Communicating with others is a key motivation for playing digital games, but associated gratifications often require the presence of and interaction with other agents that may be inherently demanding. This demand has been characterized as emerging from intersections of implicit or explicit awareness of and implicit or explicit response to the social other. To explore phenomenological dimensions of this concept—nascent in relation to immersive digital environments—this study explored online gamers’ assessments of the demands of encountering an unknown avatar in a massively multiplayer online game (MMO). After experiencing a survey-based, simulated encounter, players were asked to describe the ease or effortfulness of such an interpersonal encounter. In these descriptions, emergent thematic analysis identified six key factors in degrees of experienced demand: individual differences in personality and skill, environmental and social contexts of encounters, awareness of identity and agency boundaries in the online environment, game culture norms for interaction, perceived interaction value, and anticipations for how a communicative episode would unfold. Findings suggest that although social demand has, to date, been characterized as emerging from the game itself, it may be best understood as a function of the intersection of micro-level (intrapersonal), meso-level (interpersonal), and macro-level (cultural/situational) communicative factors.
- Social Interaction
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