Online Gaming & The Third Place

Via Slashdot today I came across a cool site – Tasty Research – which has links to all manner of weird and wonderful academic papers (bear with me), with recent posts/links including: The Impact of Communication Technology on Lying Behaviour, Does the Internet improve Social Relationships & Psychological Wellbeing?, and Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as “Third Places”.

All are well worth a read (should you have a decent amount of spare time / brain capacity) but I found the last piece around gaming & the 3rd place particularly interesting (it’s also one of the most up-to-date). Essentially it’s about the role online gaming plays in the societal constructs of users, and the effect engagement with such games has on ‘real’ world activities.

From Tasty Research itself, a short synopsis of the paper:

A major concern of home media such as television and the Internet is that they are replacing essential social institutions and community. While a previous post has indicated that this might not be true, this research paper looks at massive multiplayer online games such as World of Warcraft to determine if they are indeed “third places”.

What is a third place? The first place is your home, where you can relax and be comfortable. The second place is where you usually are when not at home — work; work provides social interaction and sense of community. Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks introduced third places as somewhere besides home or work where people can socialize and feel comfortable. Think Cheers.

The abstract, written by the authors, states:

This article examines the form and function of massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) in terms of social engagement. Combining conclusions from media effects research informed by the communication effects literature with those from ethnographic research informed by a sociocultural perspective on cognition and learning, we present a shared theoretical framework for understanding (a) the extent to which such virtual worlds are structurally similar to “third places” (Oldenburg, 1999) for informal sociability, and (b) their potential function in terms of social capital (Coleman, 1988; Putnam, 2000). Our conclusion is that by providing spaces for social interaction and relationships beyond the workplace and home, MMOs have the capacity to function as one form of a new “third place” for informal sociability. Participation in such virtual “third places” appears particularly well suited to the formation of bridging social capital—social relationships that, while not usually providing deep emotional support, typically function to expose the individual to a diversity of worldviews.

I find gaming and the social effect that online immersion can have on users fascinating. And it’s very relevant for brands seeking to understand what role they can play in the lives of consumers. Big stuff – discuss.


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