Augmentology"...is a concise manual of reality for our digital age."

Mark Hancock,_Augmentology: Interfaccia Tra Due Mondi_

[Sponsored by The Ars Virtua Foundation/CADRE Laboratory for New Media]

In Social Psychology the concept of _Identity_ formation stresses how a subject is demarcated as an individual. Common Identity definers include geophysical locators via street, city, country and biological factors such as age, weight, and height. Consciousness contributes to Identity formation via assessments of an individual’s personality traits and corresponding _ego development_.

Identity formation is deemed beneficial via the mechanics of statistical marking and the achievable entrenching of a subject into a surrounding social milieu. Medical and psychopathological models frame the concept through a health dichotomy that positions dysfunctional identity as potentially Dissociative. This type of fragmented dissociation from a subject’s internalised concept of self is viewed as undesirable. Alternatively in synthetic environments a type of projected or distributed Identity is considered acceptable _and_ beneficial.

Most synthetic creches – whether they be gamer-pitched, environmental or social networking in orientation – form identities that emulate the ecological or topological. Instead of relying on preformed psychological or sociological architectures, MMOEs and virtual environments encourage deliberately fluctuating Identity construction. These identities, established through the use of avatars or profile creation, alter according to the foibles of specific platforms and interfaces [think: Seesmic, Facebook, Meez, ExitReality, or Vivaty]. A subject may have a multitude of profiles created across a wide distribution base. Each profile may consist of the creation of two-dimensional or three-dimensional projections such as multiple character creation in WoW. Individuals may also utilise programs that allow for cross-navigation of such profiles according to usage patterns. These staggered profiles create a type of _Socialphrenic_ functioning that eclipses solo-persona extensions. For example, a Facebook user may create a profile that constructs a user’s identity according to variables such as their name, age, education, employment and interests. However, a user is not restricted in terms of manipulating these answers to evoke an identity structure vastly removed from their primary geophysical housing. An illustration of this is a current ARG narrative strand that situates itself in two active “false” user profiles on _Twitter_ and _Facebook_. The fictionalised Identity associated with each profile encourages other traditional identity-defined users to interact and engage with it. Some of those users defined as reflecting a _true_ identity may be unaware of the fictionalised profiling involved.

Other identity intonations can be creatively interpreted via the employment of Gravatars or Profile picture selections. This selective presentation of visual Identity stamps are mirrored in channel adoptions appropriate to specific Synthaptic identities. Connected users display the slipperiness of identity markers when engaged within a synthetic environment; users may reference a fellow Synthetic by their character/avatar name even when interacting in phenomenologically-defined reality.

According to traditional psychological theory, these type of identity ecologies would represent a subtle splintering of a primary identity akin to Schizophrenia. In synthetic realities, they represent a user’s ability for comprehensive immersion and allow for seamless and aggregational engagement. There is room for an overlap of these constructions including the potentiality to learn extensively from these synthetic Identity formulations.



10 Comments to “Identity Ecologies + Avatar Formations”

  1. Hello Augmentologists,

    I will be commenting on this specific posting in a few days since it relates to my ideas for a thesis proposal but before I formulate my answer, I thought I would quickly ask any of the Aug-readers if there is an example of an Alternate Reality game that is not based on emergent narratives derived from social networking sites (Facebook/Twitter) but actually is one that has a full top-down structure and is not based on any video game?

    The only ARGs I have heard of so far are used as either promotional material for a pre-existing video game or music album or were not initially constructed as an ARG such as those emergent narrative tweet-a-thons.

  2. I’m reposting here an email reply I wrote in response to this question sent around the IGDA ARG SIG mailing list, hope you don’t mind. (I’ve also realized that Majestic might be just the thing you were looking for):

    Well, there was Perplex City…

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perplex_city

    Perplex City made fairly spare use of MySpace and Twitter, and no
    Facebook at all, as I recall. I’m not sure what you mean by a “full
    top-down structure,” but most of its narrative happened on an in-game
    newspaper site, a few character blogs, and websites for various city
    institutions, along with the real-world treasure hunt and other live
    events. It was designed from the very beginning as an ARG, and wasn’t
    promoting anything else; it was a stand-alone entertainment product.

    Edoc Laundry and World Without Oil might also fit these criteria of
    yours, but I’m afraid I can’t quite pin down what those are. Can you
    be a little more specific?

  3. Christy Dena says:

    Hey Jeremy,

    I’m not sure what you mean by this part of the question: “Alternate Reality game that is not based on emergent narratives derived from social networking sites (Facebook/Twitter) but actually is one that has a full top-down structure”. Could you elaborate?

    As for your question about ARGs not based on a videogame or music. There are MORE independent, original intellectual property ARGs than there are those that extend an existing fictional world or product. Pervasive game designer and theorist Jane McGonigal (2006: 262) approximates that between 2001 and 2006 there were ‘seventeen commercial alternate reality games (ARGs), fifty-two independent ARGs, and many dozens more smaller and lesser-known ARGs’. Some well-known, highly-regarded independent ARGs include Sammeeeees 1 & 2, Chasing the Wish, Catching the Wish, Eldritch Errors (which is ongoing), Perplex City, Edoc Laundry, Lockjaw and so on.

    McGonigal, Jane (2006) This Might Be a Game: Ubiquitous Play and Performance at the Turn of the Twenty-
    First Century, PhD thesis, University of California, Berkeley.

