Nick Yee's serious approach to understanding gaming may have deep seeded results in behavioral research
When it comes to understanding video gamers and their environments, Nick Yee wrote the book

Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPG) are quickly becoming one of the most popular game genres among PC gamers.  In fact, some reports estimate that more than 15 million gamers around the world play video games from the MMORPG genre. 

Modern MMORPGs including World of Warcraft, Everquest II and Star Wars Galaxies, have reached unprecedented popularity.  Blizzard's World of Warcraft, with 8.5 million users across the world, remains the most popular MMORPG -- and possibly the most popular title in gaming history.

Video games have become a popular source of study among scholars around the world, with much research also being done by universities in the United States.  Nick Yee, a Ph.D. candidate at Stanford University, has interviewed more than 40,000 MMORPG gamers, placing a strong emphasis on the psychological and sociological effects of the games.

Much of Yee's research centers around the sociological habits of gamers, both "in-game" and "out-game." Recently, Yee published findings that MMORPG gamers play the game 21 hours per week, with only 7.7 hours spent watching TV.

Research done by Yee points to statistics that show women spend more time per week playing than their male counterparts.  Even though women have traditionally been considered "casual" gamers, they spend more time per week in an MMO game than men, according to another study published by Yee.  "In general, I think we need to rethink the bias in framing women as not being as 'into' a game as men are, when the data tends to point in the opposite direction," Yee said.

In the 3D digital world of Second Life, Yee discovered that male players stand further away when talking to other males and are also less likely to maintain eye contact.  On average, male avatars stood 7.7 feet away from each other, as opposed to mixed-gender pairs standing 6.9 feet apart, according to Yee's research.  Female-female pairs of game players were also more likely to maintain eye contact.    

However, avatars from all genders reportedly looked away from one another if standing close, much like how people in the real world are less likely to make eye contact if on a crowded elevator.  The research was published in the journal Cyberpsychology & Behavior.

While mainstream media tends to focus only on the negative side of MMO playing, there are positive aspects that should be taken under consideration.  For example, leadership and team management can be learned from playing MMOs, Yee reported.  "Very few other social spaces allow players to have their leadership and management skills in a relatively risk-free environment over and over again."

Yee currently conducts research at the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab, located at Stanford University's Department of Communications.  "We're interested in using immersive virtual reality to study how we can break the rules of social interaction in meaningful and productive ways.  For example, can we reduce someone's negative stereotype of the elderly by putting them in the avatar of an elderly person?  If we put someone in a tall avatar, do they become more confident?  If an agent takes 25% of your facial features, are you more likely to become persuaded by it?"

After Yee's first research was published, more researchers and universities are beginning to conduct studies involving video games, specifically MMORPGs.  Carnegie Mellon University and University of Chicago have produced research on the social aspects of MMORPGs over the last two years.

Nick Yee's original research and blog, The Daedalus Project, is still publically available.

"We are going to continue to work with them to make sure they understand the reality of the Internet.  A lot of these people don't have Ph.Ds, and they don't have a degree in computer science." -- RIM co-CEO Michael Lazaridis
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