One of the things about musing on the different spheres of value, shortcomings, definitions, is that the selves we develop in each of these spheres are related to the self we identify internally.
A lot of people believe in a “core self” that runs through all contexts, all roles, all spheres. This “core” self is thought to be Truth, the “real me” that I choose to show or hide depending on the situation. That somehow the self we show when we’re nervous, or unsure, or cranky, or professional, or partying is not completely “real” – that those are fake parts of ourselves overlaid on top of truth likes masks. Not really “me.”
I see this a different way. To me, these are all parts of us, and should be embraced as real aspects of the self, just as “true” as the self of the intense 4 a.m. conversations in which we confess hidden feelings or fears. I don’t see those other roles we adopt as masks, but rather different manifestations of who we are. In that sense, then, I don’t belive in a “true” self, although I do believe we bring out and push away different things at different times.
Chodrow (1981) claims that the self is fundamentally relational, and so is linked to norms of interpersonal roles that are necessarily linked to social contexts. We gain a sense of self through interaction with those in the society around us and thus the self is intertwined with the other.
This, to me, is fundamentally about being fluid, able to shift our language, perspective, approach to fit different contexts. I call it flexibility, along with cognitive scientists (cognitive flexibility), but I take it beyond their focus on learning and suggest that this is a more general social mechanism.
Some people are more flexible, meaning that some people adapt more easily to different contexts, speak the “languages” of different spheres more readily. They manifest the sides of themselves that suit their needs at that moment – not in a false or strategic way, but as part of seeking mutual understanding.
Thinking about who we are in WoW, then, is for me thinking about how we respond to and adapt to the specific contexts of that space. In a highly social context – in between battles, cooling down after a raid – we manifest that self that is more social, seeking out others, building bonds. In a demanding technical challenge, we shift to a more pragmatic, rational approach, perhaps.
I think this is particularly clear in gender roles (and I even have a name for it: Gender Role Flexibility). Along with Bem (1972) I don’t believe we are always “all masculine” or “all feminine”, nor (departing from Bem) do I believe that the balance between our feminine and masculine sides is always the same. I believe we change our gender-related behaviour according to the demands of the context, as well.
So when hanging with the boys in WoW, I tend to be a bit more “boy-like” – I call upon the parts of me that are more in-line with their prevailing styles of communication, values, and perspectives. Obviously this is different depending on the specific group, but the idea is the same. With an all woman group I might show more of my stereotypical feminine qualities, but again, depends on the specific women.
This is, in part, one of the reasons that feeling oddly ungendered in some situations in WoW (where everyone first assumes I’m a guy) is disconcerting for me. I think that flexibility, that shifting of what I bring to the conversation/situation is highly dependent on a two-way interaction. I identify the context of my interaction with the other person under certain assumptions – among them, that I am seen as “female.” Break that, and it turns out I’m not so sure how to act. Well, I can pretend to actually be a guy (physically), but that gets old. It’s too much work.
On the other hand, “passing” like that is interesting. It’s not hard for me, especially if people assume I’m male first (they’re not looking for signs I’m not male, I assume). I don’t get the sense that many of the guys I meet who play female toons are trying to “pass” as female – or that they even think others will wonder. For me, though, even playing a male toon is weirdly difficult. I’ve tried, but I just can’t hit that Accept button to create one.
I’m not on a role play server, and for some reason I have a really difficult time pretending to be things I’m not when interacting in WoW. I have a rough time “passing” in gender, age, occupation, you name it.
But I wonder sometimes why this is. Am I just impulsively trying to express myself as much as possible in this limited space with no body to help me out? Do I feel as though I’m lying? Neither of those quite rings true for me.
How much do we really tell our WoW buddies about ourselves? How much do we craft that more idealized self when we chat online? Leave out the pesky weaknesses and paint ourselves as we would like to be…