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Role Playing (Games) Games

Online "Guilds" Mirror Real Life Gangs 160

j-beda writes "In June 2009, Dr. Neil Johnson published a paper titled 'Human group formation in online guilds and offline gangs driven by a common team dynamic' in Physical Review E that found the way in which WoW 'guilds' form can be described by a mathematical model that can also be applied to an unrelated group of people: street gangs in Los Angeles. Since 'Any group that satisfies these fairly autonomous, competitive criteria would also (fit the model),' said Dr. Johnson, the findings are of interest to those combating international as well as local terrorist cells."
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Online "Guilds" Mirror Real Life Gangs

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  • LFG... (Score:5, Funny)

    by MrRTFM ( 740877 ) * on Monday November 30, 2009 @10:19AM (#30269616) Journal
    Need crazy bomber - PST stats & achievement (no noobs)
    • is now recruiting lvl 80 Suicide Bombers and Highjackers PST with spec and stats.
      • Re:LFG... (Score:4, Insightful)

        by TheCarp ( 96830 ) <sjc@carpanet.PERIODnet minus punct> on Monday November 30, 2009 @11:49AM (#30270448) Homepage

        Don't waste your time man. Recruit lvl 80 Bomb makers and strategists, and lvl 1 suicide bombers.

        Suicide bombers never really make it to the high levels. Their characters are on a gimped build.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by VGPowerlord ( 621254 )

        <Axis of Anarchy> is now recruiting Level 85 Goblin Sappers!

        • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

          by Conchobair ( 1648793 )
          You are no match for <The Knights of Good>!

          After a thorough analyzation of your playing styles and personalities adjoined with data from my own personal unsystematic numeral initiator your odds of winning are 33.33% with the three repeating of course. In addition I just watched Season 3 of The Guild.
          • In addition I just watched Season 3 of The Guild.

            I just watched the season finale last night. :D

            I just assumed that the Axis of Anarchy would be Horde if they were playing WoW... rather than the generic MMO they play (although the characters are suspiciously like WoW characters)

            • Well, they had a The Guild panel at Blizzcon this year...I think it's just a matter of formality that they aren't using the "World of Warcraft" name.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by sorak ( 246725 )

      Too bad terrorist organizations aren't modelled after businesses:

      Suicide Bomber (Entry Level)
      Are you a people-oriented go-getter with a strong desire to work the competitive field of non-recurring thermal politics? Do you look at fireworks and think "That'll change people's minds"? If so, Al-Qaeda may be the place for you.

      Benefits include:
      72 virgins
      Competitive pay

      Master's Degree in hyperballistics
      three years experi

  • Wow... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @10:25AM (#30269650) Journal
    Did somebody just rediscover the fact that humans have been forming little social groups, sometimes partially or wholly kin-based, other times simply social, for most of their evolutionary history?

    This isn't a "Oh, look at those gamers and gangsters and terrorists, how exotic" thing. This is how humans have operated(and to a large extent continue to operate) until the very recent rise in formalized mechanisms of social organization(and even these tend to be infested by little social cliques of various sorts, if you scratch the surface).
    • Re:Wow... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by thesandtiger ( 819476 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @11:00AM (#30269974)

      Did you miss the part about how there's a model for the interaction, and that model is valid for both groups (gangs and WoW guilds)?

      While this is nowhere near the same in impact as Newton's work, your comment would be akin to someone saying, "Duh, dumbass, we already KNEW things would fall if you drop them!"

      In other words, you seem to have missed the whole point - this is about a possible verification of a model for human group dynamics, not about the existence of group dynamics. There is a difference, rather a large one.

      • It's very easy to build a "model" for something. You just abstract everything until it is meaningless.

        Since this article is locked behind a pay site, it's going to be difficult to evaluate it at the moment.

        From TFA:

        Despite the difference in demographics in both cases, social groups still tend to form around individuals who are able to add complementary skills to the collective.

        The researchers devised a mathematical model to describe the formation of these social groups.

