Real game worlds: The emotional reality of fictional worlds

  • Torill Elvira Mortensen IT University of Copenhagen Department of Digital design Center for Games Research Culture and Technology
Keywords: games, virtual reality, game world, transmedia, virtual ethnography,


There are two ways to understand play: one is to observe it, the other is to participate in it. Since 2001, game studies has promoted participation as one of the main requirements to understand play. Some play is so performative that while it can be observed, it also must be played. Game worlds, the worlds of online, multi-user games, are delicate constructs of make-believe and technology, which act as support and arenas for immersive, theatrical and/or competitive play. This is a discussion of how far virtual ethnography can take the researcher in understanding game worlds.

To explore this, this article will address play, game worlds and transmediality, as well as discuss methods. I will look to Lisbeth Klastrup and Susana Tosca to discuss story worlds, as well as to discussions led by Celia Pearce, Tom Boellstorff and T. L. Taylor (among others) to discuss ethnography in games and virtual ethnographies.

Author Biography

Torill Elvira Mortensen, IT University of Copenhagen Department of Digital design Center for Games Research Culture and Technology
Digital Design, Associate professor


Aarseth, E. (2001). Editorial, game studies 0101. 1(1).

———. (2003). Playing research: Methodological approaches to game analysis. In Proceedings of Melbourne Digital Arts & Culture Conference.

———. (2017). Just games. Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research, 17(1).

Anable, A. (2018). Playing with feelings: Video games and affect. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Anonymous. (2010). Anyone else break keyboards when they rage? League of Legends community.

Beneito-Montagut, R. (2011). Ethnography goes online: Towards a user-centred methodology to research interpersonal communication on the internet. Qualitative Research, 11(6), (pp. 716–35).

Bioware Austin LCC. (2011). Star Wars: The old republic. Electronic Arts, Inc.

Blizzard. (2004). World of Warcraft. Blizzard Entertainment Inc.

Boellstorff, T. (2008). Coming of age in Second Life: An anthropologist explores the virtually human. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

———. (2012). Rethinking digital anthropology. In H. A. Horst & D. Miller (Eds.), Digital Anthropology (pp. 39–60). London: Bloomsbury.

Boellstorff, T., Nardi, B., Pearce, C., & Taylor, T. L. (2012). Ethnography and virtual worlds : A handbook of method. Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press.

Bogost, I. (2007). Persuasive games: The expressive power of videogames. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Bolter, J. D., & Grusin, R. (1999). Remediation: Understanding new media. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Bopp, J., Mekler, E. & Opwis, K. (2015). "It was sad but still good": Gratifications of emotionally moving game experiences. CHI’15 extended abstracts. Seoul, Republic of Korea. (pp. 1193-1198).

Brennan, T. (2004). The transmission of affect. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Bruckman, A. (1994). Programming for fun: MUDs as a context for collaborative learning.

Bruckman, A., & Resnick, M. (1995). The MediaMOO project. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies 1(1), (pp. 94–109).

Bruckman, A. S. (1997). MOOSE crossing: Construction, community and learning in a networked virtual world for kids. Ph.D. thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Program in Media Arts & Sciences.

Calleja, G. (2014). Immersion in virtual worlds. In M. Grimshaw (Ed.), The Oxford handbook of virtuality (pp. 254–68). Oxford and New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Coleman, G. (2014). Hacker, hoaxer, whistleblower, spy: The many faces of Anonymous. London: Verso.

Corneliussen, H., & Walker Rettberg, J. (2008). Digital culture, play, and identity: A World of Warcraft reader. MIT Press.

Cyan Worlds, Inc. (2003). Uru: Ages beyond Myst. Ubisoft.

Dervin, B. (1998). Sense-making theory and practice: An overview of user interests in knowledge seeking and use. Journal of Knowledge Management 2(2), (pp. 36–46).

Dibbell, J. (1993). A rape in cyberspace. The Village Voice.

Dziobak larp studios. (2017). College of Wizardry.

Eberle, S. G. (2014). The elements of play: Toward a philosophy and a definition of play. American Journal of Play 6(2), (pp. 214–33.)

Fasterholdt, M., Pichlmair, M., & Holmgård, C. (2016). You say jump, I say how high? Operationalising the game feel of jumping. In Proceedings of the first international joint conference of DiGRA and FDG. (pp. 1-16)

Fung, A. Y. H., & Pun, B. L. F. (2016). From pioneering amateur to tame co-operator: Tamed desires and untamed resistance in the cosplay scene in China. In A. Pulos & S. Austin Lee (eds.), Transnational contexts of culture, gender, class, and colonialism in play: Video games in East Asia (pp. 81–96). Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Haynes, C., & Holmevik, J. R. (1998). High wired : On the design, use, and theory of educational MOOs. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Heidbrink, S., Knoll, T., & Wysocki, J. (2014). Theorizing religion in digital games. perspectives and approaches. Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet 5. (pp. 5-50).

———. (2015). "Venturing into the unknown"(?): Method(olog)ical reflections on religion and digital games, gamers and gaming. Heidelberg Journal of Religions on the Internet 7. (pp. 61-84).

Huizinga, J. (2000). Homo ludens: A study of the play element in culture. London: Routledge.

Isbister, K. (2016). How games move us: Emotion by design. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Ito, K., & Crutcher, P. A. (2014). Popular mass entertainment in Japan: Manga, pachinko, and cosplay. Society 51(1), (pp. 44–48).

