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Study of MMOG Proves Human Interaction Theory 119

Posted by kdawson
from the real-science-in-a-made-up-world dept.
An anonymous reader writes "A new study analyzing interactions among 300,000+ players in an online game universe, called Pardus, has for the first time provided large-scale evidence to prove an 80-year-old psychological theory called Structural Balance Theory. The research, published in PNAS, shows that individuals tend to avoid stress-causing relationships when they develop a society, resulting in more stable social networks."
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Study of MMOG Proves Human Interaction Theory

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  • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Monday July 26, 2010 @01:08AM (#33026244)

    I'd describe it more as a "social group" and then it is obvious that, given the option, people will gravitate towards groups that cause them the least social stress / most social support.

  • The study (Score:5, Informative)

    by cappp (1822388) on Monday July 26, 2010 @01:16AM (#33026300)
    For those wanting to read the complete study you can get it here [pnas.org]
  • Bias (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ceraphis (1611217) on Monday July 26, 2010 @01:18AM (#33026310)
    Aren't the statistics inherently biased by being comprised of people who would be inclined to play an MMO? Just off the top of my head, maybe people could be gravitating away from stressful relationships in an MMO because they have so many stressful relationships in real life that they could be trying to "escape from" by creating an online persona.
    • Of course (Score:5, Insightful)

      by wanax (46819) on Monday July 26, 2010 @02:08AM (#33026478)

      Yes, they are 'biased' in the sense that they ask a 'within population' rather than 'whole population' question. There seems to be this idea percolating around /. that 'perfect studies' are possible (demanding TOTAL explanation of the variance). They are not. This study, analyzes the sample: Players of the game "Pardus" on "Artemis" who have interacted with at least one other player during the first 445 days of the game's existence. They make no claim about the general population, but merely remark upon the social interactions measurable within the population of their data set. The specious speculation you provide is outside of the purview of the study.

      • Re:Of course (Score:5, Informative)

        by LordLucless (582312) on Monday July 26, 2010 @03:04AM (#33026692)

        Nobody expects a study to be perfect. They do expect, that, if general conclusions are being drawn, some effort has gone into trying to create a representative population.

        The Slashdot crowd is generally anlytical, and critical. Give them a conclusion, and they will try to falsify it, not because they delight in tearing things down, but because that's the only way to test its robustness.

        • Re:Of course (Score:5, Informative)

          by wanax (46819) on Monday July 26, 2010 @03:27AM (#33026804)

          Where are the "general" conclusions mentioned? One great thing about PNAS is that it's free, so no issues with the pdf (which hasn't stopped strange speculation).

          The study makes limited claims which are consistent with the experimental approach, which is "within population."

          • All throughout the summary. This is Slashdot. While there may be an actual article link in the summary, what we're generally discussing is the summary itself. The summary makes a whole lot of general claims, which Ceraphis was debunking.

        • by Kjella (173770)

          I don't know if this logical fallacy has been named, but a common way of being unscientific without dismissing science - even taking on the mantle of protecting science - is that all the science I agree with is right, and all the science I disagree with is flawed. Greatly exaggerating the flaws is a very common way of dismissing evidence contradicting your beliefs and opinions, and slashdot is not an exception...

        • The Slashdot crowd is generally anlytical, and critical.

          Somewhat. They're also [in]famous for not actually reading the article or study. And for acting as though they (without any experience) have found problems that scientists/engineers (with experience) hadn't thought of (but did if you read the article/study). Etc... etc...

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Renraku (518261)

      It still holds a lot of wisdom for social science in general. For example, you might have to interact with people that stress you (in laws, bosses, etc) in real life, but just as 'vacation' usually entails getting away from all of them, it says that people would love to be away from people that constantly stress them, at least while they're trying to relax.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by dbIII (701233)

      Aren't the statistics inherently biased by being comprised of people who would be inclined to play an MMO?

      It's pretty well mainstream to the point that I was treated as a weirdo in World of Warcraft when I mentioned I'd played AD&D. Quite surreal since it's inspired by it and similar roleplaying game.

  • by tsa (15680)

    It's nice that the obvious is sometimes confirmed by science.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by mwvdlee (775178)

      It's obvious that the earth is flat -- how else would we stay on it? -- but science seems to deny that.

