Module 3, Topic 1: Identity

How is identity constructed online?

In the digital world identity is constructed through the multi-layered “texts created” (Thomas, p. 358). Through these texts users can ‘mediate’ the self. These texts include a combination of:

Ÿ  Spoken words

Ÿ  Graphical images (adopted as avatars to represent the user)

Ÿ  Codes

And… other linguistic variations on language used to create a full digital presence.

 Role-playing games

The users “virtual identity is the character one has taken up (and, in some cases, modified by allocating one’s allotment of ‘qualities’ to the ‘off the shelf’ character” (Lankshear & Knobel, p. 121). Projecting a virtual identity through an online character provides a medium for reflection, imagination, accountability and experimentation.

 Talking about experimentation… Let’s talk about Grand Theft Auto – the game where you have to be a successful criminal… Now, this is a game where you take on a character who is a criminal, to advance through the game you have to go on missions. You adopt the ‘off the shelf’ character, which you have to feed (this even involves choices on the part of the game player – if you feed the character bad food then he gains weight). You can send the character to the tattoo parlour, or off to the gym to tone up his body, he can gamble (at casino or TAB) to increase his fortune, and he can get himself a girlfriend (in each city in the game if he wants to). GTA follows a storyline and missions have to be completed to advance the story. It’s even so realistic that the user’s character has to work to maintain the relationship with the girlfriend, for example by taking her on dates; if you take her to a club then the character has to dance well for the date to be successful. My husband’s motivation for playing the game is to experiment with what he is able to make the character do. He enjoys playing GTA to build the individual into a successful character (with money, houses, women and respect), being successful allows you to ‘unlock’ more things (e.g. more of the city is unlocked to you when you achieve certain things – for example through completing missions). Some people do play these games for trophies.

Reflecting on Second Life

We were asked to enter the virtual world of Second Life as part of this course, so choosing an avatar was necessary. To begin with I just picked an ‘off the shelf’ character but after a while I did become curious and wanted to explore how to change my characters appearance (physical features and clothing) to reflect myself (after all my avatar is a reflection of myself!) So I changed her clothes from the gothic look she ‘sported’ and I lengthened her eyelashes, added some (just a little) volume to her lips, gave her some curvy hips and made her about an inch shorter! I chose to make her a closer representation to my real world self because I don’t feel I have anything to hide (secretly I wish I was that inch taller though!).

There are a variety of motivations behind the ways people construct their avatars (e.g. as a mode of identity expression, to hide, to live out the fantasy of their ideal physical characteristics) and for what purposes.

Throughout this unit I am constantly thinking of how I can link what I’m learning (through reading about theories and experimenting with different digital and new literacies) back to my classroom teaching (what would the practical application of this new resource, activity, theoretical understandings etc. look like in the classroom???) Second Life offers opportunities to experience real world places (such as the Sistine Chapel) that are not accessible to students in the real world, through virtual reality. However, Second Life also offers opportunities to broach topics such as tolerance and respect through exploring the construction of identity in Second Life – why one student chooses to create an avatar that mirrors their real world self whilst another chooses to represent themselves as an animal for example.


James Paul Gee, “Pleasure, Learning, Video Games, and Life: The Projective Stance,” in Michele Knobel and Colin Lankshear (eds.), A New Literacies Sampler (New York: Peter Lang, 2007), pp.95-114.

Thomas, A. (2004). Digital Literacies of the Cybergirl For: E-Learning, Vol 1, No. 3. pp: 358-382.


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