Academia sounds like a fun place to hang out these days, with a new sociological journal in the US examining the intricacies of MMO societies in games such as World of Warcraft and Second Life.

While certain factions of the American right will no doubt be tearing their hair out at what they perceive to be a "waste of taxpayer's money" the Journal of Virtual Worlds Research is in fact a genuinely fascinating cultural document for anybody that plays or cares about what MMOs mean.

MMO-related issues currently up for consideration include griefing, gold farming, 'goon culture', griefing, entrepreneurial activity and intimacy in virtual worlds.

Intimacy in WoW

While it is hardly a new development in the social sciences (after all, Cultural Studies departments have been investigating youth subcultures since the 1960s) it is still interesting because of the focus on virtual MMO worlds.

A particularly interesting new paper on intimacy in World of Warcraft looks at how we develop relationships in online worlds. That particular study - The Rogue in the Lovely Black Dress: Intimacy in World of Warcraft - was based on hundreds of in-depth ethnographics interviews

One interviewee told the researchers: "I and a guy I liked spent a lot of time flirting in game. One evening we discovered an abandoned hut near Ironforge [a major city in WoW] and spent the whole evening with our avatars cuddling on the bed just touching. I really felt close to him and didn't notice time passing."

It seems that 'participant observation' of virtual worlds is only set to become a growing academic discipline in the social sciences in the future. We expect to be reading an increasing number of 'shock horror' Daily Mail headlines based around this trend in the coming years.

In the meantime though, if you are genuinely interested in the sociology of virtual worlds, check out some of the following intriguing-sounding books from the last couple of years:

Via Ars Technica