SEGA - Self-representation/self-experience in games


Since the 1980s, video gaming has steadily grown in popularity and moved from the cultural periphery toward its mainstream. Recent studies indicate that up to 75%of Belgian teenagers regularly play games and last year’s sales of video games have surpassed those of music. Despite this popularity,however, and the relative longevity of the medium – Space War, which is generally seen as the first computer game, was programmed in 1962 – video games as a medium and gaming as an activity remain underrepresented in academic research and, compared to other media, its specific characteristics little understood. With the emergence of the field of game studies around the turn of the millennium and similar movements in other disciplines, games took their first steps on the research stage, but, whilst these attempts have been commendable and important, the methods employed were generally derived from research into other media and therefore unsuited for studying the specific qualities of the gaming experience.

In recent years, this hiatus has been recognised and a growing amount of research has been aimed at understanding the specificity of the gaming experience. A number of studies, such as Brown & Cairns (2004) for example, which deals with the experience of game immersion, have identified the main parameters involved in feeling present in a game environment. Sweetser and Wyeth (2005) have adapted Csikszentmihalyi’s well-known ‘flow framework’ so that it can be used for analysing and describing the experience of playing video games. By breaking it down into eight elements – concentration, challenge, skill, control, goal structure, feedback, immersion and social interaction – they have taken a significant step toward a framework that can help to understand the enjoyment of playing video games and identify potentially successful game forms. Ravaja et al. (2006) and De Kort & IJselsteijn (2008), finally, have described video gaming as a situated experience and thus underlined the importance of specific spatial and social parameters such as the presence of other players or an audience.

One factor that is rarely taken into account, however, is the self-representation and self-experience of the player in the game. One of the unique characteristics of play is that it reserves a role for the person taking part in it (which can sometimes be observed in the fact that the player will refer to their in-game identity as ‘I’). This role can be strictly determined by the game (as in highly linear firstperson shooters or action adventure games such as Tomb Raider) or it can be more open as in simulation games such as The Sims, role-playing games like The Elder Scrolls or action-adventures such as Grand Theft Auto. Moreover, some game genres such as casual and puzzle games do not seem to put forward any specific role at all other than the requirement to accept the goal structure of the game as your own.

Research design

In the Sega project we will analyse the factors determining how a player experiences their own role in a game-environment, how it is negotiated between the player’s own views and beliefs on the one hand and the role foreseen for them in the game on the other, and we will look into the consequences this bears upon their overall gaming experience. This research will be broken down into two parts. On the one hand, we will study how a specific role is shaped and embedded in game play (selfrepresentation) which can involve factors as diverse as platform, narrative, interface and controls(witness the success of the Nintendo Wii controllers). On the other hand, we will look into how the player experiences their own role, their ‘imagined self’, and how this influences the various other factors involved in the overall game experience such as immersion, the sense of involvement, the feeling of flow and how his relates to overall game enjoyment. The general aim of the project is to identify and describe the parameters involved in shaping the self experience, to analyse how they relate to one another and to evaluate the potential for improving future game experiences through new formats and technologies.

Publications & References

Van Looy, J., Courtois, C., De Vocht, M., & De Marez, L. (2012). Player Identification in Online Games: Validation of a Scale for Measuring Identification in MMOGs. Media Psychology, 15 (2), 197-221.

Van Looy, J., Courtois, C., & De Vocht, M. (2014). Self-Discrepancy and MMORPGs: Testing the Moderating Effects of Avatar Identification and Pathological Gaming in World of Warcraft. In S. Kröger, T. Quandt (Eds.), Multi-Player: The Social Aspects of Digital Gaming.

Duration of the project

The project runs from 01/01/2009 - 31/12/2011.

Staff involved

Prof. dr. Jan Van Looy


Gaming and Immersive Media Lab

Financed by