Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs)

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A few of the main features of MMORPGs, see listing below
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  • Updated.jpg This entry is out of date, and will not be updated, February 2018


  • massive gaming, massively-multiplayer online role-playing games, MMOWs, MMOGs, MMORPGs, multiplayer video game, role-play, video games
  • Synonym: MUVEs - Multi-User Virtual Environments which refers to online multi-user virtual environments or virtual worlds. The term is used less often than MMORPGs and may refer to older terminologies such as MUDs, MOOs and MMOGs that are not necessarily game-specific. MUVEs was first used in a 1990 paper The Lessons of Lucasfilm's Habitat.


See also Avatars | Gaming in health | Goffman's frame analysis | Massive open online courses (MOOCs)‎ | Virtual worlds and libraries‎

Massively multiplayer online role playing games (MMORPGs) are computer games supporting many players around the world via an Internet-connected platform which enables them to work together, socialize and compete on a international scale. According to Wikipedia, "...MMORPGs [are] played throughout the world. Worldwide revenues exceeded half a billion dollars in 2005, and Western revenues exceeded US $1 billion in 2006. In 2008, Western consumer spending on subscription MMOGs grew to $1.4 billion. World of Warcraft, the most popular MMORPG, has more than 10 million subscribers as of November 2014. In terms of the size of the video sector, "...Canada has the third largest video game industry in terms of employment numbers right behind the USA and Japan with 16,000 employees, 348 companies, and a direct annual economic impact of nearly $2 billion."

MMORPGs have changed radically since their early days (role-play gaming can be traced back to Dungeons and Dragons from the 1970s). According to Wikipedia, much like D&Ds many MMORPGs are a variation on this theme "....players control a central game character, or multiple characters, and attain victory by completing a series of quests or reaching the conclusion of a central storyline. Players explore a game world, while solving puzzles and engaging in tactical combat and warfare..."

Today, most MMORPGs are geared towards doing difficult tasks that get progressively harder, and often the purpose is to get participants to build their avatar's skills and enhance their experience, ability in the game and financial wealth. To keep the gaming experience competitive, many MMORPGs allow their players to form alliances, interact within the game, customize their avatars and create game content. Role-playing encompasses a variety of gameplay types, representing many video game genres going back decades. To develop expertise, many games require participants to invest a lot of time. Unlike other social media, many web-based games require users to pay monthly subscription fees.

The most popular free-to-register MMORPG is Second Life, the virtual world that was so popular in the 2008-2012 period. Some experts say that Second Life is not an MMORPG as it lacks any of the gaming aspects of most MMORPGs with no manufactured conflict or objective. What makes SL interesting for librarians is that it transcends a library's physical building spaces and services. It encourages digital collaboration between library staff and consumers in a simulated environment that may or may not resemble the complexity of most MMORPGs. While some people believe that Second Life is in a slow decline in terms of users, as of November 2014, it still has more than 1 million subscribers.

Features of MMORPGs

  • A multiplayer online game is a multiplayer video game played by hundreds of players via a game server over the Internet
  • MMORPGs are popular among a male demographic to 35 years of age; total % of females is growing at about 40% in 2014
  • MMORPGs allow players to communicate with one another and are therefore social - the social aspect is why online games can be viewed within the lens of web 2.0
  • Depending on the interactions allowed by a specific game, social norms and expectations are present in all games
  • MMORPGs exploit the cognitive and social skills of players, and may offer online support through in-game guilds or clans; these social supports form whether the game organizes them or not; a guild is a collection of players who come together to share knowledge, resources, and manpower (Brown and Thomas)
  • Players find themselves as members or leaders of these groups at some point after playing an MMORPG for some time
  • Even if players never join formal groups, there is an expectation to participate as a team during game play and to carry out pre-defined roles
  • In combat-based games, roles include the tank, a character who absorbs enemy blows and protects others; the healer, responsible for keeping up the health of the party, and crowd control, a character who controls the opponent such as the non-player character
  • Some MMORPGs might allow players to take on all of these roles, additional hybrid roles or none at all. Despite the variability, some players enjoy playing one role over others and continue to play it through different MMORPG titles.
  • Research shows that online games encourage critical and scientific thinking (LeBlanc)

Themes of MMORPGs

  • The majority of popular MMORPGs are based on traditional fantasy themes, often occurring in ingame universes comparable to that of Dungeons & Dragons
  • Some MMORPGs employ hybrid themes that either merge or substitute fantasy elements with those of science fiction, sword and sorcery, or crime crime fiction
  • Other MMORPGS draw thematic material from comic books, the occult and other genres; these elements are developed using similar tasks and scenarios involving quests, monsters, and virtual economies

Learning aspects

The power of video games for teaching and learning new skills cannot be over-estimated. Scholars in the field of game studies argue that the peripheral and accidental learning that goes on behind the scenes as a child, teenager or adult engages in an interactive video game is considerable. Harnessing the power and creating the recipe for success are more difficult. However, caution is needed; when educators espoused the glories of edutainment, for example, that industry failed to thrive.

