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Self-discrepancy and MMORPGs: testing the moderating effects of avatar identification and pathological gaming in world of warcraft

Cédric Courtois (UGent) , Jan Van Looy (UGent) , Melanie De Vocht (UGent) and Lieven De Marez (UGent)
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Abstract
Previous research has shown that MMORPG players create avatars that are considered to possess more ideal personality traits than their actual selves. More specifically, Bessière, Seay and Kiesler (2007) have demonstrated that for the personality traits conscientiousness, extraversion and neuroticism, the mean discrepancies between gamers' ideal self and avatar are significantly smaller than those between the gamers' ideal and actual self. These findings are automatically attributed to the assumption that gamers use their avatars to alleviate self-discrepancy. This line of reasoning is supported by a recent theoretical account by Klimmt, Hefner and Vorder (2009). They argue that video games enable an experiential merger of the player with their game avatar, which affords a temporary reduction of the psychological distress that is associated with a discrepancy between the self and the ideal self. Unfortunately, Bessière et al.'s (2007) study fails to provide definitive evidence for this assumption. Whereas the smaller distance between avatar and ideal self indicates that players see their avatar as more ideal, this does not mean that they identify with their avatar and use it to temporarily relieve self-discrepancy. In fact, there are several alternative explanations. First of all, fantasy game characters by default possess characteristics that can be deemed more ideal. Moreover, gamers may assemble an avatar with ideal characteristics to facilitate their game play rather than because they relate these characteristics to themselves. Consequently, a meaningful association, i.e. identification, between WoW players and their avatars is a prerequisite for supporting the self-discrepancy thesis. Hence our first hypothesis posits that (H1) in comparison to gamers with a low level of avatar identification, gamers with a high level of avatar identification perceive the distance between their ideal self and avatar as smaller than the distance between their ideal self and actual self. Secondly, we explore the possibility that pathological gaming can be related to a desire to reduce self-discrepancy by evaluating whether gamers with a tendency towards pathological gaming have a stronger desire to reduce self-discrepancy. Research has indicated that the activity of advancing an avatar, making it as ideal as possible, requires a significant amount of commitment and thus can be expected to be a factor in explaining pathological gaming (Ducheneaut, Yee, Nickell, & Moore, 2006; Hsu, Wen, & Wu, 2009). Withal, previous studies have confirmed the relation between pathological gaming and lower levels of psychological well-being (Lemmens, Valkenburg, & Peter, 2009; Lo, Wang, & Fang, 2005). Given these findings, we propose a second hypothesis (H2), stating that in comparison to gamers with a weak tendency towards pathological gaming, gamers with a strong tendency towards it perceive the distance between their ideal self and avatar as smaller than the distance between their ideal and actual self. Yet, the question arises whether the experience of a temporary reduction of self-discrepancy through gaming is a factor in explaining the process of pathological gaming. Perhaps gamers use their avatars to make up for their perceived shortcomings and to experience a more idealized self. On the other hand, pathological gamers might be caught up in the game, advancing their character, without the player identifying with it and thus without the mechanism of self-discrepancy reduction playing a role. However, previous research by Smahel, Blinka and Ledabyl (2008) found a small correlation between ad hoc measures of identification and pathological gaming. Therefore, our third and final hypothesis states that (H3) in comparison to other gamers, gamers with high scores for both pathological gaming and identification perceive the distance between their ideal self and avatar as smaller than the distance between their ideal self and actual self. The present research draws on a sample of 304 WoW players, gathered through an online survey (Mage = 24.54, SD = 13.91, 84% male). The survey contained BFI personality measures of: (a) gamers' actual self, (b) gamers' ideal self and (c) main avatar (John & Srivastava, 2008). Furthermore, measures of avatar identification (Van Looy, Courtois, & De Vocht, 2010) and pathological gaming (Lemmens, et al., 2009) were included. These two measures' scores were split in half, using the median as a cut-off point to divide into high and low levels. Mixed model analysis of variances was used to test for the proposed hypotheses. First of all, the results indicate that players with a high avatar identification have a character that is closer to their ideal self for conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness and extraversion than those who score low for avatar identification. Except for openness, the ideal self - avatar discrepancies are consistently smaller than the ideal self - actual self discrepancies. As such, evidence is found for the first hypothesis. The second hypothesis, predicting a moderating effect of pathological gaming, is confirmed for neuroticism, openness and extraversion. Except for openness, it shows that for gamers with high pathological gaming scores demonstrate a larger distance between the self and actual self and a smaller distance between the avatar and the ideal self. Finally, the third hypothesis is confirmed for neuroticism and openness. It shows that gamers who combine a high score for pathological gaming with a high degree identification have much smaller discrepancies between their ideal self and avatar than between their ideal self and actual self. As such, these findings provide direct evidence for the self-discrepancy hypothesis proposed by Klimmt, Heffner and Vorderer. By implementing a direct measure of identification into Bessière, Kiesler and Seay's design, we were able to rule out the possibility that gamers do not meaningfully associate themselves with their avatar and just see it as more ideal because the game depicts a more ideal world or because creating a more ideal avatar is necessary for being successful in the game. As such, it is effectively shown that WoW players maintain a meaningful relationship with their avatar, which in turn provides further evidence for the self-discrepancy hypothesis in relation to the playing of MMORPGs. Finally, based on the idea that pathological gaming could be accompanied by a stronger desire to reduce self-discrepancy and thus alleviate psychological tension, we compared pathological gaming scores and discrepancies. Our findings indicate that WoW players with a tendency towards pathological gaming create and identify with avatars that are much more emotionally stable than their actual selves. In other words, they create an avatar that is more ideal on the dimension of neuroticism and then identify with it more strongly. References: Bessière, K., Seay, F., & Kiesler, S. (2007). The Ideal Elf: Identity Exploration in World of Warcraft. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 10(4), 530-535. Ducheneaut, N., Yee, N., Nickell, E., & Moore, R. J. (2006). Building an MMO with Mass Appeal: A look at gameplay in World of Warcraft. Games and Culture, 1(4), 281-317. Hsu, S. H., Wen, M. H., & Wu, M. C. (2009). Exploring user experiences as predictors of MMORPG addiction. Computers & Education, 53(3), 990-999. John, O. P., & Srivastava, S. (2008). The Big Five Trait Taxonomy: History, Measurement, and Theoretical Perspectives. In J. O.P., R. W. Robins & L. A. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of Personality (pp. 102-139). New York: Guilford Press. Klimmt, C., Hefner, D., & Vorderer, P. (2009). The Video Game Experience as "True" Identification: A Theory of Enjoyable Alternations of Players' Self-Perception. Communication Theory, 19(4). Lemmens, J. S., Valkenburg, P. M., & Peter, J. (2009). Development and Validation of a Game Addiction Scale for Adolescents. Media Psychology, 12(1), 77-95. Lo, S. K., Wang, C. C., & Fang, W. (2005). Physical Interpersonal Relationships and Social Anxiety among Online Game Players. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 8(1), 15-20. Smahel, D., Blinka, L., & Ledabyl, O. (2008). Playing MMORPGs: Connections between Addiction and Identifying with a Character. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 11(6), 715-718. Van Looy, J., Courtois, C., & De Vocht, M. (2010). Player Identification in Online Games: Validation of a Scale for Measuring Identification in MMORPGs. Paper presented at the Fun & Games, Leuven, Belgium.
Keywords
mmorpg, world of warcraft, digital gaming, self-discrepancy, identification, pathological gaming

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Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:

Chicago
Courtois, Cédric, Jan Van Looy, Melanie De Vocht, and Lieven De Marez. 2011. “Self-discrepancy and MMORPGs: Testing the Moderating Effects of Avatar Identification and Pathological Gaming in World of Warcraft.” In International Conference on the Social Aspects of Digital Gaming, Proceedings. Stuttgart, Germany: Hohenheim University.
APA
Courtois, C., Van Looy, J., De Vocht, M., & De Marez, L. (2011). Self-discrepancy and MMORPGs: testing the moderating effects of avatar identification and pathological gaming in world of warcraft. International conference on the social aspects of digital gaming, Proceedings. Presented at the International Conference on the Social Aspects of Digital Gaming, Stuttgart, Germany: Hohenheim University.
Vancouver
1.
Courtois C, Van Looy J, De Vocht M, De Marez L. Self-discrepancy and MMORPGs: testing the moderating effects of avatar identification and pathological gaming in world of warcraft. International conference on the social aspects of digital gaming, Proceedings. Stuttgart, Germany: Hohenheim University; 2011.
