Thursday, February 09, 2006

What's "Socialization"?

Usually, the Escapist Lounge kind of just floats through my feed without making much of an impression. But today they posted this little gem.

I think the primary reason MMORPGs have only a very limited amount of social interaction is because socially interacting is so difficult. It takes forever, it isn't very deep or emotional, and it's not intuitive. However, whatever the reason, the fact is undeniable that they aren't popular.

But the strength of an MMORPG still lies in its social interaction! In fact, I made a very recent post on that very subject! "Your social circles are critical," I said. Was I wrong?

Not in the slightest. You see, "socializing" isn't necessarily getting together and forming a party. Socializing isn't necessarily even talking to each other. Socializing is simply supporting each other in any given way.

For example, much of the "social circle" in a MMORPG happens outside the MMORPG. It happens on the forums, it happens when you get advice from a more addicted friend, it happens in the economy.

If you're using significant amounts of player content, a player's social circle is also the content they encounter.

Obviously, this is a bit different from the way "social circle" is used in normal psychology. For example, this social circle has one-way connectivity. You might be part of the forum's social circle, but they're not part of yours. They probably don't even know you exist.

You see, getting a response from a MMORPG social circle takes forever. There's no "real time conversations". The closest you get is typing back and forth, and that's a slow, clumsy process.

The support that a social circle provides, therefore, is one of indirect response. For example, if you post that the Killograth monster is weak to fire, you're not expecting any meaningful direct responses. You might expect some "kthx"-style responses, but no meaningful interchanges.

Similarly, if someone is trying to kill the Killograth and finds your post, they know you aren't telling it to them. It's not a personal interchange. It's just a forum post.

But both of you are socially interacting, in an indirect way. And both sides benefit, one as a maven, the other as a student.

You get similar results from virtually all other kinds of player content. Favorites lists, custom quests, the marketplace, a sweet graphic. It's all part of the social circle, it's all part of this indirect social support net. That is what makes MMORPGs more fascinating than one-player games. There is a social responsiveness even without the ability to actually converse usefully.

That is really the whole point of custom content: to allow a player to communicate with other players indirectly. A giant space ship of doom clearly establishes strength. A vending machine full of cute toys is another kind of indirect interaction. Details as to how to reach level 810 are another indirect interaction.

That's what a MMORPG is all about, and that's what player content is all about.

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