Ayrendal & me: Examining the juncture between online and offline

Ayrendal_1
Ayrendal (Blizzard Entertainment 2017). In-game screenshot created by the author, used with permission under Blizzard Entertainment’s limited use policy.

I have been performing versions of myself as characters in Blizzard Entertainment’s (2004) online game World of Warcraft (WoW) for close to 15 years now. My dominant online persona is a night elf druid called Ayrendal (Blizzard Entertainment 2017), the first character I created in the game and the one who has come to represent me not only in WoW, but in other aspects of my online life. When I first started this blog, I glibly named it “Ayrendal’s Adventures”, and even a quick glimpse at my About page – written at the time of establishing the blog – demonstrates at some level the interleaving of our personalities and histories. Ayrendal and I have had two significant relationships in the past 15 years. We married the first one, and are living with the second one now. Not bad for a country girl and a bunch of pixels put together from a template in an online game. I say “we”, as without Ayrendal neither relationship would have happened. Exactly how interrelated are we? Is she me? Am I her?

According to McKenna et al (2002, p. 9) I’m fairly typical, and becoming more so as social technologies are more commonly adopted. They say regular computer-mediated social interaction is leading to the formation of relationships. Further, they explain that anonymity – such as that provided by my use of Ayrendal as an avatar – encourages “greater intimacy and closeness”. Intimacy, in the view of Smith and Watson (2014, p. 70) is an aspect of authenticity – what makes us believable to those we encounter. Drawing those concepts together gives a clearer picture of my online behaviour. I am anonymous via Ayrendal, which helps me create intimacy with those I meet online, and that lends me authenticity, deepening those relationships to a degree I maybe would not find possible offline.

Tweet embedded from my own @ayrendal Twitter account.

Some proponents (Krotoski 2012) take an opposing view to McKenna et al (2002), believing that online anonymity prevents authenticity – that without showing (at least) your name, you cannot “be” the real you online. Krotoski’s subjects’ opinion is that without authenticity, intimacy is reduced and that without intimacy, relationships cannot be meaningful. In my unscientific, single-person sample of one, I believe both – romantic – relationships I have experienced have had meaning. They were started under a veil of anonymity, but as offline identities were revealed, they continued and grew.

Would it not be possible for me to form, offline, a relationship of the types I have initiated online? Stanton et al (2016, pp. 187-8) have studied the personalities of people who engage in mediated relationships through the twin lenses of intimacy and deception. As a participant in online relationships that grouping is, on the surface, highly confronting. While they acknowledge that those who set out to deceive others online are more likely to misrepresent themselves, their results clearly indicated “‘those who seek intimacy online also misrepresent themselves” (2016, p. 195).

OnlineMisrepresentation_Chart_1
Online Misrepresentation – statistics taken from Huang & Yang (2013). Infographic created by me using Piktochart.

Huang and Yang (2013, p. 1) reinforce this position, calling the phenomenon of online misrepresentation “universal”. They report more than 70% of respondents to their study admit misrepresenting themselves in online scenarios, with the most frequent incidences being over age or gender; and the most common rationales privacy and security.  Just looking at the image of Ayrendal, above, it is clearly true that I misrepresented myself. I am not a 10,000 year old, 7-foot tall, grey-skinned, green-haired, glow-eyed Amazonian carrying a large stick. Yet that is how I presented myself to initiate my former, and current, relationships.

Huang and Yang continue to say that the anonymity afforded in mediated relationships allows the removal of personal behavioural barriers (2013, p. 2). In a discussion of anonymity and authenticity in the social networking application Tinder a further explanation is provided regarding anonymity and online relationship building (Brianmccle 2015).

Tweet embedded from my own @ayrendal Twitter account.

The blog explains that by preserving anonymity the user is “protected from embarrassment”.  Both theories offer explanations as to why I found establishing relationships online easier than those in real life. The barriers of fear, belittlement – gone, because I could play-act any character I chose.

