Online Video Game Communities in World of Warcraft and their impact on wellbeing in comparison to real world communities
This paper explores a variety of sources that cover the benefits of online video game communities (online communities) and how they are created within the World of Warcraft environment which will be compared to real-world communities (offline communities). Blizzard Entertainments’ (Blizzard) video game World of Warcraft (WoW) is the digital landscape that allows online communities a place to flourish. Humans are naturally social creatures that actively seek out communities to participate in, even selectively isolating individuals (hermits) will have some form of social interaction throughout their day to day activities.
Keywords: online video game communities, real-world communities, Blizzard Entertainment, World of Warcraft
Online Video Game Communities in World of Warcraft and their impact on wellbeing in comparison to real world communities
Humans are naturally social creatures, even self-isolating individuals still require a social aspect to survive such as outings to the store or delivery services (Sharrock, 2018). Some individuals are naturally less social than others and may aim to avoid social situations due to them feeling socially awkward or having confidence issues. This issue doesn’t have to exist on the internet as online communities can alleviate some of the concerns of these individuals, as well as create a new avenue for the more socially adept to interact and participate in online communities. World of Warcraft provides a myriad of tools at the players’ beck and call to facilitate social interactions within the confines of the virtual world. From the server wide chat channels that connect major cities together, to the temporary sub community of the party, there are a number of ways to communicate and socialise with other players. Without communication tools of some description, communities would not exist (Koivisto, 2003), however World of Warcraft like many other MMOs was built with social interaction being a core mechanic. Challenges that are too difficult to perform solo can be overcome by socialising and enlisting help from others. This can lead to extended communications such as adding the other person to a ‘friends list’ or inviting them to join a guild. Blizzard Entertainment, the studio behind World of Warcraft has extended the communication systems of the game to allow players to communicate with their friends without entering the game itself (Andrews, 2017). All these systems facilitate communication between players provides the core functionality in creating communities and the game world provides much of the substance that these communities surround. Communities can be formed with the communication tools available and a shared topic of interest, the game itself.
Humans naturally seek society, the merits of socialising compared to isolation are well documented particularly regarding prisoners in solitary confinement. With 2.2 billion active gamers in the world (McDonald, 2017), not everyone can socialise the same way, either due to anxiety, geography, language barrier or lack of desire to socialise conventionally. Online video games can help fill the void left by lack of socialising in the real world by replacing it with virtual socialisation within a virtual world. World of Warcraft facilitates social interactions as a core game mechanic, requiring players to utilise tools provided to overcome challenges or obstacles. Some players claim they feel more confident socialising in the real world due to their time spent playing World of Warcraft. Studies have shown that many World of Warcraft players are less lonely and less socially anxious within the confines of the virtual world compared to the real world (Levesque, 2016). This may lend itself to the virtual world feeling safer or more comfortable compared to the real world but it allows the less socially adept to gain confidence and develop strong lasting connections with other players who may also suffer from a similar loneliness or anxiety.
World of Warcraft as a social medium is not only home to socially awkward individuals, it creates a way for any player to hide their face behind an avatar or character. This character becomes the identity of the player in the game and how the player interacts with others creates a reputation with no personal information shared. This reputation is how other players will perceive the player and can provide community opportunities and communication potential when the players behind the characters may be drastically different outside of the game (Jyvaeskylae, 2007). As with many platforms on the internet, geographical location is no longer an inhibiting factor in joining communication and communities across the world, and World of Warcraft allows players from all over the world to play together should they choose to do so. Participating in a community requires communication, language barriers can be an issue when including players from all over the world. World of Warcraft provides more than language communication tools to facilitate community between players, a vast array of emote phrases and actions can allow players to communicate outside of language barriers, as well as gaming culture developing its own language. Blizzard Entertainment is improving its community and communication tools to connect players together inside World of Warcraft in a larger way. The “Communities” (Andrews, 2017) system unveiled, allows players to join a larger community as they see fit. These communities could focus specifically on a particular type of content in World of Warcraft or be created with the sole purpose of chatting to each other.
Online Video Games are usually rife with a challenge or conflict that the player or their character is tasked with overcoming. These challenges can provide a great opening for conversation with other players. Discussing strategy, enlisting help to overcome a tough foe, or just chatting to occupy time waiting for a respawn can all be used as talking points and can serve as the first meeting that can lead to a friendship or community founding. Not all people are socially awkward, have social anxiety, or approach anxiety however many individuals have struggled with meeting new people (Notas, 2015) with some suffering more than others. With a majority of the population playing video games in one way or another and gaming culture gaining more exposure (Whippey, 2011)
having a common interest from the outset can aid the first meeting and can ease some approach anxiety between players; to create friendships, join communities and could even help their social shortcomings (Trepte, 2006). In addition to having an initial conversation opening gamers can utilise online video games as a “third place” (Steinkuehler, 2006) similar to coffee shops or bars, for informal socialisation, World of Warcraft contains server wide chat channels as well as local chat systems, allowing a player to contact as many or as few players as possible not necessarily for game conversation.
World of Warcraft players experience a less severe degree of loneliness and social anxiety while playing compared to the real world (Lokša, 2015). The confines of the vibrant virtual world are comforting to individuals who may suffer from one or both of these conditions. While this practice is often considered a form of escapism the benefits far outweigh the negatives of regular gameplay and compared to other forms of escapism which can be more damaging, such as substance abuse. World of Warcraft can also be an effective relaxation tool, similar to meditation; engaging the mind on another task allowing the player to offset frustration and panic associated with an anxiety disorder (Samuels, 2016). World of Warcraft was not designed as a medical aid for those with social anxiety, however it has great potential in accommodating and calming those that do in a safe environment, where they can also communicate with others in a comfortable environment. While those that have social disorders may find solace inside the Warcraft world, negative stigmas surround gaming and World of Warcraft however as video gaming is becoming more prevalent in society, studies have shown that gamers who participate in online social video games have been found to have near equal numbers of ‘good friends’ that can offer offline emotional support compared to that of non-gamers (Domahidi, 2014). World of Warcraft is an enjoyable leisure activity, enjoyed by millions of players worldwide and players have the tools available to communicate with any number of them. With players able to play the game from the comfort of their own homes’, socially anxious players can develop communication skills with other people at their own pace from a safe place. Players can also calm themselves similarly to meditation or a ‘warm mug of tea’ inside the game by engaging their minds on less stressful tasks presented by the game.
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