Social Play? A study of social interaction in temporary group formation (PUG) in World of Warcraft


One of the main components and reasons for the success of the Massive Multiplayer Online Games genre (MMOG) is that these games are seen as arenas for social interaction. The focus of this paper is the phenomenon of “Pick up Groups” (PUGs), a neglected aspect of online gaming. How is the social interaction structured in these temporary groups? The results of a participant observation study reveal a low level of social interaction between PUG players. Communication is held to a minimum and dungeons completed at high speed. Even in the event of downtime, interaction is rare. What little interaction has been observed is divided into instrumental and sociable interaction. A higher level of sociable interaction was found when several players from the same guild played together in the same group. But looking at greetings and goodbyes, normally used to acknowledge an ongoing social situation, we see that the social engagement in most PUGs is low. In summary, social interaction in PUGs, if any, is mainly instrumental, making these temporary groups unsocial game experiences; something not normally associated with group play in the MMOG genre.