3 Oct 2011

Personal Identity and WoW

Today’s article is a guest post from Bravetank.

Identity in WoW is an intriguing concept. I’ve previously written in my blog about how the “me” in game is distressingly similar to the “me” outside of the game – whether I’m playing Human, Blood Elf, Gnome or Tauren. My real self is always the underlying constant – annoyingly so for a game that should be a form of escape.

And yet some aspects of identity in WoW are more fluid. In the social sciences the term “identity” is often used to describe one’s understanding of one’s individual self and/or one’s role within a wider group setting.

Individual self identity can encompass such things as self knowledge and self esteem. What does this mean in relation to our sense of self in WoW? Self knowledge is a tricky one. For me I have very little “knowledge” of any of the characters I play beyond what buttons to press to get awesome dps (or at the very least to put me somewhere in the middle of the Recount list), to pull the mobs, to heal the tank. I don’t know any of my characters in WoW in the sense of having defined/explored their personality. I’ve never roleplayed so that part of their identity is undeveloped. In terms of their history- I know why I (the Creator!) made them, but I know very little about the history of their race, class and even faction. I casually switch from Alliance toon to Horde without blinking an eye. The other day I noticed my toon looked particularly thin (specifically her legs) and I wondered if my monitor was on the blink. Then I remembered I was playing blood elf not human! The race of the character was clearly not uppermost in my mind. That later led to further problems when I aimlessly wandered into Stormwind and tried to buy some cheese but that’s another story.

And what about self esteem and WoW? In real life my weight is an important factor in my self esteem. It is important to me that I go the gym and work out. I lost a lot of weight a couple of years ago and I want it to stay that way. The fact I do this  on a diet of coffee, low calorie pizza and daily tubs (small ones!) of Haagen Dazs tells you all you need to know about the healthiness of my approach, but at least I work out, don’t drink alcohol and don’t smoke. It’s all about balance isn’t it (unless you’re Resto).

So being the correct weight for my height and frame is a big part of my self esteem.  I’m not saying this is right. I’m not saying this is desirable. Too many hours spent weeping before a mirror suggest to me it might not be, but we are where we are.

But I don’t feel better about myself when I see my toon is slim. Yes admittedly I have just written that I noticed one of my toons looking particularly thin one day. But I think you’ll join me in applauding the fact I didn’t immediately pick up the phone to call my mother to celebrate or take a screenshot to post on the fridge. No I tried to readjust my monitor. I repeat – my toon’s slimness is not important to me.

Or is it? I’ve just thought about my highest  level characters – by implication the ones I play the most. They are Human, Draenei and Blood Elf. I’ve never got very far with a dwarf (second base only) and never even tried a gnome (insert own innuendo there). I get depressed when I play my Tauren. I can’t ever get Night Elves to look the way I want (and I don’t like the way their shoulders slope  when they run) and  I’ve yet to get beyond level 10 with a troll or orc. While I’m in confession mode I should also say I have very specific likes/dislikes about hair styles and horn length (this is starting to read like an ad for Match.com).

I think my toon has to be aesthetically pleasing to me. I feel ashamed of this if I‘m honest – ashamed certainly of what my choices mean about what I find aesthetically pleasing. But that’s the subject of another post another day and another three hours with my therapist. But my toon’s appearance is not related to my own self esteem. I don’t feel better about myself because Flossy is thin. I don’t feel down because Bravetank looks a little chunky in plate (who wouldn’t?). Nor is my toon’s shape an excuse for me to go wild, i.e. I don’t allow myself to put on weight because at least my toon is slim and so who cares and pass me some more chocolate please. I don’t live vicariously through any of them.  At least not in the  appearance sense.

But I think I do in another way. My own self esteem is raised in real life through my toon’s in-game achievements. And by this I don’t specifically mean the “proper” Achievements in WoW. I’m a little sparse where they are concerned (please don’t look me up – I’ll never be able to show my face – any of them- again). No – it’s the levelling up achievements (every time I go up one level I feel a ridiculous sense of pride – even when going from 1 to 2 which is such a hard slog) and when completing dungeons for the first time. In those two areas I feel like I’ve really done something, really achieved something and my own self esteem and self worth – my real sense of identity – is (slightly) improved.

I take some comfort in this (I think). That my sense of identity in WoW at least is raised  by in-game achievements and displays of skill (highly relative here- if some of you saw me play you’d probably wonder why I just don’t log off and go join Butters playing Hello Kitty instead). But at least it’s in the doing that I feel the pride, not in the looking. Which has to be a better place to find self esteem and identity surely? So many of us look in so many other, less healthy, places for that. Although a small voice nags at me that this effectively means my WoW toons have a healthier sense of self than my real self … and I’m not quite sure what to do with that!

Today’s article is a guest post from Bravetank, a Welsh Warcraft player who blogs about  learning to tank as a Paladin, as well as other random thoughts about Warcraft related things (including bees for some reason). You can read more from her at her blog or on Twitter. If you’re interested in writing a guest post then please get in contact.


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