It’s important when researching any particular subject to take into consideration the social context of the researcher because it could implicate and create biased findings. Taste is inherently subjective and my feelings towards the virtual world of World of Warcraft are too subjective. I myself as a White, British, Feminist Female means that my view of the digital world as a player and a researcher is going to be completely different to the way in which my peers will experience the game. I myself have a history of involvement in gaming, this means that I myself already know certain controls and may find the operation of the game easier than others. I have somewhat projected my identity onto my avatar which makes our relationship very important whilst playing and researching the game.
My subjectivity meant that I made my avatar to fit my aesthetic; my avatar is female and has long red hair. Nakamura (2010) argued that ‘Digital profiles and avatars that are produced by users, encourage the sense that one is producing one’s self […] avatars have often been celebrated […] as entrepreneurial spaces for identity formation’. I both disagree and agree with Nakamura’s point, although yes I want my avatar to portray who I am as an individual, I use red hair to recognise my avatar as myself but I also find this slightly problematic due to the fact that one may not like to explicitly identify with features that might make users uncomfortable. Despite the fact I myself identify as a cis female that does not mean that I fit the general aesthetic. I myself, until recent years, have never been explicitly feminine in my appearance. This can be reflected in the portrayal of my current avatar, my avatar has heavy armour and looks intimidating, (similarly in real life due to stature and height). Although when previously creating my avatar (I have made many across the years), I noticed that when I was younger in age and more insecure about my height and weight I would always try and make my avatar to be smaller and more feminine. In a world where I can be anything I choose, why would I choose an aesthetic which although would be true to myself, makes me insecure. During my time playing World of Warcraft, I have had experiences in meeting characters that portray themselves as being larger than average – I found that it is typically for comic effect and that other players in the game would use this as a prompt to make a joke at their expense. I personally found that if I created an avatar that is smaller in stature I would avoid any ‘sizeist’ jokes or comments because players only see my avatar and not me behind the screen.
When creating my current avatar my racial subjectivity became part of her too, I automatically without thinking created a white skinned avatar. In Richard Dyer’s (2005) book, ‘The Matter of Whiteness’, he calls out how whiteness is understood as the invisible race and I have completely underlined his point by impetuously choosing white skin.
To recall Nakamura’s previous point, when users begin to create an avatar for World of Warcraft, they enter the game with the predictions of creating an avatar that would represent themselves in some way, free from stereotypes and prejudices. Yet, this is not the case, the ‘Create a new character’ framework of World of Warcraft is limited. There is only two gender options when creating a character, ‘Male’ and ‘Female’, nothing in between, this is problematic for people who identify as being gender fluid as they are being excluded from having their identity being portrayed within the game. I also couldn’t help but notice that the bodily appearance options for a female character could be very explicitly sexualised. I understand that some women heavily identify with their sexuality and their sexualisation, but for that to be the initial character framework that I was presented with as a young teenager was quite damaging to my self-esteem and no doubt other female gamers.
Stereotypically the male gender characters had more muscles and scarier faces, where as mentioned before, the female characters were more sexualised or had lack of muscle. It’s apparent from what I have seen that the game of World of Warcraft is perhaps audacious in highlighting the patriarchal discourses that society has placed onto gender. Nakamura (2010) goes on to address stereotypes when choosing an avatar:
‘Gender and race identity choices and the reception of difference are strongly shaped by interface styles, player culture and stereotypes from both social life […] there is no such thing as perfect freedom when creating an avatar’
I understand that virtual and digital worlds are not utopian like the real world and perhaps me being so critical of the way in which World of Warcraft presents these rigid discourses makes me an Idealist and it’s explicitly evident that we don’t live in an ideal world.
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
Nakamura L (2015) “Race and Identity in Digital Media,: for Mass Media and Society, 5th edition, p336-345 Available at: https://lnakamur.files.wordpress.com/2012/11/nakamura-curran-article.pdf [Accessed 1. Dec. 2016]