Sunday, March 3, 2013

Where everybody knows your screen name

As someone who has been playing videogames for seemingly his entire life, Pramod Nayar’s thoughts on the videogaming cyberculture really got me thinking about the role it has played in my gaming experiences. Personally, I’ve found that gaming, especially online gaming, has the capacity to foster communities where like-minded individuals can communicate and develop relationships, but at the same time the anonymity of gaming can lead to communication and behavior to almost devolve to levels which we wouldn’t see often in “real” life.

Two researchers, Constance Steinkuehler and Dmitri Williams, have found that MMOs (massively multiplayer online video games) have the capacity to serve as a virtual counterpart to real life locales where communication and relationship-building takes place. According to their research, “They even liken playing such games as "Asheron's Call" and "Lineage" to dropping in at "Cheers," the fictional TV bar "where everybody knows your name." "By providing places for social interaction and relationships beyond the workplace and home, MMOs have the capacity to function much like the hangouts of old," they said. And they take it one step further by suggesting that the lack of real-world hangouts "is what is driving the MMO phenomenon" in the first place. The new conceptual study was published in early August in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication under the title.”

They, along with other researchers, further explain how video games can serve as a locale where individuals can work on their social skills and use them to form communities and relationships such as ones established outside of video games. However, we must also be aware of the flip side of this reality and acknowledge another one: that online video games allow for individuals to act out in behaviors not casually seen in society outside of video games.

Take the enormously popular online game League of Legends. This game, played by millions across the world, has come under fire for years for its incredibly toxic community. Players often have to deal with individuals who harass and verbally abuse others when things do not go their way during the game. Contrast this to a work project which relies on a team to get things done. In this setting, the teammates would not verbally abuse each other directly as they do in League of Legends, but would rather work together and constructively offer advice in order to complete the task at hand. Online video games allow user to create virtual identities which are free from punishment when communication takes a dark turn. While these realities do offer the possibility of building a nurturing community and relationships, they can also be the home of abusive behavior which goes relatively unchecked.

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