The first area of gaming and psychology I’m going to look at is how gaming interacts with the Social Identity Approach used in social psychology.
First I’ll introduce the approach. The social identity approach combines the ideas of two related theories; self-categorisation theory (SGT) and social identity theory (SIT). These theories aim to understand how people form groups and behave within them.
SGT focuses on categorising, and how we assign ourselves and others to different groups. Some groups are fixed at birth, such as birth sex, family and nationality; others, such as occupation membership, friendship groups, and sports fandom, are chosen by individuals. Each person will create different constellations of groups which are meaningful to them, based on their circumstances, the people they know, and their interests. Groups which people consider themselves part of are termed “in-groups”, while groups they are not part of or find irrelevant are termed “out-groups”. Groups can also be formed by trivial or manufactured differences- an idea I’ve discussed in gaming terms before here.
SIT focuses on how belonging to groups affects our social interactions, self-image, and behaviour within groups. In SIT, the groups we belong to are important for us, as they are a source of pride and self-esteem. (For a more in-depth explanation of SIT and its links to other behaviours like prejudice, the video below should be helpful.)
To simplify the case slightly, SIT argues that belonging is essential to us, as it helps to satisfy our needs for connection, self-esteem, and social status. We can maintain our self-image and self-esteem through building our in-group up and making that group more successful. We can also achieve this through putting down out-groups and making them seem less successful than the in-group. By making the in-group feel superior to out-groups, or and making the in-group feel closer-knit, we can reinforce the value we get from being part of that in-group, as well as the happy “us-ness” which comes from belonging.
So what happens when this way of understanding groups is applied to in-groups formed through their identities as gamers?
In the series I’ll be looking at a few situations, the first two being i ) subdividing identities, such as the “Console Wars” and the categorisation of “Hardcore” vs “Casual” gamers and ii) financial effects and the potential for negative influence.