This is interesting -- a researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison (just up the road from me here in Chicago) says that World of Warcraft is an emerging new "third place." That is, it's a place in between your work and home where you make friends and otherwise interact with new people. Starbucks has even used the term in their actual marketing (to try to make their coffee shops a hangout more than just a place that you stop by and grab a cuppa joe), and WoW isn't even the first videogame to fit the critera -- Sony advertised the Playstation 2 as a "third place" in Europe.
But even though Blizzard has never actually marketed the game as a "third place," it almost fits the definition most. Sure, it's not actually a different place -- most people do play at home, I'd imagine -- but in terms of having a different crowd of people that you interact with outside your home or work, that is often exactly what WoW is for us. As Professor Constance Steinkuehler (who has a pretty wild website for a college professor) says, "most people go for the game and stay for the people."
Additionally, she also says that the discussion in WoW and other gaming communities actually makes us better citizens -- we're not just meeting in these games, but we're discussing the issues and relating to each other in a strong way. Obviously she's never been in the Barrens chat on a weekday afternoon, but she's right about guild chats: the friends you make in a guild are likely the most diverse group of people, in terms of backgrounds and beliefs, that you'll meaningfully encounter day-to-day.
Fascinating stuff. Of course, you may argue that the relationships you make in Azeroth are nowhere near as strong as the relationships you make at work and in your own home with friends and family, and likely you'd be right. But remember that without the game and other online communities like it, you wouldn't have those relationships at all. Weak as they may be, online communities like World of Warcraft are pushing our relationship circles to places they've never gone before.
WoW is the new "third place"
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