Workshop on Cultural Impact on Technology Development
in European and Islamic Countries

October 28-30, 2002 in Al Akhawayn University in Ifrane, Morocco

Sponsored by: Deutscher Akademischer Austausch Dienst (DAAD), Technische Universität München (TUM) and Akhawayn University in Ifrane (AUI)

“Freud and CyberCulture: Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games as a Social Laboratory”

Douglas A. Davis, Ph.D.
Haverford College

A century after Freud demonstrated in “The Interpretation of Dreams” that the core dilemmas of human social life find veiled expression in fantasy, it is possible to study personality psychology by observing the behavior of millions of players of online role-playing games, in which characters are created from a menu of “races” and genders and players interact with each other for hours a day in the guise of warriors, magicians, and healers. Theories of personal development and psychodynamics can now be brought to bear on observations and on self-reports from game-players who complete Web surveys about their real-life characteristics and their use of the role-playing world for personal expression. Using a dataset and summary of on-going research by Nicholas Yee (www.nickyee.com/eqt/home.html) on the several thousand players of the game “EverQuest” we find a varied (though mostly male) population of well-educated late adolescents and adults who choose to forego some “real-life” interactions for a world in which they become the creatures of fantasy and befriend the cartoon representations of other players with whom they visit exotic cities, slay monsters, and participate in a virtual economy. Since all this behavior can easily be recorded and analyzed by researchers collaborating on the Internet, we are afforded a social psychological laboratory rich enough for Freud’s dreams. Yee’s data show that issues of personality and gender identity, as well as readiness to cooperate or compete, can be studied in these virtual worlds, and the ready access of most Islamic countries to the Internet suggests that all may participate in the segmented but global cultures that will develop.

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