In Their Own Words: The Social Component

Over the past 5 years, I have asked MMORPG players hundreds of different questions. The one that inevitably provides the most interesting responses is this one - "Why do you play?". The following narratives show how multi-faceted every player is and how motivations intersect and influence each other. Together, these narratives provide the foundation to any other discourse about MMORPGs. After all, if we don't understand why players are in these online worlds to begin with, then we can never truly appreciate the more complex phenomena that emerge from these environments.

Oftentimes, we project our motivations onto others and we fail to appreciate what "fun" is to someone else. The following narratives show how relative fun can be and the sheer diversity of ways of deriving satisfaction from the same construct. "Fun" means something different to different people.

The narratives are framed by the 3 main components, thereby illustrating how the different subcomponents can combine, but more importantly, shedding light on where more work still needs to be done. The presentation below extracts parts of long responses submitted by players and might create the illusion that players are more single-dimensional than they really are. This was done to make it easier to understand the spectrum of motivations. Most players in fact described their preferences along several motivations so make sure you browse through the profile tool to get a sense of how multi-faceted players really are.

At a Glance:

- The Ultimate Chat Room
- Socializing != Relationships
- Forming Relationships
- Romantic Relationships
- A Helping Hand
- Playing with RL Friends & Family
- The Guild
- Teamwork
- As Therapy or Outlet


The Ultimate Chat Room

Socializing in MMORPGs means different things to different people. For some, the fun lies in being able to log on to a world where there's always someone to chat with.

Making friends and having people to chat with is so important to me. When I was in the WoW beta, I didn't play much because none of my friends were in it, and when I did play, I was always looking for someone to chit chat with. In fact, the only thing lacking for me in the release of WoW is that so many of my guildies from EQ didn't make the switch. I miss them literally every day, everytime I logon, I wish that I could have moved my guild as a whole over to WoW. We all still keep in touch through the message boards, and people who have left the guild have even asked to be requilded in the Iksarian Broods (my guild) before they quit the game. My guild has had several RL meets, and many of the guildies are close, close friends now that talk on the phones etc. [WoW, F, 26]

I like interacting with other people, chatting, etc., but for me the game world is a game world and I have a pretty low desire to make what I consider 'good friends' as that would involve a real-life component I'd rather keep separate from my game playing. [EQ2, M, 39]

I love to talk to people, all of the time. I generally am talking to several people at a time, and feel slightly uncomfortable in silent groups. My friends list grows often. When I played EQ1, I maxed my friends list (100 players) at one point and had to delete a few alts of friends. [EQ2, M, 17]


There is an underlying tension that the following narrative foregrounds - that oftentimes the desire to chat with other people doesn't translate into a desire to actually form significant relationships with other players.

I greatly enjoy socializing in-game. One of my on-line pals says that I see Everquest/Everquest2 as my pretty little chat room with avatars, which is an accurate description. I have cultivated a group of online friends that I greatly enjoy talking to and have even gone so far as to meet them at the Everquest conventions where I found I still greatly enjoyed their company. The down side of these online relationships is that on the one hand, where people who may have social or physical difficulties can express themselves in an unprejudiced environment, you still don't 'know' a person until you meet them. I have found that while most people are seemingly fairly stable, there are still those that desperately need help.

For whatever reason, people really open up to me (or my avatar as it were) and there have been a few occasions where someone has expressed suicidal urges or told a story that is deeply disturbing. While I can 'listen', I am not trained in counseling and in that regard online relationships can be difficult if not emotionally draining. So, while I can say I deeply enjoy many of my relationships, for the most part I prefer my relationships to be a bit shallow or superficial. It's the only way I can protect myself emotionally.

I want to get on these games and have fun not play pseudo-counselor to folks who have big problems - bigger than I'm equipped to deal with and that I'm definitely not trained to deal with. I wish them all the best, but I like it when our conversations are limited to joking, light stories and accomplishing things. Apologies for the ramblings. [EQ, F, 37]


Forming Relationships

Now contrast that thread with the following narratives that illustrate the desire to form personal relationships with other players.

