An article on Ars Technica reveals that Sony Online Entertainment has bequeathed the complete server logs of its EverQuest II MMO to academic research.
The massive logs, consisting of some 60 terabytes of data, contain everything that's ever been done by over 400,000 players on every server of EverQuest II in its four years of operation.
A collaborative group of researchers at several institutions has begun data-mining the logs, along with demographic surveys, to see what they can discover. They're interested not just in gaming habits and commercial concerns like customer churn, but also what the game can tell them about real-world social interaction.
It has long been supposed that virtual worlds might provide a way to collect data on human behaviour on a massive scale. Everything done in them is stored, and all data belongs to the game operator, so there are no legal questions of invasion of privacy - although some players might disagree.
The demographic data suggested that the average EverQuest II player was, contrary to stereotype, healthier than the US average, and well-adjusted. The five per cent of players used the game for role-playing, however, were described as "psychologically much worse off than the regular player".