Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy



Major Professor

Tricia R. Hepner

Committee Members

Rosalind I. J. Hackett, De Ann Pendry, Suzie Allard


This dissertation offers a longitudinal digital ethnography of a community of hardcore gamers who currently play, or have played, the Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game (MMO) World of Warcraft. The central theme embraces the challenge of identifying and voicing the emic perspective of these hardcore players, presenting them as individuals mediating their real lives (IRL, or "in real life") and virtual lives through social media and online multiplayer technologies, including the maintenance of relationships developed within the IRL and in-game spaces they inhabit. The dissertation offers a critical analysis of the hardcore gaming lifestyle as voiced by the gamers themselves, revealing not only their contestation of the boundaries of cultural expression, identity, and community, especially as it pertains to notions of “real” and “virtual” relationships, but also the social costs to their IRL lives. Embedding themselves within a virtual world community by way of immersive computer technologies (modem, PC, VoiP, mouse, and so on), yet conceptualizing this world as a prioritized reality, repositions these players out of the realm of traditional gamers and into one representing a post-human status. Ultimately, through this collaboration with this community of Post-human Gamers, the ethnographer challenges existing portrayals of these cultural groups in the media and within WoW itself, and offers a reflexive examination of the ethnographer's own potentially self-destructive journey of researching the hardcore lifestyle.

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