Many people associate massively multiplayer online (MMO) games with addiction. A quick Google search about MMO addiction reveals the stories of people who have spent several months (or years) of their lives on an MMO for virtual rewards, cautionary tales of what happens when the phrase “everything in moderation” is ignored. Some people forgo sleep, eating, job performance, and relationships with friends and family simply to play the game.
“MMORPGs employ well-known behavioral conditioning principles from psychology that reinforce repetitive actions through an elaborate system of scheduled rewards. In effect, the game rewards players to perform increasingly tedious tasks and seduces the player to “play” industriously. These environments also encourage making friends or joining guilds that then become sources of social obligations,” said Nick Yee, creator of the Daedalus Project, which focuses around the real-life effects of MMO gaming using social science, data science, and psychology.
Despite the stigma that MMOs carry, some people see it as a positive force in their life. With the social obligations of MMO (massively multiplayer online) games and needing other players to advance in the game, one cannot ignore that MMOs require not only the competency needed to play the game, but also the social competency needed to work well with others and communicate with them to achieve a shared goal.
Some people have gone as far as to include the game on their professional resumes. Many employers who are not in the gaming industry might see this as a giant red flag, but Stephen Gillett has used it to become not only the chief information officer (CIO) of Starbucks, but also the chief operating officer (COO) of Symantec.
The most successful guilds in MMOs such as World of Warcraft have a structure similar to that of many corporations – a guild master, officers, and then players themselves. Some guilds focus on player vs. environment (PvE) content, while others focus on beating other players, or player vs. player (PvP) content, both of which require teamwork and clear communication between players to succeed. Officers in guilds are often in charge of one aspect of the guild – there might be an officer for recruiting, an officer in charge of managing the guild bank, an officer in charge of PvE or PvP content. This might also serve as an opportunity for officers and guild leaders to demonstrate leadership – or for team members, show that they can operate well in a structured environment.
One group that MMOs can benefit are people with autism. MMOs can serve as a sandbox environment to prepare for traditional employment because guilds are structured similarly to corporations, and those with autism can use the environment to practice social skills. According to Autism Speaks, an autism awareness nonprofit group, autism treatment can cost between $1.4 to $2.4 million a year. Being active in an MMO could help those with autism gain the skills needed for employment, thus mitigating the cost of autism treatment and allowing those with autism to live independent lives. It has even benefitted people as young as eight years old.
MMOs should not be defined by negative events that might have arose due to factors that have nothing to do with MMOs, such as addiction, but rather a structured environment in which one can demonstrate skills that can be applied to the real world.