As the popularity of video games becomes a progres sively more widespread phe nomenon, more research is devoted to them in an effort to better understand the so cial tendencies of players. One such study was con ducted recently by Nicholas Taylor, an assistant professor of communication. Taylor concentrated on players of online role-playing games.

Players of massively mul tiplayer online role-playing games, such as World of War craft, have long been stereo typed as social outcasts or an tisocial hermits. Taylor found that not only is this not true, but these players use the game to expand their social lives.

“It’s a common stereotype that we deal with, that if a player spends a lot of time in game, somehow that detracts from their ability to social ize in real life and detracts from their ability to have healthy relationships which, of course, isn’t true,” Taylor said. “It might be true for some outliers, but we really saw that playing online games brought people to meet oth ers with similar interests.”

Taylor observed and in terviewed players both in controlled settings and in naturalistic settings, such as internet cafes, conventions and massive, weekend long LAN (local area network) parties.

“These big convention cen ter locations would be taken over by anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 gamers for a week end, all bringing their own computers,” Taylor said. “It really felt like a gaming cul tural festival.”

Rather than being the sole reason for coming together, Taylor said he found that gaming was the setting in which to do so.

The participants took part in a multitude of different so cial activities interspersed be tween play sessions, ranging from taking walks, drinking together or simply sitting around and talking.

In addition to this, Taylor found these players meet many people through these games whom they will likely never meet in person, but treat them no differently than any of their “real-life” friends. Taylor recounts one of his own experiences of this.

“When I got engaged to my wife five years ago, the first person to send us a wedding gift was somebody I was in a guild with in Guild Wars,” Taylor said. “This was a guy who I had spent a lot of time with online but had never met in real life, and here he was sending us a wedding gift.”

Taylor also mentioned that these games can be tools used for keeping in touch with friends that have moved away. They give friends a place to be together and interact with each other in a meaningful way, even when they cannot physically be together.

Another misconception surrounding gaming is that it is simply something that one does, but most of the gamers Taylor interviewed revealed that they watch other people play games almost as much as they play themselves.

“Increasingly we’ve found from doing this field work, people get as much pleasure from watching each other play and cheering on their favorite players, as often they do just playing themselves,” Taylor said. “They view both as really integral parts of their involvement with the online culture.”

Websites like YouTube and Twitch.tv, which is a website that allows players to stream their gameplay in real time, have largely contributed to this. In fact, for many play ers, this is replacing the func tion that television, radio and music have served in the past. They will often have game play on simply as background noise while they go about do ing other things.

In a technology-centered society, where putting a bar rier between online and of fline interactions makes less and less sense, multiplayer games have found a place in the day-to-day routines of many people. They have become a way to meet people from across the globe who have something in common. So the next time a certain episode of South Park comes on, take what you see with a grain of salt.