, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 26-62
Date: 17 Dec 2010

Magical Flight and Monstrous Stress: Technologies of Absorption and Mental Wellness in Azeroth

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Abstract

Videogame players commonly report reaching deeply “immersive” states of consciousness, in some cases growing to feel like they actually are their characters and really in the game, with such fantastic characters and places potentially only loosely connected to offline selves and realities. In the current investigation, we use interview and survey data to examine the effects of such “dissociative” experiences on players of the popular online videogame, World of Warcraft (WoW). Of particular interest are ways in which WoW players’ emotional identification with in-game second selves can lead either to better mental well-being, through relaxation and satisfying positive stress, or, alternatively, to risky addiction-like experiences. Combining universalizing and context-dependent perspectives, we suggest that WoW and similar games can be thought of as new “technologies of absorption”—contemporary practices that can induce dissociative states in which players attribute dimensions of self and experience to in-game characters, with potential psychological benefit or harm. We present our research as an empirically grounded exploration of the mental health benefits and risks associated with dissociation in common everyday contexts. We believe that studies such as ours may enrich existing theories of the health dynamics of dissociation, relying, as they often do, on data drawn either from Western clinical contexts involving pathological disintegrated personality disorders or from non-Western ethnographic contexts involving spiritual trance.

An erratum to this article can be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s11013-011-9204-4
An erratum to this article can be found online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s00261-011-9704-2