Online Worlds As Playground for Identity Building. What Is Virtual, What Real?

Monday, 11 July 2016: 11:15
Location: Hörsaal II (Neues Institutsgebäude (NIG))
Oral Presentation
Manfred ZENTNER, Donau-Universität Krems, Austria
Aga TRNKA-KWIECINSKI, Donau-Universität Krems, Austria
Online social networks function as space of designed and controlled self-presentation; nowhere else and never before it was possible to present so many different facets of the self in a better and more diverse way. Thus certain parts of the personality become visible – especially tailored and adjusted for the respective (expected) audiences. Since Erving Goffman and Zygmunt Bauman people are aware, that everyone in everyday life is an actor and embody roles and their attributions, which provide social prestige and market value in the consumer society. With the increasing importance of the Web 2.0 not only online virtual worlds (like gaming environments) but also social networks can function as new, alternative market places for self-representation. Thus more and more people “pimp” their appearance to gain higher social recognition inside the virtual settings with noticeable effects on the self in the “real” world.

Following the theory of the philosopher Robert Pfaller an avatar takes over in the virtual setting and the user delegates emotions and even the enjoyment and pleasure to the figure created by the user, often representing certain facets of his/her identity. The representation in the internet – in virtual worlds as well as in social networks – on the other hand enables its “creator” to live out interests, wishes, dreams or needs that cannot be acted out in the offline world due to cultural, economic, social or moral reasons.

Especially in cases where moral control prevents the acting out of feelings the virtual setting might become the space for the “real” self and reality is the room for creating the virtual adapted self.

Research conducted online in subcultures and with online gamers shows this online identity construction as escapist behaviour to flee the suppression but as opportunity to try out new things first virtually.