Yes, I Studied World of Warcraft at Stanford

So if there is one thing I could study forever, it would be social media and virtual communities. This encompasses everything from looking at how people use Twitter for business to how social norms are carried over into virtual worlds such as World of Warcraft. Yes. I studied World of Warcraft at Stanford University. I spent whole classes learning about MMORPGs and about the economy of Second Life. I was required to Tweet during class and I played with a high tech driving simulator for research credits. I even had my own avatar, which I watched earn money and gain weight.

World of Warcraft. Surprisingly useful in academia.

Now at first this seems kind of silly. Professors are taking time to detail how lines form to fight beasts and how people take relationships from the virtual to the actual. But studying situations like these can have profound consequences on us and our futures. For example, research shows that people are much more efficient when they are participants in a rewards system. Meaning if I do something good, I get rewarded. Why? This is how we were raised as children all the way through college. As a pre-schooler, if you earn five gold stars for being well behaved, you get a special treat. In college, you work hard and get all of the questions right on a test, you get an A. But what happens when you get into the working world? Suddenly the parameters for success are much more loosely defined. You get a raise when the boss thinks you deserve it. What does that mean? You are promoted when you have enough experience. But how much is enough? It is hard to stay motivated and work hard when one has no idea when he or she will next be rewarded.

So what’s the solution? Read on to find out!

To solve this problem, productivity experts have been researching games and gamers. What if we could make work into a game? These researchers have been testing out software that gives daily tasks tangible rewards. This software shows analytics for productivity to the entire team: how long you worked on a report, how many calls you answered, and so on. Making this information visible to the entire team as well as quantitative not only provides incentive for the worker to work harder and do their best, but it also provides a direct way to reward employees for hard work as well as a way to form hierarchies, both which give people incentives. This software displays data at the bottom of the computer screen at all times, constantly giving feedback to the worker not only about his or her actions, but also about the actions of his or her coworkers.

In another related example, studies have also shown that playing these sorts of games can actually improve leadership skills. In the video below, Byron Reeves, one of the foremost experts on the topic at Stanford (and in the world), briefly discusses the relationship between World of Warcraft and management:

Without knowing first how people interact in virtual worlds and while gaming, researchers could not accurately know if implementing these types of solutions would even be effective.Thus the reason I found myself in countless classes revolving around seemingly academically insignificant topics that will nevertheless have a profound effect on how we interact in the physical world in the future.

I have a feeling you’re going to periodically see posts about social media and virtual communities from me down the road. I miss the academic side of college! Feel free to leave questions or comments below – I would love to get into a conversation with any of you about what has been discussed above. Alternately, if you have anything even semi-related that you would like to discuss or see a post on in the future, please let me know!


One thought on “Yes, I Studied World of Warcraft at Stanford

  1. Pingback: Defining YOUR Success, Part I | The Always Bright Life

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