There is a reasonable amount of existing work in the area of avatars and online identity. Many researchers have commented on why people style avatars like themselves (or not like), identified the avatar as an extension of the self, etc … However, I do not know if I’ve ever seen a formal structural analysis of an avatar creation system which was then tied back into some critical identity theory.
It should come as no surprise, then, that I am entertaining the idea of performing such an analysis and relating the results (somehow) back to identity theory/politics. I’m leaning towards a structural analysis of the World of Warcraft avatar system for the following reasons.
- I am very familiar with World of Warcraft lore, players, interactions, etc. I’ll be able to focus my efforts on the analysis and creation system without spending lots of additional time just learning about the space.
- The avatar creation system is fairly simple compared to other MMOGs. There’s definitely enough content for a full length paper but I might be able to avoid getting lost in the minutiae of avatar systems like those in Second Life.
- I “get” phenomenology but feel like my understanding of structural theory/analysis needs more practical reinforcing.
What I worry about is confusing the “phenomenological” questions with the “structural” questions. I believe players choose certain avatars to represent identities they want to explore in the game, but that seems to deal with an individual’s intention which is more of a phenomenological inquiry. Structuralist inquiry would center more on how the structures/interactions/limitations/options/etc of the interface shape the avatar and identity choices available to the user?
Perhaps the paper needs a bit of both approaches to have some real explanatory power, but I definitely want to focus on structuralism. I think.