Why pound the pavements asking questions when you can carry out your academic research from behind a desk?

A research study by a University of Minnesota computer scientist and colleagues from across the country shows that online, interactive gaming communities are now so massive that they mirror traditional communities.

These findings are creating a new evolution of social science research where researchers are able to study human behavior using nothing but MMORPGs like World of Warcraft.

The research team analyzed three years of data (over 60 terabytes) from the complete server logs and click-streams of Sony's popular PC game EverQuest 2. The data tracked every action performed in one of the world's most popular massively multiplayer online games.

Nearly a working week playing EverQuest

EverQuest 2 has more than 300,000 players who average 26 hours per week playing the game. Because of the intense level of involvement and multi-player environment of the game, researchers were able to study human behavioral dynamics through the game itself.

The researchers used the virtual world to model the social and behavioral dynamics of individuals, groups, and networks within large communities.

Their study presented evidence that the social sciences are at the threshold of a fundamental shift not only in their understanding of the social and behavioral sciences, but also the ways in which they study them.

The project was funded by the National Science Foundation and the US Army with cooperation from Sony.