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    World Of Warcraft Is Antisocial? I Think Not
    By Christopher Lysy | August 11th 2009 12:07 PM | 25 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Christopher

    I am a researcher with a budding interest in the applications of new tech for social science research and academic discourse. I have an MA in Sociology...

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    I recently read an article regarding a specific therapist's idea for a movement to treat World of Warcraft players with video game addiction.  These types of articles are not uncommon, World of Warcraft (WoW) currently has millions of subscribers worldwide so there is an interest in anything WoW related.  But the article piqued my interest when the quotations seemed to suggest that online video game playing, World of Warcraft specifically, is akin to dangerous antisocial behavior. 

    In the late 90s I had my first experience with Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) through Ultima Online.  I have only ever been a casual gamer but after exposing the game to my college roommate I was able to see first hand what many now refer to as "online gaming addiction."  It started out innocently enough, a few hours here or there, but soon he was shirking his friends and classes and spending more time on the computer.  That was his first, and also his last, year of University. 

    I know what you are thinking, what a horrible argument against online gaming as antisocial behavior, but there is more to the story.  The truth is, my roommate was already headed in the dropout direction.  His unwillingness to go to class had little to do with a video game and much more to do with a general disinterest. 

    As for abandoning a social life, it is hard to make that point as well.  Online gaming creates an environment filled with social interaction.  My roommate merely chose to associate with others in an online environment instead of the classic first-year drinking fests which, one could easily argue, are far more detrimental to your health.  To top it off, it was in-game where he met his future wife.

    Now I am a sociologist, not a psychologist or psychiatrist, so I will not take take the approach of disproving the claim that WoW is antisocial through the use of the DSM IV.  Instead I would like to focus on what it means to be social in an online world, especially with respect to online gaming. 

    It is true, that for an outsider, online gaming gives the appearance of "antisocial behavior."  Just ask any parent with a teenager locked in his room if they believe that to be social.  But things are not always what they seem. 

    I have not come across a social interaction definition that is limited to a face-to-face environment.  The textbook definition of social interaction, from Society the basics, is "the process by which people act and react in relation to others."  From article comments to Facebook status updates, the online world is filled with opportunities to interact and not only is World of Warcraft no exception, it is exceptional.

    WoW
    is a social interaction catalyst and unlike many social web environments it is much tougher to be socially passive. 

    Comments to this article can be seen as a form of interaction but only a small percentage of those that read this article will comment.  WoW on the other hand requires social interaction for full participation and contains many structural mechanisms that create opportunities for this interaction.  The following are some of these mechanisms.

    Guilds


    A guild is the simplest example of a social group in World of Warcraft.  Basically a group of players join together for any number of reasons. From the casual, just wanting some other people to play with, to achievement driven raid/pvp guilds.  Guild development is heavily supported within WoW.  Here is the website for one such guild.

    Questing

    Questing is the way most characters increase their level (Every player's first character starts out as a level one newbie, while the current max is level 80).  Questing is like performing little missions, completing these missions increases experience.  Many of these quests are strung together sometimes culminating in tougher quests that require small groups of characters.  Even the most casual of players has 'grouped up' to complete these types of quests. 

    Dungeons/Raids/PVP

    Certain in game experiences (especially "end-game" ones that occur after a character has made it to the highest level) require a large group of players, anywhere from 5 to 40.  Currently, following the Wrath of the Lich King expansion, the traditional raid groups are 10 person or 25 person.  PVP or player versus player is mostly groups of players fighting groups of players in game developed "battlegrounds."

    This type of in-game content requires varying levels of coordination.  A 25-person raid requires 25 people to be playing together at the same time so it is often scheduled.  The makeup of these groups also must include a variety of classes (character types - healers, tanks, etc.).  Once a raid group has been formed players must work together in order to achieve their goals and often use VoIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) services to increase the level communication.

