Identity Creation: Representation vs. Simulation

AIM is dead, or at least it should be.  Rather than mourning its death (not that any of us are), we should attempt to understand its contribution to the change in identity creation online.  An online communication that was initially text based, has transformed due to the technological affordance of interactivity, giving way to a new visually based form of communication.  Identity was no longer flattened out but rather became intricate, allowing users to create an online identity.

In order to satisfy the demands of the many users new media needed to “assure users that their choices – and therefore, their underlying thoughts and desires – are unique, rather than pre-programmed and shared with others,” (Manovich 61.)  Thus the creators of choices are those who have the knowledge to program new media.  If the large “participation gap” between individuals of different races and ethnicities is wide there will be an overrepresentation of one identity and therefore the cultivation of a “main” identity (Cook et al. 1).

Customizability of video games has changed allowing a user to shape their character’s identity in a multifaceted way that wasn’t possibly before.   With this newfound freedom, what affordances do video games allow for identity representation and identity simulation? Video games offer players an experience that allows them to escape into an externalized fantasy if, and only if, they adopt and external identity.  If this external identity is key to the experience then the identity creation is key to understanding that experience.

Representation is often equated with narrative, as having a beginning, middle and end.  This holds true for some video games, which develop themselves around end goals. For example, in any Super Mario game, the experience is only ever fully had when you complete the game.  If what is prized here is the end result then narrative game authors do not have to care about giving the user a large amount of freedom of expression, and thus freedom of experience.  The overall experience of Super Mario is saving the Princess, and changing Mario will do little to alter that.

Create a Sim Mode vis flickr

Create a Sim Mode
vis flickr

Simulation differs from representation in that it is treated as a system of traits and behaviors.  Authors of simulations “ behave more like legislators: they are the ones who craft laws. They do take more authorial risks than narrauthors because they give away part of their control over their work” (Frasca 7).  There are limits and boundaries within the simulation but they are felt less often because of the customizability of these games.  For example, The Sims 3, allows game users to fashion a Sim’s body type (color and shape) by sliding along a continuum of gradient choices.

Representation and simulation offer different experiences for video game users, one offering more freedom of expression than the other.  Should representation allow for users to customize the main character, and if so what will happen to the narrative?  Do users in simulation stick to creating identities similar to them, or recreating stereotypes?  If so does the freedom found in simulation games really matter?

Frasca, Gonzalo. “Simulation versus Narrative: Introduction to Ludology.” Video Game Theory. Routledge 2003. Print

Kafai, Yasmin. ““Blacks Deserve Bodies Too!” Design and Discussion about Diversity and Race in a Teen Virtual World.” Authors & Digital Games Research Association. Print.

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. 1st. Massachusetts: MIT, 2002. 43-128, 190-234. PDF


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