Deep involvement in the World of Warcraft
Holt, Nicholas Arthur
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This study presented is a two-year cyber-ethnographic investigation of the deep involvement and commitment observed in participants of the online game, The World of Warcraft. This game was selected as the context for the study based on its enormous popularity, evidenced by 12 million subscribers worldwide and a scarcity of prior leisure research concerning virtual world participation. The purpose of this exploratory study was to investigate and examine the socio-technical dimensions of deep involvement and enduring commitment of its inhabitants from within their ludisphere, inside the online game and its related meta-game resources. The primary exploratory goal was to experience and describe the disembodied developmental process of playing the game on a regular basis. This aim was approached through the creation of several avatars and advancing them naturally from the beginning of the game up through the endgame content, eventually participating in the culture of raiding. Additionally, the study investigated how guilds, in-game social groupings, impacted participant involvement. While advancing the avatars, essentially surrogate researchers, key informants were discovered that guided and informed the research process. Taking advantage of the study’s naturalistic constraint of remaining immersed in-game allowed for a third question to be conceived which investigated what players revealed about their “real” lives during the course of play. Robert Stebbins’ (2007) Serious Leisure Perspective was used as a conceptual framework for the study in order to describe player investments by means of the framework’s leisure activity-centric taxonomy. The study revealed evidence of players self-actualizing via their avatars, and conceptualized as “Avatar-actualization.” As the most experienced players persevered to improve their avatars they engaged in a research-like process described as “amateur scholarship” which was in effect peer reviewed by other players as an ongoing effort to progress their characters to higher levels of specialization within the game. Gleaning a deeper understanding of player involvement in online multiplayer virtual worlds and games is important to leisure studies, clinical psychology and education. While educators would be pleased to find students as engaged as some of the players observed, therapists might simultaneously be concerned by these same behaviors.