Cooperation and feeling of unity

On: October 21, 2007
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About Fleur Dujardin
Fleur Dujardin is a master student of New Media at the University of Amsterdam. She has a bachelor degree in Marketing Management and a bachelor degree in Media & Culture with an expertise in televisionstudies.

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Online multiplayer games tend to encourage communication and cooperation. Constance SteinKuehler, from the University of Wisconsin, has found that these types of games are ‘sites for socially and materially distributed cognition, complex problem solving, identity work, individual and collaborative learning’. I want to stress that within these types of games cooperation has an effect on group behaviour, the feeling of unity and self-identification.

Travian, an MMOG (massive multiplayer online game), is an strategy game with events occurring in real time. By stealing or simply buying different resources like wood, clay, iron and crops the players villages expand untill they grow out into empires. But the main essence of this game is the cooperation between the players. First, the player must choose a tribe. He or she can choose between the Tautons, Romans and Gauls based on their strategic characteristics. Once the player is part of a certain tribe and reaches a certain level, he must join an alliance. He or she can be asked to join or start one himself. Within an alliance players are strong enough to attack or defend themselves against other alliances. Each player can look at the information for all alliancemembers and use communication tools all for mutual benefit. The alliance then can work together and use their resources to build a wonder of the world which is the main goal of this game.

When groups need the same resources, competition develops. When groups can gain resources by working together, they cooperate. As with social exchange theory, the underlying assumption is that people in groups are motivated by the desire to maximize the attainment of resources, in this case for the group.(Tyler: 1)

Resources play a big part in the motivation of the players. without them they cannot build up their villages to grow out into empires. You can say that the game is ‘forcing’ players to work together to gain resources and by that working together to reach the ultimate goal, which is a wonder of the world. But why do people play this game in spite of being forced to work together?

Working together can be signifcant for someone’s self-identification. the fundamental principle following from self-categorization theory is that psychological group formation is an adaptive process. This means that it produces socially unitary and collective behavior. Factors that in a given social setting create and make salient shared group membership and shared social identity produce a mutual orientation of attraction, cooperation, and influence as members define and react to each other in terms of their common social category membership rather than as differing individuals. (Tyler: 25) This is why the categorization within the game is so important. By giving players the opportunity to choose a certain tribe, they are feeling bonded with other players who made the same choice. But what makes the feeling of unity even stronger is the fact that they can work in alliances which they organize themselves. On this level players communicate with each other through skype, chat boxes or with the messageboard built in the game itself. This makes the other players who they work with together more ‘real’. Organizing for example an attack makes the player feel like he or she is part of something big, and that his or her input makes a difference:

In fact, I’ll go so far as to say there’s something amazing about the feeling of being part of a huge online team, and knowing that your participation really makes a significant difference.(…)But in Travian, you can’t help but feel you count, even in a
500-man war. When your army hits an enemey town and you get the damage report back, it feels …substantial – in no small part because your army probably took one week or more (real time) to build, and losses on both sides definitely matter.(www.edery.org)

Because thes types of games not only use resources as motivation to force the players to cooperate, but let them organize themselves within an alliance players are motivated to continue playing. Working within a group gives them the feeling of unity and that their input matters, and is that not the ultimate goal within any type of cooperation to aim for.

Tyler, Tom R. Roderick M. Kramer. The Psychology of the Social Self. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999.

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