Relinquishing and discovering self: a case study investigation of gamer identity in an online world

Pötzscher, Mirko
Nelson, Frances
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Master of Communication Studies
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Auckland University of Technology

The purpose of this thesis was to gain a comprehensive understanding of implemented game design factors, various forms of identity creation, as well as the powerful hold of an avatar in the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft (WoW). It has been my aim to find out if, and to what extent design elements of the game influence gamer identities and create an attractiveness to keep gamers playing and always returning to the online world. In addition, I have been curious about the number of gamer identities and how and to what extent the online environment influences offline identities. The area of massively multiplayer online role-playing games is still not as well researched as other game genres. Research about World of Warcraft has been done in various areas. Authors wrote about the many hours they spent exploring the fictive world with their own avatars and articles focus on various aspects of the game, but are not about the identification of attracting factors for playing the game in combination with identity formation. By contrast, this research provides an ‘insider view’ gained by interviews and observation. The research presents that gamers have to be introduced to the game World of Warcraft in order to start and continue playing it. Gamers’ motivation changes from personal success (fighting bosses and ‘levelling up’) and rewards as motivators at the beginning, when they explore the world of Azeroth by themselves, to satisfaction provided by community when gamers reach high levels, when they are about to play high-end content and join guilds, groups of like-minded gamers following the common goal of being successful in the online game World of Warcraft. Reasons for this behavioural change are ‘ease of communication’, because multiple channels of communication are available, and communication barriers got eliminated. The presence of gamers with a common interest and the reduction of face-to-face communication to a computer-mediated communication, without seeing the real person playing another avatar, made this change happen. Playing together and talking to other gamers in a guild creates a shared experience and nourishes the sense of belonging. Spending long hours playing WoW together lets gamers develop friendships and trust and makes sharing of personal information more likely. Anonymity, provided by the avatar and its name, is likely to fade when socialization with fellow guild members increases. The research also explains why I believe that avatars in the game World of Warcraft are carrier of gamers’ real life identities and how gamers’ identities are influenced and shaped by both worlds, online and offline. Time dedication in favour of the game also has negative consequences, such as isolation of gamers from the real world, family issues and personal problems, like unfinished degrees and unemployment, which are presented in this thesis.

Identity , Avatar , Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs) , Interpretive paradigm , Behaviour , Shared experience , Game design , World of Warcraft (WoW) , Ease of communication , Guild
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