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   Johnny Vegas
He is at the last glass of beer and try not to spill it.

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Some Online Video Games Found To Promote 'Sociability,' Researchers Say

In theory, anyway. After examining the form and function of what's known in the trade as MMOs -- massively multiplayer online video games -- an interdisciplinary team of researchers concludes that some games "promote sociability and new worldviews."

The researchers, Constance Steinkuehler and Dmitri Williams, claim that MMOs function not like solitary dungeon cells, but more like virtual coffee shops or pubs where something called "social bridging" takes place. They even liken playing such games as "Asheron's Call" and "Lineage" to dropping in at "Cheers," the fictional TV bar "where everybody knows your name." "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. The new conceptual study was published in early August in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication under the title, "Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as 'Third Places.' "

Steinkuehler is a professor of education at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Williams is a professor of speech communication at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The term "third places" was coined in 1999 by sociologist Ray Oldenburg to describe the physical places outside the home and workplace that people use for informal social interaction. Steinkuehler and Williams argue that online spaces, such as those found in MMOs, should also count as third places for informal sociability, "albeit new and virtual places." MMOs are graphical 2- or 3-D videogames that allow players, through their self-created digital characters or avatars, to interact with the gaming software and with other players, to build "relationships of status and solidarity." While still in-game, players can hold multiple real-time conversations with fellow players through text or voice.

The games the researchers studied -- "Asheron's Call I and II" and "Lineage I and II" -- represent "a fairly mainstream portion of the fantasy-based MMO market," the authors wrote, where rewarding players for cooperation and the formation of long-term player groups or "guilds" is part of the game. Game play in MMOs is not a "single solitary interaction between an individual and a technology," the researchers wrote, "but rather, is more akin to playing five-person poker in a neighborhood tavern that is accessible from your own living room." Steinkuehler and Williams also found that participation in such virtual third places "appears particularly well suited to the formation of bridging social capital -- social relationships that, while not usually providing deep emotional support, typically function to expose the individual to a diversity of worldviews," they wrote. "In other words," Williams said, "spending time in these social games helps people meet others not like them, even if it doesn't always lead to strong friendships. That kind of social horizon-broadening has been sorely lacking in American society for decades."

Over the last few years, Williams has published a number of studies that have challenged the common and mostly negative beliefs about game playing. For his work on online games as third places, Williams drew on an earlier study of "Asheron's Call," for which he combined survey research and experimental design and focused on "issues of social capital and real-life community," he said. He even played the game and conducted 30 random interviews, asking players about their motivations for playing, their in-game social networks and their life outside the game. "There were both positive and negative outcomes," he said. Read more at www.sciencedaily.com/

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