Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Third Places

Dear Constance and Dimitri,

Your ethnographical research on Massively Multiplayer Online games (MMO’s) brought up several interesting points on the topic of social interaction. Online gaming via MMO’s, or virtual worlds, allows members to interact not only with the opportunities within the game but with other “avatars” as well.  Because of this, it can be considered form of social gaming traditionally referred to in science fiction and fantasy literature from earlier decades. With that being said, modern researchers are describing MMO’s as a strategically designed alternate reality that combines “escapist fantasy” and “social realism”. The research depicted in your articles was drawn from two studies: an examination of the MMO’s media effects and research on cognition and culture in virtual gaming contexts.
In the first study, a researcher who entered the game became a member, and drew information through participant observation techniques.  By doing so, they were able to surround themselves with the online gaming culture and participants, giving them a first hand look into the in-game social networks and discuss with them their lives outside of the game. The results yielded by this study directly coincided with the conclusions unveiled by the second study project. The second study focused on the routine activities members of the game Lineage participated in on a daily basis. Some of these social norms included individual and collaborative problem solving, identity construction, apprenticeship, and literacy practices. After 24 months of observing naturally occurring gameplay, a “thick description” was created. The two studies led to comparable results of 4 different games that proved to have similar in-game contexts for observation and design consistency throughout.
         The study ultimately helped to discover the social interactions that occur within MMO’s and how relatable they are to real-world occurrences and relationships. The collaboration often required by MMO’s is what is giving it the title of a Third Place. As your article states: “By providing spaces for social interaction and relationships beyond the workplace (or school) and home, such virtual environments have the potential to function as new (albeit digitally mediated (third places similar to pubs, coffee shops, and other hangouts.” 

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