    Auction House/Trade System

    World of Warcraft has a rich economy.  Characters have professions that allow them to collect, gather, and create items which other characters might need or want.  Mechanisms such as auction houses and a chat trade channel allow characters to swap these items for either in game currency or other items.  Since the auction houses exist almost exclusively in main cities, players are required to flock to these often crowded areas to participate.

    Casual Interaction

    Finally there are countless examples of casual social interaction in WoW.  A character might save another character with a heal and then be thanked for it.  Another character might strip to their digital underpants and dance on a mailbox eliciting cheers from other characters in the area.  Somewhat strange I know, but there is a lot of traditional social interaction that is just as strange.


    For any parent out there worried about their teenager's "video game addiction," ask yourself a few questions.  While WoW may be claimed to be more addictive than crack, is it not preferable and less socially hazardous?  Would you rather your teenager be out with a group of friends, even if they could potentially be involved in destructive behavior?  What kind of social interaction is your child experiencing outside of the game, what are they experiencing inside of the game, and are they gaining social companionship or losing it by playing?  Is a friendship developed over a shared computer game interest any less valuable? 

    If you are really concerned try to understand their world before demonizing it, setup your own account and talk to your kid.  The social world is always changing and it might just turn out that your perceptions need to change as well.

    Comments

    Hank
    Upside to this article: I get to note that with Sam Raimi making the film version, it has to be good.  Otherwise, I don't have much to add because I haven't played it.  I played Warcraft and WC2 but then nothing.   I guess I am antisocial.

    Downside to this article:  Our captcha will be working overtime to keep out all those spammers selling Warcraft gold, or whatever that stuff is their bots pillage sites with.
    /clap

    Great article! I wish my own parents would read this. They're always trying to demonize me for playing Final Fantasy XI online, but the fact is I've made more friends and expanded my horizons far more than I ever have in my life! I think these games are indeed going to be a new way of socializing that will only become more and more common as technology improves. It wouldn't surprise me if people eventually start living in virtual worlds once the technology increases enough. Hopefully said systems will require use of your muscles as well, so we all don't turn into Jabbas from it. :3

    Video games get a bad press all the time and have been accused of corrupting the moral fabric of youth. That is why it's refreshing to come across articles like yours that's really informative and objective. However, studies have shown that these games really have benefits and harmful effects.
    Good Effects:
    - develops problem solving skills
    - hand-eye coordination
    - teamwork and cooperation
    - multi-tasking
    - following instructions
    Bad Effects:
    - too much gaming makes your kid socially isolated (in reality)
    - triggers violence
    - bad effects on health like obesity
    - kids can pick up vulgar language

    These are just few of the countless effects of video games. We just have to keep in mind that anything in moderation can do us no harm and let's not forget the proper guidance.

    Jeff Sherry
    Good morning Christopher Lysy, I can see how the game develops a social behavior within the game. I wonder how players do in social interaction outside of the internet in the great outdoors? Does the WoW create agoraphobia with the players?
    I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.

    Patricia

    cplysy
    Thanks for all the comments. 

    Hank - I'm not sure if not playing WoW is antisocial.  But just to be safe we'll check again in 2012 when the DSM V comes out.

    Anonymous - Thanks and feel free to send your parents the link.  I wonder what the virtual world you mention would look like.  I can picture all sorts of things from the horrific to the pleasant.  The kinds of things you would find in the science fiction section of your local library or video store?

    Aion - Thanks, I would agree that like all things there are good and bad characteristics.  Taking anything to the extreme can have harmful effects.  I do question universal conclusions on the efffects of "video games."  I wonder if in the past too many kids were uttering the phrase "waca-waca-waca-waca" from too much pacman? Plus, what is 'in reality'?

    Jeff - As an avid outdoors enthusiast I dislike seeing studies showing limited interaction with the great outdoors.  I do think much of our connection with the external physical world is based on having the opportunity to experience it first hand.  I was a Boy Scout and had many opportunities to explore the natural world.  I don't think video games are the biggest barrier to this.

