It may seem strange to think of death as something that shapes relationships, but in MMORPGs death plays a role in how relationships form. When you die in EverQuest (EQ), all your equipment and money remain with your corpse and you are teleported back to a safe spot naked. Death often occurs in dangerous places, and corpse retrieval is in and of itself dangerous. In other words, death is expensive in EQ. The heavy expense of death encourages trust among team members. In other games, such as City of Heroes, death is relatively cheap and has a much lower leverage on trust development among players. Other factors such as frequency of down-time and character dependence also play a role in creating a “dangerous” world. It is only in worlds where there is true risk that trusting relationships can form. In a safe, rubber-padded world, players never have to depend on other players.

We could also think of these game mechanics as a form of social engineering - tools that influence the frequency of new relationships forming and the degree to which trust develops in a world. But online environments offer a far more tantalizing way of engineering relationships. Because every player sees their own rendering of the world, the world can in turn be tailored to every individual player. For example, we know that eye gaze induces trust and rapport in conversations. In the real world, we can only maintain eye contact with one person at a time, but in a virtual world, a presenter can maintain eye contact with everyone at the same time. We also know that the mimicry of speech patterns or body gestures also encourages trust and rapport in social interactions. What if non-player characters greeted you with the greeting phrases that you most commonly use? What if non-player characters had first names that began with the first letter of your character’s name? More importantly, could these mechanisms encourage trust and rapport at a community level? Even though MMORPGs are thought of as entertaining games, they are in fact social experiments in relationship formation and community building with many possibilities left to explore.

See also:

- Engineering Altruism

External Links:

- Transformed Social Interaction: Decoupling Representation from Behavior and Form in Collaborative Virtual Environments by Jeremy Bailenson


The Daedalus Gateway - The Psychology of MMORPGs

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