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Research: Online Gaming Expands the Social Life of Gamers

People who play massively multiplayer online games (MMOGs) may notprefer the company of avatars to live humans after all. In fact, reports new research supported by the United States Air Force Research Laboratory, online gaming expands players' social lives.

Researchers from North Carolina State University and Canada's York University and University of Ontario Institute of Technology found that online social behavior doesn't replace offline social behavior in the gaming community. They traveled to more than 20 public gaming events in Canada and the United Kingdom, attending public events that varied from 20 people in a bar to 2,500 people playing side by side in convention centers. The focus was on players of games such as EVE Online and World of Warcraft. Along the way the researchers observed the behavior of thousands of players and persuaded 378 players to take a computer-based survey.

"Gamers aren't the antisocial basement-dwellers we see in pop culture stereotypes; they're highly social people," said Nick Taylor, lead author of "Public Displays of Play: Studying Online Games in Physical Settings" and an assistant professor of communication at North Carolina State. "This won't be a surprise to the gaming community, but it's worth telling everyone else. Loners are the outliers in gaming, not the norm."

Taylor and his fellow researchers examined the online and offline behavior of gamers with an emphasis on how they communicated with each other. The gaming itself, they found, was only one aspect of social behavior at the events. People also spent time watching games, talking, drinking and chatting online," he observed. "Gaming didn't eliminate social interaction; it supplemented it."

In fact, he added, a player could be "ruthless in a game and still socialize normally offline."

The players were "overwhelmingly male," with a mean age between 22.5 and 25.5; more than 85 percent of them claimed to be lower- to upper-middle class.

Next, Taylor said, he'd like to study the relationship between social behaviors and gaming in other cultures.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a writer who covers technology and business for a number of publications. Contact her at dian@dischaffhauser.com.

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