Tweet embedded from my own @ayrendal Twitter account.

In reality I’m the above. Not a green hair (although the lighting in the above shot may indicate otherwise…), nor an eye glow to be seen. Bridging the gap between my online self and real self was not traumatic. I have a bit of faux-chutzpah; I act a lot braver than I feel, but I had also selected an environment where there could be no mistake that my avatar was a direct physical representation of me, other than being female. However, Geraci and Geraci (2013, p. 335) point out that I may have been at least subconsciously influenced in the choice of my avatar’s appearance because it may boost my self esteem. They say that in part, the impossible physical attributes Ayrendal possesses help me mask potential feelings of inadequacy. In turn, that increase in empowerment gives me the confidence to initiate relationships I may otherwise have avoided, behaviour reflected in Huang and Yang’s (2013) studies.

…I am not a 10,000 year old, 7-foot tall, grey-skinned,
green-haired, glow-eyed Amazonian…

With anonymity helping me bridge the gap between my offline and online personalities, how soon did I introduce the “real” me into the equation? In the first instance it was a couple of months; the second, a matter of weeks. During my second experience there was an interesting shared history which encouraged me to open up private details quite early in the piece. Zogg and Hooper (2013, p. 329) highlight this as a demonstration of “value congruence”; a sharing of ideals and ideas that can increase the perception of trust, helping build a relationship. However, one possible danger of the convergence of my online and offline identities is the potential for my levels of comfort to become so great that I demonstrate pathological internet use. As explained by Bayraktar and Amca (2012, p. 264), a blurring of the lines between my avatar self and “myself” could lead to my habitual seeking of gratification online.

Returning, finally, to my original questions: am I Ayrendal? Is she me? I believe so. Although my influence on Ayrendal was obviously dominant in the early stage of her creation, over time we have become more and more closely integrated. We play together, work together – she’s in the background waiting for attention as I write this. For better or worse, we are linked – part of the same person – online, and off.

At least she takes up less room on the desk than the cat.

BooKeyboard
Maribu – a distant relative of keyboard cat – believes the assignment is done and she may now assert her natural right to the desk. Image taken by the author.

1032 words.

References

Bayraktar, F & Amca, H 2012, ‘Interrelations Between Virtual-World and Real-World Activities: Comparison of Genders, Age Groups, and Pathological and Nonpathological Internet Users’, Cyberpsychology, Behavior & Social Networking, vol. 15, no. 5, pp. 263-269, retrieved 03 April 2017, EBSCOhost database.

Blizzard Entertainment 2004, World of Warcraft, online game, Activision Blizzard, Santa Monica.

Blizzard Entertainment 2017, Ayrendal – Nagrand US, in-game screenshot, Activision Blizzard, Santa Monica, retrieved 01 April 2017.

Brianmccle 2015, The Me You Wanna Match: Automediality, Anonymity, & Authenticity on Tinder, 1 March, retrieved 30 March 2017, <https://selfierhetoric.net/2015/03/01/the-me-you-wanna-match-automediality-anonymity-authenticity-on-tinder/&gt;.

Geraci, R, & Geraci, J 2013, ‘Virtual gender: How men and women use videogame bodies’, Journal Of Gaming & Virtual Worlds, vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 329-348, doi: 10.1386/jgvw.5.3.329_1

Huang, C, & Yang, S 2013, ‘Study of online misrepresentation, self-disclosure, cyber-relationship motives, and loneliness among teenagers in taiwan’, Journal Of Educational Computing Research, vol. 48, no. 1, pp. 1-18, retrieved 01 April 2017, EBSCOhost database.

Krotoski, A 2012, Online identity: is authenticity or anonymity more important?, The Guardian, 20 April, retrieved 25 March 2017, <https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity&gt;.

