The Full Scope

The Full Scope is a Film and Video game blog specifically designated to the topic of Gender and how it is portrayed in the media

Inspired and Utilized by my Senior Seminar MASCULINITY (And Gender) in Film

Friday, September 19, 2014

Race In/For Cyberspace: Identity Tourism and Passing on the Internet

Nakamura, Lisa. Identity Tourism and Passing on the Internet. N.p.: Race In/For Cyber Space, n.d. 

Identity Tourism:
"the (re-)formation and revision of various forms of identity, particularly ethnic, gender, and cultural identities." - wikipedia
because everyone wants to vacation into the mind of a pinata for a little while

Now how do we cope with that? The whole notion of identity tourism, when you think about it, seems somewhat twisted - but is it? By they end of Lisa Nakamura's article, my answer is no. Identity tourism is not a problem -- but that doesn't mean that depictions of characters, and how we relate to them, is a simple topic without issues-- such as dangerously stereotyped avatars. To stay in keeping with my thesis topic, which deals solely with how players identify with the gender identity of their characters, I will talk about this essay through that specific lens. That being said, if you want a really interesting read, please read Lisa Nakamura's essay. 

-This essay specifically addresses the method of identity tourism performed by white males in online MMORPG style gaming and their tourism into the identity of multi-ethnic (but particularly asian) avatars. While she does talk a little bit about gender, she does not systematically go through every variation of identity tourism, ie: minorities who play as other minorities, minorities who play as privileged characters, people who exclusively play across the gender gap. 
- Interestingly, Nakamura, in the first few pages, makes careful consideration of how online games will often make you choose a gender and not a race - while it is important to understand such a difference in online game-play, and the implications of having to write ones race into the characters description, as opposed to pressing a button, it does ignore the implications of being forced to take a gender identity online. As most women who play games on an open forum can tell you, being "outed" as a women creates a large source of harassment for which many would rather avoid. Its actually difficult to say which is worse.

-She also does not account for games in which the player is given no choice about the avatar's identity or about how limited choice avatars reflect those who play them.  

And then there are games like Skyrim... 

So what does she say?

First she talks about the idea of "computer cross-dressing" (1), and how this type of identity play allows people on the internet to take on any new identity. obviously, this is not only true of video games but enforced: every character that is given to a player will not, in every way, become representative of the person playing that character, but the player's skin will, inevitably, be that of someone with a specific race, gender, and sexual orientation. Not all gamers are white, straight men, and with these variables in play on the player side, some kind of identity tourism already takes place, if from an almost entirely privileged vantage point. 

Cross dressing computer.

"[the ability to define and avatar with gender, ethnicity, race, sexuality ect.] can, indeed [is] required to, project a version of the self which is inherently theatrical." (2). This quote is wrapped up in avatar theory and how it relates to the concept of drag, as a theatrical performance. There are signifiers, in this sense, that use the anonymity of online game play to assert that everyone is constantly 'passing' for something in cyberspace because no one can verify that they are what they claim to be, even if they truly resemble their character in real life. These performances, Nakamura claims, can be seen as aggressive and invasive when performed by a marginalized group (ie: non-white-straight-males): "Players who elect to describe themselves in racial terms, as Asian, African American, Latino, or other members of oppressed and marginalized minorities are often seen as engaging in a form of hostile performances, since they introduce what many consider a real life "divisive issue"." (2)

 In such a realm of fantasy, most gamers, who often enjoy the privilege in real life to not have to deal with these issues, do not wish to be burdened with such distinctions. Nakamura points to in-game examples of players victim-blaming: there are people (now defined as internet trolls - Hi guys!) That believe people who choose to define themselves by race ((or, more often in the case of video-game discussion as feminists)) who 'deserve' the hate-speech they receive because they have put themselves out there instead of conforming to the identity of the assumed "national sense of self which is defined as white [straight, and male]" (2). Take this example used by Nakamura: 

