Virtual reality: an ethnographic study of sociality, being, and money in a multi-player online game-world

Morgan, Rhian (2014) Virtual reality: an ethnographic study of sociality, being, and money in a multi-player online game-world. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

Entropia Universe (EU) is a science-fiction themed massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG), with a real-cash economy. The cash economy means that players can deposit and withdraw money from the game, at a fixed exchange rate of US$1 to 10 Project Entropia Dollars (PED). This study explores the impacts of this monetisation on the collective lifeworlds of players. The study focuses on online sociality, culturally located ontologies, understandings of virtual monies, and the experience of being in a multiplayer game-world. The primary methods of investigation are participant observation, semi-structured interviews, and the discursive analysis of Entropia related forums, websites, and player created media. The study applies postphenomenological, ludological, and economic theory, in conjunction with cyberethnographic research methods, in order to analyse experiences of being in this digital capitalist space. The resultant ethnography draws together data gathered during a year of online participant observation and twenty semi-structured interviews with players, in a documentation of the existential, social, cultural, and economic dimensions of life in EU. In doing so, the study reveals how the monetisation of an MMORPG influences the composition and characteristics of a virtual world community.

The study demonstrates how the virtual lifeworld, in EU, is comprised of an amalgam of embodied, social, cultural, and economically situated experiences. Embodied relations with gaming technologies, play relations with the game artefact, and the in-world experience of re-embodied presence, converge to create a sense of being in the game-world. Social identities are reconfigured within the game-space through the interactions of actual world and game based, ludo-narrative, identity constructs. The subjective experience of being in the game-world is consequently complemented by the intersubjective experience of being with others. The virtual lifeworld is also shaped by the socio-ludic structures and conventions of interaction that develop in response to the game mechanics and real cash economy. The capitalist structures of the game economy promote self-seeking behaviours, while also creating avenues for the formation of meaningful trust relationships and in-game displays of altruism. The game economy also means that work, play, production, and consumption converge, as self-interest confronts sociality in an economically meaningful, yet fictitious, online world. The virtualization of trade, labour, commodities, and money is just the latest stage in the development of capitalism, and we are only just beginning to see what the implications of these processes may be. This study explores how the legitimate two-way exchange of game currency for actual world currency links occurrences in a game-world to the experiential realities of monetary value, thus rendering the experience of being in the game-world virtually real. Consequently, the study provides industry relevant insights into the formation of MMORPG communities and the impacts of bidirectionally exchangeable virtual currencies on these communities.

Item ID: 41004
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: avatars; Calypso; computer gaming; cyber-ethnology; Entropia; ethnography; ethnology; game world; gamers; identity; internet games; ludology; money; multiplayer online game; narratology; online games; online roleplaying; Planet Calypso; RCE; real cash economy; roleplaying; science fiction; social anthropology; social identities; video gamers; video games; virtual bodies; virtual currencies; virtual economies; virtual identity; virtual reality; virtual worlds
Date Deposited: 29 Oct 2015 03:28
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1601 Anthropology > 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology @ 50%
08 INFORMATION AND COMPUTING SCIENCES > 0806 Information Systems > 080602 Computer-Human Interaction @ 50%
SEO Codes: 95 CULTURAL UNDERSTANDING > 9599 Other Cultural Understanding > 959999 Cultural Understanding not elsewhere classified @ 33%
89 INFORMATION AND COMMUNICATION SERVICES > 8902 Computer Software and Services > 890203 Computer Gaming Software @ 34%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970110 Expanding Knowledge in Technology @ 33%
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