Identification processes in online groups: Identity motives in the virtual realm of MMORPGs

Alessandro Gabbiadini, Silvia Mari, Chiara Volpato, Maria Grazia Monaci

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Online video games are a popular leisure activity around the world; such virtual environments enable new ways for social identity to develop. This study investigated the motives affecting social identification processes in the massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) World of Warcraft (WoW). In this video game, players interact with other players in a tridimensional virtual world through their avatar.A sample of 92 WoW players took part in a data collection Web survey. Building on the theory of social identity, we tested the predictive power of three identification motives: self-esteem enhancement, optimal distinctiveness, and uncertainty reduction. Additionally, considering previous research on MMORPGs, we added identification with the game character and membership duration as further predictors of virtual group identification. The construct of virtual group identification was analyzed at two levels: identification with the faction and guild of the character. Furthermore, the current study was a first attempt to understand whether online identification may lead to group behavior such as evaluative ingroup bias.Our results indicated that traditional motivational theories of social identity were mostly confirmed. Moreover, identification with the avatar emerged as a strong predictor of group identity. Additionally, at both levels of analysis, group attachment led to an evaluative differentiation between the ingroup and outgroup. The findings are discussed in light of modern theories of social identity and media research.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)141-152
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Media Psychology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • Social identity motives
  • Video games
  • Virtual communities

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Applied Psychology
  • Social Psychology
  • Communication


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