MSc Social Psychology, with Distinction (2004)
University of Surrey, Department of Psychology.
Supervisors: Dr.Evanthia Lyons and Dr. Julie Barnett

Dissertation: Online games, offline selves: A Possible Selves approach to offline self-concept negotiation through play in Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games

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Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMRPGs) are immersive virtual environments which offer social psychologists an avenue through which to examine the relationship between online activities and offline self-concept. They are social media based upon reward and failure, which encourage the adoption of roles and capabilities that may be unavailable offline. Applying Markus and Nurius’ (1986) theory of Possible Selves, this paper argues that the design of the games encourages players to take on or discard offline desired or feared identities. Of interest are those options afforded to women and wheelchair users, two populations who arguably are limited in their choices by the preconceptions of others associated with their offline social representations, but who may be alleviated of them in virtuality.

This was an exploratory study in which the transcripts of fifteen semi-structured interviews (10 women, 5 wheelchair users) collected online via synchronous chat software were investigated using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Two themes emerged: the development of in-game roles related to out-of-game possible selves and the medium’s effect on the possible selves which were developed. Also considered were the ways in which possible selves were negotiated in-game, the social representations of participants and their relationship with the development of in-game roles, the effects of in-game social feedback on offline possible selves, the conscious construction of multiple “selves” to reflect goals, desires and fears and the offline effects of playing in-game roles that were plausible or implausible offline. Finally, the novel application of IPA to internet data was considered.

This study has implications for social representations, gender, disability,internet and computer games researchers.