Student's Online Research Attracts Attention of Future Employer
College students use the Internet for lots of reasons: checking out course assignments, keeping in touch with parents far away, and even "talking" to friends in dorms across campus. The way in which a Haverford College senior recently used the Internet attracted the attention of several academic and business leaders and landed him a job with a multibillion-dollar corporate giant. When Nicholas Yee graduated from Haverford on May 20, he set off on an inside track for success in the technology arena.
It all started with a computer game. Several years ago, Yee and a few friends started exploring the game EverQuest, a so-called 3-D massively multiplayer fantasy role-playing game. Yee was drawn into the game's virtual world, complete with its own diverse species, economic systems, alliances and politics. His fascination with EverQuest evolved into an academic interest as well, and eventually it became the basis of his senior research project.
A psychology major with a concentration in computer science, Yee developed an online survey in which he culled both quantitative and qualitative data from some 18,500 responses submitted by 3,300 gamers of EverQuest through the Internet. He examined everything from the age and gender of participants to the psychological components of the game's social interactions. The process and Yee's results offer what Haverford professor Doug Davis calls "an example of what teaching with, through, and for technology can accomplish." Davis adds that the research has received the attention of journalists; psychologists, one of whom asked permission to replicate Yee's study using a different game; and professionals.
Because of his online research, a research arm of Accenture (formerly Anderson Consulting) sought Yee out, flew him to Chicago to give a presentation on his work, and extended him a job offer. Yee now works for Accenture's Center for Strategic Technology Research (CSTaR), where jobs are usually reserved for those with graduate training in computer science. When he started there, he was the only employee in the group with a background in social science.
The people at Accenture apparently recognized Yee was on to something unique. "Even though MMORPG's (massively multiplayer online role-playing games) have been around for about two years, there has been very little research done on these games, apart from the question of whether game violence leads to real-life violence," Yee says. "No one had looked at the more psychological and sociological aspects of the game quantitatively."
Altogether, Yee posted 19 surveys on the Internet between September 2000 and April 2001, each building on the responses of the previous survey. He posted detailed findings on his web site (www.nickyee.com). "The way that I was collecting data online, using HTML forms, is definitely a new way of doing psychological research, which usually takes place in a lab setting," Yee explains. "The database of information is useful because it allows access to both the big numerical picture and individual qualitative responses."
His results indicate that female players find the game appealing and continue playing for a different set of reasons than male players. For example, female players find the social interaction of the game more appealing than the male players do, while male players enjoy the sense of power the game gives them. Yee also found that female players are more likely to feel that their EQ friendships are better or comparable to their real-life friendships. Yee explains that "Female players are more willing to build relationships in the game, whereas male players are less interested in doing so. Male and female players have different motivations for playing, and they become attached to the game for very different reasons."
A native of Hong Kong, Yee plans to continue his examination of the many facets of EverQuest as he begins his career. It may seem like a long leap from the fantasy world of Wood Elfs and Rogues to real-world applications, but he insists the jump makes sense. "The game environment is rich enough to build realistic economic or political models. For example, fads, inflation and price fluctuations all occur in EverQuest." Yee says. "And of course, the advantage is that you can test economic models by deliberately breaking the structure and not have to worry about a real-life economic crisis."