What Are the Characteristics of MMO Culture?

Eugene P.

There are several characteristics present within the culture that has emerged around massively multiplayer online games (MMOs). Not all players express all the different characteristics, and some MMOs encourage or discourage certain aspects that can be present elsewhere, strictly through the style of the game being played. One of the most common characteristics of MMO culture is a very close attachment to the virtual character that is used to interact with the game world, especially if the character has been exactingly customized by the player. In some circles, competitiveness is an aspect of MMO culture, most often in games that completely or partially revolve around player-versus-player combat. Extending from other concepts, a very territorial or clan-like mentality develops in many situations, usually causing players to form long-term organizations or groups that work together toward a common end or provide general support to one another while playing.

Characters are represented by an avatar in MMOs.
Characters are represented by an avatar in MMOs.

An overriding and dominant characteristic of MMO culture is the social nature of the players. It distinguishes players of multiplayer games from those that play single-player games. The social aspect of MMO culture can be seen in the many social tools that most games provide, such as friend lists, grouping mechanisms so teams of players can share rewards, and in-game social events that resemble real-life parties. The social elements also are expanded at times, allowing players to emulate real-life societal mechanisms such as marriage.

A massively multiplayer online (MMO) game is a game played via the Internet by hundreds, if not thousands, of people at once.
A massively multiplayer online (MMO) game is a game played via the Internet by hundreds, if not thousands, of people at once.

Competitiveness is a common characteristic of MMO culture, mostly because many MMOs use it as the basis for gameplay. In some games, the competitive nature is kept friendly and usually results in isolated incidents in which players test themselves against one another. Alternately, players in many team-based combat MMOs actively strive to undermine other players or to find methods to ensure other players cannot easily advance. When taken too far, competitiveness by a few players can make an entire game unplayable for others, a situation known as griefing. Griefing usually is considered a form of virtual harassment in MMOs, although it is common in some situations.

One prevalent characteristic of MMO culture is the bond that develops between the actual player and the virtual representation that is used within the game. Some players will spend a long time customizing the appearance of the virtual character. Within certain MMOs, some of the most valued in-game rewards are items that change or enhance the appearance of the virtual avatar. This has led to some segments of MMO culture in which players will purchase in-game customizations or items for the virtual character with real money, even though the item might be exclusively aesthetic with no intrinsic gameplay value.

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Discussion Comments


@Terrificli -- The social component is still huge in MMOs. There may be more emphasis on gaming, but it is not that much different from the old days. People still log onto these things to engage in activities with like minded people.

The technology has improved and the games are better, but I don't know that the games themselves have changed all that much. They are still online and the social aspect is what keeps players coming back.


One thing that is very different is how people involved in MMOs are actually there to play a game. What I mean is I remember these online things back when they were primarily text adventures (the old MUSH, MOO and MUD games). It seems the social component was the primary thing. People mostly talked to each other like they were on a message board or something and questing was in the background. It was mostly people visiting from around the world and goofing off.

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