    Blizzcon 2009, the convention run by WoW's parent company Blizzard, is going to be held later this month.  The convention sold out in minutes.  This type of event is just one of the places where players can meet in the physical world, and they do.  As for your agoraphobia question even if there was a link I think it would be tough to determine causality.  Did WoW lead to Agoraphobia or did WoW give an agoraphobic person an opportunity for social interaction?

    Patricia - Thanks for the comment, I hope I can continue to write articles you will enjoy :)
    jtwitten
    Might I suggest the humorous The Guild for a satirical treatment of the stereotypical "gamer".
    cplysy
    That's great Josh, thanks for sharing.
    Christina Znidarsic
    I started playing MMO-style games when Everquest went live.  I played EQ for nearly 5 years and then switched over to World of Warcraft and have been playing that off and on since.  I've pretty much run the gamut of the "gaming experience," ranging from being a raid leader and officer in a 6-night a week hardcore raiding guild that was ranked 2nd on our server to an extremely casual player who logs in for 15 minutes a night and fishes.  Hey, fishing is serious business.  And if fishing is all you ever wanted to do in WoW, you could.  That's both the blessing and the curse of these games.  I admit, looking back on some of the many nights I'd spent killing dragons and getting digital loot instead of hanging out with my 3-D friends or family, I regret not getting out more.  Moderation is key in all things.  However, even during the times where I played the most, I still had an active out-of-game social life and got a BS in Geology at a very difficult school.  People were often surprised to find out I played games like EQ and WoW when they met me.  I guess they were expecting some socially inept sweaty-palmed loser who smelled like stale cheese puffs and Mountain Dew instead of an articulate and intelligent scientist.

    As a tangent, I sincerely wish I could put "Everquest guild raid leader" on my resume sometimes.  You try organizing 80+ people a night, half of which are ADHD and the rest of which are probably high on something, to accomplish a task that will take 5 hours of steady focus.  It's like herding cats.  Not to mention handling guild recruitment for a highly competitive raiding guild can be just as strenuous as any high-profile headhunter's job.  I learned some great people skills as the guild's PR officer, too, dealing with damage control on internet guild drama and server forum temper tantrums.

    Anyways, the point I'm getting at is that these games aren't necessarily the cause of peoples' problems.  They may indeed act as a catalyst, but if Joe Schlub didn't have EQ or WoW to be addicted to he would have found some other way to seal himself off from whatever is going on in real life that he didn't feel like dealing with.  MMO-style games can be social godsends for some people.  I had a guildmate who had legbraces and crutches and it was very difficult for him to get out into social situations both physically and mentally.  He was terrified that people wouldn't look beyond his twisted legs in real life, but in WoW he was one of our lead warriors and his sharp wit and warm personality made him very popular and well-liked amongst our guildmates and other people on our server.  The confidence derived from those interactions gave him the push he needed to be more self-assured in his real-life interactions, and now he's actively dating and much happier with who he is as a person. 

    People who have problems with MMOs will continue to have problems in other aspects of their lives.  Addictive personalities, general depression, disinterest, and lack of motivation run much deeper than simple video games.  The beauty of an MMO is that it's exactly what you choose to make of it.  You can either choose to use it to ignore your work, your friends, and your family, or you can choose to use it as a means of positive social interaction and a way to gain experience in people skills and teamwork.  Or, you could be like me and use it as a way to cure your fishing jones without actually having to touch real bait (gross) or gut a fish (ew).  The sky's the limit!
    Jeff Sherry
    Thank you Christina, that was the type of response I was looking for.
    Hank
    As a tangent, I sincerely wish I could put "Everquest guild raid leader" on my resume sometimes. 
    In 15 or so years it may have more value than you think, it just doesn't have a ton of value now.
    One older friend of mine talked about hiring people (engineers) and said he wouldn't hire people who weren't ham radio operators back when he was a young manager.

