And here I thought my job gave me a great excuse for screwing around online

Via Broken Toys: A Loyola University professor named David Myers says that the thousands of hours he spent playing the online RPG City of Heroes/Villains weren’t just for entertainment purposes. He was actually conducting a “breaching experiment,” a sociological exercise in which “conventional social norms [are] breached and the consequences of those breachings [are] examined in order to better understand the mechanisms by which social order [is] re-constituted.”

In layman’s terms, the guy deliberately acted like an asshole in an online game, ignored other players’ repeated requests that he knock it off, and took notes on the entirely predictable nerd rage that resulted. After more than a year of this, having successfully gotten himself ostracized on multiple game servers, he ended the experiment and published an academic paper about it, “Play and Punishment: The Sad and Curious Case of Twixt.” Last Monday, the New Orleans Times-Picayune ran a story on the “dismaying” results of Myers’ study.

Myers’ paper offers an unintentionally hilarious combination of academic jargon, third-person self-reference, and gamer smack talk:

The inability of Twixt’s opponents to acknowledge his success in zone play was probably, on one hand, motivated by having entirely different, more socially oriented game goals. However, the degree to which villain messages and in-game claims distorted and transformed Twixt’s behavior was drastic. For instance, Twixt was able to win the zone (capture all six pillboxes for the heroes) literally hundreds of times during his year-long period of breaching play on three different servers. Twixt’s opponents, during this same period, may have won the zone, in total, less than twenty times. Twixt was normally able to defeat, on average, ten to twenty villains a night, while villains seldom killed him more than once or twice during the same period of play — and, more often, didn’t kill him at all.

Rather than acknowledge these successes, Twixt’s opponents refused to admit they occurred: Whenever Twixt pointed to the objective results of his play, he was ridiculed and ignored. At one point, in fact, toward the end of breaching play on the Freedom server, Twixt posted verbatim transcripts of the game’s online combat log as a confirming account of what had occurred during RV play. This post drew severe criticism – most harshly from those players listed in the log as defeated by Twixt; several denied their defeats outright, others attributed their defeats to more devious or pitiable causes (including a rather long and detailed post drawing parallels between Twixt’s behavior and Asperger’s syndrome.)

Game designer and blogger Scott Jennings offers his own thoughts on the professor’s experiment here and here. The professor responds on his own blog here (and here and here). Adolf Hitler, not to be outdone, whines about his own online gaming woes here.