World of Warcraft – Digital Subjectivity (Week 5)

Over the past weeks, I have looked closely at my embodiment and my own feelings of affect within World of Warcraft. To some extent, I have looked into my researcher subjectivity, as outlined somewhat in my character creation post. However, I have not yet fully explored it, and understanding my digital subjectivity as both a player and a researcher is critical to underscoring the research. My subjectivity, my identity’s more stable elements include the following relevant recognitions: White British, Cis Female, Feminist (Third wave/Post), Gamer.

Firstly, the relationship between myself and my avatar, Cineris, is crucial to research and my own gameplay. She is my tool for interacting with the world. I created her using the templates the game provided, and while I customise her with armour and weapons, I am still inherently bound by the game dynamics in her creation and character development.  I did make certain active decisions that indicate my own subjectivity and how I perceive myself. I made her female, I made her strong and powerful, I opted for a ferocious female warrior to play as and interact with the world. All of these are either things I directly see in myself or are things I wish I could enact. In Eklund (2011) and Royse et. al. (2007) they detail subjectivity among their female research participants, and both look closely at how women see their subjectivity within themselves and their avatars.They both noted that often women chose to play as women so they could feel kinship with the character – this I can definitely agree with.

Cineris at current. I love how strong she looks, but I’m still trying to find ways to downplay her hyperfeminine body as assigned by the game default for female.

There is also evidence of avatars being used as modes of both identity exploration and solidifying identity practices of the player, much as I mentioned above with giving Cineris certain traits I wish I had or wish I could explore more. ‘Games function as technologies for explorations of the gendered self, producing paradoxical enactments that challenge cultural norms’ (Royse et. al. 2007: 567). In this sense, I have produced a female gendered character, reflecting my own identification as a cis female. Yet paradoxically I have made her a warrior, I made her large, powerful and threatening in appearance, all of which are the antithesis of traditional femininity and female roles. ‘To construct oneself in WoW, is a constant, ongoing process; the identity is never fixed but varies over time and with the situation’ (Eklund 2011: 338). I agree with some extent with Eklund. The identity of the avatar can continue to develop, as I have already seen myself from levelling up and game progression. However, I have certain subjectivities that I carry with me that are much less fluid, and some even fixed, like my race.

When I was creating Cineris, the thought of my own racial subjectivity did not even cross my mind. Race was not something I stopped to think about. I see the other player avatars as what they are, taking them at face value, as the avatars are how the others players want to be seen, and I see no reason to question that. However, I am very aware that my subjectivity as white is shaping this. ‘The invisibility of whiteness as a racial position in white (which is to say dominant) discourse is of apiece with its ubiquity’ (Dyer 2005: 11). Dyer discusses that whiteness is invisible and the presumed race for any not explicitly named or signified. My subjective position as white informs this, and therefore while I do not feel I see all others in game as white (I try to think about those behind the avatars), on some level I do. To some extent, ‘It is also possible that Whiteness in gaming, like Whiteness in general, is uninterrogated.’ (Shaw 2012: 37). I did not see the need to look into my racial identity, and nor do I see myself interrogating others for their racial identities, because my subjectivity as white has caused a blanket effect on myself and my vision up to this point. bell hooks (1992) has called for white researchers to examine their subjectivity far more in depth, and reflecting on how poorly I initially considered my racial subjectivity, I would have to agree. However, as Keating (1995) has pointed out, in examining my white subjectivity more in-depth, I must not fall into a trap of marking distinct racial categories, when here in the digital space, there is room for subjectivities like these to shift through the image of the avatar, no matter how fixed the subjectivity may be within the player. Nakamura notes that in WoW ‘racializing discourses that reflect the concerns of an online culture obsessed with determining identity online through virtual profiling’ (2009: 132) bring racial subjectivity and the positions of players online into WoW to continue building and performing discourses of race.

Unlike my racial subjectivity, which was highly unconscious, my gendered subjectivity was something I paid close attention to. As mentioned above, I wanted a female character who I still saw as feminine, and yet had strong masculine traits, including strength and aggression. I deliberately moved away from the sexualised appearance initially given by the character creation, and worked on creating a more androgynous look – but still identifiable as feminine and female. This is all very reflective of how I see my own subjectivity in real life, so naturally I transferred it online so I could enact it more so, particularly in terms of the aggression and violence WoW allows me to take part in. ‘Participation in virtual worlds is not simulation but performance. There is no faking performance; it is brutally honest’ (Nardi 2010: 93). The way I have created my gendered subjectivity online is quite obvious, and indicative of a lot of my personality and personal beliefs. It is interesting to note that while I realise I made these decisions consciously, even without looking into my own reasoning, it would have been clear to an outside researcher what I was doing with my gendered subjectivity. ‘Gender was so relevant to gamer identity without being consciously articulated as such’ (Shaw 2012: 34). Even without thinking about it, I knew what kind of gamer subjectivity I wanted to embody. I took up these things naturally, and built my own subjectivity into the character. 

I am aware that MMOs are not utopian spaces, and that subjectivities are carried online through our digital selves do not suddenly transform because they are digital and not physical. I have never been under any illusion that the game is utopian and equal for all, and I am acutely aware that I hold certain subjectivities that potentially make me a target for online hate (being female in particular). Nakamura’s (2009, 2015)  work has particularly highlighted how the online spaces of MMOs are still just as shaped by racial and gendered discourse as real life. Being aware of subjectivity online, and how they are used and performed in online spaces such as WoW, means that I can see the full image of how MMOs act as spaces for identity performance and embodiment – including the flaws and individualities of participants. In understanding my digital subjectivity, it places me in better stead as a researcher, and enables me to be more critical of my own in game choices, and to better understand those around me in WoW.

An example of how non-utopian the space is. Here Cineris was approached by a male ogre who proceeded to flirt with us without even talking to us first. This is not that dissimilar to certain examples you would find in a ‘real world’ nightclub.

Bibliography

Dyer, R (2005, 3rd Edition) ‘The Matter of Whiteness’ in White Privilege: Essential Readings on the Other Side of Racism Ed. Rothenberg, P. London: Worth Pub

Eklund, L. (2011) ‘Doing Gender in Cyberspace: The Performance of Gender by female World of Warcraft players’ in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, Vol 17

Hooks, B (1992) Black Looks: Race and Representation. New York: Routledge

Keating, A (1995) ‘Interrogating “Whiteness” (De)constructing “Race” ‘ College English, Vol 57 (8) p901-918

Nakamura, L (2009) ‘Don’t Hate the Player, Hate the Game: The Racialization of Labor in World of Warcraft’ Critical Studies in Media and Communication Vol 26 (2) p128-144

Nakamura, L (2015) ‘Racism, Sexism and Gaming’s Cruel Optimism’ Deadspin 14th October 2014. Accessed from <https://lnakamur.files.wordpress.com/2015/02/racism-sexism-and-gamings-cruel-optimism.pdf>

Nardi, B (2010) My Life as a Night Elf Priest: An Anthropological Account of World of Warcraft. Michigan: University of Michigan Press

Royse, P et. al. (2007). ‘Women and Games: Technologies of the Gendered Self’ New Media and Society, Vol 9

Shaw, A (2012) ‘Do you Identify as a Gamer? Gender, Race, Sexuality and Gamer Identity’ New Media and Society Vol 14 (28) p28-44

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