Jessica Stark, Psy.D., is a 2018 graduate of the PsyD Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, Seattle

Dissertation Committee

Jude Bergkamp, Psy.D., Committee Chair

Kirk Honda, Psy.D., Committee Member

Elizabeth Fanningi, Ph.D., Committee Member


video games, The Sims, phenomenology, gamers, video game players, video game users, simulated life, qualitative, Sim, video game psychology, user behavior, lived experience, gameplay, self-representation, avatar, self-reflection, identity

Document Type


Publication Date



With video game usage--and criticism on its activity--on the rise, it may be helpful for the psychological community to understand what it actually means to play video games, and what the lived experience entails. This qualitative, phenomenological study specifically explores user behaviors and decisions in the simulated life video game, The Sims. Ten participants completed one- to two-hour long semi-structured interviews, and the data was transcribed, organized into 1,988 codes, which were clustered into 30 categories, and from which six themes ultimately emerged. These resulting themes are: self-representation; past, present, and future; purpose for play; self-reflection; co-creation; and familiarity. The essence of playing The Sims includes a degree of self-representation through gameplay choices, projecting one's own past, present or future into the game, and play that is motivated by distinct reasons or benefits. Gameplay in The Sims also involves a sense of familiarity, the interaction of inspirations coming from both the user and the game, and the user's reflections on the connection between themselves and the game. Relationships between the six resulting themes and the current literature on video game psychology are reviewed, and future research and clinical implications are discussed.


Jessica Stark, Psy.D., 2018

ORCID Scholar # 0000-0002-8975-5666