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World of Warcraft boosts users social skills: Swedish study

Rebecca Martin · 21 Apr 2011, 13:28

Published: 21 Apr 2011 13:28 GMT+02:00

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Ethnologist Peder Stenberg spent 250 days – the equivalent of three years full time work – participating in WoW in order to explore the development of social structures, common values and the worlds created within the game.

The result is a thesis in ethnology, ‘The serious game. On World of Warcraft and the leakage’ (Den allvarsamma leken. Om World of Warcraft och läckaget) at Umeå University.

“The core of online role-playing games lies in the players' mundane, often repetitive, work-like everyday life. I slayed dragons, traded goods and attended parties; I made friends, joined guilds and collected herbs and minerals. I took part in rituals and learned written as well as unwritten social norms,” he wrote in the introduction.

World of Warcraft has been called 'the cocaine of the computer games world' by the organization Youth Care Foundation (Stiftelsen Ungdomsvård), which has been helping young people in Sweden recognize and manage computer gaming addiction for over two decades.

But Stenberg's study casts the game in a new light.

During his research, Stenberg found that the social relations and the persona players develop within the game often has an impact on real life.

“I don’t think it is despite the resemblance to work but because it has a resemblance to work that people play it. It gives players a feeling of usefulness that generally follows what we see as work, “ Stenberg told Sveriges Radio (SR).

According to Stenberg, it is the players that determine what is important within the world, and it is also their reactions and responses that make the goals set up by the individual players important.

Spending a whole day gathering materials to manufacture a special pair of shoes or a sword is only worth it if they are useful in combat with another player or in a team effort to slay a dragon, or similar situations.

“The central issue is that it is a collective society and that challenges the rather pesistent view of the computer game enthusiast as a lone figure with only a flickering screen for company;” Stenberg told SR.

Stenberg’s thesis describes a ‘leakage’ between the game world and the real world.

Early research into the gaming world often described the borders between the real world and cyberspace as rigid, that players left their real selves behind and could become whoever they wanted.

“But I wanted to show that these borders really are quite hollow, and there is seepage between the worlds,” Stenberg told SR.

In his thesis he shows several examples of where the real world and the game world mix, and the problems this can create. One example is a virtual funeral for a woman who had died in real life, where enemies from another faction attacked the attending guests.

"There was a lot of discussions around that, with some saying that it was inappropriate and others maintaining it was only a part of the game," Stenberg said.

Two regular WoW players that SR spoke to also mentioned that the skills players could pick up during the game come in handy in real life.

"Those that lead groups within the game have learned skills mentioned on their resumes later; leadership skills, handling conflicts and so on. These are skills learned within the game," one former WoW player said.

After finishing his research into the virtual gaming world, Stenberg left it abruptly last spring without a farewell to the people with whom he has shared so many experiences.

In his thesis he called it a "silent goodbye" which is common among World of Warcraft players.

Story continues below…

“Most dedicated players I have met both want to quit and don’t want to quit at the same time, and when someone actually does stop playing the defection is given the silent treatment,” he said in the introduction.

There is no room for sentimentality among those that remain. Either you are in or you are out, according to Stenberg.

The online game World of Warcraft is today played by over 12 million users.

In a world called Azeroth players belong to either ‘The Horde’ or ‘The Alliance’, and players can choose freely what race, gender and skills they want.

In Sweden the game is believed to be played by 200,000 players.

Rebecca Martin (rebecca.martin@thelocal.se)

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Your comments about this article

14:57 April 21, 2011 by swedejane
If I was interviewing someone who listed their leadership skills as being developed in WoW I would laugh in their face and then politely ask them to leave and quit wasting my time.
15:25 April 21, 2011 by jan.petras
Hahahahahaha, awesome study. "What are you doing ?" "Social thesis: 3 years of WoW. Problem?"

Well, as a 6 year player of WoW I can say this: Yes, it does boost social skills but IT KILLS SOCIAL LIFE. It is addictive, it leaves you absolutely no time to actually make use of those skills. In 6 years I lost a lot of girlfriends, all my friends, isolated myself from family, lost my job, got 20kg fat, grew a beard and got a chronic condition to the ligaments due to serious lack of movement.

It may boost social skills, but its more addictive than cocaine and if you can't control yourself like I couldn't, you lose your social life and pretty much everything else falls apart with it.

I managed to quit, yes, I didn't do it with the "silent treatment" - friends withing game who knew my situation actually pushed me to do it, they said they would rather lose a friend in-game than knowing the so-called friends is in such a situation. I'm still friends with some of them, on Skype and IRL. That's a good thing I guess.
17:12 April 21, 2011 by Roy E
'This study has been made possible by a grant from the makers of The World Of Warcraft.'
17:13 April 21, 2011 by William Sachsen-Coburg-Gotha
For the Horde!

19:02 April 21, 2011 by calebian22
250 days in your parent's basement is not my definition of being social.
19:55 April 21, 2011 by technoviking
It will move the average WoW player from the 15% percentile to the 25% percentile in social skills after 10,000 hours of playing time...
20:49 April 21, 2011 by jeffi_in_denmark

EU and US vanilla release beta player here, still going strong both sides of the Atlantic. Many gathers in many nations, many now dear friends (and their little ones), totally awesome RL with others around who are active, adult gamers wil awesome real lives too. I have watched many many young friends become university students, then head out into their own adult lives; far more than I have seen crash and burn because gaming reveals some variation of OCD.

It all depends on your priorities :-) And I would not trade a single one of the people I have met through a variety of games for a sack of (now revalued) gold. You can get addicts in almost any recreational activity, where the recreation part takes over almost everything else. The term "golf widow" comes to mind. It is not the activity that is at fault, but it is oh so easy to blame something external than to take responsibility for one's own actions, or lack thereof.

Gratz to those who do recognize something they want to change and take strong action to do so! And for those who thoroughly enjoy logging on and indulging in some harmless pixelated recreation well... Meet You in Azeroth :-)
11:04 April 22, 2011 by martiancat
6 years and counting here! immigrant and outcast throughout 6 years of school, in a tiny town in northern Sweden. no wonder I ended up in WoW. and you know what, as an adult now, I have people I go to visit for holidays, whom I've met in game! I've never felt more belonging and social in my life. and I have my guy who also happened to be my raid leader in the days passed.

I want to read that study. And I'm sure it is really necessary for people to realise that there is a fraction of players who need this for the opposite reason, being social and belonging.
14:29 April 22, 2011 by swedejane
And the next study: "Daily porn viewing leads to healthier relationships"...riiiiight.
16:35 April 22, 2011 by martiancat
@swedejane, we both know that no self-respecting woman would take part in such a study (; therfore there will never be a positive result, therefore no study (:
03:30 April 23, 2011 by LordSqueak
to critics: so you think posting comments on a website is considered being more social than wow.

food for thought.
03:44 April 23, 2011 by Beavis
Its the age old lecutre of computer games and anti social.. preached by people who spend their life reading books..Ever heard of a multiplayer book?!
17:29 April 23, 2011 by LeoKinmann
well i guess in Sweden where the average level of social skill is very low, even WoW can make you sociable.
04:43 May 2, 2011 by TX4ever
I guess the study kind of makes sense... It did not take long for the US Military to notice the hand-eye coordination benefit computer games gave to recruits that played them. I'll bet you however that they'd rather see real and not virtual "leadership skills', I know I would.
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