Different types of sociality in MMORPG

At the last CSCW conference (that I miserably missed), there was a paper about collaboration in MMORPG that I ran across rencetly: Strangers and Friends: Collaborative Play in World of Warcraft by Bonnie Nardi and Justin Harris.

The authors conducted an "ethnographic study to describe how the social organization of the game and player culture affect players’ enjoyment and learning of the game. The paper describes the results, which are about the variety of collaboration types they isolated: "Strangers in the Fight", "Structured Collaborations with Friends and Strangers" with (1) "Parties, raids, and the friends list", (2) Guilds, (3) Battlegrounds and (4) Duels/trades. They also document impromptu and less structured collaborations such as "flirt, dance, drink, hug, joke, smile, laugh, and cheer". They also interestingly describe how offline social connections work, how friendships outside the game is maintained. Their stance is that this rich variety makes the game entertaining:

We can analyze the collaborations in three categories: (1) communities: (...) a community involves “common ties” and “social interactions” . Common ties include a shared interest, bonds, commitment, a set of shared values, a culture, history, and shared identity (...) (2) “knots”: (...) Engeström et al. defined “knots” as unique groups that form to complete a task of relatively short duration. Knots may also bring together strangers who spontaneously voluntarily agree to collaborate (...) (3) pairwise collaborations with friends. We will argue that two key game activities—having fun and learning the game—are enhanced by actions carried out in these arenas of collaboration, each with its own advantages. Having multiple arenas of collaboration, rather than just one, such as a community, provides a versatile, robust environment for play and learning. (...) These interleaved collaborations create a richly textured space in which play flows between community-based and lighter weight collaborations.

Why do I blog this? First because it is interesting that the CSCW community now more and more include gaming as a potential collaboration activity, meaning that the community acknowledge the collaborative aspects of gaming. This is absolutely not taken for granted in some research circles: I remember a presentation I made last year I which I described how I used a pervasive game to study collaborative processes; after my presentation one of the comment of a researcher was "here we do similar things but we study collaboration, not games" as if gaming was this damned dumb kid-oriented activity in which there was no collaboration.

A second reason I liked the paper was that it provided an interesting description of the different bonds that occur in MMORPG, with some potential actionable ideas for game design.