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Title: Playing together and ritualisation in online games
Author: Zabet, Felicia-Dana
ISNI:       0000 0004 2735 6218
Awarding Body: University of Kent
Current Institution: University of Kent
Date of Award: 2012
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There is a tradition in game studies of seeing games as ‘more than games’. In the vein of this tradition, the social aspects, in general, and the practices of playing together, in particular, are increasingly conceived of as essential for games and the relationships of the players. However, there is currently no comprehensive description of them and their roles through an integrative framework. This thesis investigated certain social aspects in and around online games, with a particular emphasis on the practices of playing together with fellow players, friends, family and romantic partners. To explain all these practices in an integrated fashion, an ethnographic study was conducted (using participant observation and 57 structured and semi-structured interviews) and the data were analysed mainly through a ritualisation framework. This framework was inspired by a multidisciplinary perspective on secular ritual in modern and post-modern societies. Notably, the concept of relationship rituals (coming from social psychology) was very useful. In the context of online games, ritual and ritualised play (but also ritualisation as a process) refer to practices through which the game is enriched with new meanings which go beyond its ludic instrumentality, that is, the game moves across the frame of being ‘just a game’. These new meanings include those focusing on relationships, social interactions (including sociability, cooperation, conflict and competition) and identity. The emerging practices of playing together belonging to two dimensions of ritualisation, mainstream and subversive ritualisation, and their functions were described and analysed in two online games, World of Warcraft (WoW) and Star Kingdoms (SK). On the mainstream dimension, two types of relationship rituals were identified and analysed in WoW, namely initiation rituals and playing together rituals. In addition, the quantitative results generated from the interviews with WoW players were similar to the ones from the literature and supported the qualitative analysis. The current findings confirmed the ideas that most players play with close others and the social aspects of online games are essential for gameplay. Most importantly, the thesis described in detail and analysed the practices of playing together and their roles, showing that ritualisation provides a comprehensive framework able to address their diversity. Subversive ritualisation was explored as well by looking at the emerging, subversive practices of playing together, taking the form of Underground Aliances in SK (which are player created social structures also called UAs, having a complex relationship with both official and player rules). These practices were found to be influenced by the way the game was designed to respond to the existing and developing relationships of the players. Moreover, this thesis identified and presented the functions of UAs. To sum up, playing together is ritualised in and around online games, that is the games transform in veritable ‘tools to relate with’ and ‘tools to build identity with’. These meanings focussing on relationship and identity support the idea that the social aspects in and around online games are essential for both the relationships/social interactions of their players and their gameplay.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: GN Anthropology