The untapped potential of virtual game worlds to shed light on real world epidemics
ABSTRACT Simulation models are of increasing importance within the field of applied epidemiology. However, very little can be done to validate such models or to tailor their use to incorporate important human behaviours. In a recent incident in the virtual world of online gaming, the accidental inclusion of a disease-like phenomenon provided an excellent example of the potential of such systems to alleviate these modelling constraints. We discuss this incident and how appropriate exploitation of these gaming systems could greatly advance the capabilities of applied simulation modelling in infectious disease research.
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ABSTRACT: Constituents of complex systems interact with each other and self-organize to form complex networks. Empirical results show that the link formation process of many real networks follows either the global principle of popularity or the local principle of similarity or a tradeoff between the two. In particular, it has been shown that in social networks individuals exhibit significant homophily when choosing their collaborators. We demonstrate, however, that in populations in which there is a division of labor, skill complementarity is an important factor in the formation of socioeconomic networks and an individual's choice of collaborators is strongly affected by heterophily. We analyze 124 evolving virtual worlds of a popular "massively multiplayer online role-playing game" (MMORPG) in which people belong to three different professions and are allowed to work and interact with each other in a somewhat realistic manner. We find evidence of heterophily in the formation of collaboration networks, where people prefer to forge social ties with people who have professions different from their own. We then construct an economic model to quantify the heterophily by assuming that individuals in socioeconomic systems choose collaborators that are of maximum utility. The results of model calibration confirm the presence of heterophily. Both empirical analysis and model calibration show that the heterophilous feature is persistent along the evolution of virtual worlds. We also find that the degree of complementarity in virtual societies is positively correlated with their economic output. Our work sheds new light on the scientific research utility of virtual worlds for studying human behaviors in complex socioeconomic systems.
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ABSTRACT: This paper examines the activities and economies of YoHoHo! Puzzle Pirates. YoHoHo! Puzzle Pirates is an online role-playing game that draws upon puzzle-orientated gameplay to construct a social world. This paper argues that technology (in this case YoHoHo! Puzzle Pirates) can offer a social experience that mimics everyday life including its aspects of mundaneity and repetition. Very little academic research in any environment has considered the interplay and mutual interdependence of spectacular events with the routines of everyday life. It is, however, this mutual dependency that constructs the spectacle as spectacular. Discussion of organisational activities often overlooks the fact that the labour aspects of everyday life are repetitive and mundane and instead prefer to discuss environmental context and social networks. By offering roleplaying and puzzle games with the opportunities to create social bonds in roughly equal proportions YoHoHo! Puzzle Pirates introduces social complexity through its economic structure and the need for a range of different interactions. Rather than acting as a disincentive to the participants, the mundaneity of free market participation in-game is, in fact, its pivotal attraction. This fully articulated economy provides a depth of sophistication that enables 'everyday' activities and social distinctions to be embedded into the environment including tasks associated with mundane labour, the shifting foibles of fashion and social hierarchies of authority and power. The lack of a 'hack and slash' Dungeon and Dragons culture or strategy within the game means that the economy is not simply based around the purchase of the best weapons or armour, this shift in focus has also reduced the occurrence of item farming or auction activity outside the game. Examination and interpretation of YoHoHo! Puzzle Pirates offers insight, as a social laboratory, into the interplay of events, labour and power within a complex, albeit sometimes mundane, economy. Sometimes the 'ho hum' activities of everyday life can make for good gaming.