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Human group formation in online guilds and offline gangs driven by a common team dynamic

Neil F. Johnson, Chen Xu, Zhenyuan Zhao, Nicolas Ducheneaut, Nicholas Yee, George Tita, and Pak Ming Hui
Phys. Rev. E 79, 066117 – Published 26 June 2009
Physics logo See Synopsis: What it takes to be a team player


Quantifying human group dynamics represents a unique challenge. Unlike animals and other biological systems, humans form groups in both real (offline) and virtual (online) spaces—from potentially dangerous street gangs populated mostly by disaffected male youths to the massive global guilds in online role-playing games for which membership currently exceeds tens of millions of people from all possible backgrounds, age groups, and genders. We have compiled and analyzed data for these two seemingly unrelated offline and online human activities and have uncovered an unexpected quantitative link between them. Although their overall dynamics differ visibly, we find that a common team-based model can accurately reproduce the quantitative features of each simply by adjusting the average tolerance level and attribute range for each population. By contrast, we find no evidence to support a version of the model based on like-seeking-like (i.e., kinship or “homophily”).

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  • Received 9 January 2009


©2009 American Physical Society


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What it takes to be a team player

Published 29 June 2009

A comparison between two social groups—urban gangs and the virtual “guilds” found in online role-playing games—suggests that they tend to follow similar patterns in how they form.

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Authors & Affiliations

Neil F. Johnson1, Chen Xu2,3, Zhenyuan Zhao1, Nicolas Ducheneaut4, Nicholas Yee4, George Tita5, and Pak Ming Hui3

  • 1Department of Physics, University of Miami, Miami, Florida 33126, USA
  • 2Jiangsu Key Laboratory of Thin Films, School of Physical Science and Technology, Soochow University, Suzhou 215006, China
  • 3Department of Physics, The Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin, Hong Kong, China
  • 4Palo Alto Research Center, Palo Alto, California 94304, USA
  • 5Department of Criminology, Law and Society, University of California, Irvine, California 92697, USA

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Vol. 79, Iss. 6 — June 2009

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Physical Review E Scope Description to Include Biological Physics
January 14, 2016

The editors of Physical Review E are pleased to announce that the journal’s stated scope has been expanded to explicitly include the term “Biological Physics.”

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