Videogames offer an unprecedented ability for their players to assume unique guises and forms of identity often unavailable anywhere else in life. But how do we separate ourselves as players of games from the beings we become in games? Gamasutra’s Tony Venice has a fascinating study of the question:
While there is a lot of overlap between concept of identity and the concept of choice (the opportunity, in games, to make decisions we normally wouldn’t) I think the distinction is: we role-play for the opportunity to feel what it is like to have a different identity; in a way, to let the adopted identity dictate our choices. When I, as Batman, have the Joker at my mercy, I let him live because that is what my adopted persona, Batman, would do.
In other words, if I’m playing the game doing everything I would do, I’m exercising my choice, if I’m playing the game doing everything my character would do, I’m role-playing.
These flexible pathways for identity formation offer unique possibilities in the narrative and social space provided by games. So rather than writing off games like FarmVille (or really anything-Ville), we can come to interrogate the alternative forms of becoming they offer distinct from another round of Team Fortress.