Online games aren't just a diversion, but a unique way to meet other people. As millions of gamers demonstrate, playing online is about friendship and cooperation, not just killing monsters. These games are a viable social network because players focus on teamwork, form groups with like-minded people and have romantic relationships with other players.
Massively-Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) feature millions of players interacting in the same environment. The games are social in nature as they allow players to band together and complete missions based on a story line, or test their skills by fighting against each other. At the start of the game, the user creates a fictional character, and customizes its physical appearance. Since many games involve combat, players also outfit their characters with armor and weapons, as well as choose their "profession." Many popular game titles like World of Warcraft and Everquest follow a fantasy theme, so most professions have magical abilities like healing other players or raising undead minions. While the process seems simple, players may spend hours agonizing over the perfect look for their character, from their armor color to the type of skills to use in battle. Once their character is created, the player is free to explore the vast, digital world and interact with other players; however they must pay on average $15 a month for game content. Online gaming is not just for males. According to the 2009 survey conducted by the ESA, if you look at just online games (which include games other than MMORPGs), it’s actually a 57% male-43% female. The average gamer is 30 years old and has been playing for 12 years. Sixty-eight percent of gamers are 18 years of age or older. Titles like World of Warcraft have a healthy population of female players as well as males. With millions of players, there are plenty of people to have adventures with.
Internet gamers insist on teamwork and cooperation, which contributes to the social atmosphere of the game. Due to the complexity of a game like Everquest, it is almost impossible to beat it alone. Sixty-two percent of gamers play games with others, either in-person or online. Seventy-eight percent of these gamers play with others at least one hour per week. Players rely on other humans to help them. Group coordination is important then, as a person that attacks a difficult monster against team orders could cost the group hours of work. Before starting a mission, players discuss various strategies and techniques instead of charging in without any knowledge. Each person on the team has a certain role to play - certain characters will heal the party while others will be primary damage dealers. Teamwork and cooperation are especially important in games like World of Warcraft, where 40-person "raids" are needed to assure victory in certain missions. The social aspect of the game then, comes from coordinating with other people, not destroying monsters. This is an unstated fact in many game manuals, which only instruct players about the game's story and mechanics. Professor T.L. Taylor of IT University of Copenhagen discusses this phenomenon in a lecture at the University of Washington. She explains how in Everquest, players could get large "trains" of monsters to follow them, and then alert the team when the monsters were approaching - a tactic not mentioned in the manual. "Players don't just pick up a game and understand it," Taylor says. They are "socialized in practices of play" so as to develop a "sophisticated understanding" of how the game works. By learning to work with others, people can "evaluate other players" and enjoy the game more.
Players that enjoy the experience of working with others will often join game-based organizations known as "guilds" or "clans." These groups are like a virtual family, as they complete missions together and provide the player with contacts inside the game. For...