Social Information Processing in MUDs: The Development of Friendships in Virtual Worlds
With the rapid growth of the Internet, new communication forms have emerged. This study examines how friendships are developed in a special kind of virtual world: multi-user-dungeons (MUDs). According to the Social Information Processing perspective (Walther, 1992) people learn to verbalize online that which is nonverbal offline, with increasing time. The use of verbal paralanguage should be an important factor in the development of impressions. Sociability, as a general trait, and skepticism towards computer-mediated communication (CMC), as a situation-specific attitude, could also influence this process. One hundred and three MUD users completed a questionnaire concerning their online friendships, MUD use, attitude about MUDding, use of paralanguage, sociability, and skepticism toward CMC. Seventy-seven percent of the MUDders reported relationships with others. Results supported the Social Information Processing perspective: Sociability had little influence, whereas skepticism towards CMC was an important predictor. Only participants who scored low in skepticism use the paralanguage-features provided in MUDs and develop friendships. To examine why the skeptical respondents play MUDs, a cluster analysis was computed. It revealed four types of MUDders, who differ in their attitude toward MUDs. The consequences of different motivations for playing MUDs on the development of friendships are discussed.