        This model can also be used to analyse

      • The claim still sounds suspect, though.

        E.g., while the PR stunt... err... I mean press release mentions guilds and gangs, the way I read it that's _all_ the data they had. They _only_ studied WoW guilds and gangs, they have no other data about any other group. For all we know, it might be how all human groups work.

        Especially in their light of claiming that it's specifically about competitive groups: "[i]He defines competitive groups as organisations that have features like a need to protect themselves from

        • I don't disagree with you about the politicking/showmanship going on, except perhaps in scale.

          The clandestine issue - actually, any guild that is trying out a new strategy/trying to come up with something first does go about it clandestinely at first because they don't want to help other guilds by giving them ideas. An acquaintance of mine who was in one of the top WoW guilds shared with me some of the absurd levels of paranoia about strategies that his guild was using and the dire threats given to members

          • Yes, but that's the whole point: not all guilds are like that. A top level raiding guild, maybe. A social guild who doesn't even care about raiding, I can tell you first hand that there is no paranoia and nothing to hide. And even among the raiding guilds, some did post youtube videos of how to beat some new boss within 24h of its being added to the game. Even if _some_ would maybe fit his idea of secretive group trying to not get caught, painting all guilds with that brush is silly.

            If he found a common beh

      • by AK Marc ( 707885 )
        Did you miss the part about how there's a model for the interaction, and that model is valid for both groups (gangs and WoW guilds)?

        The implication is that it works for WoW guilds and gangs. But it doesn't say anything about the generalization of that model. What about college study groups? And is there some of it in groups that can semi-self select, like dorm mates (you can move out, or request roomates). Or companies, do bosses hire good underlings that make it into a gang-like organization? Frater
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          Are church congregations usually engaging in clandestine competitive activities?

          I think you're trying to push this model past the intent and scope. I didn't get the idea that this is supposed to be some grand unifying theory of group dynamics that can apply to ANY kind of grouping of human beings, but rather that it was being used to explore groups of a fairly specific type.

          Don't get me wrong - I absolutely don't think this is epochal in impact on the field or, likely, all that important actually; people pu

    • fuzzyfuzzyfungus: Did somebody just rediscover the fact that humans have been forming little social groups, sometimes partially or wholly kin-based, other times simply social, for most of their evolutionary history?

      No, it's been observed that people have been gathering this way for a very long time. However, there's this field of study called "sociology" which aims to figure out what makes these groups come together or fight. And your comment got me wondering just how old the field of sociology really is.


    • It's not even that. It's 'this game-theory based model is applicable to multiple cases of human interaction'. Just like, for example, every other game-theory based model.
  • by T Murphy ( 1054674 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @10:25AM (#30269654) Journal

    the findings are of interest to [those] combating international as well as local terrorist cells

    Who cares about Iraq when I can help fight the terrorists by playing WoW all day.

    • You're probably doing more to fight Terrorism by playing WoW than being in the Middle East giving Terrorist Recruiters a reason to recruit.
      • by EQ ( 28372 )

        You're probably doing more to fight Terrorism by playing WoW than being in the Middle East giving Terrorist Recruiters a reason to recruit.

        Seems they were recruiting quite well long before US troops showed up. Hatred is hatred and needs no rational reason.

        • Sure, it doesn't need a rational reason. But why give them one? Giving them one helps validate thier position.
  • I've always maintained that my fascination with the Bloods and my hatred for the color BLU was driven by the combat training I received playing Team Fortress 2. Although I'm too chicken shit to join a real gang, I wonder if I can sue for punitive character damages...
  • Not just gangs (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jaggeh ( 1485669 )

    Different games can generate different models

    Eve Online uses a company stucture for its guilds/clans etc

    However i dont think all guilds/clans/corps will evolve the same way, thats more down to the players involved and who has their hand on the collective rudder.

  • by Lord Byron II ( 671689 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @10:28AM (#30269688)

    Oh well, its still better than attacking Iraq when bin Laden is in Pakistan.

