Finally, some positive research about the virtual world we all love so much. Games can make us happy? Who would have thought… OH wait. WE would have. 😉
In his breakthrough research, Dr. Jon Cabiria (2008) studies the potential positive effects of virtual communities on marginalized groups (in this case LGBT). He hypothesizes that positive identity verification is transferable from the virtual game Second Life to real life. In other words, people who feel comfortable being themselves in Second Life are able to feel more comfortable in real life.
Using questionnaires and interviews, Cabiria first established a baseline for each individual’s offline identity (i.e., how they typically acted and felt offline). His goal for this portion of the study was to see if there was a significant difference in behavior from previous research done in LGBT studies. The participants relayed the same themes as in previous research: “loneliness, isolation, depression, low self-esteem, withdrawal, lack of authenticity, and lack of useful information (p.7).” He goes on to say:
Specifically, these expected results dealt with developmental obstruction,
negative psychological affect of being in the closet, the power of hetero-normative forces, and
compartmentalization, to name a few (p.7).
He then asked the same questions of the Second Life self. This time the purpose was to see if there were any differences between the online and offline selves. What he found was:
… seven main themes emerged from the data, namely belongingness, connectedness, improved well-being, higher self-esteem, optimism, sense of authenticity, and evidence of transferable positive benefits (p. 8).
So what does this mean?
Well, it means that people who are afraid to be themselves because they’re marginalized, because social norms tell them they’re not ‘right’ or ‘good enough’… they have an outlet for true self-expression; a place to be themselves, and be accepted for who they are. People can try on identities in a safe, anonymous way and when they are ready to ‘come out’ (whether LGBT, gamer, math geek, dyslexic, eccentric or otherwise) as who they really are, they are bolstered up by the knowledge that there are those out there who are like them and who accept them unconditionally. It means there is a way for fears, challenges, self-esteem, withdrawal, anxiety, and any other number of scary feelings and emotions, to be overcome.
Permeability between virtual and real life… isn’t it exciting?
Cabiria, J. (2008). Virtual world and real world permeability: Transference of positive benefits for marginalized gay and lesbian populations. Journal of Virtual Worlds Research, 1(1), 1-13. Retrieved from: https://journals.tdl.org/jvwr/article/viewFile/284/238