  • PNAS (Score:5, Funny)

    by Beardydog (716221) on Monday July 26, 2010 @01:21AM (#33026332)
    I can only pronounce it one way.
  • And i seem to recall most people absolutely loving drama and being controlled by irrational desires. This sounds stressful to me.
    • by Luckyo (1726890) on Monday July 26, 2010 @01:30AM (#33026362)

      It's not really. The only one stressed by drama is usually the person with responsibility to hold stuff together, i.e. guild master, raid leader. The participants themselves are usually venting, and letting out steam.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Kitkoan (1719118)

      And i seem to recall most people absolutely loving drama and being controlled by irrational desires. This sounds stressful to me.

      Sounds like you spent too much time in Barrens chat...

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by troc (3606)

        aaah, maybe you can tell me where Mankrik's wife is?

        I tried asking Chuck Norris but he just killed me with a tray.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ultranova (717540)

      And i seem to recall most people absolutely loving drama and being controlled by irrational desires.

      Desires can never be irrational, for irrationality simply means that you're behaving in a way that is unlikely - as far as you know - to get you what you want. Alternatively, one could say that playing WoW at all is irrational, since it is unlikely to advance any of your real-life goals, and actually sucks up resources. For the same reason, however, no behavior in-game is likely to be irrational; after all,

  • by NPerez (930539) on Monday July 26, 2010 @01:35AM (#33026378)
    I scanned through it quickly & my understanding is that this is more specifically studying the avoidance of friendships with friends of enemies. That's a little more complicated & interesting than simply 'avoiding stressful relationships'. It is a little obvious, but it says a lot about the formation of social groups & how they become divided.
  • by macraig (621737) <mark.a.craigNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Monday July 26, 2010 @01:38AM (#33026396)

    Birds of a feather flock together.

    This study no more proves the theory than the decades or hundreds of years of observation that led to the coining of that cliche. I'm glad MY tax dollars weren't wasted on this... I attached a note to the IRS asking them not to put it in that kitty, and I'm sure they heeded my request.

    • by compro01 (777531)

      And I can list other similarly long lived simple cliches that have been found to be completely false.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by macraig (621737)

        I can list scientific Theories that have been proven false; what's your point, exactly? If a cliche was based on empirical evidence and so are scientific theories and laws, what exactly makes them so very different? Do the people involved have to be wearing white lab coats and be government funded before their conclusions are legitimate?

        Go smack yourself with your CRC Handbook.

        • by compro01 (777531)

          My point is that is why studies are required and done. How do you know the cliche is actually based on (correctly interpreted) empirical evidence and isn't incorrect?

          I don't care about white coats or funding (barring bias), but on methodology. The cliche has no known methodology for how it was deduced and thus is suspect.

    • by navyjeff (900138)

      Opposites attract.

      We can do this all day long, but it won't get us any closer to the truth, scientifically. Science depends on empirical evidence to form theories, not just generalized and often conflicting aphorisms.

    • I attached a note to the IRS asking them not to put it in that kitty

      I think the IRS loves kitty way too much:

      http://news.cnet.com/8301-10784_3-6104259-7.html [cnet.com]

  • Title Proves a misunderstanding of scientific method.

    • News flash for kdawson: in science (not counting math), positives cannot be proven. Evidence for them can be provided, they can be "illustrated", "supported",... but not proven, only disproven. That's why even the most respected "laws of physics" formally have the status of "theory" (Note the difference between "theory" and "hypothesis" here: a hypothesis becomes a theory after it has been extensively tested and widely accepted by the scientific community.)

      It is ironic that a majority of science stories on

  • by goodmanj (234846) on Monday July 26, 2010 @02:05AM (#33026468)

    Setting the study results aside, I'm dubious at the idea that avoiding stress at the interpersonal level results in a more stable social network. I'd argue that it simply pushes the conflict up the social scale, making large-scale conflict more likely.

    For instance, suppose I'm a liberal Democrat. I find it stressful to live in areas where I'm surrounded by conservative Republicans, so I tend to live in neighborhoods full of like-minded people. If everyone behaves this way, eventually the country polarizes into homogeneous districts, and I never have to get into lengthy bitter arguments about abortion or global warming or whatever.

