Dissertation Overview

Okay, this one is cheating. I’m cheating, but I think its still interesting.


Tentative Title – “Anonymity and Accountability – Do people hold the tentative social bonds created through gaming activities in the same way that they hold and react to ‘real world’ social structure.

My chosen topic is an examination into the views of companionship and morality in a virtual environment in order to test a hypothesis that people (particularly those with more of an affinity for video gaming) engage a different set of moral and social constraints upon themselves.

I believe that this is a valuable area to explore because of the relative lack of exploration into the area – the majority being wildly exaggerated media scare-mongering that video gaming turns our vulnerable youth into deranged murders. I am not attempting to see if there is some lasting change upon morality as a result of video gaming – I wish to see if the users adopt a different set of social values, or even adjust their own. Even if it turns out that they do not, the insight that a moral and social set of ethics can be maintained in an environment where murder is the driving force then my study will prove interesting.

There have been some articles written on the topic of people’s alternative morality – those relating to instances of relaxed moral constraints (the recently released “Playing by the Rule” report by Frida Castillo listed 19 video games that the player would commit war crimes in.) or adapted social structures (Myer’s “Play and Punishment” is an fantastic year long study into how breaking social rules even in a virtual area caused backlash and aggression was most intriguing).

However, none have ever gone so far as to compare the real and virtual world’s morality systems. There are countless lists of the ‘worst thing you’ve ever done in a game’ or vague investigations into the ethics presented to us in gaming, usually on video gaming websites which have no sort of theoretical framework and no case studies or very little research. The articles that are closest to my area are usually based on, while valid and useful, un-sourced and underdeveloped discourse.

I believe that my dissertation will provide solid reflexive analysis of case studies that even if not useful to the community as a whole will help me to identify my own beliefs on the topic.

In order to set accomplish my grandiose quest into this sociological area, I intend to both collect new data and analyse existing incidents that have been documented – the incidents in gaming interaction that have stood out.

These incidents are major cases – they have managed to be recorded for posterity, so they are more than standout cases – they are flags in the history of virtual social interaction, but what they present are significant changes in human interaction – actions that are more than immoral, but would be met with public outcry and legal proceedings if they took place in the real world – the raiding of a virtual funeral by the guild “Serenity Now” – the infiltration and con-artistry of the “Guiding Hand Social Club” in Eve Online.

These are stand-out cases and few and far between – but we cannot discount them. They are not deviant responses, if only for the sheer number of players involved in both such incidents. These incidents (which fantastically, in the internet age of information saturation have been recorded in detail – even so far as filmed in the funeral’s case.) I intend to use these as case studies (which, I am yet undecided) to provide supporting evidence that there is a moral and ethical change or possibly release from constraints in the virtual world.

However, there is a problem with this methodology – all it can overall accomplish is that there may be some change to people’s ethics in a virtual world – freed from accountability – but this does not help me in my overall topic of study. In order to combat this, I intend to examine this change myself.

I intend to gather and question a group of ‘gamers’ on the nature of their interactions, observing them while they play games with their friends to discern how their attitudes change, and what they believe their own ethical systems to be. The difficulty in this area is that the users may be unaware of their own changes – self-reflection is not a conscious task, least of all during an escapist activity. In order to combat this, I will need to spend a great amount of time in my investigation in order to draw attention to this change in ethics – if indeed it exists.

All the information gathered from this will be qualitative information – both primary and secondary sources. I will deconstruct this information with a strong psychological framework and close reference to the already existing investigations into the area in order to draw my own conclusions from both the case studies and my own interviews. My methodology will be that of primary reflexive qualitative research with qualitative secondary case studies to provide contrast and framing.

Finally, I will draw conclusions from this in order to discern my opinions. I do not intend to prove a hypothesis, and it would be arrogant to believe I could in ten thousand words. More over, I wish to raise new topics with some sort of more solid foundation for possible future investigation or at the least creating discourse among my peers on my findings.
“Et tu, Mario? – Murder, looting, pizza theft, and other hazards of cooperative video-gaming.” – by Jamin Brophy-Warren – http://www.slate.com/id/2235587

“Play and Punishment – The Sad and Curious Case of Twixt” – by D. Myers

“Playing by the Rule” – Frida Castillo – http://trial-ch.org/fileadmin/user_upload/documents/Evenements_et_manifestations/Playing_by_the_Rule.pdf

Record Breaking Heist rocks Eve Online guild to the tune of $16,500 USB in virtual goods” – originally written by PC Gamer UK – http://eve.klaki.net/heist/

“So we Pwned this funeral today – Serenity Now”http://serenity-now/org/ & http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ewP1zfm_Yqg

Trigger Happy – by Steven Poole

New Perspectives on Games and Interaction – Edited by Krzysztof R. Apt


1 Response to “Dissertation Overview”

  1. 1 Mookie
    November 25, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Very well written, I enjoyed reading it, but I think you oughta take a look at the bibliography…it got really messed up on my computer. >< Anyways, how were you 'cheating'?

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