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There are several characteristics present within the culture that has emerged around massively multiplayer online games (MMOs). Not all players express all the different characteristics, and some MMOs encourage or discourage certain aspects that can be present elsewhere, strictly through the style of the game being played. One of the most common characteristics of MMO culture is a very close attachment to the virtual character that is used to interact with the game world, especially if the character has been exactingly customized by the player. In some circles, competitiveness is an aspect of MMO culture, most often in games that completely or partially revolve around player-versus-player combat. Extending from other concepts, a very territorial or clan-like mentality develops in many situations, usually causing players to form long-term organizations or groups that work together toward a common end or provide general support to one another while playing.
An overriding and dominant characteristic of MMO culture is the social nature of the players. It distinguishes players of multiplayer games from those that play single-player games. The social aspect of MMO culture can be seen in the many social tools that most games provide, such as friend lists, grouping mechanisms so teams of players can share rewards, and in-game social events that resemble real-life parties. The social elements also are expanded at times, allowing players to emulate real-life societal mechanisms such as marriage.
Competitiveness is a common characteristic of MMO culture, mostly because many MMOs use it as the basis for gameplay. In some games, the competitive nature is kept friendly and usually results in isolated incidents in which players test themselves against one another. Alternately, players in many team-based combat MMOs actively strive to undermine other players or to find methods to ensure other players cannot easily advance. When taken too far, competitiveness by a few players can make an entire game unplayable for others, a situation known as griefing. Griefing usually is considered a form of virtual harassment in MMOs, although it is common in some situations.
One prevalent characteristic of MMO culture is the bond that develops between the actual player and the virtual representation that is used within the game. Some players will spend a long time customizing the appearance of the virtual character. Within certain MMOs, some of the most valued in-game rewards are items that change or enhance the appearance of the virtual avatar. This has led to some segments of MMO culture in which players will purchase in-game customizations or items for the virtual character with real money, even though the item might be exclusively aesthetic with no intrinsic gameplay value.
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