“Class! Let’s Game!”
Intergroup Relations and Multiplayer Online Games
Massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) merit bona fide research. After listening to Dr. Garrison LeMasters’ leceture and reading “The Mangle of Play” by Constance Steinkuehler I found more confidence in ideas of using MMOGs for socialization education. In this entry, I will explore the psychosocial dynamics of MMOG environments. We can assess the applicability of intergroup relations’ theorem found in non-virtual, hereafter referred to as “real,” societies to the virtual MMOG—“game”—society.
Much like real-world sociology, we can constitute a game’s players as a valid group or community. Players interact within a system by way of communication; they “codify community norms” (beyond the base system rules of the game); they practice and “enforce” the community norms. Furthermore in some games, clan formation also occurs based on common values. The planning of PK hunting parties and uniting to protect a particular “justice” standard are indicative of group formation based on a common set of norms and values. This example represents the direct reflection of group formation principles from the real world to the virtual world in creating virtual societies.
An easily anticipated example is the virtual existence of real world groups. In games where players communicate (via online chat), language is an identity element that serves to exact group distinctions. Identification through language mirrors national boundaries today among the virtual society. (i.e. German players, Indian players, etc.)
Aside from group formation, do conflict resolution principles and intergroup communication principles of real societies apply in the virtual world? The intriguing case of player mobilization against Lineage II “Chinese Farmers” sheds light on this matter, but also begs further studies. In this case, we witness “nonfarmers forgo[-ing] the usual between-clan competition (rich political) factions and alliances.” These group identities are given up willingly to create a new coalition group. The new group identifies with one value: that of battling farmers. In intergroup conflict studies, Sherif’s 1966 Robert’s Cave experiment is canonical. His experiment proves that rival groups in competition for survival forgo their respective group allegiances and cooperate as a single group given one condition: should groups be confronted with a superordinate goal that requires cooperation. The non-farmer players abandoning clan allegiance to fight with other clan’s members is impressive. It indicates that real world group formation principles (can) guide virtual intergroup behavior. Does this transfer of principles from real societies to virtual societies always hold true?
Such research could be consequential for education and development today. For example, if studies prove that virtual intergroup behavior directly mirrors the player’s real-world behavior, MMOGs can serve as an educational tool for socialization in the real world. It may perhaps be able to assist in educating people to overcome discriminatory beliefs or fundamentalism. It could, perhaps, be a facilitator of peaceful diversity in our multicultural world.