Social Architectures in MMOs
We tend to think of altruism and gregariousness as personality traits. Some people are more helpful; other people are more chatty. One reason why I'm fascinated with MMOs is because it seems that game mechanics also change how communities and individuals behave. For example, when people had to ask casters for "binds" (i.e., set their respawn point) in the original EQ, it seemed to help create a cultural norm of asking for help in general. In a way, altruism was not only an aspect of individual players, it was also partly fostered by the game mechanics. This "social architecture" of virtual environments is interesting because it hints at the possibility of shaping community and individual behavior via game mechanics.
A great deal has changed since the early UO/EQ days, and in a recent survey, I asked players to talk about their own experiences in the MMO they have played. Specifically, I asked players whether they thought the game mechanics changed how players behaved. Of course, running controlled experiments at a community (or server) level is difficult and thus the causal arrows presented in this article must be speculative at best, but I think they are still interesting to think and talk about nonetheless. Towards the end of the article, I'll come back to larger issues of whether this is just a generational difference and whether a game with severe death penalties would even be viable anymore.
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