Emergent Cultural Differences in Online Communities’ Norms of Fairness
Strimling, Pontus & Frey, S.
Games and Cultures, doi.org/10.1177/1555412018800650
Unpredictable social dynamics can dominate social outcomes even in carefully designed societies like online multiplayer games. According to theories from economic game theory and evolutionary anthropology, communities that are otherwise identical can spontaneously develop emergent cultural differences. We demonstrate the emergence of norm diversity in comparable populations distributed across identical copies of a single multiplayer game world. We use 2006 data from several servers of World of Warcraft to analyze how social contracts about resource distribution converge within independent communities, while varying across them. We find wide-ranging diversity in the norms that communities consider standard, fair, and common, even where these norms are unenforcable and players face large incentives to deviate from them. By documenting how designed societies come to differ in undesigned ways, we present emergent cultural diversity as a distinguishing feature of human sociality and a major challenge for game designers.