An immersive paradox: Exploring race, gender, identification and agency within the online gaming universe

Christopher Shayne Roberts, Purdue University


Research in the field of online games has typically used ethnography to build a picture of what happens in gaming universes. Previous research using ethnographic data and survey data have provided a snapshot of online gaming spaces. However, little research has approached the topic by transcribing audio within the gaming environment. ^ This dissertation approached the problem of race, gender, identification, and agency through ethnography and transcribed gaming sessions. This dissertation studied Dungeons and Dragons Online, an MMORPG. In this dissertation, I accumulated over forty hours of gaming data and transcribed the information in the Transana coding software. Video samples were accumulated and transcribed during July and August of 2008. I studied how players interacted with the game world and each other. ^ The analysis revealed that online game worlds reify sexist and racist depictions that are presented. Players immersed in these environments will reflect that language back and engage in potentially racist and sexist language, even ignoring the possibility that such language could be viewed as racist or sexist when confronted. The study suggests that developers have a duty to understand the metaphorical images they use and how the images could influence racist or sexist language in its player population. ^ The study also found online games encourage identification with players and the gaming world, creating a sense of immersion. This immersion can lead to real-world neglect and have potentially negative consequences. The study suggests that developers should manufacture clear ways to break the sense of immersion and force avatar disassociation within the game. ^ The study also discovered that the pursuit of agency within gaming worlds is tied to the player's motivation for games. Bartle's taxonomy of online player types was used in conjunction with Burke's dramatist pentad to understand player motivation.^




Charles Stewart, Purdue University, Robin P. Clair, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Speech Communication|Multimedia Communications|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies|Language, Rhetoric and Composition|Gender Studies

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