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15 Minutes of Fame: Honors student hits the mark in WoW and life

From Hollywood celebrities to the guy next door, millions of people have made World of Warcraft a part of their lives. How do you play WoW? We're giving each approach its own 15 Minutes of Fame.

This might be just a little bit embarrassing, but by way of introduction this week, I'd like to reprint the note this week's featured player emailed us last December in response to a call-out for WoW-playing honors students. Its summary of achievements really can't be beat.

Hello Lisa, I'm 17, and ... I've played World of Warcraft since late Burning Crusade while maintaining a 91.2 GPA. I've even taken several Advanced Placement courses, which offer me college credit including world history, human geography, literature and composition, and physics.

In addition to completing multiple 10-man hard modes of Icecrown Citadel, I've taken on a lot of other responsibilities as a student. I've been a National Honors Society member for three years along with a member and co-captain of an award winning robotics program sponsored by FIRST. On top of that, I don a swimsuit after school for the varsity level swim team. I've played trombone throughout my years of WoW (nine years of the trombone total), playing in the school's jazz band, symphonic band, symphonic orchestra, and marching band, in which I also hold the position of associate drum major. Just this year, I became one of the founding members of the Math Honors Society, in which I spend my mornings before school tutoring other students who just don't quite understand the work. As another bit of school community service, I head over to the middle school as a co-coach, mentor, and former member of the FIRST Lego League robotics club/team.

Now, as if my schedule outside of World of Warcraft wasn't busy enough, I'm a second-degree black belt who has studied martial arts for nearly 13 years while also teaching classes, aiding at seminars, and working with disabled/mentally impaired individuals. You'd think I'd have no time for anything at this point, but somehow I squeeze in another job cooking in a New York City restaurant. It's more of an on-call basis, but I cook, wait tables, and assist in instructing cooking classes as well. For my summers, I will admit I do end up taking small breaks from WoW, but it's allowed me to see the British Isles, Australia, New Zealand, Spain, Egypt, and a decent amount of other countries/places. It's also given me time to become a certified SCUBA diver who's Rescue certified and qualified as an Emergency First Responder as well as picking up some International Yacht Training sailing certifications.

Oh, did I mention I have four 80's and a 72?

Today, Kuhfleisch (Kirin Tor) is an 18-year-old freshman at Texas A&M University at Galveston. He's still keeping up the grades, still keeping up the extracurriculars -- and still keeping up World of Warcraft.

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Filed under: Interviews, 15 Minutes of Fame

Gnome Rogue with Pink Mohawk wants your data

Nick Yee from the Daedalus Project is now looking for data for a new project he's working on with the Palo Alto Research Center. Now, PARC is a pretty big name in computing, and Nick Yee is justly known for his long running work on the Daedalus Project, so the idea that a group with PARC's resources is studying WoW and other MMO's using someone as knowledgeable as Mr. Yee is very interesting all told. The idea of trying to 'predict who people are just from the way they behave in a virtual world ' and my own personal curiosity for whether nor not they'll run into a certain Mr. Gabriel's GIFT (warning, there is a swearword behind that link) has me decidedly curious.

The full text of the press release will be behind the cut for those interested.

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Filed under: News items

WoW, Casually: Playing WoW with your teen

Robin Torres writes WoW, Casually for the player with limited playtime. Of course, you people with lots of playtime can read this too, but you may get annoyed by the fact that we are unashamed, even proud, of the fact that beating WoW isn't our highest priority. Take solace in the fact that your gear is better than ours, but if that doesn't work, remember that we outnumber you. Not that that's a threat, after all, we don't have time to do anything about it. But if WoW were a democracy, we'd win.

Last year, I talked about playing with preschoolers and reading-age children. Several months later, I'd like to continue the series by tackling the topic of teens. I'm now tempted to talk in tantalizing alliteration, but I really can't keep it up. Anyway...

Teens provide a completely different challenge than the young children we've discussed before. Teens are already extremely competent readers, experience Trade Chat-like talk in school on a regular basis and have the coordination skills required to fully play the game. So they don't need the coddling and constant supervision, but that doesn't mean that the benefits of parents playing with teens aren't just as valuable.

