Virtual Worlds Don't Exist: Questioning the Dichotomous Approach in MMO Studies
Game Studies, Vol. 10, No. 1, 2010
Posted: 27 Jun 2010
Date Written: January 1, 2010
I argue that much influential scholarship on massively-multiplayer online games and virtual environments (MMO) is based on a dichotomous “real world vs. virtual world” model. The roots of this dichotomy can be traced to the magic circle concept in game studies and the cyberspace separatism of early Internet thought. The model manifests on a number of dimensions, including space, identity, social relationships, economy and law. I show a number of problems in the use of this model in research, and propose an alternative perspective based on Anselm Strauss’s concept of overlapping social worlds. The world of players does not respect the boundaries of an MMO server, as it frequently flows over to other sites and forums. At the same time, other social worlds, such as families and workplaces, penetrate the site of the MMO and are permanently tangled with the players' world. Research programs that approach MMOs as independent mini-societies are therefore flawed, but there are many other kinds of research that are quite feasible.
Keywords: reseach design, methodology, online games, magic circle, social world perspective, virtual space, identity
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