Online games possess a number of characteristics similar to those in digital library and other online services. Awareness of these characteristics can provide:
clues as to how people can and do use online systems.
inspiration for new or improved methods of providing access to digital information holdings.
examples of what is technically possible for complex online services with many simultaneous users.
Online games represent the leading technological edge of the entertainment sector. Such games now attract many thousands of players, often collaborating or competing in a lag-free and visually rich environment while simultaneously using an array of data manipulation and online communication tools.
The past five years have seen a rapid growth in academic interest in computer and video games, especially online games. Conferences, peer-reviewed journals, bodies and academic organisations such as DiGRA  have sprung up and matured. This interest crosses many academic fields, including psychology, economics, sociology, computer science, geography, history, media and cultural studies, and education.1 For example:
A quick perusal of the proceedings of the International Conference of the Learning Sciences ... and the Computer Supported Collaborative Learning organisation indicates the widespread interest in online communities and virtual worlds within the field of educational research .
There are many factors behind this increase in academic attention, including:
A large number of people (measurable in millions) are playing computer games, especially online games. Some of these games operate – without noticeable delay – with many thousands of simultaneous online players.
Players voluntarily spend a substantial amount of time playing, especially online games. Within MMOGs (Massive Multiplayer Online Games), the average amount of weekly gameplay ranges from 12 to 21 hours. Much of this time is spent communicating – nearly 30 percent of MMOG players spend their in-game time with "beyond-game" friends .
Despite the significant time commitment, most players receive no material reward for their effort; in fact, games usually cost the player money in terms of software costs and online subscriptions.
Players are often multi-tasking, processing large amounts of different online information (communications, locations, inventories, gaming status) simultaneously.
Computer games, and online games in particular, are complex systems where players can "meet", communicate, interact, and "create" and manipulate virtual content.
The computer game industry forms a significant part of the entertainment sector, with an annual turnover of approximately $25 billion.
These, and other factors, correlate to aspects of digital information service development and use. Like online games, digital information services are also online "always on" services which are simultaneously accessed by many people. The current interest in Web 2.0 also highlights parallels between online games and the emerging generation of more open and user-manipulated online services.
With the arrival of the next generation of video consoles – which will increase the number of people playing online games – this article provides a brief overview of contemporary aspects of online games, and the people who play them. Also examined are those aspects of online games and gaming that have direct parallels with digital library and other information services, and how some of the principles of Web 2.0 map onto current online gaming practice.
1. Until the last few years, the study of digital games in education was confined mainly to small-scale psychology and sociology academic research projects. However, funding bodies and national education policy makers in several countries are now investigating the use of such games in curriculum-based learning, with a particular focus on the quality of content, delivery and models of learning. For example, in China the Shanghai Science and Technology Education Commission recently announced  that it would allocate 1 million yuan for educational computer games (online and offline) and cartoons, which would be used in 1,500 local elementary schools. In the US, several recent initiatives have injected significant funding into this area. For example, Maryland Public Television has recently  been awarded a $15 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to create a series of digital learning games and simulations and other online tools to boost math instruction, reading comprehension and vocabulary skills.
2. Wikipedia  contains substantive and detailed descriptions of online game types such as MMOGs and MMORPGs, as well as the more popular individual online games.
3. One notable exception to this is the Star Wars Galaxies online game, the environment of which is based on the locations in the film series.
4. There are a number of interesting parallels between how this particular effect spread through the in-game population, and current theory as to the likely spread of avian flu and other pandemics.
5. In 2001, one platinum piece, the unit of currency in the EverQuest world of Norrath, traded on real world exchange markets higher than both the Yen and the Lira .
6. A casual game player is (hazily) defined as one who plays occasionally or regularly, but not frequently. People who play games frequently, e.g., several times a week or daily, are often labelled "core" or "hardcore" players.
7. A popular source of information and reflection on the area where digital libraries, online services and Web 2.0 overlap is Lorcan Dempsey's blog .
8. A favourite form of online communication for gamers. A Technorati  search on 20th November 2005 revealed 2,561 blog postings in the last 13 days carried the "World of Warcraft" tag alone.
9. An interesting and well-known example is "Red vs Blue" , a weekly downloadable film. The writers of the script "act" out each scene using characters within, and footage from playing, the Xbox game Halo.
10. The explanation on the Search History function reads: "Your most recent 50 searches can be reviewed and accessed from this page. Saved searches also include previously visited "linked queries" (for example, the Subject or Name links on Image Detail pages). Searches are stored only during your current search session."
 DiGRA: Digital Games Research Association. <http://www.digra.org/>.
 Steinkhuehler, C. A. Learning in massively multiplayer online games. Paper presented at the International Conference of the Learning Sciences (ICLS), Los Angeles CA. 2004. <http://website.education.wisc.edu/steinkuehler/papers/SteinkuehlerICLS2004.pdf>.