McKenna, K, Green, A, & Gleason, M 2002, ‘Relationship Formation on the Internet: What’s the Big Attraction?’, Journal Of Social Issues, vol. 58, no. 1, p. 9-31, retrieved 01 April 2017, EBSCOhost database.

Stanton, K, Ellickson-Larew, S, & Watson, D 2016, ‘Development and validation of a measure of online deception and intimacy’, Personality And Individual Differences, vol. 88, pp. 187-196, doi: 10.1016/j.paid.2015.09.015

Tinder 2017, Tinder, <https://gotinder.com&gt;

Zogg, A & Hooper, T 2013, ‘Does the Need to Belong Drive Risky Online Behavior?’, Proceedings Of The European Conference On Information Management & Evaluation, pp. 328-333, retrieved 01 April 2017, EBSCOhost database.

World of Warcraft, ©2004 Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. All rights reserved. World of Warcraft, Warcraft and Blizzard Entertainment are trademarks or registered trademarks of Blizzard Entertainment, Inc. in the U.S. and/or other countries.

My broader ALC203-related online activity

My primary activity has been on Twitter, and my blog. I’ve been aiming for a post a week on my blog, triggered by discussions within the unit hashtag, and from readings undertaken during the unit.

I’ve also delighted in using content creation tools; making my first little video, and uploading it to YouTube – for the practice at both content creation and distribution.

How ethical are you about your “googling”?

In a wider discussion of online privacy within an even broader topic of identity, this week I’ve come across a line of thought which brings with it considerations of ethics in online searches.

A couple of discussion points were posed to our class – how often do you google yourself, and how often do you google others. (And no, as it’s a verb, not a noun in this instance, it doesn’t deserve a capital G.) The questions got me thinking about the results of those ‘innocent’ searches, and what I might do if I found something I wasn’t expecting. Then it struck me – is it OK to search for detail of someone else’s life, especially if you have to dig for it?

We all search for information about others on the internet. Whether it’s someone we know from work or school; or someone who has popped up in the local or national media; or someone famous – either “internet-famous”, or otherwise. We’ll look for their dates of birth, seek out info on who they’re shacked up with, what they wear, eat and drink, and where the live. I’d go out on a limb and say everyone with access to an internet search engine has queried at least one of those things, about someone other than themselves, at least once in their internet career. AKA: We All Do It.

The question that hit me – hard – was how would I feel if I knew someone was searching for that level of detail about my life? And what would I be afraid of them finding? Cue search engine frenzy…

ALCSelfie
This is me folks – no makeup, no lighting, no filters: Me. (Image: My own #ALCSelfie)

I carry a unique name. Not a “pretty unique” or “almost unique” or “a little bit unique” name. Unique. (Which is good: my inner grammar police despise modifiers on the word “unique”; it is, or it isn’t.) I’ve been unable to uncover any other Lara Milvains anywhere on the internet – either historical, or current. If you find me, you find – me. If you’re driven to know more about me, head to my about page here on WordPress; I’ve done the hard yards for you.

To friends, where ‘e-peen‘ matters, I’ve claimed I could “Google for Australia”. I’ve even had a bit of a competition with a friend to see who could be first to find obscure web content. Yes, we were nerds. Bored, possibly two-drinks-too-many nerds. But, hey, whatever floats your boat, right?

As online identities are more and more closely aligned with our work futures – encouraging more and more people to “exist” on the internet, it’s worth thinking about the level of detail provided to any online entity. There’s been some horrendous leaks and hacks – some which had legal consequences for the original holders of the data; but a fine after the fact doesn’t stop the data flowing.

There’s some really sensible guides to “online safety” available – some have commercial tie ins, others are purely altruistic. But it’s worth searching for them, and implementing as much advice as you can while you build your online presence. A great starting point is Google’s own Playing and Staying Safe Online from 2010. It’s cute little 2-minute video, aimed at kids, but it’s just as relevant to adults as it is to them.

