What's your identity: A thesis on online identity, language and social interaction

Jeppe Løvstrøm Frederiksen

Studenteropgave: Speciale


Abstract The thesis at hand deals with how language and social interaction on the internet creates an online identity and culture which is different from other identities and cultures. The main principle behind various identities is that identity as well culture is flexible and ever changing units. The meta-theoretic approach used is social constructivism as it deals with how individuals construct themselves and perceive others in social interaction. The process of constructing social relations happens through the use of language and how the use of language creates different meanings in different contexts. The case used in the thesis is the MMORPG (Massive Multi-player Online Role Playing Game) World of Warcraft (WoW), which is currently “inhabited” by 12 million active subscribers monthly. This number is more than twice the population of Denmark. The players of WoW are spread globally on many different servers to play on. The server used for this thesis is the European Bloodfeather server. In my search for answers I have created an avatar, which is a virtual digital representation of the player set in a virtual environment. By doing so I have been able to conduct what Celia Pearce calls Game Ethnography – a form of ethnography that takes place inside virtual worlds. Pearce states that the only way to examine online behavior in virtual worlds is by being there yourself. My problem definition is: How does the language and social interaction used by WoW-players define their online identity? And in order to answer that I have included theory on global sociolinguistics using theories by sociolinguists David Crystal and Jan Blommaert who have provided me with a range of sociolinguistic tools and insight to help me analyze gamer lingo also known as leet speek, which is a dialect used by gamers online. Furthermore, the focus on social interaction is dealt with using sociological theories by Erving Goffman and Michel Maffesoli. They both deal with social interaction and identity. Goffman is known for his theory on the representation of self and Maffesoli is known for his theory on group identity, which he calls neo-tribalism. Also included in the research was a field trip to a big digital festival in Sweden known as DreamHack, an event that holds the world record for the biggest LAN-party hosting over 12.000 people. LAN-party is a local-area-network computer event usually hosted by private people or by schools during weekends. The idea was to conduct semi-structured interviews with active players of WoW while observing how players act while engaging in their favorite activities. Another important aspect of the thesis is the use of intertextuality in a game like WoW, which has some very distinct features and intertextual references to popular culture as well as finer literary culture. In order to use intertextuality I have used theory from Norman Fairclough, who is one of the founders of critical discourse theory. I concluded that language alone is not the only factor when dealing with identity of WoW-players, but it is an essential part. Leet speek has been used before WoW was launched in 2004, but many of the people who play WoW have been playing games for years and have picked up the language elsewhere and the people new to WoW quickly learn the language and discourse used in gaming. Looking at identity among WoW-players it is evident that the choice of guild reflects your identity as a player. You are not only in a guild you are part of constructing that guild’s identity.

UddannelserKommunikation, (Bachelor/kandidatuddannelse) KandidatEngelsk, (Bachelor/kandidatuddannelse) Kandidat
Udgivelsesdato29 nov. 2010
VejledereAnne Fabricius & Mira C. Skadegård


  • identity, internet, online, language