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Nick Bennett: Firm Foundations

Hi all.

Initially I was approaching online gaming from a behavioural standpoint, specifically with regards to anonymity. After reading a number of articles and stumbling upon the widely accepted notion of virtual disinhibition andĀ self-discrepancy in online gaming (the idea that some separate their ‘real’ social selfĀ from theirĀ online ‘virtual’Ā selfĀ leading toĀ aĀ strong association withĀ theirĀ online representation) I feel that this is more tailored towards my interests. I putĀ the terms ‘real’ and ‘virtual’ in quotation marks as with some gamers there is no distinction, their life is online.

So, initially I read a lot into the social/psychological side of it before realising that this was a very one-sided approach. I’m sure experts in the field would strongly disagree with me if I said sociology and psychology were similar, but as I have not had a formal education in those areas I will not take those to be my chosen disciplines.

After a bit of a panic as I realised my approach was not interdisciplinary, I remembered reading articles in the past about gamers who have spent a small fortune on in-game items. These digital goods serve no physical purpose whatsoever and are limited to use within the game, for example fairy wings, a gigantic sword, a fancy houseĀ or other equally enticing products.

Thus my approach obtained its second discipline: economics. I have a working title of: “The study of virtual representation: How much does an Avatar cost?”. I will still discuss anonymity as this is a vital component of self-discrepancy and social disinhibition, but instead of focusing on behaviour I will instead be exploring self-representation online. As a long-time gamer I already have a working knowledge of digital economics in games such as MMORPGs (RuneScape, World of Warcraft, Minecraft*) or strategy games like League of Legends were users under pseudonyms can spend money buying different champions to play; they can also by ‘skins’ to make their champion look different from the normal model – every skin outside of promotional events costs real world money.

That was a lot longer than expected, but it has greatly helped me to shape my ideas.

* Minecraft is not exactly an MMORPG but on some servers such as the PlayMindcrack server there are aspects of MMORPGs that shape the community, such as mini-games, character customisation and an in-game currency. Players can buy plots of land to build their own houses and forge an online identity within this massive community. Also, a fundamental part of Minecraft is the media side, eg YouTube and Twitch communities. This side is lead by content creators who use pseudonyms and it was YouTube that allowed the Mindcrack network to flourish enough to create the PlayMindcrack community in the first place. Anyway, history lesson over, this has been a large part of my life for many years now and I am so thankful that I have an opportunity to study this – I am genuinely excited and am likely to hark back to this topic as part of my thesis.

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