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Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, WoW, Casually

Study: Playing in a guild actually lowers stress


A new study done by researchers at Australia's Queensland University of Technology says that spending time online playing World of Warcraft with others can actually be good for your mental wellbeing -- within moderation of course. Researcher Huon Longman studied WoW players who played alongside guildies in game, and found that players often shared their real-life concerns with their virtual associates, which resulted in lowered levels of "anxiety, depression, and stress." In short, it seems that when you build relationships and share emotions even with people online, it can help you deal with problems in real life as well. That follows what we talked about earlier this week with Dr. Hilarie Cash -- games like WoW can definitely complement real-life relationships and actually help you relax.

But only when used in moderation -- Longman also found that 10% of the sample he studied played considerably more World of Warcraft than normal, and that those players not only didn't experience a bigger benefit to their wellbeing, but actually experienced more "negative psychological symptoms." A good balance of virtual and real life can have a lot of benefits, but falling too much into virtual life can actually cause more problems psychologically, according to this researcher's work. Obviously, this is one study of many about how playing these games can affect how we think, but the results are definitely reflected in experience: in-game relationships, used in moderation, can definitely help you deal with the real world in a healthier way.

Thanks to everyone who sent this in!

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, WoW Social Conventions, Virtual selves, Guilds, Blizzard, Raiding

Researchers study WoW to see how gangs form and fade

We've seen WoW used for a lot of research, from epidemics to anthropological fieldwork, but this is probably one of the craziest and one of the most helpful (assuming it works) ways to use it. Psychologists at the University of Miami and the University of California, Irvine have been studying how guilds and groups form in World of Warcraft in the hopes that it'll help them figure out how gangs form in real life. It sounds like a wild idea, but following guilds and groups in World of Warcraft is much easier than trying to study spontaneous guilds in the real world, because you've got immediate access to data: when people joined and left and why. And the psychologists say putting data together like this will help, because it'll help answer questions about, for example, what happens when you decide to separate a group of people -- do they form their own groups again or do they stay separated?

They say there are other connections as well: though killing dragons is far less heinous than killing innocent bystanders, Warcraft guilds form, grow, stick together, and fall apart just like gangs and even other groups all over the world do. No matter what kind of group it is, the researchers say that "group ecology" is the same everywhere, so studying the way we work in endgame raids can lead to ideas about what we're doing elsewhere. Very interesting.

Unfortunately, they're full on potential but still pretty short on conclusions yet (listen, guys, all you have to do to break up gangs is ensure there's not enough loot to go around), but once again, Azeroth seems like a fertile ground for directly studying just how we players interact as humans.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Guilds, News items, Raiding, Bosses

UNLV researcher studies WoW social interaction

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas' student newspaper, the Rebel Yell, has an article up about a student there named Michael McCreery, who's studying how people interact in online games. Unfortunately, most of the article is about the game itself (most of which we already know, obviously), and there's not much about how he actually did the study: apparently he had people play WoW using only the ingame chat, and surveyed them afterwards about it.

How exactly that tells you how to "quantify the social interactions of participants in the game so that future online games can build better environments," we have no idea, but we'll leave that to the experts. Basically, McCreery and his team are examining how people use and interact with others in the game to see how we project ourselves and our characters.

Eventually, he wants to do something "education or therapeutic" with the information, though that too is left pretty open. Virtual environments like World of Warcraft do definitely engender ties between players -- is it possible that those ties can be used in an academic or therapeutical setting? Definitely an interesting line of research.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Fan stuff, Virtual selves, Guilds, Odds and ends

This is your brain on PvP

Ars Technica has news of a new study that isn't directly World of Warcraft-related, but that does have some pretty obvious applications in Azeroth. By studying the way we play when we believe we're competing against a human and a computer opponent (PvP vs. PvE, in WoW terms), scientists have determined that different parts of the brain are more active when we think we're playing against a human opponent. They call this extra activity "mind-reading," but it's not that supernatural: when we think we're playing a human, we try to put ourselves in their place, and think what they're thinking.

It gets deeper: they even throw gender into the mix, and discovered that male brains seem to be working harder to do this kind of "mind-reading" of the other side. Their conclusion says that that's because women are naturally more empathetic, and thus don't have to work as hard to figure out what another person is thinking. That seems a little general -- it could also mean that the males care more about competition, and thus are working harder to "mind-read," or it could even just be a wrinkle of the way this data was gathered. More research is probably needed on that one -- if women are so great at figuring out their opponents, why aren't we seeing all-female teams winning Arena tournaments?