I probably play mostly to meet new people and make new friends. It's fun having friends all over the world, you can learn from the way they live and do things.. That's what i mostly enjoy about meeting others in game.. To befriend people and get to know them, hopefully building a lasting friendship even when one of us does end up giving up on whatever game we're playing [EQ2, F, 19]

I'm currently sitting in Las Vegas typing this using the network of a friend I met via EQ... we met IRL last summer when she had reason to visit Boston (I live in Connecticut), and now I'm visiting her for several days. My dearest female friend I also met via EQ; she and her husband and my then signif other (also met via EQ then continued IRL) and two other people (Now also RL friends of mine with whom I exchange visits periodically) grouped every night for about a year before she finally convinced us all to visit her IRL. Since then I not only spend every Xmas with her and her husband (4 times so far) but also visit her for a week every couple of months. They don't even EQ any more but the friendship continues strong and growing :) Via Guild of course I have a world of virtual friends and comrades. We help each other and help each other's friends. [EQ, F, 61]

When i was playing SWG I met a group of ex UO players in a forum and they all knew each other. I jumped in and got to know them quite well and within a matter of a few weeks we had our own player town, guild, in-game chat channel and had even arranged to meet up in real-life. A year later I am still in touch with these guys and consider them to be good friends, meeting up with many of them at least every month. I even went to the wedding of one of them. I also have a very good 'friend' that I met from SWG and have now converted her to an EQ2 player. I helped her out one night and we have been inseparable in game ever since. There is even a bit of a romance blossoming IRL. I have been over to Greece to meet her and her family last October, and she is coming to England to stay with me at Easter. I initially was always Mr Cynical when I read or heard about internet based romance, but I have been pleasantly surprised ;) [EQ2, M, 33]


A related theme are players who are open to developing a romantic relationship in these environments.

I believe I am a lucky man, as I married a woman who also has a great love of gaming. We met from different countries in an online gaming guild, played together, and eventually fell in love. I obtained a spousal visa and we have been happily married for 5 years now. We game side-by-side, literally, on new machines at a desk custom-built by my dad. Just goes to show: there are real people behind their own monitors out there and this is certainly a viable medium of communication. Our old guild had gone too far into the realm of powergaming, we felt. The guild leaders loosened their admission policy and allowed obnoxious and rude players into the guild. We felt this compromised the spirit of our guild, so we broke off with our friends and formed our own guild once Everquest II was launched. There is very little structure to our current guild and we do not censor topics nor bad language. The only exception is the need to respect your fellow guildmates. [EQ, M, 27]

i just started playing warcraft, prior to that i played FFXI for nearly a year. the thing i enjoyed most about mmorpg games is the socialization ... the friends you make on line. i have met many people on line, especially when i played FFXI. In fact, that is where i met my fiancee ... we gamed together and spent hours upon hours together for nearly six months. i ended up moving from california to indiana after being constantly together for six months so we could be together in real life. We are very much in love and have plans to get married in real life this summer. [WoW, F, 30]

Socializing is my favorite part of the game. I have played EQ for about 3 years, and in the course of that time I have met many good people, a few of whom I still talk to through email. I met my RL fiance in EQ, we spent 2 years adventuring together in the game, and that in-game relationship led to our RL romance and eventually we moved in together and plan to marry. Some people don't understand how I could meet someone in a game and end up loving them and trusting them RL, to them I can only smile and know they are not gamers. Because gamers know that the characters are real people and in general most people play their characters as a reflection of their RL personalities. Anyways, in EQ my most enjoyable times were socializing. I was always part of a guild for this reason, to have a constant network of friends and comrades. I led a guild for about 1 year, and it was fairly successful, though small, we were all very good friends. Often in the game I spend time and money helping new players just because I want to. [EQ, F, 22]


A Helping Hand

Altruism is highly correlated with socializing and forming relationships. Perhaps this is because helping someone else is the easiest way to meet someone new in the game and strike up a conversation. The more ways in which players can and are encouraged to help each other, the easier it is for players to meet each other.

years back, when i was playing the Beta of Neocron and was one of the 5 best players on the server, i stood in an area where a lot of people met. At that point i had played for 54 Hours straight and was pretty much exhausted. All i did was 'poking' other people (helping them to insert there implants). So in other words i just helped some fellow players and my only reward for doing so was there thanks. But i found that experience to be very rewarding and did that again on several occasions. I would call that socializing just for the fun of it, not for any other measurable reward! [WoW, M, 28]

I am always helpful to new players when I have the time and help protect them when fighting or by making armour for them when I have that skill. Often I keep some of my old equipment around just so I can give it to a new player, and I don't accept money for it in return. Sometimes I will ask for resources they can easily gather, but mostly I just ask that when they outgrow the equipment to do the same and give it to another. Sometimes I have seen people I have helped many levels later and many remember me. Just hearing a 'Hey, you're the nice lady who helped me out as a newb. Thanks a lot.' is enough to make my day. My choice in guilds is along the same lines. I look for friends who are willing to help each other out where they can (with tradeskills, equipment, or hints and tips on how to do things). I don't care about uber equipment or fighting special mobs. I prefer a friendly guildchat where the people don't compare their equipment just like they compare cars in real life. [UO, F, 30]

I have many real life and Online friends, and they are my main reason for continuing to play the game. I enjoy helping others and having help. I enjoy talking about in game and real life happenings. I am still in contact with friends I made over a year ago. [FFXI, F, 23]


Playing with RL Friends / Family

For others, socializing in the game means socializing with friends and family rather than meeting new people. The game becomes a way to keep in touch, collaborate, and learn about each other.

