Legal Issues
Societal Effects
Manifestations of Virtual Worlds

Psychological Effects of Virtual Worlds
I am going to discuss four main areas of research into the psychology of MMOG gaming: achievement, immersion, and societal, and therapeutic. I will begin by discussing how achievement factors into the popularity of MMOGs.

MMOGs can often replace traditional sources of achievement like in school or at work. Often times, people do not get the feeling that they are accomplishing something; usually do to an unfulfilling job. MMOGs are a platform for constant progress. Characters in the games have very obvious and defined advancements, such as a level increase after killing a certain number of enemies. Progress in real life is a lot more difficult to measure. Even if we make progress or accomplish something, it is not always as clear cut as it is in the MMOG.
Another feeling of achievement comes from beating a game or at least getting past a certain point. This is end-goal oriented rather than constant. Many people want to be the strongest character or get the farthest in the game and that drives them to play for hours and hours just to reach that point. Connected with this drive, is the drive to become the best to get respect from other players.
Lastly, MMOGs are an outlet for competitive feelings. People can fight each other or compete against each other in MMOGs such as World of Warcraft. If a player does not have any other outlet for competition, like a sport, the MMOG can fill in.
I’m now going to look at some immersive aspects of virtual worlds.

The idea of a role-playing game is fairly simple: one plays as a character in the game which has a story that ties it into that game. This character will interact with other characters and explore the world of the game. Being immersed in the world of a game in this way is very attractive to people and explains the popularity of role-playing games.
Players can discover the world for themselves, much like virtual explorers, and gain knowledge about the land. Sometimes there is even a first-person view, such as in Everquest. Exploration and the accumulation of knowledge is very rewarding to people. Everybody wants to be an expert at some things and it is very easy, given enough time playing an MMOG, to become an expert at that specific game. This expertise goes beyond just being good at the game; it also includes knowledge of smaller things like hidden areas and game glitches. Expertise is not only rewarding in itself, but it also attracts respect from other players.

The immersive view in Everquest

Avatars are what players use to represent themselves in virtual worlds. They are digital representations of themselves and usually have customized names and appearances. There are many reasons for why someone might choose a specific avatar to represent them. They may think that the avatar looks cool or want to try playing as something completely different from themselves, like a dwarf.
Avatar selection and customization can take up to several hours. Players become very connected with their avatars. As a result, they are willing to spend hours working on them and spend money to upgrade them. Their avatars even affect them after they’re done playing.

A Second Life avatar

There is a lot of really interesting research being done on avatar interaction at Stanford’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab. Jeremy Bailenson, an assistant communications professor, has been researching how different avatars affect our behavior. In the games, people with larger avatars acted more aggressively and people with more attractive avatars interacted with other attractive avatars. After game play was over, these effects lingered on into real life. This is evidence that avatars can deeply psychologically affect us and perhaps even alter our personalities.

Societal Effects
Many people enjoy MMOGs for their social aspect. When a player goes into an MMOG, there are always other people to talk to. These games are like giant chat rooms. But often, players want to go beyond just chatting. They are looking to form deeper personal relationships with other players. Many gamers consider other gamers that they have never met, their friends. Some people even go into these worlds looking for romantic relationships. As a result of these desires, altruism is common among players. Helping others provides an opportunity to build more social connections in the world.

A wedding in World of Warcraft

Guilds or clans are structures that organize socializing and game progression. Members of these clans go on quests together in the games and help each other. They are often necessary to accomplish goals in more difficult games like the World of Warcraft. They also provide a sense of team accomplishment. For people who do not already have a source of this feeling, being a member of a clan can be very fulfilling.
Players often become very involved in clans. They care enough that their identity in real life is tied very strongly to clan membership in an MMOG. As a result, clans also have a lot of drama. They are very similar to groups in real life. There are often one or two leaders and a core of officers who organize the clan and enforce its rules. Sometimes members become problematic or revolt and leaders have to deal with it accordingly. Successful clans allow for members to have as much fun as possible and satisfy as many of their personal in-game goals as possible, while meeting their needs socially.

Playing in virtual worlds can be therapeutic in many ways. Players most commonly say that they use virtual worlds to relieve stress. Many log into World of Warcraft right after they get home from work to relax. They also use virtual worlds to delay acting on problems in real life that are stressful. The game can help take some of that stress away or let players mull problems over in the back of their minds.
Virtual worlds are also a great place to find support for problems. Many people seek emotional support from other players. Often, they are too embarrassed to go to their friends, so they form an alternate social network in an MMOG that they rely on for emotional support. Also, people with social anxiety problems can better control their social interactions in virtual worlds. The same goes for people who feel like they have lost control of their real world social life. MMOGs are a new and very controlled place to socialize.
MMOGs can be a distraction from physical pain. Players are so involved in playing that they ignore their pain. Some even find that it can be used in place of taking pain killers.
In some extreme cases, players even said that MMOGs helped pull them out of depression. They claimed that interactions in the MMOG helped them think of reasons to live and listed these interactions as factors in how they overcame depression.
Unfortunately, there are many negative effects of playing in virtual worlds. A high percentage of players consider themselves addicted. The average World of Warcraft user plays nearly twenty hours a week. That is time being taken away from real world interactions. In South Korea, a man died from exhaustion after playing for over fifty hours straight. Many players use virtual worlds as a way to escape from problems in real life. These problems can get worse and worse over time and push the player further and further into the virtual world. In real life, these people become isolated and eventually their problems become unmanageable. One example of this would be a college student dropping out because of addiction to World of Warcraft. These behaviors are disturbingly similar to those of substance abusers and very little is being done to help these people.

Manifestations of Virtual Worlds
To conclude this section, I would like to discuss how virtual worlds manifest themselves. This is an area lacking in research right now, but it is an interesting subject to think about. In games like Second Life, where players had the opportunity to remake the world and society in any way they wished, they created a world that looks surprisingly like suburban America. In other games, social structures, such as clan leadership, mimic those in real life. It seems that given a chance to reorder society in any way, people will try to recreate real life.