A quantitative analysis of the movements and social and economic interactions of the players of an online game is published in the journal Scientific Reports. The research highlights the potential of online societies for the large-scale study of human behaviour, in particular of mobility.
Recent advances in digital technologies have yielded huge amounts of data on human activities and mobility. For instance, mobile phone records, online location-based social networks have been used as proxies for human movements but a unified theory of human mobility has remained elusive. Stefan Thurner and colleagues studied an entire society of individuals - the players of Pardus, a massive multiplayer online game - with complete information on their movements and their socioeconomic over a 1,000-day period. Pardus is an open-ended game with more than 350,000 players who live in a virtual, futuristic universe divided into different country-like regions, in which players can make friends, wage wars, and trade and produce commodities. Most players have a home region where they focus their activities, but can also move to adjacent regions.
The authors found that most players preferred to move within a region rather than crossing into different regions, suggesting that their movement is constrained not only by physical distances between the regions but also by the presence of socioeconomic boundaries within the universe of the game. The precise order in which players tended to visit locations was also important, suggesting a role for long-term memory effects. These two mechanisms suggest that both spatial and temporal constraints are important for the understanding of the rules that govern human mobility.