Online social networking as game

This BBC article “The power of play on the internet” is interesting in the light of our overarching “Playful Identities” research question: How do new (group) identities appear or how are old identities articulated and experienced? What is the role of digital media in this proces? And how can this be understood as “playful”?

The claim is made that online social networking is a type of game (not really a new idea). Impicitly it is suggested that gaming is the form of contemporary social bonding. Additionally, the relevance of online gaming for “real life” is underlined. This further undermines the old dichotomy between an isolated cyberspace versus real life as two separate domains. Interesting as well to me is the fact that there are reputation systems built into these social networking games. These become mechanisms to enforce reciprocity, which is an important term in theories about gift exchange (Mauss).

Some interesting quotes from the article:

Game design and social networks are merging into one of the most persuasive forces on the net. That assertion was made by a string of speakers at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco.

“Social networking is a game in and of itself,” explained Jennifer Pahlka, co-chair of the conference.


“Social networks offer a revolutionary way for people to play with friends and communities that have meaningful value to them in their real life,”


“Logging in and playing with strangers was exciting when the internet was new but the modern web is personal and social and it is clear that the internet is being used for social purposes to connect people rather than isolate them.”


“We build up these reputation systems with levels and rankings just as you would if it was a game and by applying these gaming principles it helps build these thriving successful communities.”

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