Steinkueler and Williams submit in Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as “Third Places,” that virtual worlds and MMORPGs may provide spaces for social engagement that bear resemblance to the notion of “third places” described by Oldenberg in 1999. The requirements for such a distinction are that the following attributes are present:
- Neutral Ground – Participants are able to freely come and go without having to take care others or seek permission.
- Leveling – The role, status or stature of a participant in the existing structures of their lives such as the home or workplace are remediated to little or no importance.
- Conversation as main activity – Communication between participants is enabled through the neutral ground and leveled social status.
- Accessibility and Accommodation – Access must be easy and accommodating.
- Regulars – Long term members should project a mood and attract new members.
- Low Profile – The space should not be pretentious.
- Playful Mood – Humor, frivolousness and playfulness should characterize participant interactions.
- Home Away from Home – Participants should feel rooted, ownership, spiritually regenerated, at ease and warm when in the space
Using this subset of social space, is WoW a third space or simply a massively online single player gaming environment? Here I will make a case that it is indeed social, citing a few examples from the first 12 levels of play.
In-Game Ad-Hoc Collaboration
Tasks within WoW often follow the template: Go fetch/deliver from/to this place/person on your map where the place or person is surrounded by a dangerous circumstance. In early areas of the game, the dangerous circumstances are defined by numerous aggressive creatures physically spaced in such a way that they can be picked off one-by-one but would be fatal to confront if two or three were attacking at once. This means a cautious player is able to complete even combat-centric quests with no outside collaboration from other players.
As a level 8 character, I was completing a quest that involved killing a particular level 10 creature in the southern knook of Gnarlpine Hold in Teldrassil. The geography of the region included mountains on both sides of a path leading to the character in distress, with the majority of the path sprinkled with level 8 gnarpine furbolgs.
Alone, these creates are not all that dangerous. 3-4 blows from the night elf’s default rage spell will kill them, while they attack more slowly and need double that to kill the player character. Mathematically, this means that my character can easily take on one at a time and needs luck or healing moves during combat with two of these characters to survive. In combat with the level 10 creature, my level 8 character would be challenged quite well.
While picking the enemies off one-by-one, another player came up behind mine and also began fighting nearby furbologs. I had never met this player or solicited collaboration, but we were simply both working toward the same quest at the same time and happen to run into each other. The unified ad-hoc effort quickly allowed us not only to progress rapidly through the valley toward our final objective but also allowed our characters to gain experiences from the collaborative effort.
As I delt the final blow to the quest’s target, a spell from an unseen enemy took my last few HP and my character was dead. The quest was complete but I would have to re-spawn before continuing play. From the “release spirit” view of immobilized death, I was able to watch my unknown collaborator continue to fight until his/her own death. After resurrecting, I never saw the other player again nor do I remember their in-game name or even their race.
Was this a social interaction? Absolutely. I, as a player, was profoundly aware of the fact that another player was participating in a task in which I held investment and that the other player was simply a puppet of a human being playing a video game like myself. The mechanics of battle mediated our relationship as we both served our individual agendas with an unplanned symbiotic relationship, not much unlike the social relationships in many out-of-game situations.
Chatting: Banter, Guild Recruiting and Bartering in Ironforge
Another observation of social interaction from more populated areas such as Iron forge is that a substantial amount of conversation takes place over the chat tool. As a novice player, I found myself almost overwhelmed with the speed in which the chat began to move as I entered progressively populated areas.
For example, here are some lines from a chat log that represent recruiting efforts:
Chat Log from Game
|6/29 15:48:37.042 [2. Trade] Shockalacka: LFM 25m ICC Fresh run, looking to do first 2 wings+ PST 5.6gs+ Req. None fail group, need commited and smart players.||I (Shockalacka) am looking for an experianced team member of a 25 player group to go into the “Icecrown Citadel” part of the game. Contact me privately.|
|6/29 15:48:38.514 [2. Trade] Ddeathpally: <integrity> is recruting we need more raiders like heals and tanks and some good dps wee do all raids but everyone is welcome dont matter what lvl you are and we will help you if you need the help plz pst for invite or for info and we have vent||The guild called “integrity” is looking for players of most types and is not exclusive regarding experience. Contact me privately.|
|6/29 15:49:07.273 [2. Trade] Moonshin√®: LFM 25 VOA need 1 DPS 1 healer, pst with class/spec for inv. full on some. (no response = full on your spec)||I (Moonshin√®) am looking for one offensive and one defensive player for a raid on the “Vault of Archavon”. Contact me with your character information. If you don’t hear back from me, you are not needed.|
Players also used the chat tool to negotiate the exchange of virtual items:
Chat Log from Game
|6/29 15:49:47.137 [2. Trade] Dazlirune: WTB 2X Golden Draenite PST||I (Dazlirune) want to buy 2 “Golden Draenites.” Contact me privately.|
|6/29 16:02:01.348 [2. Trade] Dankatron: wtb schematic: snowmaster 9000||I (Dankatron) want to buy a schematic for the Snowmaster 9000|
|6/29 16:17:12.375 [2. Trade] Xaivier: WTB All Frozen orbs! 15g Ea! PST!||I (Xaivier) want to by your “Frozen Orbs” of any kind fro 15 gold each.|
Other codes for communication
As demonstrated by these two sets of chat logs, a public channel of communication exists in the game that is utilized much like the classified ads on craigslist. Through the chat tool is indeed used for that kind of communication a large portion of the time, a quick reading through only 30 minutes of chat log in a sparsely populated area yielded many other communication types, many of which fulfill the requiements established for third spaces.
Chat Log from Game
|6//29 16:03:19.213 [2. Trade] Larrow: Why do people use trade for LFG?||Discussions about the norms of player use of in-game’s tools|
|6/29 16:04:19.690 [2. Trade] Glados: Looking to ask the help of a guildless person||Requests for advice|
|6/29 16:05:32.562 [2. Trade] Clinhin: lol thats bull%^&*, the extended maintenance realms wont come up until tomorrow||Commentary about the game’s infrastructure|
|6/29 16:06:10.676 [2. Trade] Nickademis: im looking to get in a guild my lvl65||Requests to join a team|
|6/29 16:06:36.615 [2. Trade] Bloodsabre: what’s the best raid build for DK and rogue||Consultation on game strategy|
|6/29 15:46:37.840 [2. Trade] Kimaran: EVERYONE REPORT FROST FOR SPAM||Group self-governing|
|6/29 15:46:15.732 [2. Trade] Bankizzle: CAPS ARE CRUISE CONTROL FOR COOOOL!||Playful banter|
|6/29 15:47:51.704 [2. Trade] Larrow: If you hate Obama, type 1||Simple polls|
|6/29 15:48:18.028 [2. Trade] Chessie: If you like soccer and are in a capital city, type /camp||References to physical space/time|
It is impossible to deny that social activities such as communication, collaboration and play are taking place within the virtual space of WoW. The perspective I was able to gain from only a few hours of solo play leads me to believe that a much richer set of third space activities may be happening in increasing degrees as players become more experienced in the game. I am looking forward to a continued investment into the world and deeper understanding of what happens there.
Steinkuehler, C., and Williams, D. (2006). Where everybody knows your (screen) name: Online games as “third places.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11(4), article 1.
Oldenburg, R. (1999). The Great Good Place: Caf?s, Coffee Shops, Community Centers, Beauty Parlors, General Stores, Bars, Hangouts, and How They Get You Through The Day. New York: Marlowe & Company.