Virtual “Third Places”: A Case Study of Sociability in Massively Multiplayer Games

  • Nicolas Ducheneaut
  • Robert J. Moore
  • Eric Nickell


Georg Simmel [American Journal of Sociology 55:254–261 (1949)] is widely credited as the first scholar to have seriously examined sociability – “the sheer pleasure of the company of others” and the central ingredient in many social forms of recreation and play. Later Ray Oldenburg [The Great Good Place. New York: Marlowe & Company (1989)] extended Simmel’s work by focusing on a certain class of public settings, or “third places,” in which sociability tends to occur, such as, bars, coffee shops, general stores, etc. But while Simmel and Oldenburg describe activities and public spaces in the physical world, their concepts may apply as well to virtual or online worlds. Today Massively Multiplayer Online Games (MMOGs) are extensive, persistent online 3D environments that are populated by hundreds of thousands of players at any given moment. The sociable nature of these online spaces is often used to explain their success: unlike previous video games, MMOGs require players to exchange information and collaborate in real-time to progress in the game. In order to shed light on this issue, we critically examine player-to-player interactions in a popular MMOG (Star Wars Galaxies). Based on several months of ethnographic observations and computerized data collection, we use Oldenburg’s notion of “third places” to evaluate whether or not the social spaces of this virtual world fit existing definitions of sociable environments. We discuss the role online games can play in the formation and maintenance of social capital, what they can teach us about the evolution of sociability in an increasingly digitally connected social world, and what could be done to make such games better social spaces.


