Character customization in video games as symbolic consumption - how characters are customized

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School of Economics | Master's thesis
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Objective of the study The objective of this study is to develop an understanding of how symbolic consumption takes place in video games as video game players customize their character. In real life products serve as symbols of their consumers and help consumers locate themselves in the society, but to this date the consumption in video games has not been studied largely. One recognized way to use customization is to display one’s favorite brands. Existing studies based on other types of virtual environments suggest that customization features are often used to create a representation of the self to the virtual environment. Research method This research takes a cultural approach to consumer research and is qualitative and interpretive in its nature. To conduct the study seven semi-structured interviews were conducted with Finnish 17–26 year-old video game players familiar with the games chosen for this study. Findings As its main findings, this study identifies two main themes that describe symbolic consumption in video games. First, the symbolic resources that are provided through character customization are used to create self-representations into the virtual environment of the video game. These self-representations can draw from players self-image, but also from past or desired self-images. Self-representative consumption in video games is understood to play a role in construction of the self like all voluntary consumption in real life. Second, symbolic resources that are provided through character customization are used playfully for example to create caricatures and mockeries of real-life characters and standards.
character customization, consumer research, in-game advertising, symbolic consumption, video games, virtual consumption
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