What I won’t do in pixels: Examining the limits of taboo violation in MMORPGs

This paper examined the emotional impact that engaging in or witnessing Symbolic Taboo Activities (STAs), as represented in MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing game), such as killing, torture and rape, has on adults. We focused our study on two games: World of Warcraft and Sociolotron. The study employed Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis (IPA), which was chosen because of its emphasis on ‘lived experienced’ and how participants make sense of their experiences. Five participants, all over the age of 18 years, were interviewed via Instant Messenger, four of which were men. Most of our participants felt they could easily separate gamespace from the real world; however, when asked to examine specific actions in-depth, we found this was not the case for all STAs. Activities that did not have a sanctioned equivalence (e.g., rape) were found by most to be more difficult to separate, especially emotionally. However, this was not the case for all participants. The findings suggest that not all individuals can psychologically cope with engaging in and/or witnessing certain STAs in MMORPGs. The results, we believe are important for game designers, censoring bodies of video games and psychologists.