Online gamers, lived experiences and sense of belonging: a study of students at the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein
Pietersen, Andre Jacobus
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Video games are often viewed as a leisure activity meant as entertainment for children. When adults partake in video games, they are occasionally perceived with prejudice. However, video game popularity still increases significantly each year in many populations. One of the most popular genres of online video gaming is Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). MMORPGs and online video game players are able to engage in a virtual world. In this world players can collaborate with other individuals to achieve a sense of emotional fulfilment upon completion of in-game objectives. Thus, video games provide people with an immersive experience. The aim of this study is to conduct a phenomenological exploration into online gamers’ lived experiences of online gaming and their experiences of a sense of belonging to the associated online communities. The study seeks to gain an in-depth understanding of how online gamers become involved with online gaming and how this phenomenon becomes an important part of their lives. The principles of interpretive and phenomenological research serve as theoretical foundations of this study. These principles guide the study to explore the participants’ experiences through their own unique perspectives. Therefore, this study is concerned with how online gamers perceive their world (in video games and in real-life), how they experience its day-to-day interactions, the emotions they experience related ti the events that occur within it, and how online gamers make sense of it all. The research participants of this dissertation are comprised of young adults (between the ages of 18 and 25) who are enrolled at the University of the Free State. All participants are actively involved with online gaming or have been in the past. The data for this study are collected by using in-depth interviews. The aim of the interviews is to obtain rich and descriptive accounts of participants’ narratives. In this study, the aim is to present the findings in such a way as to maintain the voices of the participants. The findings of this study explore various aspects of the life stories of online gamers. It seeks to establish a narrative of how a person can become involved in online gaming and how it can evolve into something that is a part of his/her daily life. This study showcases that online gaming can have a crucial influence on a person’s life. A person can become passionate about online gaming and this can cause impressions on his/her identity and interpersonal connections. The findings explore how video games can have an influence on participants’ perception of reality. Immersion is an aspect of this study that illustrates how video games are able to pull players into another reality and take their focus away from the real world. This can lead to feelings of intense joy and excitement, but can also lead to escapism. Furthermore, the findings of this study explore the stigmas and stereotypes that participants experience daily. Prejudice still exists towards people who play video games, but most stereotypes do not play a crucial role in the participants’ lives. Lastly, the study explores how participants experience the community of the online video game world. The community of online video games offer various experiences. It can be a positive experience and players can feel a connection with random strangers online. However, anonymity between players can provide a negative environment that causes people to feel isolated from the community.