Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Test Driving Gender in Virtual Worlds

Patricia Hendrickson, Alumna, Fielding's School of Educational Leadership & Change (2013)

The purpose of this classic grounded theory study is to offer an understanding of one aspect of the increasing digitization of contemporary life in which a male may adopt a female persona or vice-versa. The researcher explains how individuals consciously test drive gender in Massively Multiplayer Online Virtual Worlds (MMOVWs). Test driving gender occurs because the person creating a virtual identity has a preference or inclination to represent the identity as a gender other than that designated at birth. By creating a new depiction for the online environment, the person realizes the preference or inclination. This study began with an interview of an adult who engages in MMOVWs as a leisure-time activity. Subsequent interviews commenced with other adults who socialized in MMOVWs. The core variable of test driving gender emerged after coding and comparing interview data. Significant to the experiences of the participants in this study is the complex nature of new and emerging technologies, the blending of real and online worlds, and certain levels of anonymity that the Internet allows. The behaviors of individuals within MMOVWs form in response to the interrelated and inseparable issues of identity and adaptive strategies that straddle both worlds. People who test drive gender are unique because of the ease in which they engage in virtual worlds unrestricted by the real-world gender designated at birth. Gender switching for them is significant and, at once, problematic because others in their virtual communities cannot easily identify them by one persistent identity in one persistent milieu. When people test drive gender in a virtual world, the choice results in one of five possible paths of engagement which participants termed roleplaying, acting, representing, ogling, and defaulting. People chose the paths based upon various motivations, conditions, and perceived benefits. The consequence of researching the substantive area of virtual worlds, is that new motivations and conditions are presented that explain the behavior of gender switching. Gender can be learned, managed, and used to manipulate others. This new information may provide enhanced considerations and options in gender identity education.

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