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Exploring Virtual Identities: Systems, Behaviour, and Ethics

The Importance of Virtual Identities

As technology continues to advance, our lives are becoming increasingly intertwined with virtual spaces. From social media platforms to online gaming communities, virtual identities have become an integral part of our daily lives. In these virtual spaces, we have the opportunity to express ourselves, interact with others, and explore new identities. However, as we spend more time in these virtual spaces, it is important that we understand the systems, behaviours, and ethics related to virtual identities.

Defining Virtual Identities: The Basics

Virtual identities are the personas we create in online spaces. These can range from our usernames, avatars, and profiles to the interactions we have with others in these spaces. In essence, virtual identities are the representations of ourselves that we present to others online. These identities can be vastly different from our real-life identities, as they allow us to experiment with different aspects of our personalities and express ourselves in new ways.

The Role of Systems in Creating Virtual Identities

The systems that govern virtual spaces can greatly influence our virtual identities. For example, social media algorithms may prioritize certain types of content or interactions, leading us to present ourselves in a certain way to gain more attention. Additionally, online games may have specific character creation options that limit our ability to fully express ourselves. It is important to recognize these systems and understand how they shape our virtual identities.

Behaviour in Virtual Spaces: How It Affects Identity

Our behaviour in virtual spaces can greatly impact our virtual identities. The interactions we have with others online can shape how we present ourselves and the personas we create. Additionally, our behaviour may be influenced by the anonymity that virtual spaces provide. It is important that we consider how our behaviour in virtual spaces affects our virtual identities and how we want to be perceived by others.

The Ethics of Virtual Identities: A Critical Analysis

As with any aspect of technology, virtual identities raise ethical concerns. For example, the use of fake social media profiles to deceive or manipulate others is a growing concern. Additionally, the collection and use of personal data by companies can raise privacy concerns. It is important that we critically analyze the ethical implications of virtual identities and consider the impact they may have on ourselves and others.

The Effects of Virtual Identities on Real Life Identity

While virtual identities may seem separate from our real-life identities, they can have a significant impact on how we view ourselves and how others view us. The personas we create online may influence our self-esteem and confidence, and may also impact our professional and personal relationships. Understanding the relationship between virtual and real-life identities is crucial for navigating both online and offline spaces.

===Privacy Concerns and Virtual Identity

Privacy concerns are a major issue when it comes to virtual identities. The data we share online can be used by companies or individuals for malicious purposes, such as identity theft or cyberbullying. It is important that we understand how to protect our personal information online and take steps to minimize our digital footprint.

Identity Theft in Virtual Spaces: An Emerging Threat

Identity theft is a growing concern in virtual spaces. Hackers and scammers may attempt to steal personal information or use fake identities to access sensitive information. It is important to be vigilant and take steps to protect ourselves from these threats.

The Psychology of Virtual Identity Formation

Understanding the psychology behind virtual identity formation can help us better navigate these spaces. For example, research has shown that anonymity can lead to increased aggression and deception online. Additionally, social comparison theory suggests that we may present ourselves in a certain way to gain social acceptance or validation. Recognizing these psychological factors can help us better understand our own behaviour in virtual spaces.

Strategies for Protecting Virtual Identity

There are a number of strategies we can use to protect our virtual identities. These may include using strong passwords, limiting the amount of personal information we share online, and being aware of potential scams or phishing attempts. Additionally, it is important to regularly monitor our online presence and take steps to remove any potentially harmful content.

Addressing Ethical Issues in Virtual Identity

As virtual identities continue to play a larger role in our lives, it is important that we address ethical issues related to their use. This may include advocating for stronger privacy protections, promoting responsible online behaviour, and holding companies accountable for their data collection and use practices.

The Future of Virtual Identities

Virtual identities are here to stay, and as technology continues to evolve, they will only become more complex and integrated into our lives. By understanding the systems, behaviours, and ethics related to virtual identities, we can navigate these spaces more effectively and protect ourselves from potential harm. As we move forward, it will be important to continue discussing and addressing the ethical implications of virtual identities to ensure that they are used responsibly and ethically.

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VI4: N00bz inworld

N00bz inworld

Woody Evans, in Information Dynamics in Virtual Worlds, 2011


The initial experiences in virtual worlds mirror other types of initiation, and these experiences can be understood as analogs to rites of passage. Gender and identity impact the initiation experience. Many games include storytelling techniques to encourage the newcomer to quickly buy-in to the new world. Non-game spaces use more passive techniques, but also attempt to initiate newcomers.

Gendered initiation

One of the most important differences between Real Life initiation and inworld initiation, and one of the hardest to ignore, is the factor of gender.

Here we might take issue with Judith Butler’s claim that there’s no such thing as essential gender identity. She says that no gender-based identity exists ‘behind the expressions of gender’, and that the expression itself is more important than any sense of male/female identity. ‘Identity is performatively constituted by the very “expressions” that are said to be its results’ (1999: 33).

In virtual worlds, the perspective that gender is constructed and performed rather than inherent (see also the work of Anne FaustoSterling, C. J. Pascoe, and Anne Balsamo) get more mileage. The identity problems inherent in online communities and virtual worlds make initiation as we usually understand it – which is almost always gendered – decidedly de-sexed. Newbies pick the gender they wish to perform almost as lightly as they pick the colors of their garments, their beard particularities, or their shoe styles.

Yet gender isn’t (can’t be) obviated by virtual identities. For one thing, the person behind the avatar has a gender of some kind. For another, the avatar has its own gender; in fact, the division between genders is often more cartoonishly distinct in virtual worlds than it ever could be in Real Life (think big BIG bosoms and broad BROAD hips for the ladies; wide shoulders and grim-set jaws for the lads). There’s very little that’s either fey or butch in avatars, and that’s true in virtual worlds that build in clear gender differences (like Guild Wars) as well as in worlds that allow a lot of flexibility about look and build and sexual characteristics (like Second Life). Even so, we see in Second Life a lite attitude toward gender because of the inherent transcience built into avatars; avatars are mutable. In this way, we see in Second Life something of the values reflected by Kellee Santiago in building Cloud, which was ‘dedicated to creating an emotionally rich, age[less] and genderless game experience’ (Kafai et al., 2008: 170). Queer Theory isn’t equipped for Samus Aran.

Sex is fundamental to human identity (which is why Queer Theory, with its insistence on the mutability of sexual identity, is so important), and initiation universally happens to individuals who are seen either as boys or girls (for puberty rites), or as men or women (for other kinds of initiations, later life passages, joining organizations, etc.). We may except cases of physical sexual ambiguity (hermaphrodites) or ‘third genders’ (such as the ‘two-spirit’ shamans of Native American tribes).

Victor Turner takes pains to point out the differences between the male and female initiation rites of the Ndembu people of Zambia in the 1960s. ‘Although both boys and girls,’ he says, ‘undergo initiation ceremonies, the form and purpose of the ceremonies differ widely in either case. Boys, for instance, are circumcised, but there is no cliterodectomy of girls. Boys are initiated collectively, girls individually . . .’ (1967). The differences between the purposes and comportment of male and female initiations he spells out in some detail. Again, gender provides order for initiation into the full agency of adulthood.

Those symbols of initiation (the passages, the thresholds, the stairways) that Eliade reminds us run rampant at home and office? Turns out that these symbols are quite common in virtual worlds too. Next we’ll examine the induction period, the initiation into a new identity, in virtual worlds in detail and see which elements inworld provide insight into the issues of initiatory symbols.