Game-guilds can be modelled using the math of street gangs

The structure of guilds in video games mirrors the structures of criminal gangs in the real world, and both can be modelled using the same mathematics, say a group of Chinese and American scholars. Unfortunately, their paper isn't published in a proper open access journal, so we can't review their findings -- only the abstract.
Quantifying human group dynamics represents a unique challenge. Unlike animals and other biological systems, humans form groups in both real (offline) and virtual (online) spaces--from potentially dangerous street gangs populated mostly by disaffected male youths to the massive global guilds in online role-playing games for which membership currently exceeds tens of millions of people from all possible backgrounds, age groups, and genders. We have compiled and analyzed data for these two seemingly unrelated offline and online human activities and have uncovered an unexpected quantitative link between them. Although their overall dynamics differ visibly, we find that a common team-based model can accurately reproduce the quantitative features of each simply by adjusting the average tolerance level and attribute range for each population. By contrast, we find no evidence to support a version of the model based on like-seeking-like (i.e., kinship or "homophily").
Human group formation in online guilds and offline gangs driven by a common team dynamic (via /.)

(Image: Guild Wars, a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike photo from dalvenjah's Flickr stream)


  1. “Quantifying human group dynamics represents a unique challenge.”

    Really makes you appreciate Hari Seldon.

  2. This isn’t particularly surprising. Gangs are, in turn, recreating basic tribal relationships. It’s a pretty primal social pattern. The environment in a player-vs-player video game deliberately sets out to recreate a tribal conflict/gang warfare sort of small-group-against-everyone sort of situation, and it’s no surprise that the social organization that worked in real life works online as well.

  3. Saying that game guilds and street gangs can both be modelled using the same math is a far cry from saying that game guilds are the same as street gangs. But I can guess how the mains stream media will handle this story:

    Headline: Computer Games Turn Players into Online Street Gangs

    Sigh. I can almost guarantee this headline will appear within the next 24-48 hours.

  4. A “proper open-access journal”? It took me about thirty seconds to download the full text through the University of Alberta library system. I assume that you are upset that they didn’t decide to give their research away for free. Rather than subscribing to the journals, or railing against pay-for-access publications, why not join a decent university library?

    The U of A charges about $75 a year for full access to its physical and online holdings and subscriptions. This fee is admittedly (much) more than a public library membership, but also far less than a single subscription to most journals. Many universities offer reduced fees to alumni as well.

    I know you will probably take issue with me, but most researchers will never have the popular support required to make a living off of ad-supported content. Yes, in many cases their research is funded to some degree with public money, and yes, this is an argument for open access. But for many researchers, the money they will make from publication is the only reward they will receive for finishing a project, for getting results, and for contributing knowledge to their research communities. Joining an academic library is a way to support good, peer-reviewed research without breaking the bank, and to support under-appreciated and under-recognized academic content creators.

    1. Do we have any reason to suspect that the researcher is getting paid at all? Not a few journals, including some very pricey ones, make the submitter pay processing fees for publication, and require assignment of copyright. All the researcher gets is the credit for having been published.

      Unless this journal is unusually generous, the researcher is likely making nothing on this publication(and, since buying journal access that the faculty and students need costs crazy money, more of the money that could be going to him, or to reducing tuition, or similar, is going to Elsevier and friends instead.)

    2. Rawlangs, most researchers don’t get money from journal publication. More typically, they pay the publishers a fee for the privilege. “Finishing a project…getting results…and contributing knowledge to their research communities”, as you say, is their reward (leading to further research support, professional advancement, and better pay, of course).

      Also, most online journal licenses explicitly prohibit those outside of an institution from accessing content (except by coming in person to a university library), so I think you may be wrong about the University of Alberta. There policy is here:

    3. But for many researchers, the money they will make from publication is the only reward they will receive for finishing a project, for getting results, and for contributing knowledge to their research communities.


      Researchers are not paid by the journal. Neither are the reviewers. Where the money goes is left as an excercise for the reader.

  5. I have to agree with rawlangs here; academic publication is one of the areas where I think the free-copy era poses the greatest challenge.

    On the one hand, Cory’s right that DRM/paywalls/anti-copy measures of any kind are fundamentally doomed in the long run. (Infinity308 has, of course, just proved that.)

    On the other hand, academic research is desperately underfunded (not to mention funded in the wrong ways when it is funded…) and researchers urgently need the income. Ad-supported simply doesn’t _work_ for research. (It could in principle, but in practice we as a society simply don’t value research papers nearly enough for that.)

    I don’t want to see a society in which no research is possible unless it has immediate commercial value, but we’re sadly drifting ever more in that direction.

    So… support your local academic library / journal of interest.

  6. Wait, you think that researchers get *paid* by academic journals?!


    Researchers’ budgets are badly eroded by academic journal subscription fees, which rarely, if ever pay for the papers they publish. These journals also routinely claim full copyright in researchers’ work, so that the researchers no longer able to publish them and have to beg permission from copanies like Elsevier to reprint their own work.

  7. I did enjoy this remark “Unfortunately, their paper isn’t published in a proper open access journal, so we can’t review their findings”. Cory, can you name a “proper open access journal” where this would be published and peer reviewed and be useful in a tenure or promotion case?

    I would even more greatly enjoy reading reviews of this paper by Cory or boingboing readers. The fact that most peer reviewed publications are not available for public scrutiny is unfortunate philosophically and socially but of no real consequence intellectually. Few academics can read many published papers and so there is not really much of interest to the lay reader beyond the titles and abstracts.

    I would love to see a sensible replacement for the current system but I have yet to see one (PLoS included) that can scale up to replace it that could not be dismissed with a fill in the blanks rejection form. At the moment there are too many vested interests (journals, governments and university administrators) that enforce the status quo for academics to be able to successfully move to something better. The trend in CS to go to conference proceedings is no different as the conferences are costly and don’t even get me started on arXiv.

  8. I saved you some trouble and skipped to the conclusions.

    1. The similarity between grouping behavior of street gangs and game guild members suggests that the behavior is endogenous because they two group otherwise do not have social factors in common. Endogenous means a process that originates within an entity. In biology, a circadian rhythm would be an endogenous process.

    2. The grouping mechanism of both of these groups appears to involve individuals seeking others with strengths that complement their own, not individuals seeking others with the same strengths as their own.

    3. The quantitative model they have developed satisfies five criteria:

    i) it is reproducible.

    ii) It offers a plausible description of group membership rules

    iii) it is insensitive to perturbations of anomalous data.

    iv) It has a minimum of free parameters. (That it is relatively simple?)

    v) That it provided actual insight as to group forming mechanisms,

    4. That the paper suggests that there may be analytically based solutions that can be derived from this model (for cops and game developers as foremost examples presumably), but those solutions are confronted with some serious challenges.

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