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RESEARCH BLOG #2: Psychology in MMORPGs

This article discusses the way users “interact, collaborate, and form relationships with each other through avatars in online environments” (Yee). Psychological approaches to this concept ultimately attempt to understand what users derive from this type of experience. The study of MMORPGs specifically relates to “social interaction in shared virtual environments, and the Avatars at work and play in them” (Yee). Massively Multi-User Online role Playing Games, Yee states, “Are the only existing naturalistic setting where millions of users voluntarily immerse themselves in a graphical virtual environment and interact with each other through avatars on a daily basis.” Yee’s article attempts to understand “demographics, usage patterns, and motivations of users” when they participate in these social and role-playing games.

He presents the discussion of “relationship formation, role exploration, skill transfer, and problematic usage in these environments.” In MMORPGs, “users view the world in real time 3-D graphics,” using a “humanoid graphical representation of the user or player in the game to interact with the environment and each other… Communication between users occurs through typed chat and animated gestures and expressions.” But why do we feel more comfortable interacting with strangers using these guises as vehicles for self-expression, or as a social aid? The customization of avatars appeals to psychologists and sociologists everywhere. Avatars are fully customizable by skin tone, age, weight, height, musculature, cheek, jaw, and brow prominence, mouth and nose shape, eye color, hair color and style, lip fullness, facial hair, etc…– all things that we perceive psychologically to form stereotypes sociologically. Therefore, do avatars in MMORPGs reinforce psychologically and socially driven stereotypes– role related stereotypes specifically? Do they mirror or shape them?

What is it about role stereotypes specifically in these environments? MMORPGs offer “diverse professional alternatives” for avatars. ( He gives the example of Star-Wars Galaxies where a person’s can make their avatar a skilled musician, chef, hairstylist, pharmaceutical manufacturer, or politician.) and social networking sites like Facebook now offer hundreds of this type of game with role play as the format. Chefville, Farmville, Coasterville, Petville, Pet Society, Mall World, Cafe World-– the list goes on and on.

But what motivates our emotional investment in these MMORPG and social networking games? According to Yee, there are 5 factors that motivate a players emotional investment:

1.) Relationship factors:”measures desire of users to interact with other users, as well as their willingness to form meaningful relationships that are supportive in nature and will include a certain degree of disclosure of real life problems and issues.” It is true that a player feels open to discussing these things via the little chat box in the corner of a game they enjoy and have in common. Factor 5 explains this facet further.

2.) Immersion: players “enjoy being in a fantasy world as much as they enjoy being somewhere else in the real world… they enjoy the story telling aspect, and enjoy creating avatars with histories that correspond with stories and lore of the world.”

3.) Escapism: how often the player “uses the virtual world to temporarily avoid, forget about, and escape from real life stress and problems.”

4.) Achievement: measures the player’s desire “to become powerful in the context of virtual environments” through goal achievement and item accumulation.

5.) Hyper-personal interactions: “more intimate, more intense, more salient” relationships exist in MMORPGs “because of the communication channel.”

These communication channels “allow senders to optimize their self-presentation because interactants don’t have to respond in real time.” The receiver “forms an impression of the information the sender has optimized… Participants can reallocate cognitive resources typically used to maintain socially acceptable non verbal gestures in face to face interactions and focus on the structure and content of the message itself– which comes across as more personal and articulate… Interactants respond to personal messages with equally personal and intimate messages; the idealized impressions and more personal interaction so intensify through reciprocity.” The cumulative effect is that hyper-personal relationships form in these virtual environments.

Role Exploration and Skill Transfer, as well as relationship formation and emotional investment in MMORPGs and social networking games allow users to explore new roles and identities. They can also shape an individual’s identity. “These highly social and structured environments allow us to explore whether certain valuable skills learned in an MMORPG can transfer to the material world” (Yee). These games offer strategy skills like: motivating group members, dealing with negative attitudes and group conflicts, encouraging group loyalty and cooperation. Yee  believes they ultimately provide leadership experience. These games allow individuals to learn and interact with the world given to them by essentially developing, reinforcing, or enhancing, or altering real life skills. This is where the traditional use of video games extends beyond entertainment into sociocultural uses.

For example, according to Yee, “traditional personality assessment techniques” (or psychological analyses) are unreliable. Actions in MMORPG environments, however, “can be tracked unobtrusively by the server; every user’s attitudes and personalities may be tracked using behavioral measures. Because users are personally invested in their avatars and the environment, every decision they make is personally revealing…. frequency and demographics of social networking activity can thereby be tracked” as means of an effective sociocultural profiling technique. As Yee states, “our virtual identities and experiences are not separate from our identities and experiences in the material world. They co-evolve as they shape each other. MMORPGs are not a new form of play as much as a new communication medium that affords new forms of social identity and interaction.”

This article really assisted in narrowing my topic, and I will definitely be incorporating it into my final paper. After reading it, I would like to discuss the phenomenon of role-playing simulation games, specifically on Facebook. I may also explore the basics of Operant Conditioning, and it’s importance in the psychological workings of games.


Yee, Nicholas. “Avatars at Work and Play: Collaboration and Interaction in Shared Virtual Environments.” The Psychology of Massively Multi-User Online Role-Playing Games: Motivations, Emotional Investment, Relationships, and Problematic Usage. the  Netherlands: Springer, 2006. 187-207. Web. 22 June. 2013.



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