[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]
Many online social networking tools have fulfilled uses their creators had never dreamed of. Twitter started as a way to tell others what you were doing, and then surprisingly, turned into a tool to find gas during the Atlanta gas crunch last year.
Now online video games, called MMORPGs (massive multiplayer online role-playing games)—are providing enormous amounts of data for social scientists studying human behavior.
A 20-person research group has started to analyze three years of online data culled from Sony’s popular fantasy game, EverQuest II. They have 60 terabytes of information detailing the actions of 300,000 players, most of whom are 31 years of age, a lot women, surprisingly, and play an average 26 hours per week.
Preliminary findings include: the game economy mirrors the real-world economy. Trust among the players is stronger than trust for general strangers online, proving that players consider it a community.
There are now 45 million people playing MMORPGs and the researchers intend to prove new hypotheses in real-life group dynamics, conversation, conflict and learning by quantifying the online-life within these games.
So all those hours spent online networking is proving useful to a greater cause: the study of ourselves. Game on.
Note: The project is called "Virtual Worlds Exploratorium," and researchers include University of Minnesota computer science and engineering professor Jaideep Srivastava; Northwestern University professor Noshir Contractor; University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign professor Scott Poole; and University of Southern California assistant professor Dmitri Williams.