Digital embodiment enhances the way in which we as humans are able to feel, it may sound peculiar to some, but through playing World of Warcraft our avatar is an extension of the self which means as players we are able to feel beyond our physical bodies. As players we immerse ourselves into a virtual world perhaps so much that our ideas of ‘the real and ‘the virtual’ could become cohesive and impact in the way in which we things. Crick (2011) explains that to be embodied through gaming we must feel something physical whilst being immersed in these virtual worlds, typically from first hand experience I have had a physical reaction whilst gaming. Whilst playing games its typical that we can feel certain anxieties or frustrations if something isn’t going our way, similarly we can feel enjoyment and happiness if a quest is achieved or we have managed to go up another level.
Through my experience of playing World of Warcraft I feel like I emulate Harraway’s (1991) concept of the ‘Cyborg’ as I can see how my avatar is an extension of myself. In a chapter of Zylinska’s (2002), ‘The Cyborg Experiments: The Extensions of the Body in the Media Age’, Edward Scheer (2002) quotes:
‘As the Avatar becomes more autonomous (i.e. develops more artificial intelligence) the relationship will become more complex. I looked at the avatar as a kind of viral life form, dormant in it’s computer state but able to generate an effect once it is connected to a host body. (Stelarc interview)’
I’ve been playing World of Warcraft on and off for years and due to this I have somehow managed to bond and form a relationship with my avatar as adopting it as part of me. Like Scheer quotes the relationship is indeed complex, through dressing my avatar and changing her appearance I know that it’s directly relatable to me. When I look at my avatar I can see part of myself, this is probably due to such extensive playing of Wow. In a virtual crowd I recognise my avatar as myself as the long red hair I’ve given to my avatar I directly correlate to me and how I recognise myself. If I look back I don’t think this relationship would have grown as prominently as it has without such extensive gameplay. Playing alongside my avatar and experiencing quests and battles together means that my avatar has been with me through highs and lows of gameplay and I believe that has somehow developed our relationship. Again I know how strange this concept can be to people who haven’t had such a visceral relationship with their avatar. I as a player could be considered to be experiencing feelings, which aren’t explicitly natural to humans, as we know it. Despite others confusion to the complexities of this embodiment Braidotti (2013) explains that as long as we remain to have these feelings, which are human, it doesn’t matter if it doesn’t correlate to what is traditionally means to be human. Braidotti explains how the concept of humanity itself is forever growing and changing with new trends in how we are embodied.
My explicit embodiment through gameplay has led me to disagree with the concept of disembodiment. Stoll(1995) argued that due to external factors that are inevitable whilst gaming can prove to be a distraction from achieving total embodiment and prevents users from attaining that emotional and physical connection that I have achieved with my avatar.
Although I disagree that I myself feel disembodied by playing World of Warcraft, I can see how users wouldn’t achieve such a reaction. Watching classmates engage and playing with World of Warcraft, I can visibly see that factors that I see as enhancements towards embodiment, the lights and sound can be a deterrent and can get in the way. Perhaps this again is due to how much I have played games throughout my life, I have had a heavily involvement playing games on a PC and similarly on other platforms. Because of this I do not see the keyboard as a barrier between myself and the virtual world, I’m so used to it’s presence whilst gaming that it’s easier to suspend my disbelief and successfully achieve embodiment.
Despite feeling a relationship with my avatar it’s unavoidable to deny that she is in fact a virtual character, a tool I use to play the game, I control her. Gee (2008) explains how:
‘In the real world, we humans receive our deepest pleasure—our most profound feelings of mastery and control—when we can successfully take just such a projective stance to and in the real world… This is, indeed, one of the deep sources of pleasure in gaming’.
Despite the fact I am fully aware that my avatar is a tool I do not see this as preventing embodiment within World of Warcraft. Yet I do know the very difference between my physical body and my digital body(avatar). For instance a player is a lot more likely to put the avatar in dangerous situations like battles and raids. I myself would never in a million years go charging into battle with against a group of goblins (firstly because they don’t exist yet in the human world in which I live) but also because I am not the most agile person in the world and although in World of Warcraft I might be seen as having very good timing, dexterity and coordination. In real life I’m still trying to correctly put one foot in front of the other in winter without looking like bambi.
Braidotti, R (2013) The Posthuman. Cambridge: Polity Press
Crick, T (2011) ‘The Game Body: Towards a Phenomenology of Contemporary Video Gaming’ Games and Culture Vol 6 (3) p259-269.
Gee, J. (2008). Video Games and Embodiment. Games and Culture, 3(3-4).
Haraway, D. (1991). Simians, cyborgs, and women. 1st ed. New York: Routledge.
Zylinska, J. (2002). The Cyborg experiments. 1st ed. London: Continuum.
Stoll, C. (1995) Silicon Snake Oil: Second Thoughts on the Information Highway. New York: Doubleday.