Given that the idea to use games to teach is not a new concept, why should we go down this road again? One reason is that new generations of young people use technology differently (Prensky, 2001); they are born and bred using games, and educated as visual learners with a preference for active learning. They also have an intolerance for purely passive learning in traditional lecture-style teaching. The potential for building a video game to incorporate knowledge and information is appealing to educators. Librarians with an aptitude for technology and an interest in promoting active learning in training modules will find the idea of incorporating library instruction in a video game just as attractive. It's one way to get beyond the boredom that students often associate with information literacy, and library instruction programs.

Psycho-social aspects of MMORPGs

Since the interactions between MMORPG players are real, even if the environments are not, an emerging area of gaming research involves psychologists and sociologists who are using MMORPGs as tools for their academic research. Some studies point towards addictions and impairments of various types in dedicated game users. In some cases, MMORPG players have a higher degree of identification with their avatars compared to other participants.

  • Richard Bartle, for example, classifies RPG-players into four primary groups. His psychological classification system has been expanded by Erwin Andreasen who developed a questionnaire. The Bartle Test helps players determine which psychological profile they belong to. With 200,000 test responses, this was perhaps the largest ongoing survey of multiplayer game players.
  • Nick Yee surveyed 35,000 gamers and found that 15% of players became guild-leaders, and that gamers spend time (often a third of their total time) doing things that are directly-related to, but outside of, the game itself. Players report that the emotions they feel while playing games are so strong that, in one study, 8.7% of the men and 23.2% of the women decided to have online weddings. Some researchers find that enjoyment of a game is directly related to its social organization ranging from brief encounters to highly organized play in structured groups.
  • Sherry Turkle is a clinical psychologist specializing in human-technology interactions. She has conducted interviews with game-players, and is referred to in the media as the "cybershrink". Turkle has discovered that gamers expand their emotional range by exploring the different roles (including gender identities) that MMORPGs afford. She examines the psychological and societal impact of "relational artifacts" as sociable robots, and how these and other technologies change attitudes about human life and concepts about what it means for something to be alive. One result may be a devaluation of authentic experience in relationships.
  • In the World of Warcraft - often called WoW - a programming glitch attracted the attention of psychologists and epidemiologists across North America when the corrupted blood ability of a monster began to spread unintentionally into the wider game world. The United States Center for Disease Control used the incident as a research model to chart both progression of a disease, and the potential human response to large-scale epidemic infections.
  • To explore the effects of social capital and social relationships, Steinkuehler and Williams combined conclusions from two different research projects: sociocultural perspective on culture and cognition, and the other on media effects of MMORPGs. The conclusions of the two studies show how MMOs function as a form of “third place” for informal social interactions much like coffee shops, pubs, and other typical hangouts. Some scholars such as Oldenburg (1999) refute the idea of a games serving as a “third place” due to inadequate bridging social capital. His argument is challenged by Putnam (2000) who concluded that games are suited to bridging social capital, but that relationships lack depth; further they serve as a sociological lubricant judging from the data collected in both studies.
  • Games can move past the “lubricant” stage and into the “superglue” stage known as bonding social capital, a closer relationship characterized by stronger connections and emotional support. The study concludes that games function best as a bridging mechanism rather than a bonding one, similar to a “third place”. MMOs have the capacity and ability to serve as a community that effectively socializes users like a coffee shop or pub but conveniently in the comfort of their own home.

MMORPG Projects

Professions Quest is a project to develop and publish virtual, interprofessional and interactive multiplayer learning solutions that are targeted towards health professions education institutions and health professions students. Professions Quest’s products and services are unique vehicles for interprofessional education and deliver increased interaction, collaboration and knowledge among the health professions and health professions students.

Surveillance & security

Librarians & MMORPGs

  • I argue that gaming could potentially be a growth area for health libraries in the Gaming in health entry.


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