What is it about?

Have you ever explored online virtual worlds (such as Second Life or World of Warcraft) in which you could pick and customize your avatar? If so, would you say your experiments with your avatar identity had nothing to do with your real-life identity - or were they connected? Some researchers suggest that players experiment with virtual identity (through avatars) with little to no connection to their real-life identity. Our research challenges this view by analyzing how pre-service teachers engaged in Second Life avatar identity creation. Students' reflections on the class blog and in-person interviews demonstrated that their virtual identity was always linked to their real-world identity. In other words, the virtual world didn't help the students to escape from who they were - it helped them reflect on who they were.

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Why is it important?

This research has important implications for educational practice: (1) Virtual worlds can be used as an effective tool to foster students' reflection on their own identity and the concept of identity in general. For pre-service teachers, this could help them understand their future students better. (2) For practitioners who use virtual worlds in their classrooms, it's important to consider how students' real-world identities impact their learning in the virtual space. (3) For researchers interested in identity and its development, virtual worlds can be used as a viable platform (or at least a catalyst) to conduct research on the topic.


I hope this article can provide a new perspective on researching identity in virtual environments and encourage educators to use virtual worlds to address the issues of identity formation and exploration and foster importance class discussions on the topic.

Irina Kuznetcova
The Ohio State University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: The dialectic of the avatar: Developing in-world identities in Second Life, Journal of Gaming & Virtual Worlds, March 2018, Intellect,
DOI: 10.1386/jgvw.10.1.59_1.
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