Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry

, Volume 35, Issue 1, pp 26–62 | Cite as

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

  • Jeffrey G. Snodgrass
  • Michael G. Lacy
  • H. J. Francois DengahII
  • Jesse Fagan
  • David E. Most
Article

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.

Keywords

Dissociation Computer games Stress Mental health Internet addiction 

Notes

Acknowledgments

We thank the organizers, presenters and individuals at the 2008 Cultures of Virtual Worlds conference, April 25 and 26, at the University of California, Irvine. We especially thank those who gave us useful feedback on our presentation, “Internet Addiction or Restorative ‘Magical Flight’?: A Report on Collaborative Ethnographic Research in the World of Warcraft,” and later, at the 2008 American Anthropological Association meetings in San Francisco, on our “Internet Addiction or Restorative Magical Flight?: ‘Cultural Dissonance’ in the World of Warcraft.” We are also grateful for the research help of other student participants in the collaborative ethnographic research and teaching laboratory, taught in Spring 2008 by this article’s lead author: Michael Blank, Lahoma Howard, Chad R. Kershner, Gregory Krambeer, Alissa Leavitt-Reynolds, Adam Reynolds, Jessica Vyvial-Larson, Josh Whaley and Benjamin Wintersteen.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeffrey G. Snodgrass
    • 1
  • Michael G. Lacy
    • 2
  • H. J. Francois DengahII
    • 3
  • Jesse Fagan
    • 2
  • David E. Most
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Department of SociologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.Department of AnthropologyUniversity of AlabamaTuscaloosaUSA
  4. 4.School of EducationColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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