"[quoted from a player named 'Nougat']: Seems to me, if you include your race in your description, you are making yourself the sacrificial lamb. I don't include 'Caucasian' in my description, simply because I think it is unnecessary" (6). Let's be real here for a minute: you don't need to include Caucasian in a description of yourself because Caucasian is the assumed identity of the "national self" thanks to the Western World view. What is even more heinous in this statement is how it supports a notion of victim blaming that is archaic! How one self identifies is inexorably linked to ways in which their person-hood defines their world, and race, like gender, is an immense part of that! This leads to another predicament: When Nakamura addresses the lack of option regarding race in online gaming, she fails to address how being forced to choose a gender can also negatively impact game-play: often times in gaming events such as Xbox Live women are forced to stay silent because harassment is rampant when they speak: a game where players offended each others ability based on game play becomes all about gender and how their gender identity makes them a worse player. The things you cannot hide are just as problematic, if in a different way,  as the things you are forced to.

Nakamura brings up the national self identity because, in many senses, it is true: unless otherwise spoken, the general sense of omniscient self is assumed to be the white man because this is where the consumer base of all things to be; all this despite these census figures which show that the actual split between male and female gamers is 60m/40f (players), not 85m/15f (available playable characters) as is actually available for play (based on The virtual census figures located on page 824 here).

Identity Tourism:
This is probably the most important idea expounded upon in this article, as pertaining to my thesis: It involves the process of putting on another mask, in this case a racial identity mask, in order to gain the benefits of a marginalized point of view without the fallout of having to deal with the repercussions that come with having no way out of that identity. This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing - in fact, if used well, this system of identity tourism allows anyone to experience life from another point of view as well as forcing you to question how you treat others who have a differing self identity than your real life one. The problem with identity tourism comes only in that most representations allow for the spread of harmful stereotypes which hold basis in a white male society. Nakamura uses the appropriation of an Asian identity online as an example: 

"The choice to enact oneself as a samurai warrior in LambdaMOO constitutes a form of identity tourism which allows a player to appropriate an Asian racial identity without any of the risks associated with being a racial minority in real life. While this might seem to offer a promising venue for non-Asian characters to see through the eyes of an Other by performing themselves as Asian through on-line textual interaction, the fact that personae chosen are overwhelmingly Asian stereotypes blocks this possibility by reinforcing these stereotypes" (3).

While this concept can be transferred over to gender appropriation, there are some key differences, the first harking back to the concept of The Final Girl from my last post. It seems that, whether a secondary character or a playable character, the only two options of female characters either have their femininity and often sexuality stripped away from them, as is the case for Lightening (FFXIII), Lara Croft (Tomb Raider), and Ellie (The Last of Us) -- or to become hyperbolized examples of femininity that are used for satire or voyueritic pleasure, as is the case for Juliette (Lollipop Chainsaw), Aeris (FFVII), and Princess Peach (Mario). Finding characters that straddle the border, who are allowed to both be somewhat feminine but also fight with "masculine" proficiency, without being hyper sexualized, is rare. In addition, the repercussions for these female characters who choose to dress provocatively is rarely ever noted, with exceptions in games like Beyond: Two Souls, where, in one of the earliest sequences Jodie, who is wearing a rather dashing dress, gets talked about in the background noise, with her body and purpose for being there in question. She even gets solicited by the sheik hosting the event (an event that may or may not happen but is not required), showing a rare and often overlooked-in-games issue of the "catcall".  

Seriously, it was the first and only time I was excited to get hit on by a creepy old man. #RealismInGames

"The idea of a non-stereotyped Asian male identity is so seldom enacted in LambdaMOO that its absence can only be read as a symptom of a suppression"(3)

New Issues relating to my topic:

Although this paper addresses the appeal of identity tourism, it fails to address how and why, if identity tourism is such a unique, exotic experience, most developers choose to under-represent the "Other" in games. The article assumes that the other is something which most people would wish to experience, and in some ways, this suggests that there is a viable way to identify with the Other because of the human essence all Other's share. "This second world, like carnival, possess constantly fluctuating boundaries, frontiers and dividing lines which separate it from both the realm of the "real" and its corollary, the world of the physical body which gets projected, manipulated and performed via ... interaction." (5).

Do not turn off the power while your progress is saving.
LEX saved the Game

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