  • by Nautical Insanity ( 1190003 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @10:29AM (#30269694)

    you're a goonswarm all the way, from your first corp-owned corvette to your last dying day!

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Monday November 30, 2009 @10:29AM (#30269704)
    First of all, the abstract acknowledges that guilds are quite UNLIKE gangs in many important respects. They are much more varied in "backgrounds, age groups, and genders" than real gangs and they are rarely based on "like-seeking" (kinship).

    Secondly, there are *many* more offline groups that are more closely related to street gangs in structure and practices than guilds, and no one seems too alarmist about that. Odds are your local church, your business, your college fraternity, even many of your local civic organizations have initiations/hazing/etc. that more closely resemble that of gangs than any guild I've ever been part of. And those are *certainly* more homogeneous in "backgrounds, age groups, and genders" (like most street gangs) than any WoW guild.

    In other words, guilds bear a pretty piss-poor correlation to street gangs, compared to just about any small real-world organization. I suspect the authors were either reaching here or were so hopped up on the idea of studying online guilds that they lost their way (the famous line from PCU [] comes to mind "You can write your thesis on Gameboy if you can bullshit well enough."). And does anyone else find it academically strange that this came from a bunch of grad students in Physics?!?!?

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus ( 1223518 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @10:39AM (#30269788) Journal
      About the students in Physics bit: The results are often somewhat unfortunate; but there is an entire genre of papers, across a variety of subjects, generated by physicists' belief that, as long as they can develop a mathematical model, they can write on just about anything. There is a similar behavior in economists, who figure that, if they can assign dollar values to the major variables, they are on safe ground.

      Sometimes the results are genuinely interesting, or even downright superior, if the area has been bogged down in excessive qualitative handwaving. Other times, you get breathtaking exercises in over-reduction, ignorant of a variety of messy details that have been common knowledge, among people who actually study the subject, for decades.
      • Being a physicist by education (and to some extent professionally) I could not agree more. I have to admit that some of my papers fall into that category as well with all due respect to my coauthors.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by RockoTDF ( 1042780 )
          In that case, could you explain to me why this happens? (at least in physics). Is it a lack of funding for "real" experiments, getting bored with particles and phase transitions, pursuing their own interests, or what? Also, do you know how articles like this fit into the tenure game? It doesn't bother me so much when physicists get into life science problems (lets be honest, biology is getting more quantitative). However, as a cognitive/neural scientist grad student, it drives me nuts when I read paper
      • Thomas Nagel [] famously argued against the reductionist approach of physics and other "hard science" disciplines in his paper "What is it like to be a bat? []". A rough summary of the paper is that he thinks science may be able to tell us how something works, like the echolocation abilities of a bat, but it's much harder to give an account for how it's like to actually experience something, like what echolocation actually feels like.

        This is all by way of saying that you're spot on. Reductionist approaches are p

        • This is not to say that reductionism is necessarily wrong - it could be the case that if we know everything physical about the world, we will know everything about the world - but it seems less and less likely to those who are not in the "hard sciences".

          I think of the issue as: reductionism is right, but useless. Unless we can combine the countless calculations that describe the basic physical properties of some system with enough accuracy and detail to model its emergent behavior, then we cannot develop an improved understanding of that system through reductionist means. (Which incidentally is why strong AI is never going to happen.)

          Or, a Monet is just a bunch of dried oily goo on some canvas, but it's much more productive to understand it by looking at

        • by wisty ( 1335733 )

          The word "problematic" makes me see red, for some reason. To me, it's just a post-modernese code word for "double-plus ungood", but it sounds more balanced and rational to the lay reader.

          While I'll agree with your stance that "reductionism" is not the solution to everything, I'd disagree that it's becoming "less an less likely". Recent advances in neural imaging have drawn neurology and psychology a lot closer together, rather than farther apart.

          The point of quantification is not necessarily reductionism. I

          • I think you missed his point. Neurology and Psychology may be drawn closer together by a better understanding of the physical workings of the brain, but in no way, shape, or form has Neurology helped a Psychologist understand what a person with a particular brain malfunction actually feels.

