The Proteus Paradox: How Online Games and Virtual Worlds Change Us—and How They Don’t by Nick Yee (Yale University Press, $28)
Nick Yee, a Ubisoft researcher who worked at Stanford and with the Daedalus Project to study the psycho-social effects of multi-player online role playing games, has written a fascinating book about that research, with the big bonus that he uses the voices of actual players describing their experiences to illustrate the trends he’s found in his research.
First and foremost, online gamers are not teen and twenty-something males living in basements and eating Cheetos—at least, not exclusively. The presence of women, the prevalence of gamers over 40, the hierarchical organizations that evolve, the ways in which gaming becomes “work”—and is studied by business in order to find ways to further exploit their employees—and the development of superstitions and prejudices within the virtual world can tell us a great deal about what it means to be human.
Yee has done an excellent job explaining the world of online role-playing games–especially for those of us who’ve never tried the adoption of a virtual persona–and why they matter. He situates multi-player online RPGs in an historical context and explains how they differ from traditional RPGs (which began with war games, then evolved into the D&D-type games we remember from the ‘80s).
What’s more, he’s got the expertise–and the data–to back up his claims about what we can learn about human behavior in the real world from studying human behavior in the virtual world. His usefulness at debunking preconceived ideas about gamers is second only to the respect he shows those who game.
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