But, back to my original train of thought: what if I applied my ‘googling skill’ with nefarious intent? If I set out to discover the address, birth date, credit card number, or other highly personal detail of someone I didn’t really know? And what if I found them? What would I do?

I’m most definitely not the first to raise the question. A 2009 post under the auspices of the International Association of Privacy Professionals considered an almost identical dilemma; or at least, the background searches that can lead to that type of dilemma. Theirs was on a slightly grander scale. It cites an American “educational exercise” which encouraged students to uncover as much personal information as they could about the now-deceased US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. Both the IAPP article and the New York Times piece describing the students’ work (and Justice Scalia’s response to it) in more detail are thoughtful reads.

I’d like to think that I’d be nice – ethical – enough to attempt to take any awkward discovery I made and contact my ‘stalkee’. Warn them – let them know they were putting themselves at risk of exposure, or even identity theft. But would I? I’ve never uncovered a trove of personal information a-la a Wikileaks dump, or an Ashley Madison leak, but I am guilty of trawling the latter – “Just In Case”… I can’t give an answer that categorically states how I’d handle that data because I’ve never been faced with the situation. I know how I’d like to behave, but I have no history to bear it witness – so it’s worth pondering.

Happy googling.

MORE INFORMATION:

The Australian Government’s Online Safety portal
Choice’s comprehensive Online Safety Guide
Popular Mechanics’ Complete Guide to Online Privacy
The basic google search I ran to find the above, with plenty more links
International Association of Privacy Professionals

Black Mirror – Fifteen Million Merits

**WARNING: CONTAINS SPOILERS**
(and I’m too cheap to pay for an upgrade to get /spoiler tags. Sorry – #studentlife )

Black Mirror. What a disturbing – but fabulous – little show. I’d managed to catch the third season on Netflix last year, and was transfixed by the episode Nosedive from start to end; but I’d not made my way back to the earlier seasons. When Fifteen Million Merits (“15MM” from hereon in, for the sake of my word count) appeared on our ‘homework’ list for ALC203 I was looking forward to it. But I wasn’t prepared for the in-your-face parallels this episode drew.

15MM brilliantly covered topics as broad as copyright infringement, social isolation and the all-pervasive nature of reality TV and the moral choices it offers its viewers. A fellow student also identified in his blog something I’d missed – an almost obsessive spending in a gamified world on cosmetic “upgrades” which have zero function. In fact, that blog entry reminded me that I needed unjumble my thoughts a bit and write this entry for my own good; so – thank you, Zach!

Because of the #studentlife issue mentioned above, I’m going to hide the rest of this behind a “more” tab. 1. I hope it works. And, 2. Please, please read on. And, 3. If you do, I hope it was worth it. Leave me a comment and let me know!

(Also, please lend me a link to a campaign for free /spoiler tags on WordPress.com!)

Continue reading

Copyright, Creative Commons; and us.

Back from the dead! A nasty dose of the flu knocked me silly for about 5 days, so now playing that fun game of catch-up tennis. At least it wasn’t three weeks from now when everything and everyone comes crashing down wanting assessments. Small blessings 🙂

So, this week we’re into copyright and Creative Commons. Stacks of really great info out there about the different licensing conditions that can be applied to works using creative commons. And also on how not to get yourself into trouble.

One thing that struck me was that “traditional” copyright in the online world appears to be a game of publishing something, and then hoping that other people do the ‘right thing’ – asking for permission to reprint, or even just attributing others’ works. In my internet travels I’ve come across *so* many instances of works that are obviously copies of each other – sometimes word for word, or image for image – that it’s apparent that copyright breaches happen with stunning regularity.

CreativeCommonsBooth_ccBy20

CC booth” by Creative Commons HQ is licensed under CC BY 2.0

It’s struck me that Creative Commons is more than just a “licensing system”. It’s a pro-active approach to sharing content. By licensing works under Creative Commons, the author’s intent is clear. They’ve marked their work as available (or not) for commercial use, available for derivative use (or not), or maybe even as a work in the public domain, relinquishing all rights entirely. And that makes it easy to know what to do next if you would like to re-use the work.

