Norwegian version

“Free to play – pay to win”: Understanding young people’s social inclusion through their consumer behavior in gaming

PhD project about social inclusion and exclusion though gaming.

Young people today grow up in a consumer society, in the sense that their parents and their own social relations are largely organized by various markets. Adolescents connect, are visible, and belong to others through consumption of products and services. Thus, consumption is more than market transactions, and plays an important role in forming and nurturing social relationships and thus affects social inclusion. Inclusion in social groups may happen in ‘places’ – such as physical locations, or in spatial contexts in abstract terms like virtual gaming platforms.

The gaming industry is built upon behavioral analysis, particularly reinforcement of behavior. Research demonstrates that video games are designed to keep people engaged and have them coming back for more. However, research about consumer behavior in gaming and the commercial aspects of games are currently lacking. And while there is a multitude of studies investigating the potential harmful effects of gaming, few studies have looked at beneficial effects, such as increased social inclusion. This project will address these knowledge gaps by seeking to understand youths social inclusion (and exclusion) through their consumer behavior in gaming cultures.

This will be explored through multiple methods, namely a comprehensive mapping of games and gaming platforms, and a digital play-along field study with youth. The theoretical framework combines psychology, sociology and consumer behavior studies through the following theories: social comparison theory, cultural studies, and symbolic interactionism. The results of the project will be of high societal relevance by providing a better understanding of gaming both as behavior and as a cultural phenomenon, by nuancing the positive and negative effects of gaming, by highlighting both visible and invisible consumption in gaming, by learning why and how young people participate in gaming, and by adding to a deeper understanding of digital platforms and how they may affect social inclusion.

Supervisor: Nina Heidenstrøm, Senior Researcher, Consumption Research Norway (SIFO), OsloMet

Co- supervisor: Ingunn Sandaker, Professor, Department of Behaviourial Sciences, OsloMet