It would be interesting to know, too, whether there's increased activity in other areas, say pattern recognition or cause-effect centers of the brain, when we're playing against opponents that we know are computers. But this does tell us that there are definitely different skillsets at work when playing PvP or PvE, and why some people might very clearly enjoy one over the other.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, PvP, Raiding, Arena

Study: Playing WoW makes you a better surgeon

The American Psychological Association has released a study of surgeons (why they chose surgeons to study, who knows) that says surgeons who play World of Warcraft and other video games can make them a better surgeon overall. Not only does controlling a game character give you better motor skills, but playing an involved and complicated game can, not surprisingly, can make you a better analytical thinker and problem solver. Surgeons who played videogames (though they don't mention how much or how often) were faster at advanced surgical procedures and make fewer errors than surgeons who didn't.

So does this mean that playing videogames can replace education entirely? Not so fast, back to schoolers -- apparently playing games also makes things not so complicated seem not so interesting. While leading a pickup group in Karazhan will definitely help your problem solving abilities (though probably not your stress levels), it will make it harder for you to do things like settle down and study a book. As with everything, moderation is the key.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Blizzard, News items

Study shows Horde have advantage for wearing red

All the red tabards on the Horde side really annoy me. How come everyone picks a red tabard? Isn't it enough that the Horde flag is red? Can't we have as much variation in our color schemes as we do in our tusk/horn/pigtail configurations? Red is so 2007.

Or maybe it's not. A study published in the Cyberpsychology & Behavior journal determined that teams who wore red while playing Unreal Tournament 2004 won 55% of the time over teams that wore blue. Another study from 2005 showed that wearing red gave an advantage to athletes in the 2004 Olympics, too. However, I'm not sure I buy the reasons given for this advantage, though. The neuroscientist who studied the Unreal Tournament matches thinks that because men turn red when they're angry this color acts as a psychological distractor. Sounds like some reaching, if you ask me.

Now, of course, in WoW we don't always wear the colors of our faction, but the predominance of red tabards on the Horde side and blue ones on the Alliance side may just put a Brutal Gladiator's Painsaw in the hands of those who claim the Horde has an advantage in the battlegrounds. But only if everyone wears red or blue. Hm. I wonder if I can change my guild's tabard color from green to red...

[Thanks, Avadann Kedeth.]

Filed under: Horde, Alliance, Analysis / Opinion, Guilds, News items, PvP, Battlegrounds

New report: Gamers are not lonely losers

Gamers seem to get a lot of bad press. From controversial episodes in the early days of Dungeons and Dragons to WoW addictions that are more shameful than online porn. Anyone who doesn't know us might actually believe that we're 10 million basement-dwelling social troglodytes. The American Medical Association is even considering the addition of video game addictions to their big book of mental problems (also known as the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders).

A new study by Victoria University found just the opposite. They found that about 15% of their 621 participants qualified as problem gamers, that is they spent more than 50 hours a week playing games. Even among that 15 percent, only one percent showed signs of poor social skills. While there are some who have a major problem gaming habit most of us are normal people who unwind with a video game.

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Filed under: Fan stuff, Virtual selves, News items

Study: Not playing WoW is more relaxing than playing it

A researcher at Middlesex University in Britain has conducted a survey of World of Warcraft players, almost 300 between the ages of 12 and 83, and found that people who play the game actually feel more relaxed before and after they play the game, rather than more aggressive at either of those times. Findings were supposed to be revealed today at a conference across the pond.

But from what I can tell, you can't say much more about this study than that people aren't as excited before and after playing WoW as they are while playing it. And it doesn't really take you a behavioral scientist to figure that out -- there's no way that taking a quiz given by some scientist is as exciting as, say, traversing the wastelands of the Barrens, or flying around Netherstorm.

Some people have taken this as a sign that the game somehow lets you chill out or makes you less angry than other gamers or people, which may be true, but that's not what's being said here. As far as I can tell, they're just saying that you're not as excited after playing the game as you are during. Maybe this will lead to something else, but as a finding, that's not exactly a groundshaker.

[Via WorldofWar.net]

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Odds and ends

Getting enthralled, or getting to bed?

WoW tends to be a night time activity for most people, many of whom find that it's surprisingly easy to move from one objective to another and lose track of time until the wee hours of the morning. Some people I know sometimes stay up most of the night playing WoW, only to get an hour or two of sleep before whatever they have to do the next day. They're young and they say they make up that sleep at other times, but still, no one would argue that this sort of situation is ideal.

A recent study reported by CNN says they're not alone. People who play MMORPGs tend to sleep less and spend more time playing than players of other computer games. It may seem obvious, since MMOs are by nature somewhat of a time-sink, but there is undeniably something more to it; any activity can potentially be a time-sink, after all -- so what is it about MMOs that makes people actually sink time?

