct from some who tout serious gaming, I suppose), and that has to tell you something right there.

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