The social fabric of virtual life

A longitudinal multi-method study on the social foundations of online gaming (SOFOGA)


Period January 2010 to December 2014
Conductor Prof. Dr. Thorsten Quandt
Assistance Emese Domahidi, M.A., Dipl.-Psych. Malte Elson, Dipl.-Medienwiss. Johannes Breuer
Institution Department of Communication
Funding European Resarch Council (ERC)
Tags Online-game-worlds, GameLab, Social Order in Online-game-worlds,
Media Effects Research, Methods of Communication Science


Since January 2010, this major EU-funded project has been conducting extensive research into the real-world and game-world experiences of online gamers. Project components include representative panel surveys over a total of three survey waves, social network analysis, in-game-observations, guided interviews, and focus groups. As part of the five-year project, a dedicated working group and observation lab (GameLab) were established. The EU's European Research Council supports high-risk, cutting-edge research by young scientists with its "Starting Grants" program. In contrast to other EU programs, the ERC funds individual proposals submitted by a single Principal Investigator (PI). In this way, the funding remains solely with the PI and his or her home insitution.

Through the EU excellency program “Starting Independent Researcher Grants" the European Research Council (ERC) has positively evaluated a proposal by Prof. Dr. Thorsten Quandt, recommending it for a grant of 1.84 million Euro.

The reviewers and the expert panel ranked the five year project, The Social Fabric of Virtual Life: A Longitudinal Multi-Method Study on the Social Foundations of Online Gaming (SOFOGA) as being "outstanding" – the highest evaluation given. Starting in January 2010 a broad analysis of the real-world and game-world experiences of online gamers will be made possible with the support of the ERC. This multi-method project, with a dedicated six-member research team, will be implemented at the Universität Münster.

This project shall analyze:

  1. how social order in online-game-worlds is generated and how it is sustained
  2. how the gamers’ real-world is influenced by the social order of the online-game-world
  3. how the experience of the online-game-world is influenced by the real-world

The project’s holistic approach includes different analysis steps on the macro, meso, and micro level of the respective field. These analyses will be carried out in the real-world as well as in the virtual-world of online-gamers.

Besides the interaction processes between the macro, meso and micro level, analysis of the political and economic background of online-game-worlds is planned.



The project is designed as a longitudinal multi-method study. The respective field in its breadth and variety shall be analyzed with traditional methods such as a large scale telephone survey (CATI based 'omnibus' study), a subsequent three-wave-panel survey, discussions in focus-groups, network analyses and qualitative surveys, as well as with innovative methods.

The project has a methodological pioneer character because it is the first time that online-gamers will be observed in their game-world (immersive research) for extended periods of time. Using Avatars, the researchers will observe events inside the game-world.

In order to observe the in game behavior, the 'real life' reactions of the gamers, and their physiolocial reactions, a laboratory (GameLab) will be built.