Monday, February 11, 2008

MMOs as Real Life Practice and Networking Tools

With the amount of time that many gamers spend playing online games, along with the combination of various demographics and professions that we gamers constitute, it is hardly surprising that our online communities are beginning to not only resemble our real life social structures and networks, but can actually provide a means to test various management styles and interaction techniques in an environment with very little real world consequence.

When I was in high school and pumping hours and hours of my time into Ultima Online and various MUDs, my parents would always ask me what purpose all of that orc killing and dragon taming was going to serve later in life. I didn't have a good answer back then. It was just fun. Now, however, I have discovered that some good really has come from countless hours in fantasy worlds. Back then, I saw people who took the game very seriously doing rather well, for the most part. I was part of different guilds, and eventually rose to different managerial tasks in those guilds. This was literally my first experience in a leadership position over real people. Better yet, even if I screwed up, all that was lost were 1's and 0's and a bit of time.

While I am by no means advocating that MMOs are a replacement for healthy real-world interpersonal interaction (they aren't, sorry), there are some potential real life XP points by leading raids, coordinating PvP activities and handling equipment and logistics in virtual worlds. My most poignant example of this comes from my two-years-plus in EVE. In that time, I have gone from a peon to the CEO of one of the largest mercenary corps in the game, before retiring back to the "CEO Emeritus" (read: lazy director) position. I did not realize the impact that leading fleets into combat and organizing and delegating corporate activites would have on my real world ability to lead. Since college, I've had a few opportunities to be put in charge of other people in real life. After the initial urge to have everyone align to the door so we could all enter the meetings together, I realized that the coordination, leadership and delegation in EVE bear a striking resemblance to what my subordinates were seeking from me in real life.

I may be a bit late coming to this epiphany, as I'm sure others have considered (and probably blogged) it before, but it really is striking the difference that those risk-free chances to lead have made in my real world leadership confidence. Perhaps MMOs represent that leap in gaming that my parents always heckled me about. Gaming is no longer a solitary time-sink. It is still a time-sink, but it also now represents a cross-cultural and cross-demographic societal experience that is actually hard to replicate in most real life scenarios. Growing up in small town Texas, I would not have met nearly as many non-Americans without MMOs. Additionally, the contacts I have made over the years have provided me with a network of friends and potential business contacts that easily rival those that I made in college. I feel that EVE has given me a much broader base of potential career contacts than college itself ever did, given that most of the people I met in college were also seeking out that entry-level.

Again, I'm going to reiterate that MMOs are NOT a replacement for real world interaction. If you still live at home, don't tell your parents that you don't have to go outside or talk to real people because some Bitter Old Noob told you that MMOs will make your dreams come true. The point I am making is that we might be at a point as a society where online gaming can really be accepted as an inextricable part of social interaction. Brave new world, indeed.


  1. They also encourage team work, communication, analysis...... and a healthy dose of paranoia.

    I think one of the great things about eve's single shard structure is the fact there is such a broad range of cultures and indeed languages in the game. Indeed whoever thought my years learning German would ever help in a video game.

    As for "aligning to the door" that is somethign one should do ALWAYS... A lesson for all of live that Eve teaches us.

  2. Very true but at the same time it is not socially acceptable at the moment and going into any interview and even mentioning the word "gaming" will get you struck off as a sad loser with no life or interpersonal skills. This is perhaps right, in the way that you need real life skills, but equally carries a stigma that is disproportional to its crime.

    Its going to be interesting to see how this changes, the internet is still young, as is gaming and PCs themsevles. Each new generation is exposed more and more to this way of life and eventually it will become normalised as a more socially acceptable medium. However I think its going to take a while longer until the student generations now are in the positions of power within companies and government and a greater percentage demographic have a wider experience of games in general.

  3. As Mike said. However I would add that I think it also largely depends on what industry in which you work.

    I for example realised I worked in what could be defined as a geek accepting company when I overheard two senior managers discussing Star Wars, and observed another reading the WOW forums (sad man indeed).

  4. IBM did a great study in conjunction with Seriosity, about how "online games put the future of business leadership on display". The study is call appropriately, "Virtual Worlds, Real Leaders".

    It back-ups all that you've been saying.

  5. Good lord, MMOs are a monumental waste of time.

    Eve, while not like WoW, still requires no brain power whatsoever. It is not the real world. You are not learning anything of value given the time investment.

    You are wasting your time. You appear to acknowledge this while attempting to also deny it. I'm here to tell you, you're wasting your time.

    I have a buddy who, some years back, hassled me regularly about playing single-player games (HL2 for example). I didn't play much; maybe a total of 60 hours per year: NWN, HL2, Far Cry.

    He was right though, it was a waste, and I appreciated his advice. Somehow though, he got lured into Eve a couple of years ago, and now he's Joe MMO.

    From Joe-professional-Mr. "I'm the best dad in the world" to Joe MMO who can't talk bout anything but MMO's.
    It's pathetic. What a loser. But I see he's not alone--when I quote him from years back, he gets upset and won't respond to emails. I mean...this guy's practically an addict. He can't laugh about it, and he won't admit it's a waste of time.

    I learned my lesson though. I wouldn't even consider installing any MMO for any reason.

  6. Well anonymous, you're entitled to your opinion. Recent research though contradicts most of what you're saying.

    Yes indeed, socially inept people partake in many hobbies including MMO. But that doesn't mean all MMO players are social-inept individuals who waste their time in front of computer screen.

    IBM and Seriosity conducted such a study: Virtual World, Real Leaders. Maybe you should invest some of your time reading it, then installing such an MMO and learning some of the skills they talk about.