18 Using Sociocultural Data from Online Gaming and Game Communities

Sean Guarino Leonard Eusebi Bethany Bracken and Michael Jenkins

Charles River Analytics, Cambridge, MA, 02138, USA

Introduction

In social science studies, laboratory experiments enable a high degree of control over conditions and independent variables, but the conditions may be artificial. Also, this comes at the cost of small or unrepresentative samples, priming effects, and situation‐specific constraints that can limit the generalizability of research findings. Field studies are an alternative for observing populations in their natural social environments, but managing interactions can be difficult (although natural experiments are occasionally possible). The advent of online communities and mobile technologies has created new opportunities for social, behavioral, and economic (SBE) research. Commercial games, in particular, provide a rich opportunity for SBE researchers to perform a different type of field study, observing populations in the natural social environment that is provided by the game. This is often a more controlled environment than real‐world habitats – defined by the rules and characteristics of the game – but still provides an opportunity for observing human behavior outside of a laboratory environment (albeit with many of the behavioral implications of online anonymity and game behavior). Communities evolve within games (e.g. players interacting in massively multiplayer online ...

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