Online multiplayer communities are social networks built around multiplayer online computer games. Members of these communities typically share an interest in online gaming and a great deal of the interaction between them is technologically mediated. Marko Siitonen from University of Jyväskylä studied social interaction in online multiplayer communities in his doctoral thesis of speech communication.
Online multiplayer gaming is a playground which can give us clues about the future of social and technological developments, Siitonen states.
Online multiplayer games enable the formation of lasting relationships
Online multiplayer games typically encourage interaction between players: some go even as far as demanding it. Collaboration with other players may be a prerequisite for making progress in a game, or a game may be based on competition between players.
Typical online games can be played fairly independently, without seeking closer contact with other gamers. However, social interaction is a strong motive not only for playing multiplayer games, but also for forming lasting social relationships with other gamers, Siitonen says.
Online games are based on the possibilities of computer networks. This shows in the scope of modes of communication that typical multiplayer games offer. A single game can support communication based on text, image, and sound. In addition, a game may provide tools for interaction between two people, as well as enable communication between whole groups and communities.
In addition to using the modes of communication offered by games, members of multiplayer communities may keep in touch face to face, over the phone, via email, or in IRC, Siitonen explains.
Long-term interaction lays the foundation for a feeling of community
Social interaction between members of multiplayer communities shares similarities to interaction in face-to-face groups. Shared values and goals are the basis on which a shared understanding and a sense of community are built on.
Negotiating values and goals is an ongoing process that takes place throughout the existence of a community. They are reflected e.g. by how new members are accepted in the community and by how the roles that are significant to the operation of the community are cast. Disagreement concerning these issues may lead to conflicts within communities, yet solving these conflicts can serve the purpose of strengthening or changing the community’s foundations.
The traditional building blocks of identity, such as appearance or age, are often insignificant in multiplayer gaming communities. A 13-year-old French schoolgirl, a 27-year-old Swedish housewife, and a 44-year-old American engineer can all be members of the same community. When the members never meet face to face, they form perceptions of each other based on e.g. how active or reliable they think the others are, Siitonen describes.
Forming images of the other members can be quick in a technologically mediated environment. Still, reputation based on long-term social interaction does have real significance in online multiplayer communities. Activity and motivation are emphasized in technologically mediated communication, and the most active members often hold the leading positions in the communities.
Online multiplayer communities are susceptible to changes. Old communities perish and new ones are born constantly, and gamers frequently shift between communities. However, the social networks and personal relationships that form the base of these communities may survive even though the disbandment of a community. It is possible that a new multiplayer community rises out of the old one’s ashes.
Siitonen used interviews and information gathered by participant observation as the data for his study. The observation data was collected from two different communities within an online multiplayer game called Anarchy Online.
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