Contrast that with the old-fashioned “publish and be hopeful” approach. Although copyright statements appear at the bottom of pretty much every (semi-professional?) web page, they’re on the whole most definitely *not* helpful in working out what to do if you’d like to re-use content. “Copyright Commonwealth of Australia 2015” – for most of the internet, the line is either ignored, or the response seems to be “so what?” It appears a lot of people take that confusion, and turn it into illegal (or at the very least, undesirable) action – and just take what they want.

So, here’s cheers to Creative Commons for helping clear up the sludge, and making it easy to work out what can, and can’t, be done with content on the web. And through their application of standards, leading content producers down a path to recognition, attribution and profit for all involved.

More info:

Creative Commons Australia
Creative Commons
Find something with a Creative Commons license!
Or, try the beta search engine

And now we’re into it: Media Studies 2.0

Some interesting reading this week with David Gauntlett’s Media Studies 2.0 and William Merrin’s Upgrading and open-sourcing the discipline up for digestion.

I’ll admit that a week ago, I’d never come across the term “Media Studies 2.0”. I did “Media Studies” in HSC (ahem… yep, HSC) way back in 1987, and it was a very different beast. Even that subject avoided discussion of media structure, and instead we focussed on a single aspect – media ownership in Australia. I even remember Keith Windschuttle’s The Media being the prescribed (and only) text. And I wrote my year’s assessment in one night; but that’s another tale.

So, first up: Media Studies 2.0, what is this beast? Merrin presents it as an emergent discipline, something which is – or at least should – be moving as fast as the media it is attempting to analyse. Gauntlett provides a characterisation of both 2.0, and 1.0 – and I’m grateful for the comparative information – but in summary says that 2.0 has changed those previously relegated to “audience” into “participants”.

Both argue that rather than being passive consumers of media – an audience “fed” what broadcasters produced – 2.0 has created producers who are also consumers, where once there were only critics. Gauntlett in particular points out that the approaches of 2.0 mean that as “capable producers” students can gain a stronger understanding of the media they would previously only have studied theoretically.

Merrin also points out that modern media – Media 2.0 – has changed so radically that in a lot of cases students outpace their teachers in their knowledge. I’m not yet in that sphere; but I did appreciate enormously Merrin’s blog post where he uses a wonderful analogy to illustrate the speed of change in media in recent years; it tickled me as it informed – I hope it does the same for you:

The result is, for all of us, it’s a struggle even to keep up. Not many disciplines have this problem. I’m fairly certain chemistry lecturers don’t have to turn up to the second half of a lecture and announce that things have just changed: that the bad news is they’ve just found three new elements but the good news is they’ve dropped argon as no-one was using it anymore. Merrin 2006.

Poor argon. Gone the way of MySpace. And as I read, I wondered if “Media Studies” – Media Studies 1.0 – would suffer a similar fate. In the introduction to Merrin’s 2014 book Media Studies 2.0 he captures a line of thought which resulted in me wondering if Media Studies 1.0 – the teaching of the broadcast era structure and theories of the media – is likely close to being shifted in emphasis to that of a historical adjunct; assigned single weekly topic in a unit, or even moved to the modern history department of teaching institutions. Which would be ironic, given that Gauntlett’s summary of “new media” – Media 2.0 – in Media Studies 1.0 is that it was taught as an addon. An approach I summarised as ‘oh yeah, there’s this thing called the internet. It’s gonna be big. Now, back to how radio audiences work’.

