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May 18, 2011



Such an interesting question. Here's my rambling take on it.

I have never equated maturity with not cheating or not following the rules. I think of cheating/trolling/corpse camping etc in terms of how they effect the play of others. If your goofing off conflicts with my play (ie prevents me from playing in a way that the "rules" don't allow) then I think of it negatively. If your goofing off somehow augments my play (entertaining etc) then it can be positive.

I'm not sure about the maturity framework because I've played games with uber rules-lawyers who aren't cheating but their insistence on prioritizing the exact rules over the enjoyment of play makes them seem a bit immature in their obvious obliviousness to other players.

I don't feel like it's an age thing because our kids are just as ticked off by cheaters as I am. There could be something about distance and anonymity though. Someone who cheats/goofs off in a board game while sitting across the table seems different than someone in an MMO who does it and then runs off to another continent.

Maturity here might imply a willingness to conform (at least some times) to the social norms that players follow but the rules don't always enforce. It strikes me as immature (antisocial, sociopathic) to willingly reject what are obvious accepted practices.

My two (or maybe 25) cents worth. Eager to see where the idea goes.



Two things:

1) We don't treat kids as criminals because we (adults/parents/teachers) have more specific, direct and total control over our children's environment than do governments over citizens. The policeman can't stop me from having dessert because "I looked at him funny." I, however, can legally make my kid's life a living hell for whatever damned reason I see fit. There's no need to criminalize immaturity; parents punish it without due process all the time.

2) Kids (shorthand for "the immature") do more crazy shit because they haven't: a) discovered how the ramifications of the crazy shit will impact them, or; b) aren't subject to the same ramifications. For example: if I, as a kid, cheat at cards when playing with friends, they might not play cards with me. I may not understand that at first, and may then learn something about cheating. I may be pissed, but, at worst, I lost a couple friends and/or the chance to play cards. If I cheat at cards as an adult, I may offend important coworkers or family friends I share with my spouse (not cool). If we're playing for money (even nickel-dime-quarter), I may get a rep as a swindler which could affect my job, business relationships, overall reputation.

Also, old people are just more tired. Wisdom may not be knowing what crazy shit not to do, but simply not having the energy to do all that crazy shit.


@Andy...Wisdom may also be: Lack of energy to oppose or do anything about the crazy shit!

I've heard from developmental psychologists that current generations may be suffering from a genuine - not just perceived - overentitlement syndrome. Many of my students seem incredulous when confronted with a hard limit, as in "What do you mean, I can't turn it in on Monday?!?! WTF?!?!?" If true, it means that what young people truly need now are limits on their behavior. Shock! But perhaps makes sense - people are happier, later in life, when they have more self-control. Anyways, whether you buy all that or not, the fact is, imposing limits on immature people is awfully time consuming and emotionally draining. So maybe we all just get tired.

In other words, how do we quickly and efficiently get the ramifications (2a) to come down? One thing that impedes the formation of, for example, demarcation lines between adult space and kid space is lack of coordination among the adults. If the adults can't agree to draw a firm line and kick the kids back to the playroom, it's hard to keep the adult thing as fun as it could be (for adults). The difficulties are heightened when some adults argue that the offending behavior is something more than childishness.

Anyways - I wonder if discussing this stuff in terms of maturitiy is helpful? Jury is still out.


Most interesting - you brought up the entertainment value of goofing off in a game. I'm having trouble thinking of an example. As a diehard pre-video gamer - to me, the cosmos is a hex map - I have trouble thinking of a situation where rule-breaking is entertaining. Goofing off within the rules (and spirit) of the game is fine, breaking those rules really is just annoying.

But I liked your formula at the end, where we define maturity as willing to conform for the most part to the written and unwritten norms of play. "Respecting the game and the community of players is a mark of maturity." I also liked your use of a limitation there - you don't say ALWAYS conform, just, mostly. Then maybe maturity is: having a very high standard for how funny/entertaining/artistic/moving something is before it warrants breaking the explicit and implicit rules.


I am currently working on my dissertation about intergenerational sociability and the significance of age-based distinctions in virtual realms. In particular, I study how adultism is a dominant strategy to organize play in wow. It ranges from administratively restricting access to participate (based on biologically deterministic models, ie you must be 18+ to join this guild...) to linguistic and other social practices to reinforce that young players are inadequate, etc. So, players rely heavily on the mature/immature dichotomy.

According to my data, young people (the majority of my subjects are male) from privileged class backgrounds are able to present themselves as mature (or as I call it, eMature) players and transgress age-based inequalities. Yet, they have to maintain their social selves carefully, whereas "adults" are free to slack off and not worry about consequences.

So, virtual spaces provide the utopian potential, where age is no longer an important distinguishing factor (judged by the content of character [sic] and not by biological age) - but in reality, young people are put to place.

