Enhancing Relationships with Farmville?

I just finished submitting the camera-ready copy of our paper on how social network games can initiate, maintain, and even enhance relationships. (Co-author J. Vitak has written a blog post summarizing the findings of this paper) This may seem like a ‘no duh’ finding, but I think this paper is really important because we’re beginning to see relationships mirroring those that do not involve any computer technology. A lot of the research in the past 20 years has been bashing technology and saying how it generates all these negative social outcomes, but now that we have a grasp of how to use this awesome thing called the Internet, the technology is no longer limiting us. Playing social network games through Facebook is almost the same as playing D&D or poker with your friends at your house- but with different pros and different cons. Of course, if you are comparing the face-to-face social game play involved in Friday D&D night with playing Mafia Wars online with your friends, you’re probably going to get more positive social benefits from the face-to-face game play. But comparing face-to-face game play with social network game play is not a fair comparison. Think about the availability of friends that could actually come to your house on Friday. Given the fact that people are located in remote places and everyone has different schedules, you could still get some positive social benefits from playing social network games with those friends whom you would probably not invite to Friday D&D night.

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