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Tuesday, August 22, 2006
MMOs - Social Pasttimes or Harmful Addiction?
11:33 AM | Eddie Park | Comment on this story

Games have long been called dangerously addictive by various personages, but the surging popularity of MMOs in recent years, coupled with a few sensationalized MMO-related deaths in Asia, have made them particularly choice targets. Taking a look at the issue, a recent publication by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign challenges the notion that MMOs isolate and desocialize gamers. A study conducted by professors Constance Steinkuehler and Dmitri Williams found that MMOs tend to socially function more like coffee houses, allowing players to be exposed to world views different from their own.

"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.
They do concede that MMOs don't necessarily provide an outlet for strong emotional bonding, but that the social relationships formed expose players to non-similar views, something they note has been lacking for decades in American society.

On the flip side, the Washington Post has published an article titled "Lost in an Online Fantasy World," which portrays MMOs as dangerous gaming obsessions on par with pornography and drug use. A quote by Stanford grad student Nick Yee, who has surveyed over 40,000 MMO players, points to status and attainability as powerful draws in MMO gaming:

"People feel like they lack control in real life, and the game gives them a social status and value that they are less and less able to achieve in the real world," Yee said. "As a result, the real world gets worse and the virtual world gets better in comparison."
The article does make some concessions, noting that timegrabbers such as television and book reading have yet to create a large number of dependence clinics, and adds that the negative view of games may have much to do with the view of them being dangerous.

EurekAlert - Some online video games found to promote 'sociability,' researchers say
Washington Post - Lost in an Online Fantasy World

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