Social Science and Online Games

In a recent Nature news article, Social sciences: Life’s a game, the possibilities of using massively multiplayer online games as laboratories for computational social science is discussed. The article provides a very interesting overview of this concept, and highlights some work by Ed Castronova. Castronova, one of the pioneers in this field, has both conducted a study into how markets arise where they do, and is also working on a game of his own to conduct computational social science experiments. This world called Arden is expected to be up by March, and hopefully should yield some very interesting findings. Here is part of the discussion of Castronova’s findings about market-location:

This cloning of worlds gave Castronova his first chance to do computational social science. Using a survey of EverQuest players (E. Castronova Games and Culture 1, 163–186; 2006), he showed that on each server just one region has become established as a market. Crucially, that region differs between servers, although mountain ranges and cities have identical locations in all the worlds. So there does not seem to be a single prime location for the market; instead, some chance event seeds its creation, and coordination effects then lock it into place. “With no small amount of trepidation,” Castronova writes in a footnote to the paper, “I would venture to claim that this is the first time in human history that a distinct macro-social phenomenon has actually been verified experimentally.”

Possibly some ramifications in these studies for understanding the shaping of downtowns in urban areas (such as the location of financial districts).