And a note about entitlement: it will be interesting to see how this "entitled" generation wrestle with social closure, limited mobility, the "jobless future" and the intergenerational contract (that is, baby boomer retirement). As we know, entitlement is not necessarily evil - unless, it's about unlimited deadline extensions :)


Um, wow, this is the dissertation of my dreams. How close are you to finishing? Do you have anything you can share? Just check out the concepts. "Adultism." A candidate for the special nasty word club? "When you did that, it was totally adultist." To be opposed by youthists, I suppose. Well, "I oppose youthism wherever it raises its ugly head." It reminds me of a famous Onion article on Youthful Tendency Disorder.

Then you identify the way people play with the age-maturity connection. It's definitely there as a statistical trend, right? I mean older people are generally more mature. But in social science, a "law" is a law with exceptions. Always. So the well-bred (I'm being Adultist! Gah!) kids can pass themselves off as grown-ups.

Maybe adultism isn't a bad thing. Maybe adultism is a wonderful social goal. Wouldn't it be cool if children of all ages would grow up a little bit? Myself included? If virtual worlds can be shown to be actually encouraging adultism, it is a good thing, no?


Ed, you note that "online shenanigans seem to be losing significance". But is that really maturity? Or is it experience and experiential learning? And how far are the two things intertwined? Particularly I'm thinking about "kids", whom many not act very mature generally, but may have vast amounts of "online experience" and develop an sharp awareness of what is acceptable in their online peer groups. Perhaps what massively connected online environments (and I include a swathe of arenas here in that "hand-waviness" catch all term) do well is quickly introduce even the younger online gamer or internet participant, to the expectations of their social peer groups with instant feedback. With quick and constant feedback on what is acceptable, and what is not, I can see how an immature young adult (who shows at least some social intelligence to adapt their behavior) could quickly "improve" (what a naive term to use I'll acknowledge) exhibited behaviors.

I've been involved in a number of large online communities over the years, and in particular a few memories of CCG online groups I've been involved in, which had a mixture of young and older participants seem to be most relevant to this.. I remember clearly a number of occasions in which that mixture of increasing peer social awareness amongst younger community members was evidenced with quite rapid changes in online behavior. Perhaps what massively connected online environments do well, and their potential to be very positive in a way, is that they *potentially* expose younger, and less mature adults into social environments which allow for social rules, contracts and social learning to take place in an environment with rapid feedback mechanisms. In effect, they could potentially be (if positively focused) environments in which the mixture of participants could/can develop less socially mature participants social intelligence quite rapidly (and anecdotally, I've seen this occur on a number of occasions). I'll leave out the rather obvious concluding statement of what negatively focused environments equally could do.


Dr David Grundy


The problem with a board game vs an MMORPG isnt the lack of a youthful mentality (to put it nicely). The problem is in the word massive.

If we had a board game that allowed gameplay simultaneously by hundreds, or even thousands of people on the same field, and not one, but a group of them started creating their own interpretations of the rules, well, that would be chaos.

Not to disparage chaos, it has its place. But once done an action cannot be undone. It will be done again, and again, and again...


Are you sure massive makes the difference? Very few people in the US relieve themselves in public. On the other hand, for those who don't get it, we do have laws don't we. Hmm.


Ed, I use the term ‘adultist’ as part of the matrix of inequality. Just like inequalities based on gender, race, disability, etc., adultism is an attempt to classify human beings based on perceived biological characteristics (see http://www.freechild.org/bell.htm). Of course biology is an important axis of this discussion, but do we really think that young Canadians mature faster and are biologically ready to consume alcohol before Americans? The mature/immature dichotomy is socially constructed and reinforced, yet it changes from social setting to social setting. In fact, adolescence as part of the life-course did not exist in previous historical epochs. Some cultures regard their elders as wise; some cultures try to separate them from the rest of “productive society”…

The question for me is how power-relationships operate within virtual worlds: how has the power to label someone, who has to manage being labeled, etc. For me, the question is not "who pranks, trolls and acts out more", but who can get away with it?

Wow is an adultist place – some social scenes have age-limitation, being “young” is often considered inferior and very few (at least according to my ethnographic data) young players occupy leadership roles where adults are present.

Now that being said, virtual realms are fascinating, because different age-cohort play together and negotiate/negate these social relationships. As David mentioned, virtual worlds make it possible for young people to learn social skills necessary to navigate adult governed social spaces… This is what really interesting: what are these social skills, are they really learned in virtual spaces or is it just the transference/use of some cultural capital, privilege? Sociologists are wrestling with the question of intergenerational habitus and its usefulness in a globalized/technologically driven world that is often foreign for older age cohorts… So I think vw’s provide fascinating insights… And I hope my diss. will add some to that literature… Hopefully finished and defended “before the leaves have fallen from the trees”.

