Opportunities and Risks in Online Gaming Environments
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Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) have evolved from traditional video games in that they embrace both the technology of the Internet and video games. The massive “exodus” from the physical offline world to online gaming communities brings with it not only a number of unique and exciting opportunities, but also a number of emerging and serious risks. This research set out to examine the unique opportunities and risks to vulnerable individuals, namely, young adults, teenagers and young children; all of whom are considered by many to be priority groups in the protection from harm. The purpose was to examine the reality of vulnerable individuals encountering these opportunities and risks.
This research combined a number of methodologies supported by underpinning qualitative and quantitative theories. Questionnaires, semi-structured interviews and focus groups gathered information from teenagers, adults and children in order to critically examine the unique opportunities and risks encountered in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games.
The findings from these interactions identified specific examples of opportunities and risk posed to vulnerable individuals. The findings demonstrated that there was a need for a support and protection mechanism that promoted the identification and awareness of the potential risk among vulnerable individuals. Emerging from these findings was a set of concepts that provided the evidence base for a Novel Taxonomy of Opportunities and Risks in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game environments that was designed to assist in the assessment of risk. Validation of the proposed taxonomy was achieved by means of an ethnographic study of (World of Warcraft) online gamers’ behaviour and social interactions through unobtrusive video capture of gaming sessions. The Novel Taxonomy of Opportunities and Risks provided a basis for the development of a proof-of-concept Decision Support System; the purpose of which was to assist both social work practitioners and individuals to identify and reduce risks. Representatives from both user groups were consulted for evaluation of the acceptability of such an approach. Favourable responses from participants demonstrated acceptability of the aforementioned approach. The evaluation process also demonstrated how the prototype would serve as a useful tool to make individual users aware of potential dangers.
This research presents three novel facets: (1) it advances understanding of the unique opportunities and risks within MMORPG environments; (2) provides a framework for the assessment of risks in MMORPGs through the Novel Taxonomy and (3) demonstrates a novel Decision Support System to assist in the identification and reduction of risk through a proof-of-concept prototype.
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