The answer is up for debate, of course, but one important factor is that WoW's community of players gives the accomplishments within the game a context of reality. The game's goals, dangling in front of us like carrots, would be nearly meaningless if we could only appreciate them in a single-player context, but with a whole realm of other players working alongside us to get them too, they can feel very important. If the choice is between a few hours having dreams you won't remember, or getting a little closer to riding an impressive dragon mount, then certainly sleep can seem boring and useless by comparison.

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Filed under: Virtual selves, News items

Study says social games make people more social

Our good friends at Joystiq reported on a study earlier from Nottingham Trent University (it's in England) about MMO gamers and their social behaviors. And supposedly-- are you sitting for this one?-- massively multiplayer online games actually help people meet others and make friends. Go figure!

They surveyed 1,000 gamers (which is not a huge sample, actually), and found that almost half had actually met another player in real life, and one in ten developed "physical relationships" with someone they'd met in a game. 40% of people discussed sensitive issues with online friends rather than real-life ones, and 30% of players were attracted to another player. 80% of players also played not only with online friends, but with real-life friends and family as well. And according to the study, women were more likely to both be attracted to other players, and to eventually date them, and while women play for "therapeutic refreshment," men play for "curiosity, astonishment, and interest."

50% of respondents said World of Warcraft was their game of choice, so while the study was actually about MMO players, it's not a stretch to say it's just about WoW players (and pretty hardcore players, too-- average play time per week was 22.85 hours!). Like I said, 1,000 people is a pretty small sample, but apparently a journal approved it-- the study will be published in CyberPsychology and Behavior.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Virtual selves, Odds and ends

Study says games really don't hurt you


According to Ars Technica, a study appearing in the June edition of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine covering the effects of video games on young people paints a relatively reassuring picture. The study suggests that video games have no significant impact on academics or socialization. From the article:

Although there were some figures that might suggest that gaming displaced academic activities, such as reading and homework, the total time spent on these pursuits was so small that minor effects were magnified. If people are concerned about the lack of reading done by adolescents, the fact that non-gamers spend only eight minutes a day reading should be a far larger concern than the fact that gaming causes that figure to drop by a little more than two minutes.

And in my experience playing World of Warcraft with both kids and adults, I have to say that the game is very social, and can even teach plenty of social skills. (Well, as long as you eventually level out of Barrens chat.) Of course if you're replacing homework time with World of Warcraft time, that's one thing, but this study doesn't suggest that's what's happening. What's your opinion -- do games like World of Warcraft have a negative effect on our kids?
[Thanks, Mogwai!]

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends

Researchers at the University of Texas studying World of Warcraft [Updated]


A tipster informs us that researchers at the University of Texas at Austin are conducting a study to try to determine the "personalities and motivations" of people participating in World of Warcraft and other online games. And they're asking for our help! So if you have 10 or 15 minutes of free time, why not go fill out their MMORPG Survey? (Or if learning about the personalities and motivations of yourself and fellow players doesn't interest you, there's another study running at the university that seeks to understand how people interact in online environments. However, I've got to warn you, that one will take 20 to 30 minutes of your time.) The survey itself looks like a standard personality test, and, I have to say, is pretty uninteresting. However, I'm quite interested in seeing what sort of results they come out with in the end -- and if you're as curious as I am participating will only lead to more varied results in the end.

Update
: There is a great deal of discussion in our comments about the possibility of this site being a scam of some sort. While I agree that the domain name of the site is fishy, the content looks completely legitimate. (And, yes, I did run through this on my personal computer before passing it on to you.) With the original and subsequent e-mails we've received about the site, I would say it's legitimate. However, I have removed the link to the site pending further verification.

Update 2: After trading e-mails with Austin Harley (yes, through a valid University of Texas mailing address), one of the researchers involved in the study, I am convinced that this is, in fact, a valid project. Of the odd hosting arrangement, he says:

A good friend of mine offered to build a web page for my site and link it to an already functional database he had. He said this would be easier on him than building one off a webpage on the utexas server so I happily agreed since he was really doing me a huge favor. I had no idea so many people were worried about a potential scam or that my site would cause such a stir.

Update 3: To further assure anyone's concerns, I have talked to a member of the UT faculty overseeing this project, who, again, assures me that this is a legitimate study.

Filed under: Analysis / Opinion, Odds and ends

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