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An analysis of role play games and social networking

Submitted by on June 3, 2006 – 6:59 pmNo Comment

I will look briefly at how the formation of social networks differs between those people who play role play games, and those who do not. I will examine in particular pen and paper role play games (RPGs) such as Dungeons and Dragons (DnD), and their later computer based descendants which include Might and Magic and World of Warcraft.

A role play game is any game where the players assume a role other from that which they occupy in normal life. It is usually marked by some sort of special and unrealistic characteristic, such as a capacity for magical spells or cybernetic implants, neither of which is regularly available in ordinary life. There are many varieties of role play game, but the most popular and well known are those that descend from Dungeons and Dragons, so these are the ones I will be concerned with here.

Dungeons and Dragons belongs to a category of games known as pen and paper role playing, because nothing is required to play them save a pen and some paper. A hallmark of all these role play games is the simplicity of the requirements, which one might say was carried on into the computer generation through requiring only the game to play, except that this is not the norm for games now. These pen and paper games have inspired large numbers of computer games, including Might and Magic and World of Warcraft, enough to be considered the founders of a genre which has become increasingly popular.

A small number of players, usually between four and seven, are required for pen and paper games and although the number can vary it generally needs to remain within these bounds for a reasonable game. Once a group has gathered to play, it is very uncommon for any new players to enter or even for old ones to leave, because the character progression and the necessity of close teamwork leads to a crystallisation of the group. It can be very disruptive to the group dynamics to change them abruptly mid game, so the current players tend to discourage new people entering in the middle of a campaign which can last several months. On the other hand, the cooperation required of the team can lead to strong bonds forming between them. This can make it very easy for a player to expand their network of social contacts to include those of their friends, however because many people play the game for escapism they may not wish to discuss their life outside the role they play. Thus the game can either encourage or inhibit the formation of additional social ties, depending on the character of the players. One thing that is certain, though, is that it tends to bring together like minded people in a setting they are comfortable with.

Single player computer games can be dismissed instantly, as there is no real difference between a single player RPG and any other single player game. Unlike pen and paper games, computer games are theoretically played in isolation. However, in actuality the large internet community means that they are never really alone. MMORPGs naturally involve huge numbers of people (hence the name Massively Multiplayer) and the renowned anonymity afforded by the internet makes it easy for people to start conversations. It is entirely usually for a person to have a hundred friends around the world, and not know what a single one of them looks like in real life. In addition to this, online RPGs support player run organisations known by various names, although usually as clans or guilds, which give a structured system for them to provide support and help for each other. The long term members of such a group usually know each other extremely well, and often organise times to meet online.

Occasionally, acquaintances formed online will extend to real life, usually because most players keep contact with their friends over instant messaging such as MSN messenger and ICQ, and can just as easily use these media to keep in touch with friends made in an online game. This enables an overlap of real life with their life online, and a large number of contacts can be built up this way. However it is quite unusual for one player to introduce two others to each other, so social networks formed this way rarely extend more then a single level.

So online games can provide a great aid to the formation of social networks, although these networks are usually quite distinct from those formed outside the internet. However, these two worlds will often overlap, as online and offline friends will be contacting the player with using the same email address or messaging account.

Pen and paper games have little effect on social networking, and are effectively no different then any other social club, but online games are something else. As more and more activities are carried out online, the dividing line between reality and cyberspace grows more diffuse and faded. So it should not appear unusual that networking is being carried along with the other activities into the online world. In conclusion, pen and paper games do nothing for networking that any other club does not, yet online role play games can have a tremendous impact enable a much larger pool of contacts to form within an entirely different society.

Article Source: TechnoArti

About the author: Joshua Swanson is a programmer, philosopher, and sometime writer. You can see more of his game articles here, or check out the MMORPG he created. This and other unique content MMORPG articles are available with free reprint rights.

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