Online Gamers, Lived Experiences, and Sense of Belonging: Students at the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein
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Individuals who partake in video games are often regarded with prejudice. It is an activity that is perceived to be mainly related to senseless leisure and teenage entertainment. However, many diverse people make video games such an important part of their lives that they become passionately engaged in it. Video games and online video gaming offer the player immersive experiences unlike any other forms of media. A phenomenological and interpretive exploration is undertaken in order to gain a deeper understanding of the narratives of online gamers and their experiences of a sense of belonging to the associated online communities. Through the use of in-depth interviews, the article explores various aspects of the life stories of a group of eight South African university students. It attempts to show how online gaming has become a part of their lifeworlds. The aim of this article is to present the narratives of online gamers as rich and descriptive accounts that maintain the voices of the participants. Various aspects of the lifeworlds of online gamers are explored. Firstly, an exploration is undertaken to gain an understanding of what it means to be a gamer. It focuses on how a person can become involved with gaming and how it can evolve into something that a person is engaged with on a daily basis. Secondly, it explores how video games influence the perception of reality of gamers. Immersion in video games can transfer a player into an alternative reality and can take the focus away from the real world. This can lead to feelings of joy and excitement, but can also lead to escapism. Lastly, the article shifts attention towards how online video gamers experience online communities. Players can have positive experiences with random strangers online, but because of the anonymous nature of the online environment, it can also lead to negative and isolating experiences.
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