It's not just people interested in narrative design and the brain-rotting potential of games who are investing in some serious academic research: marketing companies are starting to take a hard look at how people present themselves online with the help of psychologists and others in related fields. Behavioral Insider, a publication geared at "behavioral marketing" techniques has an interesting q&a with Lina Zhou, a professor at the University of Maryland who has done a lot of research into the issue of deception in virtual worlds. Even if you don't care about how marketing companies are trying to sell their product to your night elf, there's some interesting content:
Interpersonal deception is traditionally discussed in the context of a physical world, where there exist moral standards that have been developed over a long time to constrain individuals' behavior. For example, everyone is expected to tell the truth. In a virtual world, such a standard may not exist -- or the routine of practice could be different.
For example, in some online games, it is acceptable for a player to win or to gain advantages by deception, which does not violate our moral standards. Second Life is similar to traditional 3D multi-player role-playing games in many ways, but they also differ in two important aspects. First, Second Life allows residents to create their own social world collectively. Second, it encourages residents to trade their creations and skills for real-world money.
It's something I hadn't really considered before: how do you get a handle on your target audience when you're dealing with fantasy environments?