MLA
Courtois, Cédric, Jan Van Looy, Melanie De Vocht, et al. “Self-discrepancy and MMORPGs: Testing the Moderating Effects of Avatar Identification and Pathological Gaming in World of Warcraft.” International Conference on the Social Aspects of Digital Gaming, Proceedings. Stuttgart, Germany: Hohenheim University, 2011. Print.
@inproceedings{1997700,
  abstract     = {Previous research has shown that MMORPG players create avatars that are considered to possess more ideal personality traits than their actual selves. More specifically, Bessi{\`e}re, Seay and Kiesler (2007) have demonstrated that for the personality traits conscientiousness, extraversion and neuroticism, the mean discrepancies between gamers' ideal self and avatar are significantly smaller than those between the gamers' ideal and actual self. These findings are automatically attributed to the assumption that gamers use their avatars to alleviate self-discrepancy. This line of reasoning is supported by a recent theoretical account by Klimmt, Hefner and Vorder (2009). They argue that video games enable an experiential merger of the player with their game avatar, which affords a temporary reduction of the psychological distress that is associated with a discrepancy between the self and the ideal self. Unfortunately, Bessi{\`e}re et al.'s (2007) study fails to provide definitive evidence for this assumption. Whereas the smaller distance between avatar and ideal self indicates that players see their avatar as more ideal, this does not mean that they identify with their avatar and use it to temporarily relieve self-discrepancy. In fact, there are several alternative explanations. First of all, fantasy game characters by default possess characteristics that can be deemed more ideal. Moreover, gamers may assemble an avatar with ideal characteristics to facilitate their game play rather than because they relate these characteristics to themselves. Consequently, a meaningful association, i.e. identification, between WoW players and their avatars is a prerequisite for supporting the self-discrepancy thesis. Hence our first hypothesis posits that (H1) in comparison to gamers with a low level of avatar identification, gamers with a high level of avatar identification perceive the distance between their ideal self and avatar as smaller than the distance between their ideal self and actual self. Secondly, we explore the possibility that pathological gaming can be related to a desire to reduce self-discrepancy by evaluating whether gamers with a tendency towards pathological gaming have a stronger desire to reduce self-discrepancy. Research has indicated that the activity of advancing an avatar, making it as ideal as possible, requires a significant amount of commitment and thus can be expected to be a factor in explaining pathological gaming (Ducheneaut, Yee, Nickell, \& Moore, 2006; Hsu, Wen, \& Wu, 2009). Withal, previous studies have confirmed the relation between pathological gaming and lower levels of psychological well-being (Lemmens, Valkenburg, \& Peter, 2009; Lo, Wang, \& Fang, 2005). Given these findings, we propose a second hypothesis (H2), stating that in comparison to gamers with a weak tendency towards pathological gaming, gamers with a strong tendency towards it perceive the distance between their ideal self and avatar as smaller than the distance between their ideal and actual self. Yet, the question arises whether the experience of a temporary reduction of self-discrepancy through gaming is a factor in explaining the process of pathological gaming. Perhaps gamers use their avatars to make up for their perceived shortcomings and to experience a more idealized self. On the other hand, pathological gamers might be caught up in the game, advancing their character, without the player identifying with it and thus without the mechanism of self-discrepancy reduction playing a role. However, previous research by Smahel, Blinka and Ledabyl (2008) found a small correlation between ad hoc measures of identification and pathological gaming. Therefore, our third and final hypothesis states that (H3) in comparison to other gamers, gamers with high scores for both pathological gaming and identification perceive the distance between their ideal self and avatar as smaller than the distance between their ideal self and actual self. The present research draws on a sample of 304 WoW players, gathered through an online survey (Mage = 24.54, SD = 13.91, 84\% male). The survey contained BFI personality measures of: (a) gamers' actual self, (b) gamers' ideal self and (c) main avatar (John \& Srivastava, 2008). Furthermore, measures of avatar identification (Van Looy, Courtois, \& De Vocht, 2010) and pathological gaming (Lemmens, et al., 2009) were included. These