    When I was younger, the original D&D was incomprehensible rule-wise and took a huge amount of preparation and creativity because the books didn't exist.  So if someone today says they DM'ed that old D&D as a high school teenager I'd have to think that puts them a level above the usual person.  If they ran a BBS on a 300 baud modem in college, even better.

    Skillsets of value are relative to their generation.   I hear older people lament that youth are not learning facts the same way but young people don't need to - the next generation will be able to find virtually any information they need instantly so they can use their brains for other things besides memorization.

    Or so I think.
    Becky Jungbauer
    I still remember going to the library to physically review books for research for school reports. Do kids even do that now?
    Hank
    Whatever, granny.

    When I was a kid we had to write our own books.  On slate.
    Becky Jungbauer
    They had developed writing back then? I thought you were still on cave drawing a la Lascaux.

    Totally off topic - or maybe not - as I was typing this I literally heard the lyrics: "Hank's words, they taught me everything." Creepy. (Sorry, Kim.)
    Christina Znidarsic
    I'm 28 years old and I remember having to use a card catalogue to look up books in my local library for papers and projects.  When I told this to my brother (age 19), he looked confused and said "why didn't you just Google it?"  KIDS THESE DAYS.  I do think, however, that my generation may be the last one that still had to do a bulk of their work without the help of the internet as their primary information resource.  County-wide library crawls and interlibrary loans are a thing of the past, I guess.
    Becky Jungbauer
    Ugh, card catalogs - they were always out of order or something was missing and if a card was missing too bad...I think the actual act of going to the library and wading through the Dewey Decimal System should be part of the process, not just skimming Wikipedia and turning in a half-assed report. Lucky jerks.
    Hank
    Totally off topic - or maybe not - as I was typing this I literally heard the lyrics: "Hank's words, they taught me everything." Creepy. (Sorry, Kim.)
    Happens all of the time.   Also common, people singing Has Anybody Here Seen Hank? by the Waterboys.
    I get this a lot too:  

    Great article! I recently watched this documentary that is very much on the topic, I highly recommend it. It is currently on Hulu. I was quite amazed by the diversity of people that are in WoW and how strong a community it is. The film also touches on the dangers of addiction by exploring some very personal stories, but the vibe I got out of it was positive at the end. I strongly agree that when compared to some of the other ways people spend their time, online games might be a relatively harmless hobby and blaming them for a problem that could manifest itself differently is wrong.

    I have personally never played WoW, although I have spent quite a bit of time on other games during some periods of my life. I can tell you it hasn't ruined my career, even though I feel that I could have done something more productive. The pressures of our competitive culture are putting very high expectations on people and it's no surprise that some would like to spend time in a virtual world where the interactions might be even friendlier than in real life.

    http://www.secondskinfilm.com/

    http://www.hulu.com/watch/87648/second-skin

    I agree that WoW is a type of social interaction; however it is not a positive social interaction. Playing WoW does not build appropriate, functional social skills that an individual uses throughout his/her lifetime. If a teenager spends too much of his/her time playing WoW then he or she will not have practice with "real world" social interactions and will likely come off as socially awkward at school or during job interviews.

    Even if you believe that there are social interactions in WoW, they do not translate over to the real world, and this hurts a WoW player's real-life social skills. I guess this is alright if you are 30-something and already have a steady job, but if you are a teenager or in your 20's, then playing WoW as opposed to hanging out with real-life friends hurts your social development.

    cplysy
    Dan,
    What is your definition of appropriate, functional social skills?  Just because the types of skills players develop in this type of environment might not have been useful skills 10 years ago does not mean they will not be useful in the next 10 years. 

    In Christina's eloquent post above she mentions how she wishes she could put "Everquest guild leader" on her resume.  While I would not argue that "guild leader" has the same ring as project manager or rotary club president the transferable skills she developed as a guild leader are just as important in an increasingly digital age.  The ability to organize large groups of people and effectively communicate/interact in the digital realm are skills that would bolster any resume.

