Ethnography of Online Role-Playing Games: The Role of Virtual and Real Contest in the Construction of the Field


  • Simona Isabella University of Calabria



computer mediated communication, role-playing games, community, identity, experience, narrative, online and offline ethnography


This paper invites the reader into the world of MUDs (Multi User Domains). Its underlying goal is to analyse certain social challenges associated with computer mediated communication (CMC), specifically with respect to the concept of the game; the process involved in the construction of the online Self or personality, potentially perceived as the final culmination of the frequent "comings and goings" between the game and reality; the concept of community that develops between two different frames—the virtual world and the real one; and, finally, the concept of both online and offline "experience". The empirical research, focusing on a comparison between an Italian and a Canadian MUDs interactive game, used online ethnography as the basic premise of study and biographical interviews with the players themselves, as further validation of the phenomenon. A fundamental question faces a researcher when conducting the study of a MUD—is the online game the only realm to consider? What is the impact of a multitude of other media (Instant messaging, boards, e-mails, SMS etc.) used by mudders to communicate in order to organize the game and become familiar with each other? Is it necessary for a researcher to totally abandon the players' social premise even if s/he is focusing her/his research on online relationships? These are some of the questions this paper endeavours to answer, while also being cognizant of the methodological problems researchers encounter when studying the Internet, both as a medium (of communication) and as a research framework. URN: urn:nbn:de:0114-fqs0703367


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Author Biography

Simona Isabella, University of Calabria

Simona ISABELLA did her PhD in "Science, Technology and Society" at the Department of Sociology and Political Science of the University of Calabria, Italy. She was engaged in both empirical and theoretical work on Computer Mediated Communication and, in particular, on Multi- Users Domains (MUDs). Her research interests are the Sociology of Communication and her current research activities focus on virtual communities, online and offline experience and narratives.




How to Cite

Isabella, S. (2007). Ethnography of Online Role-Playing Games: The Role of Virtual and Real Contest in the Construction of the Field. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 8(3).



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