Media Studies 2.0 isn’t however, just the study of technologies. It can’t be – it would be a tafe course, or limited to vocational studies (or YouTube instructionals) if it were. Merrin’s acknowledgement that sociology and cultural studies have a part to play widens the field somewhat. We have an enormous number of tools available to us in the new media landscape, but studying those only, without consideration of the wider effects on people, or even civilisation itself would be a folly. Media has changed, and so has the world that uses it. Chicken, or the egg? That’s going to be the most fun thing to work out – which came first.

But then again, I have yet to come to grips with the Media 2.0 landscape technologically; so that’s why I’m here – start there, and work my way up to making descisions about the influential potentials of Media Studies 2.0. Onwards!

‘Distance’ education, the second time around

Timothy Hanlon’s reflections on distance education struck a note with me. His call to educators – and students – to innovate in their teaching and learning is timely and, increasingly, relevant to a growing audience.

This is my second “attempt” at education at a distance. The first, in the early 1990s, was a dismal failure. To be honest, I don’t even remember “stopping” during that attempt; I just remember getting a bit of paper in the mail saying I could re-enrol for another semester, and I never returned it.

And there’s the biggest difference in distance education in the last 20 years – methods of delivery. We *have* come a long, long way.

It’s not just the transmission of information, although that has changed radically. First time around, I waited with baited breath at the mailbox for my course materials.  A printed unit outline, and a chunky reader for each subject, with all the core materials photocopied and pinned together with the biggest staples I’ve seen in my life. Each had a colour-coded cover; blue for business subjects, pink for arts; etc. And a supply of postage-paid envelopes for me to return my essays.

Each assessment piece was a typed effort. If you had a computer – still a rarity in the home back then – hours could be saved by being able to make the types of revisions on the fly that we now take for granted. But for most of us, it was a good old fashioned electric typewriter and some A4 paper. I had the luxury of having access to word processing software at work; one of the lucky ones.

But, by far the biggest difference is in contact with others. In the brief four months since re-commencing study I’ve already had more contact with other students than I did in the year and a half of my previous studies. And far more contact with teaching staff. All of which has been facilitated by technology. I have a question about my unit; flip off an email; last time around, it was make a phone call and hope someone returned it eventually. Timothy reflects on the woeful unit forums provided for each subject at Deakin via its learning management system. Yep, they’re a long way short of even the crudest commercial forum software; but at least we have them!

I support Timothy’s call for educators – and students – to be innovative, to look for and utilise more tools, different tools, to experiment and challenge eachother to communicate differently each time we sit down at the keyboard. But, each person learns differently, and what works for one student may be a dismal failure for others, or their lecturer.

Change can, and should, and from historical example – will – be incoming. But with education being a one-size-fits-all compromise, mindfulness still needs to be given to effectiveness, and the time constraints that pressure everyone into working within the status quo.

Bravo to those with the foresight to throw the 16-page A4 double spaced essay out the window; but for those of us who weren’t born with an iPad in our grip, please give some thought that our discomfort and struggle may not be resistance to change, but a gap in our practical skills. That goes for students and educators alike.

It’s been 20 years since I last attempted distance education, and the change in delivery has been enormous and enormously positive. In another 20 or 30 years, luddites like myself will be gone, and the revolution will be able to commence in earnest, without fear of leaving behind those without the innate technical skills of younger generations.

And so, ALC203 begins

It’s O-week, T1, 2017 and our unit sites have just opened. I’ve already discovered that ALC203 will be as far removed from a ‘traditional’ university unit as anything I’ve experienced before, and that’s kind of exciting.

After a quick – very quick – perusal of the Week 0 and Week 1 study guides, I’ve had a frenzy of digital identification; I’m now on Twitter, WordPress, about.me, added subscriptions to Soundcloud and YouTube channels, and I’m about exhausted.

The next little task will be to run back through all those new digital IDs I’ve given myself, and make sure they’re firstly coherent, and secondly informative – what’s the point of having my “name” out there, but it meaning nothing to anyone who comes across them.

Let the reading, chasing, writing, thinking, analysis and observation begin. Looking forward to this unit immensely.