    Now I am not arguing that we should all completely withdraw from the "real world" or that there is not value in face-to-face interaction.  I just believe that games like WoW are often unfairly demonized and players can be unjustly labeled as antisocial.  These claims are often based on negative perceptions and stereotypes without any type of fact based support or, at the least, very flimsy support.
    Its hard to succinctly write any definition of what "appropriate, functional social skills" are because they are highly dependent on the circumstances a person finds themselves in. For example, when meeting someone new at a business meeting or interview, there is an appropriate character one must portray to the person across the table to gain their confidence and trust. These mannerisms and behaviors are completely different when talking to a girl at a bar. There is a wide array of social skills one learns by living in the real world. Learning how to gain someone's trust is much harder in the real world than it is in games like WoW.
    Because of this, I really doubt these social skills can be effectively learned by playing WoW. I agree that some WoW players are unfairly labeled as anti-social. I know many people who play casually and still lead fulfilling social lives. To me WoW becomes anti-social when a person starts valuing WoW interaction more than real-world interaction.

    cplysy
    Dan,
    What I do not understand is this constant differentiation between "WoW interaction" and "real-world interaction."  In an age where so much social and professional interaction is taking place online how can you imply that the online world is any less real?  The difference between positive and negative social interaction is also very much based on perspective. 
    Let me ask you this: If you were a recruiter interviewing a job applicant, would you prefer to meet them in person or online? Sure, there are sites like craigslist, guru, or elance where you could hire somebody to do outsource-able sort of work. However, say you needed to hire somebody you needed to trust because they were going to work on an important project and get paid a significant salary (>$50,000), wouldn't you want to meet them in the "real world"? Online relationships don't foster as much trust between individuals and that's the difference between real-world and virtual interaction to me.

    I've been following this blog for a while now and I've been very interested in your article Mr. Lysy.

    WoW is a breeding ground of social activity and for a good part of my life it was the only outlet I had to the real world. I was homeschooled on an isolated stretch of mississippi back road wich meant I had no one. It was not until college that I really came face to face with constant real world social situations. Thats when I realized the challenges posed by these games are things like social Introduction rather than social interaction, body image, and personal presentation.
    The skills a person learns in a game translate into real world expierences but there are some skills that require real world "leveling" such as inter-personal communication, body language, and social norms. Obviosly yelling Chuck Norris jokes or busting out into dance in a cafeteria will carry some of the comedic value but ultimately its considered wierd and will quickly get you put on the "ignore list" of alot of your piers. But WoW has showed me how to maintain many a conversation, private chat, and friendship. Ultimately Dan the things I learned in the world of Azeroth have tremendous value they are "epics" in thier own right and I would not trade them for any peddley green highschool drama.
    that being said, I'm an avid fan of the alliance. I love my level 80s more than my family sometimes. And I have been playing World of Warcraft since it released some 4 or 5 years ago. I also realize that the months in hours I have logged invested in this game could really make a difference elsewhere. I could have learned a foreign language, an instrument, or a new trade. I personally know people who spend forty hours a week on the game in real world terms thats a full-time job. aside from all that negative I can comfortably say that I have learned to handle social interaction incredibly well. However we have a Spring Ball coming up and at this point the only dance I am comfortable with is a night elf version of Jackson or maybe if she is feeling wild I'll drop it like a gnome.

    Dr. Richard Graham the afore mentioned Doctor who wants to diagnose game addiction in WoW players just leveled his 2nd 80 and is joining a raiding guild. stating active onyxia farms will help him better "relate" to the addicts he wants to help. his main logs roughly 32 hours a week and his wife filed for divorce earier this month citing WoW as a vice in thier family. Dr. Graham had the papers expedited on account of a guild run through ulduar at 4:30 server time.

    P.S. on a personal note the old Bastard is a friggin ninja he need rolled on my World Carver battle axe....