  4. Kim De Vries says:

    Perhaps I misunderstand your criteria, Jeremy, but it seems like some of the old-school muds and moos might count–as someone in composition and rhetoric the one I know best is Lingua-Moo, which was not strictly speaking a game (though I think many people were there for that aspect). Best ~K

  5. One would assume here that there’s a primary identity in the ‘first’ place; I think instead that identity is distributed and that what goes on, say on Facebook etc., is a software modeling or exemplar of this distribution. There’s no difference between avatar/virtual and real (I use the word ‘emanent’ to indicate an embodied avatar or ‘breathless’ body in a space like SL); they are part of a ‘true world’ that is always already fragmented, and that classical culture holds at bay. On the other shore there’s abjection; culture is consumed with purification rites and what could be purer than online jackin/jackoff; there’s no mess here – noise just brings the systems down. The question isn’t which MUD or MOO or RPG or whatever; it’s more fundamental, one of epistemologies and ontologies at work. You might look at the past 60,000 years as an attempt to shore up classical inscription, which is in dissolution and always has been…

  6. Michael Andersen says:

    I think it really depends on how you’re defining “social networking sites” — in presenting text, images, audio, and/or video on the internet (the easiest way to reach a global audience) — a lot of “social networking sites” are used for hosting.

    Thus, you do tend to see a lot of blogs, flickr, and YouTube videos. However, I don’t think that makes them “based on emergent narratives derived from social networking sites.” As Christy already noted, there are generally more grassroots games at any given time than there are corporate sponsored ones.

    If you’re looking for projects with a more profit-based orientation, I’d suggest looking into some of Lance Weiler’s work — with Head Trauma and its related promotions, he created an integrated work that might fit what I think you mean by “top-down”. Similarly, he’s working with Hammer Films on “Beyond the Rave” currently, which might be in line with what I think you’re looking for.

  7. Hey there,

    Yes, I wrote that post when I was half-asleep so I apologize if I was not too articulate. I am still not that articulate since I cannot shake my sleepiness at the moment.

    I guess by “top-down”, I meant that I was hoping there was a game that say one individual or a small group of individuals made (narrative, characters etc etc) that was not tied to any pre-existing video game or other promotional usage…I do not know Perplex City (I know of it quite well) but my Twitter/Facebook comment was about those alternate realities strictly created by the users…I can imagine that some “ARGs” might just be a bunch of people twittering their own contributive mini-narratives to make a new consensual gaming reality which would be a “bottom-up” kind of ARG. I was still thinking of a narrative that was pre-written in terms of world and (main) character design which may or may not also involve Facebook/Twitter as media that may carry the top-down story line but is not dependent on all the user-driven tweets and FB profiles…does this make sense? If not, I need to go to bed now..actually, I need to go to bed anyway…zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

  8. i think this is really interesting stuff… it presents to problem of reification/rarification in prevalent particularly in avatar formation, and the limitation of the ‘profile’… Not sure I’d go so far as to say it is schizophrenic, but it certainly is sociophrenic, or socio-schizoid… I like the term ‘identity ecologies’… that is presented plural here.

    At some level there is a paradigmatic problem with identity anyway… such as the idea of an ID, a passport, etc. … to be ‘carded’ so to speak… identity as social formation has always been about consistency — that the ‘card’ shows who one is… via face recognition, height, hair color… all of these things are alterable even in ‘actuality’, but they were made to be variable in the ‘virtual’ from the point it went public (so to speak)…. which, really emphasizes the problem with identity as a plane of consistency rather than something flexible, fluxible… and, the root of the term avatar in itself emphasizes this — the flex and flux of it… as well, the term avatar emphasizes intentionality… that it is changable based on particular intent… Vishnu doesn’t appear as a fish because it is just cute… or as a philosopher when a tortoise might serve a purpose better… So, maybe there is a hint of rationality in avatar construction…

  9. rubaiyat says:

    I think it is useful to notice that _Identity_ is formally a construct and that there is no “true identity” but rather it is an amalgam of history, personality, taste etc. From that standpoint and from the standpoint that when someone new encounters you they begin to assemble a set of parameters for your personality or identity I think it makes a lot of sense to consider the fragmentation represented in these online histories.

    I would caution though that the memory of the internets can approach the perfect and that even though every video in youtube might have some relevance to your entity today that individually they represent atoms of history and do not serve well, so from that standpoint the idea of an indentity ecology is particularly appealing.

    Finally I question the place of identity in ARGs. This may come from my limited experience with them, but essentially it feels to me like the player has little input in the navigation of the space. Certainly their intellect, skills and luck come into play and their personality becomes evident in the forums but how does this intersect with play?

  10. Trevor Dodge says:

    The initial post reminds me of Jill Walker Rettberg’s essay on questing in WoW and missions in Grand Theft Auto, particularly how these virtual world experiences more accurately reflect the fragmented realities we inhabit in our everyday roles. We construct our lives an experience or one decision at a time, and oftentimes deliberately/consciously so; if I choose not to pay a bill in my role as debtor in the larger game of consumerism, I effectively create a parallel reality that is largely made possible by that simple (and sometimes arbitrary) choice. Is this schizophrenia in the psychological sense? I don’t believe it is. Rather, it is reflecting the paths that fork out from experiences, and we have large degrees of control over the vast majority of experiences we have (or, I still like to believe so…). ;)

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