Sociologist Spends 2300 Hours Seeking Civilisation In WoW

Sociologist and director of Human-Centred Computing at the National Science Foundation, William Sims Bainbridge spent 2300 hours entrenched in popular MMO World of Warcraft, looking for look for insights about Western civilisation. What did he find there?

William Sims Bainbridge, Ph.D., is no spring chicken, but he braved the wilds of Azeroth for 2200 hours, playing each of the 10 races, all 10 classes and mastering several professions, all in the name of finding parallels between the game world and the world most of us live in. He delivers his findings in his book, "The Warcraft Civilization: Social Science in a Virtual World," now available from and wherever fine books are sold.

Bainbridge begins each chapter of the book with a character commentary from one of the 22 roles he played during those 22 hours, using them as a diving board to launch into exploration of major social issues from the character's point-of-view. Through his experience in the game, he tackles issues of religion, learning, cooperation, economy and more.

From the book's Amazon description:

In The Warcraft Civilization, sociologist William Sims Bainbridge goes further, arguing that WoW can be seen not only as an allegory of today but also as a virtual prototype of tomorrow, of a real human future in which tribe-like groups will engage in combat over declining natural resources, build temporary alliances on the basis of mutual self-interest, and seek a set of values that transcend the need for war.

It seems to me like Dr Bainbridge got a lot more out of the game than fat loot. It should make for a fascinating read. Consider it ordered.


    Best. Gaming. Excuse. EVAR!

    I was actually expecting the article to end with the sociologist becoming addicted to the game and not being able to finish the book.

      Heh heh, nice one Elly.

      Directed at Tom Bissell



      (If I were less of an amoral bastard that may have actually felt bad, as it stands I'm having a quiet chuckle to myself.)

    How is that quote a virtual prototype of tomorrow? It is a summary of human society. We already do form groups based on mutual self-interest, engage in combat over declining resources and seek a set of values which transcend the need for war. I could argue we always have, humans are a tribalistic society, we form groups like "gamers" and splinter off into subgroups which may have no common ground. We then seek out limited resources and when someone disagrees with our sub-group's choice of resource priorities, we start a war, verbal or otherwise.

    I mean come on, any reasonable student of history knows WWI was about oil, as was the Gulf War and WWII was essentially about the development of mass production and the control of manufacturing resources.

    I will be interested to see if he has anything to say about mutualism and the development of trust though as well as the use of the WoW world for modelling real world behaviours other than the epidemiology studies which have already been conducted.

    Wonder if the taxpayers were footing the bill via a grant for this "enlightening research".

    I'd have to question whether the population of WoW is actually a representative enough cross-section of human civilisation to be able to actually draw any conclusions about the real world from anything that happens in the game.

    You can call me a cynic (and you'd be right) but I don't think this will offer any great insights. I think this sociologist saw how many people play WoW and thought 'If I write a book about it, I'll sell millions of copies, I can even make it sound intelligent so people who don't play might be interested.' I wouldn't expect anything amazing out of it, probably just some conclusions that would be obvious to anyone that has played MMOs and some general sociology information you could find in any sociology book.

    Some of the comments really show the different between non-phd people and phd-wanna-be people ^_^

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