I have been playing WoW for several months now. I have friends at work who formed a guild, and they do a lot of end-game raiding, etc. I'm still only a level 60, so I am not yet able to participate in their activities.
I have found it curious that even though I have a false identity and no one knows who I am, I still approach the other players inside Wow in the same way I do in the real world. I'm shy about interacting with others without some pretense, and am reluctant to group with strangers even when invited.
Inside WoW, I have the opportunity to approach my social interactions in a very different way without any risk, yet I don't. How do others act when inside a MMORPG? I assume that some take on a very different personality, but I don't have any direct experience.
Actually, I was thinking about this just the other day. I was actually thinking that virtual space does not necessarily become a place to be 'other', but rather a space to approach the world as yourself-but-other. In short, my theory is that the virtual becomes a "safe-place" to re-engage with a social environment that becomes "safer" so the lure to some can be understood under those terms. That may sound like your behavioral pattern would change since the environment would be "safer", but I don't think that's necessarily the case, depending on your level of emotional implication in the game. Everything is virtual, anyway, reality or not. I'm not sure I answered your question but I was brainstorming myself.
It's a great question, Paul. I've played WoW for 4 years now and the reconfiguring of stakes and relationships within it still gives me pause. I hesitate to use words like safe, or consequence-free (which one sees a lot in literature around virtual worlds), because I think there are always stakes. Instead, I guess, I see WoW as yet one more domain of social action, one that's on an ontological par with one's home life, one's work life, a courtroom, etc. There's a fair amount of good posts about these kinds of questions at the blog Terra Nova, where Lisa Galarneau and I have both been authors for some time. Here's one post that I did which might be helpful for you. I also recommend the work of T L Taylor, a sociologist, who wrote a great book about Everquest that addressed some of these questions, called Play Between Worlds.
I don't game much (I did install Second Life on my pc tonight for anthropological research, but got sick of it after 5 mins). I do however IRC (Internet Relay Chat). I am more chatty over the internet than I am in real life, although when it comes to IRC, i'm still somewhat as reserved as I am IRL. Not sure what it is, could be because it's a live conversation with people, some who I know IRL and therefore worry about how I will be perceived.
I'm more comfortable talking over the online medium though, there's not the worry about feeling insecure (as I would in the class room environment for example). I'm shy to the point that I've been at work for 2 hours before people have known I was there in the past.
I think it's this reservedness that raises a problem for me. When I see people being extroverted and behaving in ways I deem to be socially unacceptable, it tends to get my back up. I do believe that you should behave online in the same way you would behave in person. To a certain extent that is. Sometimes it allows you to express yourself in ways you're not game enough to in real life.
What do you think of THE GUILD - an Award winning popular Web Soap about people's life focused on their social interactions online and offline? There is a lot of stereotyping in it but more as a dramaturgical means. Still Millions of (not only but maybe mostly online gaming) people like it. Maybe because they can relate their own lifes to it...?