Storytelling and Identity in Online Gaming Communities: Exploring online culture and communication as narrative practices



More often than not, HCI research has been occupied with issues of work and study, but now that the use of IT – especially the personal computer and the Internet – has become a major part of our private lives and homes, issues of enjoyment and fun through the use of technology has become an issue not to be overlooked (Blythe et al, 2003, p. ). In recent years, designers and researchers have become aware that the specific kind of experience and use that computer games offer the player is something to strive for in other kinds of interaction with web services and interfaces (as is discussed in e.g. Blythe et al, 2003).

One of the central characteristics of computer gaming is that it demands creative activity and performance from the user, whether it be simply clicking on the right button at the right time or moving around in a vast virtual world, handling various levels of goals and situations. But not only gaming itself invites this high level of creativity – around various types of computer games, communities arise, where players creatively relate to the game and to themselves as players, and they seem to be doing this through various forms of storytelling. In this way, values and identities are formed, negotiated and exchanged at the intersection of game, community and user. In other words, computer games are examples of design that engages the user immensely, and in my project, I wish to seek out and describe this user engagement.

The empirical focus of the project is acts of user-creativity in communities around two of the most popular pc games in the world: the MMORPG World of Warcraft (Blizzard 2004) and the ’life simulation’ game The Sims 1 and 2 (Maxis, 2000 and 2004). The activity of players in gaming communities are studied through ethnographic methods such as participant observation, interviews, surveys, and readings of chatlogs, message boards, forums etc. The empirical investigation is framed by a theoretical reflections and discussions about the role of narrative in the user experience in relation to computer games.

My project is guided by the idea that narrativity offers a fundamental framework for meaningful experience and interaction in our lives, online as well as offline. This idea rests especially on the philosophy of Paul Ricoeur about the relationship between narrative and identity, which implicates that we understand our personal identity through narrative and emplotting, that these narratives involve not only other people and their narratives, but also greater cultural and social narratives. And as personal identity is a narrative identity also means that identity is something dynamic, not fixed (Ricoeur, 1994). Moreover, Ricoeur’s theories on mimesis as a dynamic process (as in Ricouer, 1988), are highly relevant as an illustration of gaming also being an interpretative and constantly reconfiguring experience. In short, the purpose of my project is to investigate and describe the narrative practices in online communities around computer games, with the intention of grasping which qualities about these games and their communities are facilitation and encouraging user creativity and engagement.

Blythe, M. A., Overbeeke, K., Monk, A. F., & Wright, P. C. (Eds.). (2003). Funology: From Usability to Enjoyment: Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers.
Ricoeur, P. (1992). Oneself as Another: University Of Chicago Press.
Ricœur, P. (1988). Time and Narrative: University of Chicago Press.

Effektiv start/slut dato01/02/200827/09/2011


  • Danmarks Frie Forskningsfond: 1.500.000,00 kr.


  • Ph.d.-projekt
  • ph.d


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