« Gaming / Life | Main | VW Taxonomy Q1 ‘08 »

Mar 03, 2008



I am pretty convinced that there is nothing like "rational man" or homo oeconomicus. Behavioral and Law has shown that there are many biases in the decisions we make. And furthermore, many factors are not measured by economic analytics.
Do we bring our cultur into SL? Psychologists examined behavior in virtual realms and apparently they found out that we feel like "being there", that we even choose to stand about one meter far from the next avatar, just as we do in reality - which obviously does not make any sense. So maybe it is not our culture, but it is our psychology which is always with us in virtual worlds.
In addition, there is the "start over"-effect (see - google - Fairfield Magic Circle). We have the chance to be the caring, successful guy we always wanted to be. People fight for recognition. Quite contrary to reality, in virtual environments no one cares about hierarchy and status. Well, of course, your avatar's appearance is important, but it is not as much a matter of money and status as it is on good old earth. So, apart from your appearance which can be easily altered, what does matter? Your deeds. I remember how grateful I was, when someone in SL told me how to find appropriate clothes.
So in the end I think for serious users there are even reasons to behave in a "better" way then in reality. And imho you cannot compare vw to blogs and such. These platforms do not give users a virtual second opportunity, only a place to dump their frustration - when anonymity is granted.


Maybe the entry bar for kindness is a little lower. I'm pretty sure I've not said anything online that I wouldn't say in person. After all, the audience (whether one person or millions) are people -- why should I react any differently to them?


Taking Hendrik's point about our psychology a bit further, I don't think there is such a thing as a virtual world. Going to Second Life is like taking a trip to London, or a trip to Mars. Where ever we are, we are there. If there is made of stone like Saint Paul’s in London that is what we perceive and interact with. If it is the Under City in WoW then that is what we see and live in.

Also the idea that blogs and lists are uniquely prone to flame wars is not supported by a good knowledge of history. Abraham Lincoln was regularly called an Ape by Northern Newspapers. John Dryden, poet laureate of England, wrote cruel insults about his rivals into his poems and then gave them mass circulation. Blogs and other written media reflect what print media has been doing for centuries.

Very interesting research, and great first post.


...but perhaps annonymity is sometimes a GOOD thing anyway?


Actually, I don't find it surprising in the least that people still act like people, no matter what medium they use to interact. I think there IS a difference though. Try using text to "talk" in a VW, then try changing to voice communication a few months later with those same people. There's definitely a difference, but I can't begin to quantify or qualify that difference. I know that I trust people a lot more after I've heard their voice, rather than just reading what they type.


Judging from my experience in virtual worlds (EVE online for less than 2 months and World of Warcraft since launch) players generally are known from their actions. If you come off as a fool, a bad player or too abrasive word does spread which leads to fewer players willing to do business with you or go into a dungeon or raid with you in tow. On the other side being known as a talented or attentive character that knows how to do well with the character or ship you prefer will earn you brownie points with the community in general and a "white listing" with guilds that raid if you are unaffiliated.

A few characters that I have known refuse to join guilds, generally due to drama - there have been a few infamous meltdowns from intraguild conflict or a guild master and his / her's significant other falling out, which leads to a remarkable tendency in some to avoid larger guilds or even any structure at all. Sorry, got sidetracked there.

Players are judged more on their reputation than anything else in the groups I have frequented. As a guild leader once commented to me (paraphrased): Gear is easy to provide, but talent with your class and listening to others that might know more than you is hard to get.


I think we need to look at the population of each domain before we compare them.

I suspect if you visit a SL forum you will find a similar level of kindness as you would in game because these are populated by the same people.

However, if you compare the postings at PerezHilton.com and behavior in Eve Online I suspect (but have no data) that the kindness level would be very different.

Getting slightly off topic - I have always been amazed at what defines 'evil' in a MMO. EQ2 has 'evil' races. Apparently what makes a race evil is darker skin, monster-like features, and the word 'dark' somewhere in the name.

While playing on a role-playing server as a Troll named Leegion I often met some of the kindest people. They were polite, helpful, and took time out to just chat at times. And this happened in the middle of the evil capital of Freeport. To be sure the character may have been labeled 'evil' by the devs, but the player behind that character was just plain nice. So much for the avatar being a virtual representation of the player.


Personally, I've found that the closest synonym to "evil" in MMOs is "antisocial". Your character may be a scamming homicidal maniac, but if you double-cross other scamming homicidal maniacs, retribution will be swift and deadly. Which actually is the case in the real world as well. Criminal organizations may not like the police, but they loathe betrayers. Hell may be other people, but the alternative is still worse. So, the ultimate punishment in MMOs still is the age-old "we won't play with you".


In most VW's, reputation is highly valuable: it takes considerable investment in terms of time, being well-behaved etc., and once acquired it has benefits in how others react to you.

But maybe that's too "economic" a way of modelling it. One interpretation of Festinger's cognitive dissonance experiments is that most people want to think of themselves as being good (in spite of evidence that their behaviour was not good.) There's no particular reason why this desire to think of yourself as good should vanish in a VW.

There also seem to be people who deliberately invest effort in building up a bad reputation. It appears that very bad reputations also have value.

A final thought: the same person's reputation might seem very bad to one onlooker, and very bad to another. (Compare, for example, terrorism. It is pretty clear that most terrorist groups care about their reputation).


I've only been in Second Life regularly for about 3 months, but it turns out to be NOTHING like I expected. The researchers and educators who are flocking to SL now have a quite different "take" on why they are there in some ways, but they also mix in with a lot of the existing culture too. It's endlessly fascinating--so vast and varied in the places and social circles and events that residents have created.

I assume that you (Thomas) are spending time in SL in something other than your "researcher" mode. As an Economist, And you have probably met Beyers Sellers (Robert Bloomfield) from Cornell and attended the weekly Metanomics interview programs (www.metanomics.net). It is broadcast as a live TV show with an audience and can be viewed later online. Beyers is the best possible resource for an economist wanting to know about SL.

Second LIfe is like any other place--you can't understand the natives or the culture(s) without blending in and spending considerable time there. And with 12 million residents and 50,000 daily logins, making generalizations about it is kind of like looking for a unified theory of the culture of all of Europe or Asia.

The comments to this entry are closed.