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Title: ‘Hanging with the ‘Cathaby Shark Gurlz’ and other Runescape stories: Young people, identity and community in a virtual world
Authors: Crowe, Nic
Keywords: Computer games;Virtual worlds;MMORPG
Issue Date: 2009
Publisher: Brunel University School of Sport and Education PhD Theses
Abstract: In this research I offer a five year ethnographically informed participative observation of a popular virtual space. I explore the practices of young people within the virtual world of the online gaming community of „Runescape‟. I consider how its‟ young citizens construct and maintain virtual „self‟ within virtual social systems, and how social groups and communities emerge and develop. These are popular virtual spaces and such games occupy an important place in the leisure lives of many young people. I examine how those identities interact with the virtual environment and the structures and institutions that are developed to allow groups and individuals to operate within its „culture‟. I suggest that the distinction between virtual and material „existence‟ is not clear-cut and oppositional but porous and mutually defining – a shifting dynamic rather than a rigid division. However, virtuality is no „liberated space‟ and it incorporates norms and practices that often mirror those of the material world. Online games, particularly the virtual worlds of role-playing games, sit at the interface between these two planes. The virtual world of online games offers young people a „spectacular space‟ – in some ways similar to other public spaces yet simultaneously quite different – in which they can undertake creative identity work and symbolic experimentation with many of the institutions, rituals and practices that they encounter within their material worlds. Importantly, game worlds have a particular capacity in enabling participants to interact with others in a form mediated by the game itself. Thus new possibilities for communion are made possible. This, I argue, makes these games potentially powerful settings for young people to exercise agency in marking out and playing with identity and other social processes, particularly when many of the material arenas within which such activities have traditionally been practiced are becoming increasingly denied to modern youth. I argue that virtual space provides young people with a „safe‟ arena to explore many material processes, and in this sense is an „ordinary space‟ like many of the others in which they operate. However, the use of avatars also permits young people to appear in a form chosen by them. Thus, in the virtual world, „material‟ cultural codes of body and conduct constituted by gender, class and race can, apparently, be effaced, opening up interesting, creative and potentially resistive possibilities for participants. I argue therefore that, online gaming is an important and somewhat under-researched space in which young people engage in new practices of „leisure and pleasure‟.
Description: This thesis was submitted for the degree of Master of Philosophy and awarded by Brunel University.
Appears in Collections:Education
Dept of Education Theses

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