            That's the point he was trying to make, I think. While certain aspects of the fields which DO overlap become more meshed together, it's becoming clearer that Neurology will never take the place of Psychology, or vice ve

        • Err...psychology and neuroscience are not distinct. In fact, I'm currently in a program (one of *many*) that combines them both. The role of psychology is not to explain what it feels like to experience something or to be conscious of it. You are right in saying that endless reductionism will struggle to explain that. However, any respectable psychologist/neuroscientist knows that you won't be able to explain what colorblindness feels like from looking at an MRI scan or comparing results on a color disc
          • However, any respectable psychologist/neuroscientist knows that you won't be able to explain what colorblindness feels like from looking at an MRI scan or comparing results on a color discrimination task.

            A grad student physicist, however, will not (well, a reasonable one might).

            That's the point.

        • by Acer500 ( 846698 )
          Thanks for the links, it's something we've argued with some friends some times, it's nice to have some actual papers on the subject :)
      • I think you're totally off-base in your analysis. You forgot to take the square root of the hand-waving coefficient.

      • Hence the Spherical Cow :) []

        Physicists are an amusing group of people. More fun than mathematicians, less useful than engineers. They are the "magic" between the concept of the wheel and the implementation of a steel-belted radial.

      • by db32 ( 862117 )
        I should point out that economists have squat to do with assigning dollar values. Economics is ultimately a study of decision making based on scarcity. If anything it is a field of study that seeks to represent human behavior and decision making using math and graphs.

        For all of the intellectual superiority that comes out of slashdot there is a stunning lack of understanding of what economics is and how it works.
    • Secondly, there are *many* more offline groups that are more closely related to street gangs in structure and practices than guilds, and no one seems too alarmist about that.

      Huh, I didn't get a real feeling of alarmist views from this article but I could not get access to the paper. Was there something in there calling out for the dissolution of such WoW guilds because they resemble gangs/terrorists? I thought the point was that they could better study and predict gangs and terrorist organizations by looking at the formation, nature and qualities of online guilds? If that's so, maybe this isn't such a bad research area and maybe Blizzard and the like should open up certain s

      • by Xacid ( 560407 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @10:56AM (#30269934) Journal
        One use I could perhaps see what they'd could use this research for is to justify offering something of either deterrence or rehabilitation through the use of guilds. Give guys who feel a need to belong and a need to whack shit with a weapon and you could *maybe* have something of a replacement with something like WoW. Hey, it's a stretch, but it's all I got. Worth noting: I have a little brother who seems to not mind the juvenile justice system all that much and is a relatively frequent visitor - however, once I got him into gaming and into things like Tribes, Priston Tale, and whatnot where clans/guilds existed his desire to go outside and henceforth get into trouble dropped significantly. Granted, it's just a patch for other socio/economic issues, but it could still have a somewhat positive effect. I'd much rather lazy gamers than violent gang members.
        • by Taevin ( 850923 )
          The only thing this study is likely to be used for outside of the realm of research is a talking point for some conservative radio or television show.

          Up next: We've talked about it before, about how these online games can lead to social probelms, and now a new study shows that people playing online games often form groups that resemble *violent gangs*. We'll talk with our experts to learn how this might be affecting your children. More after the break.

    • The authors are interested in the underlying social mechanism [] that drives group formation.
      They compare two competing theories -- homophily or that like attracts like, and a theory that group formation is driven by a search for compliments -- and conclude that the latter drives group formation in *both* gangs and guilds.
      From the article:

      Specifically, we used detailed empirical data sets to show that the observed dynamics in two very distinct forms of human activity—one offline activity which is widely considered as a public threat and one online activity which is by contrast considered as relatively harmless—can be reproduced using the same, simple model of individuals seeking groups with complementary attributes; i.e., they want to form a team as opposed to seeking groups with similar attributes homophilic kinship. Just as different ethnicities may have different types of gangs in the same city in terms of their number, size, and stability, the same holds for the different computer servers on which online players play a given game.