Sorry for the long post. Cheers. ~andras


This is interesting. While maturity's definitions vary from culture to culture, it seems to be that the core concept of life stages is a human universal (indeed a universal in the animal kingdom). Put another way, adultism is good. We should all strive to become adults and then exercise our adultism with full vigor against people who are not adults. The only exception is those who we deem too young to be expected to behave as adults. That deeming is open to struggle, yes, but the basic protocol and process isn't. People can and should be expected to grow up.


As I use the term “adultism” in a particular way (see Bell above), I strongly disagree. Adultism is unnecessary.

Nonetheless, I agree with you that any democratic and free society need responsible and engaged citizens (you call it “become adults”). In fact, that was the ideal of liberal arts tradition in education. Yet, in that sense, a large portion of our “legally adult” population is not adult…

It seems that we already exercise our full vigor against people who are not adults – they are often viewed as consumers or troubling, reckless, hormone raged strangers. Youth advertising/marketing figures, youth incarceration and youth poverty, homeless numbers tell the story. In fact, young people are one of the most surveilled social groups in human history.

Finally, the question of youth cannot be discussed in a vacuum – we need to consider the foreclosed, outsourced and jobless futures: lack of social mobility, diminishing educational returns, etc.


Power relationships from my experience in online worlds arent based in adultism at all, but based in who is willing to engage in arguments of repetition to the greatest extent.

This ad-nauseum style of exercising power is then misapplied to adultism when in actuality it has nothing to do with being an adult, and everything to do with adopting populist trends based off of a logical fallacy.

This happens because it is expedient to do so, and in a world where nothing matters expediency is everything.


@Edward Stanaway: It seems to me that you are referring to public channels (general, trade, etc.)… It is true that power and authority is very convoluted there and often the loudest yeller dominates these public trolling spectacles. It is about assertion and not negotiation. Yet, if this cacophony of speech is littered with racial comments, it is not a misapplication to label it racist (overt racism). If the comments demean and belittle young people because they are young, it is not a misapplication to call them adultist.

Nonetheless, public chat channels represent only a tiny fraction of the power/authority relationships that command and shape the experience of users (for instance, see Mathieu O’Neil’s work). How are guilds structured? Who is administratively denied access? Who occupy leadership positions, who has executive power? How are speech norms and social customs negotiated and enforced? Who has authority to use voice channels during a raid/battleground (obviously my data comes from wow)? What are the consequences of not obeying these rules?

Naturally, the discussion of power goes way beyond the relationship between adults and young people… But these power relationships shape how young people use adult governed virtual worlds (my data comes form wow).


Seems like an interesting project, looking forward to the end product :)

Your findings about adultism as a mandatory entrypoint in WoW I do agree on, however I also see a valuing of qualities that define youth more then adulthood.

Using WoW as an example, my first thought is spending large amounts of time on something unproductive (meaning here, something that doesnt put food on the family's table - gamers are otherwise highly productive) that is something usually reserved for kids. Same as playfulness.

I guess it's the presence of both that makes it so much fun ;)


It seems like the work Lisa Nakamura seems to be doing in here needs to be mentioned. If you haven't watched her talk last year, I try to recommend it to just about everyone: http://lalone.us/e2hEx8

When I thought on this topic, I found myself making a link to some sort of generalized other (yeah, i'm just tossing some Mead on in here). This is to say that most people in online environments, especially MMOG's and virtual worlds, have a sense that the "other" in their game is one of two people.

1). 13 year old boys who use their mom's credit card to buy them gold, who don't have to be good at a game because they can just start over.

2). Goons, 4-Chan residents - these are, like the Nakamura talk above says, the white male between the age of probably 17-35 who have had video games made for them for years and are pretty decent at them because of it.

See: http://www.eve-search.com/thread/1018616/page/1

or World of Warcraft where they have done everything from kill the auction house NPCs of their own factions to drag powerful alliance NPCs to Horde cities so they can break certain storyline-based relationships (Jainia and Thrall).

http://i.imgur.com/5XQdU.jpg is from the recently released World of Tanks.

I think this generalized other that comes out of the Goon or 4chan humor dominated player-base is mimicked and often seen as the norm in most games. Frat-guy Humor. I wonder what it would take to get past it?


> Frat-guy Humor. I wonder what it would take to get past it?

How about, stigmatizing frat guy humor and kicking out people who act like frat guys? Creating all-frat-guy servers and strictly enforcing the rule that you have to act like a grownup to get out of it? But all that would be adultist. /shrug

Anyone else smell the whiff of 1968's rotting vegetation?


I forgot to put in my last point which is that the paradox here is that the frat-guys in question are more organized and often more adult in-group than most other groups in game (most times).

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