 Seay, A.F., Jerome, W. J., Lee, K. S., & Kraut, R. E. (2004). Project Massive: A Study of Online Gaming Communities. In Proceedings of ACM CHI 2004. New York: ACM Press, pp. 1421–1424.
 Steinkuehler C. A. Cognition & learning in massively multiplayer online games: A critical approach. Presented at the Learning Sciences Colloquium, University of Wisconsin, Madison, January 21 2005.
 Steinkuehler, C. A. (in press). Cognition and literacy in massively multiplayer online games. In D. Leu, J. Coiro, C. Lankshear, & K. Knobel (Eds.), Handbook of Research on New Literacies. Mahwah NJ: Erlbaum.
 Kolbert, E. Pimps and Dragons: How an online world survived a social breakdown. The New Yorker, May 28, 2001. <http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?010528fa_FACT>.
 Deadly plague hits Warcraft world. BBC News website, 22nd September 2005. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4272418.stm>.
 Virtual gaming worlds overtake Namibia. BBC News website, 19th August 2004. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/3570224.stm>.
 Sony opens game goods marketplace. BBC News website, 22nd April 2005. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4469807.stm>.
 Wikipedia description of "Chinese Farmers". <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_farmer>.
 Picturing online gaming's value. BBC News website, 27th October 2005. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4360654.stm>.
 Statistics and analysis of the subscriber bases of Massive Multiplayer Online games. <http://www.mmogchart.com/>.
 World of Warcraft press release. Blizzard website. <http://www.blizzard.com/press/051028-burningcrusade.shtml>.
 Essential facts about the computer and video game industry. Entertainment Software Association, 2005. <http://www.theesa.com/files/2005EssentialFacts.pdf>.
 2005 Casual Games White Paper. International Game Developers Association, 2005. <http://www.igda.org/casual/IGDA_CasualGames_Whitepaper_2005.pdf>.
 Project Massive online survey of game players. Results of the 3rd survey, game player section: <http://www.projectmassive.com/player_results3.html>.
 New study reveals that women over 40 who play online games spend far more time playing than male or teenage gamers. AOL press release, February 11th, 2004. <http://media.aoltimewarner.com/media/cb_press_view.cfm?release_num=55253774>.
 Taylor, T.L. Multiple pleasures: Women and Online Gaming. Convergence: The Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 9(1), 21-46, 2003
 The Online Game Market Heats Up. Summary of DFC Intelligence report, 2004 <http://www.dfcint.com/game_article/june04article.html>.
 Miller, P. Web 2.0: Building the New Library. Ariadne, Issue 45. <http://www.ariadne.ac.uk/issue45/miller/>.
 Virtual Property market booming. BBC News website, 9th November 2005. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4421496.stm>.
 Watamaniuk, J. Back to School for NWN. BioWare website. <http://nwn.bioware.com/players/profile_mit.html>.
 Game Neverending. Support website for this cancelled massive multiplayer online game. <http://www.gne.net/>.
 Flickr: Digital photo sharing website. <http://www.flickr.com/>.
 New York Public Library Digital Gallery. <http://digitalgallery.nypl.org/nypldigital/index.cfm>.
 Amazon online shop. <http://www.amazon.co.uk/>.
 Review of Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides, submitted by John Kirriemuir, to the WorldCat Find in a Library service, December 1st 2005. <http://www.worldcatlibraries.org/wcpa/oclc/39551790&tab=reviews>.
 Reviews of The Stornoway Way, submitted by readers to the Amazon online bookstore. <http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/tg/stores/detail/-/books/0241143209/
 Wikipedia. <http://en.wikipedia.org/>.
 Wikipedia definition and explanation of "Thin Games". <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thin_games>.
 Centre for Computer Games Research, IT University of Copenhagen, Denmark. <http://game.itu.dk/>.
 PC games, cartoons to enter classroom. ChinaDaily news, 13th November 2005. <http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2004-11/13/content_391237.htm>.
 Maryland Public Television to Create Digital Learning Games. Association of Public Television Stations, 24th October 2005. <http://www.apts.org/stories/mpt_digital_learning.cfm>.
 Castronova, E. Virtual worlds: A first-hand account of market and society on the cyberian frontier. CESifo Working Paper Series No. 618. Center for Economic Studies and Ifo Institute for Economic Research, California State University, Fullerton, December 2001.
 Lorcan Dempsey's blog. <http://orweblog.oclc.org>.
 Technorati (blog search engine). <http://www.technorati.com/>.
 Red vs Blue. Archive of downloadable videos, where characters in a computer game (Halo) enact a script. <http://rvb.roosterteeth.com/archive/>.