I play to have fun with my RL friends who play with me. I rarely group with people I don't fact, I usually despise doing so. But now and then I'll meet someone and become online friends with them. I don't discuss deeply personal things with them, like I would with my RL friends online. I do enjoy levelling, getting good equipment/items, becoming more powerful...but that's not the 'be all, end all' of my reason for gaming. Often, I'm behind my friends in level/experience. I also love exploring or finding that quest that some don't know about. But again, it's not the raison d'etre of my play. It's a combination of all of this. I currently play WoW, instead of CoH, because the majority of my RL friends play it. We move from MMO to MMO with each other. Rarely do we have some playing one and others playing another. We started in EQ. For a small time, many went to DAoC, but they quickly returned to EQ. Many years passed, and then we moved to CoH. We were all in CoH until WoW came out. I hadn't expected to change from CoH to WoW with my friends, mainly because I usually don't like Blizzard products. But w/o my friends, MMOs just aren't as much fun. So I tried WoW and loved it instantly. So, once again, we are all WoW. [WoW, M, 30]

My husband, son and I play. It's a wonderful family experience that we can share all the exciting moments with each other...even if we don't actually group together. Sometimes we play more than we should, but to me it's no different than going out and partying more than you should. I find it nice that I can stay safely at home, with my family and enjoy our time together. [WoW, F, 45]

My girlfriend lives some distance away, and due to flight costs, we do not get to spend a lot of time together. We speak on the phone everyday for hours, and we found an MMORPG is just another great way to spend time together. I think it is much more social than people give credit. Neither of us are adjusting our glasses and are sitting on the edge of our seats when we play, she's normally a swimmer and i'm a bass player--we just enjoy spending time together. [WoW, M, 18]


The Guild

It makes sense for players who enjoy socializing to be part of casual, friendly guilds because these groups provide a constant source of structured chatting and relationships.

Making part in a guild will most definitely enhance the experience for any player I think. The social part of the game itself is often (at least for me) almost as big as the gaming part. It has become a substitute for those late-night D&D times with a couple of friends around a table in someone's dirty basement. I often find myself being way more honest and open to players over the net cause I can relate to them in a way that i mostly cannot IRL. [AO, M, 18]

As in my case, many members of my guild have known each other online for well over 9 years of gaming and it adds a certain flavor to everything. It's more like a 2nd family. We have new grandfathers, newlyweds, college students, a handful of high schoolers (we're 18yrs+ minimum), and many in between. For us, it's more than just a club to go hang out at, it's a comfortable environment wherein we can be who we want to be. We can be ourselves, we can be our characters, or we can blend the two, and any way we go, we'll always be accepted. We're all friends here. [WoW, M, 25]

In fact, stories of guild migrations show how the guild itself becomes a motivation for playing.

Due to my experience with guilding in this and one other MMORPG (DAOC), I can't imagine playing without the support of a guild. In fact, that is the main reason why I left DAOC for WOW. The members of my guild on DAOC migrated to WOW. We have reestablished the guild in WOW and very often play together again. It gives me a sense of belonging, and I enjoy the interaction during the game. I still mourn lost friends that have left the MMORPG arena. [WoW, M, 52]

I'm playing World of Warcraft with a guild I've played with for a couple years, starting with Planetside. I like a lot of the guys, the structure, and the focus of the guild. Over-all my guild is a very important part of my gaming experience, and others would agree as well. Many of us planned ahead of time to all play on the same server so that we could open a WoW chapter. [WoW, M, 19]



A related theme is the satisfaction derived from working and collaborating with others in a structured way. For some, the rush of a team victory is what keeps them coming back to the game.