    • I didn't even read the TFA, but there might be even something intresting in it.

      If you can find something predictable in the behaviour in social groups that far apart as Guilds and Gangs, you might be up to something fundamental, that might allow to predict the behaviour of groups that are less well studied.

    • by radtea ( 464814 )

      In other words, guilds bear a pretty piss-poor correlation to street gangs, compared to just about any small real-world organization.

      This is actually a plus: they have found a single, rather simple, underlying mathematical model that can be used to account for the formation dynamics of two quite different types of human group, and the model is not a simple "like-seeks-like" idea, but rather a "team formation" thing that includes the value of diversity of skills amongst group members.

      I agree that this is an

    • Whether or not physicists will come to valid scientific or academic conclusions on soft arts (sociology, psychology), or whether the conclusions of this study are valid, at least one of the authors is recognizable as someone with quite a bit of credibility in a nascent field. He is a contributing author at [] where many Virtual academics reside (e.g., Edward Castranova and Richard Bartle, who are contributing to legal and sociological aspects of Virtual Worlds) and he created and ma
    • One thing that is similar - some guilds (especially hard core ones) its not uncommon for members to have your contact info. Once in - its hard to step away without someone calling you and asking where you've been. You don't leave on vacation without telling them for instance.

    • "In other words, guilds bear a pretty piss-poor correlation to street gangs, compared to just about any small real-world organization."

      You would have to compare street gangs to "Hard Core" guilds. They are comparing one standard deviation to the entire bell curve.

    • by D Ninja ( 825055 )

      Odds are your local church...organizations have initiations/hazing/etc.

      Church Member #1: Do it. I dare ya.
      Initiate: Do you know what'll happen to me?!
      CM #2: Don't be a wuss. We all had to do it. We're okay.
      Initiate: No, seriously guys. I can't. Have you seen what happened in the movie...
      CM #1: Indiana Jones isn't real. Now...just drink the holy water. DO IT!

  • gangstas (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Anyone who plays WoW is a gansta anyway.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Leeeeeeeroooooooy Jjjjenkins!

      So do think that real life 'ganstas' have nerds that compute the "percentage of survival" if they do a drive by shooting?

      "Uhhhhh yeah, gimme a sec...I'm coming up with 32.33 uh repeating of course"

      • by TheCarp ( 96830 )

        Man, if your IN THE CAR on a drive by and your chance of survival is only 32.33.... um... WTF?

        Does your driver suck that bad? Are you trying to pull a drive by at the front gates of a military base?

        I would think that you would be much closer to 95%

  • Teams as well (Score:4, Interesting)

    by T.E.D. ( 34228 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @10:34AM (#30269754)
    The relation I've noticed (being a soccer player) is with soccer teams. I've seen the exact same cycles of drama and team splits. Its just like an online guild, but in slow motion (as they don't spend as much time together in a week).
  • Am I the only one trying to imagine what it would be like if the Fancy Lads started beef with the Crips?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Grygus ( 1143095 )
      Short fight; the Crips are fantastic DPS but have terrible healers.
    • >if the Fancy Lads started beef with the Crips?
      OK, I really need to re-educate my taste buds. I read that as something to do with lard and chips (French Fries) and my first thought was 'Mmmm... chips....'
  • Really. I tried it again after a year off, and yeah, the graphics are great and play on ANYTHING these days, however it just doesn't have the same hold as it used to. I'm playing Eve now, and yeah, it's grindy (all grinding, really) but it seems a bit more "adult" - maybe that's just it. The trial for EQ2 is going well, and that even seems a bit more adult, too.

    Gangs are gangs. I've never done well in raid situations as I tend to get toned out (firefighter) for calls when we're about to enter the instan

    • I've just gotten into it, after resisting for years, and honestly the most fun I'm having is playing at the auction house. I've only been playing WoW for a month or so, but in the last week or so I've learned how to work it and earned over 200 gold with a lvl 11 character.

