Back in 2003, photographer Robbie Cooper photographed dozens of portraits of online gameplayers alongside their avatars for a book called ALTER EGO. The book is an incredible illustration of the ways that digital platforms have transformed fixed physical characteristics into a virtual wardrobe that can be donned or dismissed with a few clicks of a button.
This phenomenon might be trivial if online identity were all "just a game"—but the truth is, the line between online and offline identity has increasingly blurred. Writing about a study he conducted exploring gender identity among MMO participants, researcher Lukas Blinka wrote in the journal Cyberpsychology in 2008 that “the data...shows that younger players tend to identify with — i.e. not to distinguish from — their avatars, and the younger the respondents were, the stronger the phenomenon."
What are the implications for traditional aspects of identity in a context where they can be so freely and fluidly altered? What does the ability to hide or disguise identity mean in particular for the experience of race — and racism — online? This panel will debate whether digital platforms can enhance racial engagement and understanding, or simply encourage conscienceless and consequence-free acts of hatred and abuse — and explore how online identity is forcing us to confront new ways of thinking about race, ethnicity and gender.
11th–15th March 2011