Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Building blocks of a virtual community

Yesterday I had an interesting discussion about mobile communities with a mobile game developer. And today when visiting Dina TV and discussing about games and escapism with Pekka Meskanen and Raisa Laukkanen the discussion came back to my mind. I started thinking why (what is the need) people play online games? How much escapism and social needs are alternative, how much parallel factors to each other? How community is different from plain social interaction (on the Net)?
- a group of people having something in common: area, ethnic or cultural or religious characteristics, ownership, common interests, profession, interest (goal), ecology. (Source:
The desire to retreat into imaginative entertainment rather than deal with the stress, tedium, and daily problems of the mundane world. (Source:

Virtually social interactions (communities)
Virtual communities are social aggregations that emerge from the Net when enough people carry on those public discussions long enough, with sufficient human feeling, to form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace. (Source: Rheingold, 1993, The Virtual Community)
It is easy to understand why people may think digital games as escapism (Escapism Lite, if you like). But is WoW or Assembly escapism? If so, in what way? I would say Pachinko and virtual reality (VR) definitely are types of escapism offering total immersion into the game worlds (noisy Pachinkos, immersive 3D VR worlds).
But online games and gaming events mainly tend to bring enthusiasts together to have fun and compete with each other. Definitely there is a certain level of devotion and 'contentual escapism' in games otherwise people would not play them. One looks after pleasure and emotions from a game (or a book/a movie). But that is not escapism it is a way to feed one's imagination. A way to explore and experience new things and different emotions. Could it be experientalism instead of escapism?

Is contentual escapism a must have in virtual communities (if the building blocks of a virtual community are as follows):
1) Meaning and purpose to use the service
2) Limits, rules (etiquette)
3) Tools (for users)
4) Possibilities (alternative routes)
5) History (events, development of social relationships)
6) Members -- of course
7) Dynamic nature of the virtual world (changes, cyclic active and passive periods)
8) Trust
9) Sharing (information, items, knowledge, material)
10) Trading (information, items, knowledge, material)

Contentual escapism sounds like a sibling to social interactions in online (or mobile) worlds. Perhaps the talk should be about the differences between 'negative' and 'positive' (contentual) escapism and how escapism is different from one's imagination or creativity? What type of escapism is essential in able to make a virtual community work?

Further reading:

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