two measures' scores were split in half, using the median as a cut-off point to divide into high and low levels. Mixed model analysis of variances was used to test for the proposed hypotheses. First of all, the results indicate that players with a high avatar identification have a character that is closer to their ideal self for conscientiousness, neuroticism, openness and extraversion than those who score low for avatar identification. Except for openness, the ideal self - avatar discrepancies are consistently smaller than the ideal self - actual self discrepancies. As such, evidence is found for the first hypothesis. The second hypothesis, predicting a moderating effect of pathological gaming, is confirmed for neuroticism, openness and extraversion. Except for openness, it shows that for gamers with high pathological gaming scores demonstrate a larger distance between the self and actual self and a smaller distance between the avatar and the ideal self. Finally, the third hypothesis is confirmed for neuroticism and openness. It shows that gamers who combine a high score for pathological gaming with a high degree identification have much smaller discrepancies between their ideal self and avatar than between their ideal self and actual self. As such, these findings provide direct evidence for the self-discrepancy hypothesis proposed by Klimmt, Heffner and Vorderer. By implementing a direct measure of identification into Bessi{\`e}re, Kiesler and Seay's design, we were able to rule out the possibility that gamers do not meaningfully associate themselves with their avatar and just see it as more ideal because the game depicts a more ideal world or because creating a more ideal avatar is necessary for being successful in the game. As such, it is effectively shown that WoW players maintain a meaningful relationship with their avatar, which in turn provides further evidence for the self-discrepancy hypothesis in relation to the playing of MMORPGs. Finally, based on the idea that pathological gaming could be accompanied by a stronger desire to reduce self-discrepancy and thus alleviate psychological tension, we compared pathological gaming scores and discrepancies. Our findings indicate that WoW players with a tendency towards pathological gaming create and identify with avatars that are much more emotionally stable than their actual selves. In other words, they create an avatar that is more ideal on the dimension of neuroticism and then identify with it more strongly. References: Bessi{\`e}re, K., Seay, F., \& Kiesler, S. (2007). The Ideal Elf: Identity Exploration in World of Warcraft. Cyberpsychology \& Behavior, 10(4), 530-535. Ducheneaut, N., Yee, N., Nickell, E., \& Moore, R. J. (2006). Building an MMO with Mass Appeal: A look at gameplay in World of Warcraft. Games and Culture, 1(4), 281-317. Hsu, S. H., Wen, M. H., \& Wu, M. C. (2009). Exploring user experiences as predictors of MMORPG addiction. Computers \& Education, 53(3), 990-999. John, O. P., \& Srivastava, S. (2008). The Big Five Trait Taxonomy: History, Measurement, and Theoretical Perspectives. In J. O.P., R. W. Robins \& L. A. Pervin (Eds.), Handbook of Personality (pp. 102-139). New York: Guilford Press. Klimmt, C., Hefner, D., \& Vorderer, P. (2009). The Video Game Experience as {\textacutedbl}True{\textacutedbl} Identification: A Theory of Enjoyable Alternations of Players' Self-Perception. Communication Theory, 19(4). Lemmens, J. S., Valkenburg, P. M., \& Peter, J. (2009). Development and Validation of a Game Addiction Scale for Adolescents. Media Psychology, 12(1), 77-95. Lo, S. K., Wang, C. C., \& Fang, W. (2005). Physical Interpersonal Relationships and Social Anxiety among Online Game Players. Cyberpsychology \& Behavior, 8(1), 15-20. Smahel, D., Blinka, L., \& Ledabyl, O. (2008). Playing MMORPGs: Connections between Addiction and Identifying with a Character. Cyberpsychology \& Behavior, 11(6), 715-718. Van Looy, J., Courtois, C., \& De Vocht, M. (2010). Player Identification in Online Games: Validation of a Scale for Measuring Identification in MMORPGs. Paper presented at the Fun \& Games, Leuven, Belgium.},
  author       = {Courtois, C{\'e}dric and Van Looy, Jan and De Vocht, Melanie and De Marez, Lieven},
  booktitle    = {International conference on the social aspects of digital gaming, Proceedings},
  keyword      = {mmorpg,world of warcraft,digital gaming,self-discrepancy,identification,pathological gaming},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Stuttgart, Germany},
  pages        = {16},
  publisher    = {Hohenheim University},
  title        = {Self-discrepancy and MMORPGs: testing the moderating effects of avatar identification and pathological gaming in world of warcraft},
  year         = {2011},
}