    Is this a recipe for a stable social network? No, it's a recipe for civil war!

    We can take a useful analogy from materials science. Small-scale stress in materials is relieved by the formation of microfractures. These cracks tend to propagate, relieving more and more stress on the small scale, but eventually leading to total large-scale failure of the material. In contrast, if we heat the material up, forcing the molecules to interact with one another to recrystallize and eliminate small-scale dislocations, the material as a whole becomes annealed, and tends to bend rather than break.

    • When the country polarises in such an extent, perhaps it's time two new countries are formed consisting of the polarised groups.
      Oh wait, I forgot your constitution precludes that...
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Luckyo (1726890)

        This isn't an issue of something written on paper. The problem is that despite polarisation, these two faction would be living all across the country side by side. Geographical division is impossible in those circumstances, hence it results in civil war where sides battle for supremacy. In the end, it may end with victory of one side and unification (i.e. US, Russia), or it can end up in two-sided ethnic cleansing and division into two countries (i.e. Cyprus).

        • Regarding the American Civil War, IIRC there were two groups of states (North & South) battling it out with the original reason being slavery abolishment. Couldn't they have divided into two federations?

          In Russia's case I'm not sure what you're referring to; the Czars had already "unified" it long before.

          As for Cyprus, Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots had very friendly relations after the country was formed. There had been some cases of hostility between individuals in some cases (which I think w

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by Luckyo (1726890)

            US: there were plenty of supporters of southern regime in the north and vice versa. These were suppressed, often violently, especially in the south.

            Russia: White vs Red civil war that started in 1917. It was the pinnacle of WW1 in many regards, as it forced GB and France to adapt as Russia pulled out of war, and it was one of the nastiest civil wars in the world - we're looking at huge death toll and classic "brother vs brother" action where even families would end up split and go against each other. This w

      • by goodmanj (234846) on Monday July 26, 2010 @03:26AM (#33026800)

        When the country polarises in such an extent, perhaps it's time two new countries are formed consisting of the polarised groups.

        You're just passing the problem one more step up the social ladder. You've averted a civil war, but created two hostile countries with nothing in common but resource conflicts and a huge hostile border, setting yourself up for a possible continental-scale international war. It's an India/Pakistan situation, but with more nukes.

        Learning to deal with people you disagree with one-on-one rather than avoiding them really is the best option.

        • by Caerdwyn (829058)

          It's worse than that. If you split a country, some people won't want to move to "their side". You end up with ethnic cleansing, and legitimate causes for the two halves to go to war with each other (if the minority that didn't move are mistreated... as they always are... the majority in the other country will feel fully justified in rolling the tanks and brutalizing the minority). Even among those who do choose to move, the resentment will be deep and last for centuries.

          Drawing lines and saying "you lot mu

        • Learning to deal with people you disagree with one-on-one rather than avoiding them really is the best option.

          Sure, I'd agree with that in most cases. The problem exists when one side is willing to compromise, but the other is not. Nothing short of complete acquiesence will suit some people, and no amount of tolerance, rationality or charisma will change that. Enduring a relationship like that is to be avoided if at all possible, as it will have harmful long-term effects. Surprisingly, my anecdotal evidence suggests that both cyber- and meatspace have about the same proportion of complete asshats. At least you can

      • by nedlohs (1335013)

        Yes because country v country wars are much better than civil wars.

        And the constitution is irrelevant since almost the entire problem goes away if it was followed in the first place. It reserves an amazing amount of power for the States, which has been gobbled up by the Federal Government.

        If the Federal Government would stop expanding and let the States do what they want with respect to pollution, carbon taxes, abortion, etc, etc. Then the conflict would be reduced.

        The pro-abortion folk can move to states i

        • by boxwood (1742976)

          What happens when one state works really hard an eliminates all pollution only to have all the neighboring state's pollution blow over onto them?