Jenkins, H. (2007). Transmedia storytelling 101. Confessions of an aca-fan. March 21, 2007.

Juul, J. (2013). The art of failure : An essay on the pain of playing video games. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Katz, E., Blumler, J. G., & Gurevitch, M. (1973). Uses and gratifications research. Public Opinion Quarterly 37(4), 509.

Klastrup, L. (2003). Towards a poetics of virtual worlds: Multi-user textuality and the emergence of story. Copenhagen: IT University of Copenhagen.

———. (2009). The worldness of EverQuest: Exploring a 21st century fiction. Game Studies: The International Journal of Computer Game Research 9(1).

Klastrup, L., & Tosca, S. (2004). Transmedial worlds: Rethinking cyberworld design. In 2004 international conference on cyberworlds (pp. 409–16). Tokyo: IEEE.

Kozinets, R. V. (2015). Netnography: Redefined. London: Sage.

Krzywinska, T. (2008). World creation and lore: World of Warcraft as rich text. In H. G. Corneliussen & J. Walker Rettberg (Eds.), Digital culture, play, and identity: A World of Warcraft reader (pp. 123-142). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Lamerichs, N. (2015). Express yourself: An affective analysis of game cosplayers. In J. Enevold & E. MacCallum-Stewart (Eds.), Game love: Essays on play and affection. Kindle edition. Jefferson, NC: Macfarland & Company, Inc.

Linden Research, Inc. (2003). Second Life.

Maj, K., Zioło, B., Trojanowska, D. K., Sokólska, A., & Starosta, M. (2017). Witcher school.

Massanari, A. L. (2015). Participatory culture, community, and play. New York, NY: Peter Lang US.

Massumi, B. (2002). Parables for the virtual: Movement, affect, sensation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Medienorge. (2018). Bruk av elektroniske spill en gjennomsnittsdag - Medienorge - Fakta om Norske massemedier - statistikkmeny. Nordicom.

Merel, T. (2017). Games software/hardware revenue to top $150 billion in 2017. VentureBeat, July 13.

Meyrowitz, J. (1985). No sense of place: The impact of electronic media on social behavior. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Montola, M. (2010). The positive negative experience in extreme role-playing. In Nordic DiGRA 2010 (pp. 1-8 ).

Mortensen, T. E. (2003). Pleasures of the player: Flow and control in online games. Ph.D. thesis, University of Bergen.

———. (2015). Keeping the balance: Morals at the dark side. In T. E. Mortensen, J. Linderoth, & A. M. L. Brown (Eds.), The Dark Side of Game Play: Controversial Issues in Playful Environments (pp. 155–70). London: Routledge.

Mortensen, T. E., Linderoth, J., & Brown, A. M. L. (2015). The dark side of game play: Controversial issues in playful environments. London: Routledge.

Nardi, B. A. (2010). My life as a night elf priest: An anthropological account of World of Warcraft. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Parks, M. R., & Roberts, L. D. (1998). "Making moosic": The development of personal relationships on line and a comparison to their off-line counterparts. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 15(4), (pp. 517–37).

Pearce, C. (2009). Communities of play: Emergent cultures in multiplayer games and virtual worlds. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Phillips, W. (2015). This is why we can’t have nice things: Mapping the relationship between online trolling and mainstream culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Pink, S., Horst, H. A., Postill, J., Hjorth, L., Lewis, T., & Tacchi, J. (2016). Digital ethnography: Principles and practice. Kindle edn. London: Sage.

Raessens, J. (2014). The ludification of culture. In M. Fuchs, S. Fizek, P. Ruffino, & N. Schrape (Eds.), Rethinking gamification. Lüneburg: Meson Press.

Realm Pop. (2017). Realm pop.

Ryan, M-L. (2013). Transmedial storytelling and transfictionality. Poetics Today 34(3). (pp. 361-388).

Saukko, P. (2003). Doing research in cultural studies: An introduction to classical and new methodological approaches. London: Sage.

Sony Online Entertainment. (1999). EverQuest.

Statista. (2017). U.S. video game industry annual revenue by segment 2016.

Steinkuehler, C. A. (2005). Cognition and learning in massively multiplayer online games: A critical approach. Ph.D. thesis, University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Taylor, T. L. (2006). Play between worlds: Exploring online game culture. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

The Entertainment Software Association. (2017). Essential facts about the computer and video game industry: 2017 sales, demographic and usage data.

Toft-Nielsen, C. (2012). Gamingpraksis: En vidvinkeloptik på computerspil, køn, genre og hverdagsliv - forskning - Aarhus Universitet.

———. (2014). Worlds at play: Space and player experience in fantasy computer games. Nordicom Review 35(Special Issue), (pp. 237–49).

Turkle, S. (1994). Constructions and reconstructions of self in virtual reality: Playing in the MUDs. Mind, Culture, and Activity 1(3), (pp. 158–67).

Turner, V. (2009). Liminal to liminoid, in play, flow, and ritual: An essay in comparative symbology. Rice University Studies, 60(3), (pp. 53–92). (2015). WoW server stats - EU Realms.

Williams, R. (1974). Television: Technology and cultural form. London: Fontana/Collins.

Wolf, M. J. P. (2014). Building imaginary worlds: The theory and history of subcreation. London: Routledge.

How to Cite
Mortensen, T. (2018). Real game worlds: The emotional reality of fictional worlds. MedieKultur: Journal of Media and Communication Research, 34(64), 16 p.