automated data collection online games sociability third places 


  1. Bartle, R. (1996): Players Who Suit MUDs. Journal of MUD Research, vol. 1, no. 1Google Scholar
  2. Bartle R. (2004). Designing Virtual Worlds. Indianapolis, IN: New Riders PublishingGoogle Scholar
  3. Brown, B. (2005). Play and Sociability in There. In R. Schroeder and A. Axelsson (eds.): Work and Play in Shared Virtual Environments. SpringerGoogle Scholar
  4. Brown, B. and M. Bell (2004): CSCW at Play: ‘There’ as a Collaborative Virtual Environment. In Proceedings of CSCW’04. New York: ACM, pp. 350–359Google Scholar
  5. Curtis, P. (1992). Mudding: Social Phenomena in Text-Based Virtual Realities. In Proceedings of Directions and Implications of Advanced Computing (DIAC’92) Symposium. Berkeley, CAGoogle Scholar
  6. Donath, J., K. Karahalios and F. Viegas (1999): Visualizing Conversation. In Proceedings of the Thirty-Second Annual Hawaii International Conference On Systems Sciences, January 5–8, 1999, Maui, Hawaii: IEEEGoogle Scholar
  7. Dourish P. (1998) The State of Play Computer Supported Cooperative Work 7:1–7CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Dourish, P. and V. Bellotti (1992): Awareness and Coordination in Shared Workspaces. In Proceedings of the Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW’92). New York: ACM Press, pp. 107–114Google Scholar
  9. Ducheneaut, N. and R. J. Moore (2004): The Social Side of Gaming: A Study of Interaction Patterns in a Massively Multiplayer Online Game. In Proceedings of the ACM conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW2004). New York: ACM, pp. 360–369Google Scholar
  10. Ducheneaut, N., N. Yee, E. Nickell and R. J. Moore (2006): “Alone Together?” Exploring the Social Dynamics of Massively Multiplayer Online Games. In Proceedings of CHI 2006. New York: ACM, pp. 407–416Google Scholar
  11. Harrison S., Bly S., Anderson S., Minneman S. (1993). The Media Space. In Finn K. E., Sellen A., Wilbur S. B. (Eds.), Video-Mediated Communication (pp. 273–300). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum AssociatesGoogle Scholar
  12. Hine, C. (2000): Virtual Ethnography: Sage PublicationsGoogle Scholar
  13. Huberman B. A. (2001). The Laws of the Web: Patterns in the Ecology of Information. Cambridge, MA: MIT PressGoogle Scholar
  14. Isaacs, E. A., J. C. Tang and T. Morris (1996): Piazza: A Desktop Environment Supporting Impromptu and Planned Interactions. In Proceedings of the Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW’96). pp. 315–324Google Scholar
  15. Jakobson, M. and T. L. Taylor (2003): The Sopranos Meets EverQuest: Social Networking in Massively Multiplayer Online Games. In Proceedings of the 2003 Digital Arts and Culture (DAC) Conference. Melbourne, Australia, pp. 81–90Google Scholar
  16. Jimerson, J. B. (1999). “Who has Next?” The Symbolic, Rational, and Methodical Use of Norms in Pickup Basketball. Social Psychology Quarterly, vol. 62, no. 2Google Scholar
  17. Koster, R. (2004). Raph Koster’s Writings on Game Design. Retrieved July 19, 2005, from
  18. Lazzaro, N. (2004): Why We Play Games: Four Keys to Emotion Without Story. XeodesignGoogle Scholar
  19. Lee, A., C. Danis, T. Miller and Y. Jung (2001): Fostering Social Interaction in Online Spaces. In Proceedings of INTERACT’01. Amsterdam: IOS Press, pp. 59–66Google Scholar
  20. Manninen, T. (2003): Interaction Forms and Communicative Actions in Multiplayer Games. Game Studies vol. 3, no. 1Google Scholar
  21. Mason, B. (1999): Issues in Virtual Ethnography. In K. Buckner (ed.): Proceedings of Esprit i3 Workshop on Ethnographic Studies. Edinburgh: Queen Margaret College, pp. 61–69Google Scholar
  22. Mulligan J., Patrovsky B. (2003). Developing Online Games: An Insider’s Guide. Indianapolis, IN: New Riders PublishingGoogle Scholar
  23. Muramatsu J., Ackerman M. (1998). Computing, Social Activity, and Entertainment: A Field Study of a Game MUD. Computer Supported Cooperative Work, 7:87–122CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Oldenburg R. (1989). The Great Good Place. New York: Marlowe & CompanyGoogle Scholar
  25. Putnam R. (2000). Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community. New York: Simon & SchusterGoogle Scholar
  26. Rheingold H. (1993). The Virtual Community: Homesteading on the Electronic Frontier. Cmabridge, MA: MIT PressGoogle Scholar
  27. Sack W. (2001). Conversation Map: An Interface for Very Large-Scale Conversations. Journal of Management Information Systems, 17(3):73–92MathSciNetGoogle Scholar
  28. Simmel G. (1949). The Sociology of Sociability. American Journal of Sociology, 55:254–261PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Smith, M. A., S. D. Farnham and S. M. Drucker (2000): The Social Life of Small Graphical Chat Spaces. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (CHI 2000). The Hague, The Netherlands, pp. 462–469Google Scholar
  30. Smith, M. A. and A. T. Fiore (2001): Visualization Components for Persistent Conversations. In Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on human factors in computing systems, Seattle, WA. NY: ACM Press, pp. 136–143Google Scholar
  31. Squire, K. D. and C. A. Steinkuehler (In press): Generating Cyberculture/s: The Case of Star Wars Galaxies. In D. Gibbs and K. L. Krause (eds.): Cyberlines 2.0 Languages and Cultures of the Internet. Albert Park, Australia: James Nicholas PublishersGoogle Scholar
  32. Steinkuehler C. A. (2005). The New Third Place: Massively Multiplayer Online Gaming in American Youth Culture. Tidskrift Journal of Research in Teacher Education, 3: 17–32Google Scholar
  33. Steinkuehler, C. A. and D. Williams (2006): Where Everybody Knows Your (Screen) Name: Online Games as “Third Places”. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, vol. 11, no. 4Google Scholar
  34. Taylor, T. L. (2003): Power Gamers Just Want to have Fun?: Instrumental Play in a MMOG. In Proceedings of the 1st Digra Conference: Level Up. The University of Utrecht, The NetherlandsGoogle Scholar
  35. Viegas, F. and J. Donath (1999): Chat Circles. In Proceedings of CHI 1999. New York: ACM, pp. 9–16Google Scholar
  36. Viegas, F. and M. A. Smith (2004): Newsgroup Crowds and AuthorLines: Visualizing the Activity of Individuals in Conversational Cyberspace. In Proceedings of the 37th Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences. IEEEGoogle Scholar
  37. Weber, M. (1949): The Methodology of the Social Sciences (E. Schills & H. Finch, Trans.). New York: The Free PressGoogle Scholar
  38. Whyte W. H. (1988). City: Rediscovering the Center. New York: DoubledayGoogle Scholar
  39. Woodcock, B. (2005): An Analysis of MMOG Subscription Growth – Version 18.0. Retrieved July 12, 2005, from∼sirbruce/Subscriptions.htmlGoogle Scholar
  40. Yee, N. (2002): Ariadne – Understanding MMORPG addiction. from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  • Nicolas Ducheneaut
    • 1
  • Robert J. Moore
    • 1
  • Eric Nickell
    • 1
  1. 1.Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)Palo AltoUSA

Personalised recommendations