When World of Warcraft came out we were absolutely thrilled to have something besides EQ to play. We were fed up with EQ and the way it treated its players and the way the game had become completely unbalanced in areas. So, we moved into WoW with several friends from EQ and it's worked well. The skills we developed in EQ and the teamwork and group dynamic transferred well to WoW and has allowed us to do some hard stuff we would have been hard pressed to accomplish otherwise. [WoW, M, 30]

While i enjoy all of the above, that is strictly a byproduct of the fact that thats really what mmorpgs are designed to do, and thus doing anything in an mmorpg would result in one of the above things being done. A strong motivation for me, and what has most likely contributed the most to my addiction is working with other people and existing within a perfect and efficient group. The aims of this group are not important, we could be grinding or camping a spawn to get an item for someone, when everything goes perfect, no communication is needed, and everyone just does what they should exactly as it should be done, i just feel great. While i would much prefer to follow a good group leader, most the time, as i usually play classes that are able to control the flow of a fight and thus require greater situational awareness to even play than more straight forward classes(that is, a bad warrior can still kinda function in their role if played badly), i end up being the leader. It just makes me feel wonderful when my group does something other groups are not able to do. Back when i was playing daoc me and my friend had made a pally/minstrel duo and took out things that most people said you couldn't do with even a full group... it made me feel good. This has been a great source of joy and frustration for me, because even if things go well when a group member is not doing something right i get agitated and an argument is likely to break out... people just don't understand what im upset about. Conversely if we wipe but everyone was playing at the best of their ability and every little trick had been done, while im sitting there waiting for a rez i still feel just grand. Interacting with people and being able to depend on them, and be depended on by them... that's why i play. [WoW, M, 20]


As Therapy or Outlet

Several players described how these online environments provided social outlets that they do not have access to in real life. For them, MMORPGs served a much needed social function.

Making friends is great, you meet people from all over with whom you would normally have no contact, as I am disabled and am stuck at home most of the time, the ability to get out and meet people and have fun together goes a long way in lessening the trapped in stuck 24/7 feeling that people expect you to feel [EQ2, M, 36]

In real life I'm very shy, but behind a computer screen I feel I can talk freely, partially because of the fact that I don't have any personal connections and obligations to people. Also, I feel more secure talking to in-game friends about personal problems than people I know in real life. [FFXI, M, 18]

I like meeting new people and socializing - at least, I do in game. Socialization has always been something I felt I was terrible at in real life. Inside the game all the visual cues handed down through society are lost - we're reduced to verbal communication only - I've found that medium far easier to handle. I feel far less afraid when I'm dealing with people in this kind of environment. When I was younger, I was very quiet and reserved. Games like these helped me learn how to talk to people and how to interact -- more importantly, they've also helped me learn how to be a leader. I've grown up playing games where social interaction was a major component. At 15 I would have been shy and awkward, unable to speak around people I didn't know well. At 25, I'm in command of a team at work and I have no difficulty talking to new people. I still feel shy, but I've learned to hide it better. Making friends has always been something I loved to do, but due to my difficulty being comfortable with socialization it was something I could not do easily. Gaming has helped me learn what goes into making friends, and some of my best I first met in-game. In addition to being a team lead out in real life, I run a guild of approximately 80 people in-game. In the game I feel like one of the popular kids must have in high school; everyone knows me, people are happy to see me, I have a community that is happy when I'm around. I have these things offline, now, also, but the online communities are there 24/7. I can't explain why it's so nice. [FFXI, M, 25]

I started playing DAOC while I was recovering from two devastating years of depression. I was once a very confident and social person, but I felt like I'd forgotten how to interact normally with others, and had lost a lot of my social self-confidence. I thought that role-playing a character would be a good way to 'practice' my social skills. It worked very well! My DAOC character met a wonderful guild of people, and I became very popular with other people in the game just by being the friendly and fun-loving person I am. Being one step removed from my 'real' self gave me the distance I needed to discover who I actually am again, and helped me recover my confidence ('People do like me!') and my sense of humor. [WoW, F, 28]


It's Not About the Social Things

And before we leave this section on Social components, I want to include narratives from players who are largely not interested in socializing with others in the game.

I generally don't talk to people I don't know. I play with random people but I am not focused on meeting people. [Guild Wars, M, 14]

I don't play well with others. I tend to stick to killing the highest leveled monsters with my pets, by myself and ONE dragon/hiryu/white wyrm, vetting all the way. It gives me pleasure being able to solo otherwise almost unkillable monsters to others, and many times to others attempting the same thing I am. When in my guild (which I rejoined recently after being out of it for 2 YEARS!!) I help others, resurrect when needed, but otherwise I just mope and complain and donate all my gold to the guild fund. [UO, F, 23]

I don't socialize well voluntarily in MMORPGs. I will usually only form a group if necessary for a quest or if a real life personal friend is playing also. That said, I do enjoy most of the groups (and the guild) I am part of. Socialization can be an enjoyable part of the game for me, but I don't normally initiate it. [WoW, M, 28]