The Proteus Paradox


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How Online Games and Virtual Worlds Change Us—And How They Don't

Nick Yee

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Price: $28.00
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A surprising assessment of the ways that virtual worlds are entangled with human psychology

Proteus, the mythical sea god who could alter his appearance at will, embodies one of the promises of online games: the ability to reinvent oneself. Yet inhabitants of virtual worlds rarely achieve this liberty, game researcher Nick Yee contends. Though online games evoke freedom and escapism, Yee shows that virtual spaces perpetuate social norms and stereotypes from the offline world, transform play into labor, and inspire racial scapegoating and superstitious thinking. And the change that does occur is often out of our control and effected by unparalleled—but rarely recognized—tools for controlling what players think and how they behave.
Using player surveys, psychological experiments, and in-game data, Yee breaks down misconceptions about who plays fantasy games and the extent to which the online and offline worlds operate separately. With a wealth of entertaining and provocative examples, he explains what virtual worlds are about and why they matter, not only for entertainment but also for business and education. He uses gaming as a lens through which to examine the pressing question of what it means to be human in a digital world. His thought-provoking book is an invitation to think more deeply about virtual worlds and what they reveal to us about ourselves.

Nick Yee is currently a senior research scientist at Ubisoft, where he studies gamer behavior. He lives in Mountain View, CA.

"Nick Yee is responsible for the most thoughtful work on the psychology of avatars and gaming in the past 15 years. He also has a rare gift for writing compelling prose."—Jeremy Bailenson, author of Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution

“Yee's breathtaking look at the psychology underpinning virtual worlds is packed with warnings, hopes, dreams, and dangers, all supported by original research. An astonishing tour de force.”—Richard A. Bartle, author of Designing Virtual Worlds
"This fascinating book proves virtual worlds are excellent laboratories for discovering truths about superstition and ethnic prejudice, love and friendship amidst conflict, and the quest for freedom in an unequal society."—William Sims Bainbridge, author of The Warcraft Civilization and eGods
“Our avatars are not exactly ourselves, but we do import an awful lot of the real world into our virtual worlds. Yee has mapped the boundaries of our virtual selves for years. With this book, he’s gathered that research into a lucid and informative package. Highly recommended for anyone who has ever spent time as an online persona.”—Raph Koster, lead designer Ultima Online and author of A Theory of Fun for Game Design
“Yee practically invented the study of online player psychology. With his lively wit and rigorous methodologies, he has once again made the complex understandable, the bizarre normal, and the scientific fun.”—Dmitri Williams, University of Southern California and CEO Ninja Metrics
"With clarity, insight, and above all hard experimental data, Yee has written what may be the last word on the tantalizing promise of virtual worlds. A must-read for social theorists and game designers alike."—Julian Dibbell, author of Play Money: Or How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot
“Based on surveys, experiments, and observations of thousands of players, Yee’s work offers compelling evidence that digital experiences shape us—and not always as we might expect or hope. If you want to know more about the consequences of spending time in a virtual world, you need to read this thought-provoking book.”—Mia Consalvo, author of Cheating: Gaining Advantage in Videogames
"This is a terrific read based on solid research, logic and inferences--a must for anyone interested in our growing digital universe and culture."—Jim Blascovich, author of Infinite Reality: Avatars, Eternal Life, New Worlds, and the Dawn of the Virtual Revolution

“Nick Yee’s fascinating new book on the human relationship to online games uses years of exhaustive studies to calmly debunk some of the persistent myths about online games.”—Leigh Alexander, The Columbia Journalism Review

“It is often difficult to find a textbook suitable for undergraduates wanting to know more about video games and virtual worlds. Some texts are scientifically rigorous but lead the readers through a labyrinth of difficult prose, whereas some texts are ‘soft’ and easy to follow but lack the scientific rigor. Yee's book is a perfect balance of both. Based on over a decade's expertise in video games and how they influence players' attitudes and behaviors, Yee presents a multifaceted, up-to-date discussion of how game players think and why they are motivated to invest so many hours immersed in virtual worlds.”—Sun Joo Ahn, Grady College, University of Georgia

“It is the most important, challenging, and accessible study yet conducted on the rich, sprawling culture the players have built. It is also a fine way for nonplayers to learn what gamers actually do.”—Reason Magazine
ISBN: 9780300190991
Publication Date: January 7, 2014
272 pages, 5 1/2 x 8 1/4