Online games have developed into mainstream entertainment: a growing number of gamers communicate and interact in virtual worlds - and spend a good part of their spare time there. However, research has yet to adequately acknowledge this socio-cultural shift toward the mainstream: psychological 'effects' studies and anecdotal case descriptions remain the dominant approaches. The proposed research programme follows a different approach, focusing on the social foundations of online gaming in a holistic way, revolving around the central question of how social order is built and organised in online game environments; i.e., how this affects the so-called 'real life' (the 'out-of-the-game' experience) of the user - and vice versa: how real life affects the experience 'in' the game ('virtual life'). Both the virtual and real lives of the users, as well as the interrelations between the two, will be analysed with reference to social micro-, meso- and macro-levels. The research will start on the macro-level: the first step involves an analysis of the economic and regulatory background to online gaming, based on expert interviews. Overview data on the general status of the social phenomenon will be collected via a survey, using a pre-selected sample drawn from an omnibus study. On the meso-level, the structure of specific user groups will be explored via interviews and observations in real life and in the virtual worlds (immersive research). On the micro-level, the integration of online gaming into the everyday life of individual users will be studied via guided interviews and observations, again both in-game and in real life. All research steps will be repeated using a panel design with three waves, enabling the documentation of temporal changes in this dynamic field.
Call for proposal
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Funding SchemeERC-SG - ERC Starting Grant