Virtual Consumption

Turku School of Economics, No. A-11, 2009

Posted: 27 Jun 2010

See all articles by Vili Lehdonvirta

Vili Lehdonvirta

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute

Date Written: 2009


Millions of people are spending time and money on virtual goods: clothes for their characters in online hangouts, weapons for their fighters in massively-multiplayer games, and presents for their friends in social networking platforms. In this dissertation, I locate virtual goods as the latest step in an overall digitalisation of consumption, and examine the reasons behind this ”virtual consumption” through data gathered from some of its primary arenas. The dissertation is positioned in the sociology of consumption and also addresses recent streams of scholarship on ICT and society. In popular discourse, spending real money on virtual goods is frequently attributed to Internet addiction and manipulation by marketers. The results of this dissertation suggest that the fundamental drivers of virtual consumption are rather found in individuals’ social and hedonic motivations. In online spaces, virtual goods function as markers of status, elements of identity and means towards ends in the same way as material consumer goods do in similarly contrived physical spaces. The impact of virtual goods is not limited to virtual communities, however, because pre-existing social relations are also increasingly acted out in online spaces. Survey data is used to argue that spending on virtual goods is linked to participants’ economic and socio-demographic backgrounds. The resulting digitalisation of consumption can potentially have significant implications for the global economy and the ecological sustainability of consumer culture.

Keywords: consumer behaviour, online communities, cross-cultural study, electronic commerce, dematerialisation of consumption, ethics of consumption

Suggested Citation

Lehdonvirta, Vili, Virtual Consumption (2009). Turku School of Economics, No. A-11, 2009, Available at SSRN: or

Vili Lehdonvirta (Contact Author)

University of Oxford - Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom


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