Mapping Out Research on MMOs: why researching video games matters

Many graduate students, professors and researchers have been studying MMOs (Massively Multiplayer Online Game) in recent years. They have approached various games and explored very diverse questions  related to identity, collaboration, expertise, performance, religious experience, character building, impacts of game-play in day-to-day life, etc.

I spent recent weeks creating a list of the articles, bibliographies, books, thesis or memoirs about MMOs  and other video games, in order to publish it on this blog. The list keep getting longer and longer, and I often get absorbed into reading much of this very interesting material.

Although researching video games might seem trivial, there are many reasons why it is legitimate to pursue it. And as is often the case with research, the relevance may reveal itself only once the results are obtained and associated with issues that hadn’t previously been considered as related.

Research about video games provides great insight into player attitudes towards communication, collaboration and community building in relation to factors such as diverse cultural background, gender, age or skill levels. It has highlighted just how much players actively transform the games and even the gaming industry through cheating, hacking, community building, the creation of mods, add-on creation, wikis, forums and detailed statistics about game mechanics, to name a few.

Such research has also revealed that playing video games, although they were initially considered as pure entertainment, can help people live better lives, be happier, make friends, develop skills and reflexes, and even learn attitudes from characters they play through. I have written about this briefly on two occasions (1 and 2).

These may be either positive or negative attitudes, and of course gaming can lead to some more negative consequences, such as gaming addiction, which is still not very well understood. In most extreme cases, it’s considered that playing violent games can create outbreaks of aggressiveness in individuals that have certain predispositions. This, however, needs to be well investigated and some experts have already started looking into it. It is over simplistic to accuse video games of creating aggressors without  properly investigating and documenting cases where aggressors were known to be fans of violent games.

Other valid reasons to study video games will undoubtedly become more evident as more research is published. The video game industry itself, surely, has known for a while how to benefit from it.

Until my bibliography is finished, you can have a look at Mark Chen‘s dissertation defense about World of Warcraft. It provides interesting details about how gamers create strong communities, collaborate, and influence game creators.

About Marie-Pierre Renaud

I am an anthropologist living in Quebec city, Canada. I specialize in native studies and anthropology of health. I am a geek. I founded and now co-manage The Geek Anthropologist blog. I am working on transforming my memoir into a book and journal articles. I like to knit while watching Star Trek. Reach out to me for collaborations!

There are 5 comments

  1. Arianne Z.

    This actually make sense considering the amount of time some people spend on MMOs not to mention the cost. Just goes to show, research is really interesting. 🙂


  2. Walters

    Hmm, looking forward to seeing when you’ll complete it then. Researching videogames is definitely needed, and the hope is that people will be able to gain knowledge that they might not have known before (and as a new generation of gamers start to emerge).


  3. Matt

    What I find fascinating about this subject from a cognitive perspective is the effects that video games have on the brain. I remember an article that talk about using video games as therapy for PTSD because gamers have been found to suffer less from nightmares. Games are also a great way to observer and test organizational strategies among multiple individuals, especially when we are now having to coordinated multi-site operations like drone strikes and mars missions.


    1. The Geek Anthropologist

      Less nightmares? When I was playing Quake II many years ago I used to dream about that game all the time!

      It’s very true that research about games provides great insight into coordinated efforts, and Jane McGonigal often speaks of them as having a great potential to bring people together to solve major problems humanity faces. Some of the games she’s created bring all the players together in problem solving. Then there’s also the games you can play to try and find a cure for AIDS, created by scientists to tap into the collective creativity.

      Although if I had to choose, I’d apply our collective skills to Mars missions instead of drone strikes any day…


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