Firstly, it’s fair to warn you that I’m breaking one of my own reviewing rules here. I generally never write a review of something that I haven’t purchased. That’s a rule that I’m not in the habit of breaking, but it’s worth noting that I’m making an exception here today.
If you want the short version, you should go and buy Waggoner’s book if you have a serious interest in identity, identification, the interaction of people with diegetic and liminal spaces, and/or the core philosophies of human involvement, interactions and identity in virtual spaces and gameplay.
For those of you that are still here, Waggoner has put together a book that doubles as something of a thesis. Littered with references and notes, My Avatar, My Self is a dense and thoughtful read both on the nature of ourselves as well as on the nature of our virtual interactions and extensions.
I say dense, because virtually every paragraph gave me pause for consideration, sparking numerous, lengthy discussions, and causing my editor to wait and wait and wait, and wait some more for me to actually get back to him.
That’s the very definition of thought-provoking, right there. There’s a lot of meat within these covers.
Waggoner discusses the models of modernist identity theorists (who, alas, still aren’t really sure what Identity actually is), as well as contrasting that with the models of post-modern identity theorists (who also still aren’t sure what Identity).
Identity and the nature and definition of it is far from a done-deal, but practical interaction with avatars sheds a whole lot more light on things, and seems to support the post-modern theories rather better.
Debates between modern and postmodern identity theories continue. However, most theorists regardless of their camp seem to agree that communication media impact human identity construction. Even modern identity theorists such as Giddens recognize the importance of these external stimuli: “Mediated experience has long influenced both self-identity and the basic organization of social relations.” This statement is echoed by Jay David Bolter and Richard Grusin almost a decade later: “[People] employ media as vehicles for defining personal identity”
Throughout, Waggoner focuses on single-user role-playing games primarily (Fallout 2/3, Morrowind, Oblivion), but this is no weakness in his approach. In doing so, Waggoner manages to test and demonstrate his points without considerable, intrusive or distracting noise or complications, as he monitors the interactions and reactions of four diverse subjects as they approach various games.
Throughout, Waggoner examines the motivations, identification, and responses of his four subjects, occasionally highlighting responses that a subject is seemingly unaware of, or unwilling to admit.
If you’re not afraid of some deep ideas about identity, expression, avatars, narrative, genres and spaces, nor of the language required to express these compactly, Waggoner’s My Avatar, My Self should find a place on your reading list.
And now, if you’ll pardon me, I’m going to go back and read it again.