    • Or perhaps we should just accept our limitations as a human race. We started out as hunter-gatherers and quickly learned that by working together, we as a whole can accomplish far more than the sum of its people. Unfortunately, there are limitations as to how well social interaction scales. Eventually, we start to segment each other into groups. It's not because we actively seek it, but because it's a path of least resistance when running up against this social barrier of expandability. Take for example th

    • by tehcyder (746570)

      For instance, suppose I'm a liberal Democrat. I find it stressful to live in areas where I'm surrounded by conservative Republicans, so I tend to live in neighborhoods full of like-minded people. If everyone behaves this way, eventually the country polarizes into homogeneous districts, and I never have to get into lengthy bitter arguments about abortion or global warming or whatever.

      Bad example, most people don't care what their neighbours believe (within reason - I don't suppose a Jewish family would mo

    • by Rogerborg (306625)
      Pfft, why go to all the bother cross the tracks to kick off the civil war, when you can fall out with your neighbor from the comfort of your own back yard?

      Credit to Emo Phillips [guardian.co.uk]:

      Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"

      He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What franchise?" He s

    • by QuantumG (50515) *

      In regards to polarization..

      But any rational observer has to see that the Left and Right in America are screaming the most vile accusations at each other all the time. We are fully polarized -- if you accept one idea that sounds like it belongs to either the blue or the red, you are assumed -- nay, required -- to espouse the entire rest of the package, even though there is no reason why supporting the war against terrorism should imply you're in favor of banning all abortions and against restricting the ava

    • But as we know there are undecided people, there are some which dislike both reps and dems, and thee are people which find good stuff in both. Those people will be the glue between those polarized zone. It takes much more than what you cited to have a civil war.
      • by goodmanj (234846)

        Yes, but your society-saving moderates are a *product* of a mixed society. If you live in a homogenous world, going against the norm is much more difficult.

        Or to put it another way: you only get a Breakfast Club if you lock the jock, the nerd, the princess, the delinquent, and the freak in the library together. If they can hang out with their own cliques, they never change.

    • Actually, the root of the problem you are talking about ("liberal" Democrat vs "conservative" Republican...I am using the quotes because the terms are really less than ideal to sum up the differences) is that the disagreements have already been pushed too far up the social scale. That is, many of the problems are caused by making decisions at the state level that should be made at the local level and making decisions at the federal level that should be made at the state or local level. Both of your examples
    • by Reapy (688651)

      This study also makes true the statement that global peace lies in trade agreements. As per the study, people hardly ever take hostile actions after they have made a trade.

  • by pablo_max (626328) on Monday July 26, 2010 @02:22AM (#33026522)

    ..shows that individuals tend to avoid stress-causing relationships..

    You see, this is the real reason why slashdoters don't have wives and girl friends. It's natural to avoid stress causing relationships. :)

  • E Pluribus Echo
  • by the roAm (827323) on Monday July 26, 2010 @02:40AM (#33026600)

    4chan's existence completely invalidates this study.

  • Pardus! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by DragonDru (984185)
    Pardus is an entertaining game. One could play for long stretches avoiding most other players.
    If one joined a strong faction, one could stay within their territory, working for the "man" and have a good time. Unfortunately, it is a game with a limited number of "moves" per day.

    Anyone else get all excited to see games they used to play in scientific papers? If I had known I could have published on it, I would have played more during grad school.
  • MMOGs And Me (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Robotron23 (832528) on Monday July 26, 2010 @03:00AM (#33026674) Homepage

    I guess it began back in the Walmart when I was much younger...a sale was on: 'Hand-exercising kits' and weights of 0.5, 1, and 2.5 kilos were all extremely low priced as if Arnie Schwarz had had a yard sale in which Sam Walton's ghost had apparated and instantaniously snapped up most of the stuff. So I got back in my parent's Corolla with my thin, wimpy arms straining to carry roughly 15kg in squeezy torsion handles and weights. I wasn't unattractive, infact later in life I became pretty popular with the la...that's another story.

    It was around that time that a now-old MMOG was out - I remember sitting on the lawn listening to that cool English band Oasis on my Walkman with those raspily melodic vocals as electric in my ear canal when a large shape eclipsed the sunlight, causing me to instinctivly look up. It was Brandon, an extremely obese but affable and eccentric nerd who lived two doors down from us in our leafy suburban middle-class mediocrity-filled neighbourhood. 'Peter' he began, his face lighting up with a proud smile 'I have PK'ed eight people in Fel today and I plan on reaching a dozen by midnight...coffee permitting.'

