Final Project


Mass Multiplayer Online: The New Third Place


Gaming has greatly evolved from its humble origins of Nolan Bushnell, Pong, and Atari.  Video gaming is a rapidly evolving form of entertainment that continues to draw more players every year.  With the help of the internet players today now have the ability to play and communicate with other players around the world.  With the increase demand for online gaming, concerns have been brought forward suggestion that this media of videogames and the internet have forced out traditional civic and social institutions.  However some researchers, such as Constance Steinkuehler and Dmitri Williams, argue that the capability of the internet to connect players around the world stimulates the development of new social engagement.

As gaming has evolved so has the ability of gamers to communicate with each other.  The original method of communication amongst players was text.  Text communication usually takes place through chatroom conversations, where players send text messages to each other while simultaneously playing the game.  However, in recent years the gaming community has been strengthened due to the use of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP).  VoIP took off with the Microsoft’s Xbox 360 and its Xbox Live platform.  Since Microsoft’s implication of VoIP other gaming consoles such as Sony and Nintendo are also transferring to VoIP communication for multiplayer gaming.  The introduction of this technology enhances players’ social experience by providing them with the ability to talk live to one another and help other players learn to play.   However VoIP is not a perfect means of communication for multiplayer games.

While VoIP allows for instant, hands free communication among players, it also makes it very hard for players to know who is speaking.   With VoIP voices players’ sound very similar to one another, making it hard to recognize who is talking or who the consistent speaker is within the group.  To address this issue some VoIP enabled games include a device to alert a player when other players are speaking.  Most commonly, these devices take the shape of a loudspeaker icon that can be seen above the player icon when they are speaking.  Thanks to VoIP gamers can experience a “significantly higher levels of relationship strength and trust between voice-based guild mates when compared to the text condition over time” (Williams, Caplan, & Xiong, 2007, p. 439).  Vocal communication allows for a more personable social experience among gamers.  With the help VoIP researchers Constance Steinkuehler and Dmitri Williams argue that online video games contain socially redeeming qualities.

Professor Steinkuehler, of the education department at the University of Wisconsin, and Professor Williams, of speech communication at the University of Illinois, claim that massively multiplayer online games (MMOs) “function not like solitary dungeon cells, but more like virtual coffee shops or pubs where something called ‘social bridging’ takes place. . . [They even go as far as to compare it] to dropping in at ‘Cheers where everyone knows your name.”[1]  According to Steinkuehler and Williams the reason why MMOs are becoming so popular is that they operate as the old civic and social hangouts in a world that lacks real world social hangouts.  Steinkuehler and Williams argue that online spaces, such as MMOs, are also considered ‘third places’ for informal sociability, a term coined by sociologist Ray Oldenburg at the University of West Florida in Pensacola in 1999.

According to Dr. Oldenburg, ‘third places’ are places outside of the home (first places) and work (second places) where people can interact and put aside their daily stresses and concerns to enjoy the company and conversation around them.  “The character of a third place is determined most of all by its regular clientele and is marked by a playful mood, which contrasts with people’s more serious involvement in other spheres. Though a radically different kind of setting for a home, the third place is remarkably similar to a good home in the psychological comfort and support that it extends…They are the heart of a community’s social vitality, the grassroots of democracy, but sadly, they constitute a diminishing aspect of the American social landscape,” (Ray Oldenburg).[2]  While the virtual world of MMOs is thoroughly different than the setting of one’s home, gamers are able to enter it within the comfort of their own homes.  Although Oldenburg suggests the diminishing of third places such as coffeehouses and cafes, Steinkuehler and Williams argue that the world MMOs is becoming the new third places of the modern world.

Game play in a MMO is not a single interaction between the player and the game.  It allows for interaction between numerous individuals from the comfort of their living room.  As Williams explains, “Spending time in these social games helps people meet others not like them, even if it doesn’t always lead to strong friendships.  That kind of social horizon broadening has been sorely lacking in American society for decades.”[3]  While MMOs do not seek to provide deep, emotion relationships between players, they do offer a level of social equality where social bridging can take place, exposing individuals to differing world perspectives.

















Emeritus, Professor. “Ray Oldenburg.” Project for Public Spaces. (accessed December 9, 2011).


Halloran, John. “Game Changer? How Voip Is Impacting the Way We Play.” International Journal of Interactive Worlds (2011): 1-27. (accessed December 9, 2011).


Lynn, Andrea. “Some Online Video Games Found to Promote ‘sociability,’ Researchers Say.” EurekAlert! (accessed December 9, 2011).



Williams, D., Caplan, S., & Xiong, L. (2007). Can you hear me now?: The impact of voice in an online gaming community. Human Communication Research , 427-449.


[1] Andrea Lynn, “Some Online Video Games Found to Promote ‘sociability,’ Researchers Say,” EurekAlert! (accessed December 9, 2011).


[2] Professor Emeritus, “Ray Oldenburg,” Project for Public Spaces, (accessed December 9, 2011).

[3] Andrea Lynn, “Some Online Video Games Found to Promote ‘sociability,’ Researchers Say,” EurekAlert! (accessed December 9, 2011).

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