Social Identity for Teenagers: Understanding Behavioral Intention to Participate in Virtual World Environment

By Karjaluoto, Heikki; Leppäniemi, Matti | Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research, April 2013 | Go to article overview

Social Identity for Teenagers: Understanding Behavioral Intention to Participate in Virtual World Environment


Karjaluoto, Heikki, Leppäniemi, Matti, Journal of Theoretical and Applied Electronic Commerce Research


Abstract

This study develops a framework for understanding user intentions and behaviors within a virtual world environment. The proposed framework posits that the intention to participate in virtual world is defined by a person's 1) social identity, 2) attitude toward using the service, 3) subjective norms, 4) attitude toward advertising on the service and 5) enjoyment. The proposed model is tested using data (n=319) from members of the virtual world environment. The results support the multidimensional view of social identity and show a strong positive association between social identity and intention and social identity and behavior, and further, confirm the intention-behavior link. Moreover, the results indicate that social identity outweighs the significance of a person's attitude and relevant subjective norms in explaining intention and behavior. The results also indicate that enjoyment strongly explains both ease of use and attitude.

Keywords: Social identity, Virtual world, Experiential service, Enjoyment, Intention

1 Introduction

During the past few years, we have witnessed a remarkable increase in the number of users in virtual worlds. According to KZero [54], there were 1.921 billion registered users in virtual worlds in the first quarter of 2012, more than triple the number of users in 2009. The largest segment of users (802 million) is between the ages of 10 and 15 [54]. Despite the growing popularity of virtual worlds, there is no agreement on the definition and/or typology of virtual worlds [20], [71]. The numerous contextual descriptions provided by academics, industry professionals and the media, have further complicated agreement on a common understanding about virtual worlds [91]. One of the earliest definitions of a virtual world was that of Schroeder [74] p.25 who defined the virtual environment or virtual reality as "a computer-generated display that allows or compels the user (or users) to have a sense of being present in an environment other than the one they are actually in, and to interact with that environment."

Years later, Koster [52] suggests a definition which contains many essential characteristics of a virtual world: "a virtual world is a spatially based depiction of a persistent virtual environment, which can be experienced by numerous participants at once, who are represented within the space by avatars." Castronova [25] adopts a more technologically oriented viewpoint and defines virtual worlds as "crafted places inside computers that are designed to accommodate large numbers of people." Building on the definitions provided by Bartle [16], Koster [52] and Castronova [25], and including an emphasis on the people and their social network, Bell [20] defines virtual world as "A synchronous, persistent network of people, represented as avatars, facilitated by networked computers." Against this backdrop, social networking sites, such as Facebook and LinkedIn are not virtual worlds. Although not without its critics [19], social networking sites (SNSs) are defined as "web-based services that allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2) articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their list of connections and those made by others within the system" [22]. Thus, SNSs constitute virtual communities which have persistence, but no sense of synchronous [20].

Keeping the Bell's [20] definition of virtual worlds in mind, massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) like World of Warcraftor Ultima Online are virtual worlds. This applies also for MMO games. However, there is a discussion about whether a distinction should be drawn between game-based worlds and non-game worlds. Some researchers [51], [77] argue that virtual worlds are essentially non-game environments where divergent games can be present but are not the defining characteristics of the world. Instead, MMORPGs are subject to precise gaming rules, and therefore, they are essentially games. …

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