    Back then I was naive to it all...it could have meant anything. Being a guy who didn't miss much Brendon cut off my predictable question with: "PK is player killing - you chase down some guy and ice him and then take all his stuff! I have 56k and they're all on 28.8k so the connection to the UO server is so, so much better dude. Evisceration with my indy/fort double axe!"

    I still didn't comprehend, but I knew it was a long haul explanatory time so my hand flicked instinctively to the Walkman, turning it off. It was then that Brandon and I went into his home, where his PC with its new fangled Pentium and Win 95 with Weezer playing Buddy Holly on the CD. That was special then...Buddy Holly; I could pull that up on youtube in seconds now, but seeing that cheesy vid was such a novelty then - yet I digress.

    I learnt UO, and fast became a PK master with Brandon and I training intensely - it was here that the weights and hand-exercise came in. For awhile my fitness in real life and my avatar UO life balanced out so well. My arms became more toned with time, and this actually helped with reflexes as I zipped around those pixelated trees on the Brit path hunting down people. It was merciless because you could destroy hours of work in a few swings of an axe plus deft lootage...yet bizarrely I felt no regret over it all. This academic theory has to be hopeless when it comes to UO; which was toned down bit by bit until people could stay in a 'safe' realm and a 'danger' realm where murder was possible. The nostalgia that haunted me for nearly a decade after I quit in late 1998 was the worst; you wanted to recapture these 'good old days', but it was just frigid within an hour of play when you tried to.

    Brandon went to some new-fangled MMOG called 'Everquest' - and I never saw him after that...except for one time in 2004 at a Taco Bell. He was at the counter anxiously enquiring about freezing the products - he sounded different, on edge, and I actually thought I heard him say he wanted 100 tacos and a burrito 'for the road'. Gone was his whimsy and charm and his breathing was heavier...I quietly slinked out of the place to avoid talking to him and soon after moved to Europe.

    I guess there's something spurious about taking an interaction study and using it with games where anonymity and cartoonish avatars are the 'interactable' things rather than flesh, flab, blood and bone humans. But when you think about it...the greatest 'interactors' in MMOGs can also be the poorest interactors in life. It's in life where you are a human not an avatar, so this theory is kind of stupid since I could go at pains to achieve 'human stress' that leads to community in a videogame...but be a complete flat-out stunted 'human' nowhere near the theory's assertions in life - I mean getting to the point where you live on welfare and try to get three full bags of Taco Bell? That is too far.

  • In other words: (Score:1, Redundant)

    by OnePumpChump (1560417)
    "E Pluribus Echo"
  • by pinkj (521155) on Monday July 26, 2010 @08:01AM (#33028054)
    This is a sociological theory.
  • So, as long as you're studying social interactions online, can you prove or disprove the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory [penny-arcade.com]?

  • avoiding stress might mean killing the source of stress, I think it is rather presumptive to say stable societies are the only possible result of stress avoidance.

  • As has been variously alluded to, a serious fly in the soup here is that the people playing a given MMO have self-selected for certain models of interaction. I suspect that if the same methodology were to be applied to data extracted from different MMOs the conclusions reached might well be different.

    What would EVE Online look like? (a hard-core, Ayn Rand gone wild take on open PVP in which material losses in combat can represent days to weeks of work)
    What would a PVP server on World of Warcraft look like

  • The trouble with many uses of MMORPGs to supply evidence for social science theories is that the MMORPGs are designed, manipulated, and controlled to conform to those theories. I get particularly tired of the crowing about MMORPGs demonstrating the validity of economic theories, when the developers regularly tweak the game world so that it will conform to their understanding of economics.

    Of course in MMORPGs people avoid social networks of enemies. This is encouraged by game design, when not outright mandat

  • If that's the secret of a stable society, it explains why we have so much trouble. The perfect stable society would be a group of atheists who practice free love. Only... what would they do about hormonal teen aged children?

"Go to Heaven for the climate, Hell for the company." -- Mark Twain

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