Sometime during my Master’s research, I started to really question whether or not my work was truly about ‘identity’ (in a traditional sense). Coming from Sociology, the term has a lot of baggage, and while I was talking about the player-avatar relationship, or what exists/develops between them, I was always hesitant to firmly stake it as “identity”. (For an interesting read on moving past “identity” as a term, read Brubaker and Cooper’s “Beyond Identity“). But at the the time, and up until my PhD defense last month, identity was the closest term to what I was talking about.
During my defense, I was asked whether or not I was talking more about player-avatar ‘hybridity’ rather than a (hybrid) identity proper. In the moment, I was very open to consider this shift in terminology but did not have the time to reflect on what it would mean to my overall conclusions. It would surely solve the many many times I’ve had to explain that my work was not about THAT kind of identity (I do not address issues of gender, race, or conscious/purposeful development of selves as such). So after having a few weeks to think about it, I have come to the conclusion that my Master’s work was indeed about identity proper. In my MA, ‘hybrid-identity’ explained what developed between the player and their avatar and this ‘hybrid-identity’ was upheld and sustained by a wide range of social aspects both within and external to MMORPG gameplay. My theoretical framework was focused primarily on interactions between the player and the gameworld (to various extents).
But thinking about my PhD work, focusing on single-player gameplay and player/player-character relationships within the larger networked process of play, I think it is not necessarily about ‘identity’ proper (as something that becomes distinctly separate from both the player and the player-character) inasmuch as it is about a hybridity between the player and the player-character. In this, I agree with my committee member who posited the initial question. Now, I need to go back and really flesh this idea out before I can make any significant shift in terminology, but I think it is the right direction that will help me iron out some of the issues I had when using the term ‘identity’. I have a few ideas already on how to make the conceptual shift and am really happy to have new direction to bring my work to its next level.