“Social relationships may actually improve when the world ends, according to a recent study of the online game ArcheAge (pictured here). 2014 Jovial Joystick/CC BY 2.0
The end of the world is near, and you’ve been given more than a fair warning. What will you do?
Over 81,000 players in the medieval fantasy massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) "ArcheAge" were faced with that question as they explored the fictional world of Erenor.
Well, sort of. In a recent study, "I Would Not Plant Apple Trees if the World Will Be Wiped…," "ArcheAge" players were placed in an end-times scenario to test their behavior when an apocalyptic event looms.
The researchers analyzed 270 million player behavior records during a closed beta test (CBT) of "ArcheAge," a "sandbox-style" game that allows players to roam the world and choose their own path. At the end of the CBT, all characters, data and virtual property are deleted and the outcome of the players’ behaviors loses its meaning. In other words, the virtual world was ending, and the players were aware of it. How would they behave during end times, when there is no penalty for harmful deeds?
As MMORPGs are approximations of the real world, the researchers aimed to use the beta test to understand people’s actions in an actual apocalypse. To study the complex dynamics of the virtual world, the researchers classified 75 different in-game actions into 11 categories, including combat, raid, item production, housing and "interaction doodads, when players interact with various worldly objects, e.g., harvesting a tree for wood." They collected the records of these actions during the 11-week gaming period as anonymized data, not linked to any real-world identities.
The authors found that as the apocalypse neared, more players abandoned their quests and stopped advancing their characters, quitting their efforts at leveling up and gaining abilities. While some players resorted to anti-social behavior — churners, or players who left the game, were more likely to kill other players — overall trends were pro-social right before the "end of the world." The players who stayed until the end of the game exchanged more in-game messages, expressed more positive sentiments in their chats and created more parties for group-play or high-level quest completion.
"It’s kind of like sitting next to a stranger on the airplane," lead author Ahreum Kang said in a press release. "You may keep to yourself during the flight, but as the plane reaches the runway, you strike up a conversation knowing the end is in sight."
Sure, "ArcheAge" is just a video game, and there’s no way to accurately replicate an apocalypse. But it’s heartening to know that most people might opt to be helpful rather than murderous when doomsday is nigh.
Now That’s Morbid
Humans have a fascination with predicting the end of the world. Fortunately, the cosmic bodies headed for Earth, massive natural disasters and Judgment Days that people have prophesied over the years have yet to bring humanity’s last days.