      Were I on a medium or heavily populated server I'd have made 2-3 times that much by now, it's great fun. I'm sure I'll get tired of it when I have thousands of gold and nothing to spend it on (due to low level chars), but till then I'm h

      • I used to play WOW but the whining, the city chat, trying to find people for pickup groups or to fill a slot (b/c a handful of very large guilds had all the decent players), people signing up for raids and then not showing up (or showing up and leaving after half an hour), people using modems (can you believe it?), people unwilling to use Vent, etc etc was too much. I poured a lot of effort into trying to sustain a doomed guild at the end.

        But, on a brighter topic, on sufficiently unbalanced servers and eno
  • So, you're saying that the group of people I am working with on this data-warehousing project are also a "guild-like" (and therefore "gang-like") group?

    And no, I didn't rtfa because it already sounds sensationalistic... and also because I don't feel the urge to pay to read the PDF.

  • I have to give a presentation on a mathematical model today, and I am just now hearing about this; does anyone have a link to a paper they wrote or more information?

    I googled it while previewing my comment and found a pdf presentation: []

  • by chabotc ( 22496 )

    So does that mean that because I was a guild leader of a high profile WoW guild, I would also be qualified to lead an LA gang?

    Sure does open a whole new set of career oppertunities

    • I wouldn't be surprised if that were true. You ultimately have to babysit a large number of people, all with conflicting schedules and goals (ever had more than 2 ppl need an item from a run?) and somehow organize them to work together at least part of the time. I would also expect this same skill would work well when herding cats.
  • Whoops - should have linked to the paper at []

  • by Onymous Coward ( 97719 ) on Monday November 30, 2009 @11:28AM (#30270248) Homepage

    You might be interested: Robber's Cave Experiment []

    Another (not a scientific) study: The Third Wave []

  • a story that requires a login to download the PDF.

    Provide a link to the file that works please

  • WoW players in US cyberspace - over 76,000 were studied from June to December 2005 - are evenly divided between men and women, aged between five and 95...

    1 - Develop MMOG
    2 - Get people to pay for playing and buying pixel-made goods with real money
    3 - Sell user behavior data to whoever wants to pay you an extra
    4 - Profit++

  • Groups of people (Score:2, Interesting)

    by heidaro ( 1392977 )
    I find that WoW guilds often resemble political parties. They have drama, scandals, split ups and disbands, just like in politics. Then again, it's a group of people, and a group of people is a group of people, regardless of location.
  • That's funny, because Freakanomics [] tells us that large gangs tend to act like corporations...

    And so what we find when we look carefully is that the gang organization looks a whole lot like a typical corporate structure, a lot like McDonald's in some sense. And so just like McDonald's, it turns out there's a handful of guys at the top who are very successful who run the gang, who are bringing home, you know, mid to high six-figure salaries, but the 90 percent of the guys who are working in the gang are the young kids who are selling drugs on the street corner that it turns out they're getting paid roughly minimum wage for standing on the street corner and selling the drugs. -- Steven Levitt, NPR Interview []

    I think EVE Online bears this out, how a loosely coupled group of independent yet incentivised players can collectively make a place for themselves in a larger social space. Those larger groups then snap at each other for domination, and it's all the same "game" be it in virtual worlds, social worlds, or economic worlds.

    • by PPH ( 736903 )

      That's funny, because Freakanomics tells us that large gangs tend to act like corporations...

      Which is interesting because large corporations are in turn populated by multiple competing groups with characteristics similar to those of street gangs. They might not actually shoot each other, but the turf wars can get pretty serious.

  • Yo yo! U shoulda seen that lich mutha****a go down. I busted out my +5 holy burst repeating crossbow gat and put a S in his chest so hard his momma felt it. Me an' my homies is some bad mutha****as, terrorizin tha' Menechtarun hood.

  • You can't join a street gang from your mom's basement.
  • ...that the same parallels can be drawn between gangs and college fraternities. But of course, it's only proper do to it with gamers' guilds, 'cause games are the evulz.

Never buy from a rich salesman. -- Goldenstern