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MMORPG, MUVE…What’s the Difference?
Examining the Communication Facets of Virtual Worlds
Sarah Robbins-Bell

This event took place on 21st November 2008 at 9:00am (09:00 GMT)

This paper will share the results of a faceted classification study of over thirty virtual worlds, the important mechanics that emerge from the study, and the implications of these facets. This analysis yields more than just the differences between game and non-game spaces. Rather, important descriptive trends will be demonstrated that will not only aid in the discussion of these spaces, but also function as a tool to predict what types of mechanics may spur future innovation and adoption.

Faceted classification, as a research method, has never been applied to virtual worlds. Computer Mediated Communication (CMC) scholar, Dr. Susan C. Herring, introduces the Faceted Classification method in a 2007 article in which the approach is drawn from early work in text classification done by library scientist Ranganathan (1933). Ranganathan’s classification approach later developed into the Colon Classification system, a library system influential in the development of the Library of Congress classification system. Herring explains the strengths of the faceted classification approach:

“Ranganatham described the faceted classification method as analytico-synthetic: A subject domain is first analyzed into component facets, and relevant facets are then synthesized into combinations to characterize items of interest…The flexibility of faceted classification lies in its ability to describe a large number of items with the subject domain, including novel items, on the basis of a relatively economical, pre-defined set of facets and terms.” (6)
Thus, faceted classification allows us to take a large number of objects with varied attributes, analyze them, and then put them into a classification scheme that not only presents those characteristics in a more orderly scheme, but also allows for easy, meaningful comparison of objects.

Rather than analyzing these virtual spaces as cultural texts as others have done (Gee, Jenkins, Rheingold, Turkle, Yee, Steinkuhler etc.), I propose that we look at the “mechanics” and “tools” in the environments that facilitate communication and community. The research presented here, using structural analysis and a faceted classification scheme suggests a taxonomy and a new method with which to categorize and deconstruct the functions within these environments to better study the forms of communication taking place within them.
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