I have been working on what is essentially the same research question since 2004 – working towards understanding the player/avatar relationship and identity – not in it’s classic sense as that which belongs (and identifies) an individual or entity (avatar), but rather how identity is morphed and redefined through digitally mediated interactions into something new. I am sure I can come back to this statement in two hours and re-articulate it again and again – get lost in it and come back again, but in the end, when I am talking about “hybrid-identity” (as I have yet to find – or invent – that perfect word for what it is I am talking about), that is basically what I am talking about.
My MA work pointed to a very specific, contextualized form of ‘hybrid-identity’ – an identity which emerges from the long term interactions between the player and the avatar and the game world over time and (social) interaction. This identity does not belong to either the player or the avatar, although both player choices and avatar design play a part in it (along with other contributing elements). I developed a framework of interconnected gameplay elements that contribute to the emergence of this type of identity in mmorpg’s. (note: this research stemmed from Everquest, Dark Age of Camelot, Lineage II and early WoW [pre-Burning Crusade] – since then, there have been significant changes to the genre that may alter the original framework. I will address this in my dissertation if all goes well =)).
The (long term) goal of the framework is to be able to apply it to a range of games (and contexts) and determine whether or not the conditions exist for ‘hybrid-identity’ to (potentially) emerge. My PhD work is testing the framework that I developed in my MA (specific to mmorpg’s) against different genres of games (through close readings of gameplay) to see where the framework breaks down, what restructuring is required for it to be a useful analytic tool, and essentially, to test whether or not ‘hybrid-identity’ even has the potential to emerge in single-player games. Of course, the most grandiose goal of my research is to re-articulate the nuances of identity in digitally mediated game play (and not just the player’s or the avatar’s). These are my ideas.
The reality that I have been struggling with while writing is seeing my ideas materialize into clear, defendable arguments. The challenge of making proof plagues my sociological brain. It all makes perfect sense to me. I see it with my eyes; feel it with my heart, but when I try to explain what I mean, I sometimes lose control of my argument and find myself caving into the exist definitions of identity. The concept of identity is so concretely grounded in the human (or at least as a human construct), that trying to pry it loose seems to be a very messy (and sometimes controversial) project. I am passionate about my ideas, it is the reality of articulation (and proof!) that keeps jamming a stick into my spokes.
And with all of that – it is time to get back to work. I am close… so very very close to getting this dissertation out the door … perhaps when it is enveloped in its intro and conclusion, the reality will mirror my ideas and I can breathe easy again.