Imagine There’s No Countries . . .

Considering the Possibility and Practice of Global Citizenship

Virtual Worlds mirror Real Worlds

Posted by anequidnimis on February 16, 2009

There was a recent study by Northwestern University that showed that even in online worlds, the tendency to stick close to those in your local geographical area.  In the article the lead researcher, Contractor, is so bold as to claim “It’s not creating new networks. It’s reinforcing existing networks.”  This flies in the face of many assumptions in regards to the supposed cosmopolitanism of many internet communities, but does it really mean anything for those who use over-the-web means of practicing cosmopolitanism?

To me, this research seems to perhaps pass itself off as something that it is not.  Everquest II is in itself only a very small niche in the online community of Massively Multiplayer Role Playing Games, a category which is dominated by giants (In regards to active player base) such as World of Warcraft, Second Life, HabboHotel, and Runescape.  Because of this niche factor, as well as the general tendency for online games to have unique cultures and player demographics between them, I can’t honestly give much credence to the study in regards to applying the data to the rest of the userbase in games.  This is not to say necessarily that other games will be more, or less, cosmoplitan in terms of their interactions with others, just that a single study on a single game is hardly conclusive.

But, even if this study was applicable to other online worlds (as I suspect it is to at least some degree), the tendency to stick to pre-existing physical friends and strengthen those relationships over developing new relationships is, I think, nothing to do with actual geographic location.  It’s instead people tending to stick to what and who they know, like in any other matter. People, in general, will hang out with their friends first and more so than people they don’t know.  It doesn’t matter if their friend is in Europe or if they are across the street.  As such, it’s no different in the act of trying to be Cosmopolitan than it is in any issue of daily life.  The key is making the effort to reach out, understand, and befriend others, regardless of geographical location.  Video Games are exceptional at this, as the games themselves throw people together who have an obvious shared common interest: Video Games.   This makes it increasingly painless to befriend those all around the world and start to become familiarized with other cultures.

In short, the idea of virtual worlds being a viable example of cosmopolitanism is still safe and secure behind it’s monitor.


2 Responses to “Virtual Worlds mirror Real Worlds”

  1. bklunk said

    Just from observing the players I know best (my sons) it seems like they do tend to use online gaming to play with people they already know. I wonder if social inhibitions about exposing yourself to strangers still operate in these virtual environments?

  2. anequidnimis said

    One thing I didn’t really think about was age. Maybe the younger the player, the more they tend towards sticking with those they know, and a shift towards others as the player age increases? This is only idle speculation without research, of course, but it does seem to me in my own experiences that the older a player is, the more likely they are to easily integrate others into their group of friends.

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