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Dec 02, 2008



I almost exclusively use "I" but I could see myself using "she" if I was playing a female character, or if I was doing some particularly deep role playing and wanted to differentiate the character's psyche from mine.

That kind of role play is akin to writing a novel. I would imagine most novelists would address their characters as "he" or "she" though I confess I don't know.

"It" just sounds wrong.


I play WoW and SL also. As an altoholic and dual-boxer, I usually refer to whichever character I'm currently controlling as I, and any of my other characters in the 3rd person. I also usually refer to my characters in the 3rd person when not playing.

First/third person thinking, along with creating a distinct personality evident in the typewritten word (much like writing a novel -- a better analogy would be a play), is especially necessary when dual-boxing Second Life. I often put my avatar's name on a sticky note on the monitor right below the chatbox so I don't put one avatar's words in the other's mouth accidentally.


I'm the player, and he/she is the character. Understanding the difference is vital to prevent the game from becoming too serious. For example, I don't get mad if I'm ganked on a PvP server, but my character will.


That's certainly interesting, and not language that I would expect based on my own personal experience. At the very least I would expect the player to use the gender-specific pronoun in that case; using "it" in this context just sounds odd.

In a combat driven MMO, I almost always use "I" unless I need to convey a character-specific quality (and the character I refer to can't be otherwise implied). For example, I might say "she needs to get her key for X dungeon" to refer to a character I'm not currently playing (assuming it's common knowledge that I have multiple characters), but if I was currently playing that character I would simply use "I" instead since my currently active character would be implied. By the same token, in describing general experiences that don't impact character state in a relevant way, I would always use "I." So, for example, I would just say "I raided Molten Core" since the act of doing so does not change the state of my characters in a relevant way.

In contrast, I'll usually (though not always) refer to my pen and paper RPG characters with gender specific 3rd person pronouns. I suppose the collaborative storytelling environment makes them "feel" more like actual, independent entities that have their own personalities and experiences.

I don't have the context here, but I wonder if your speaker was referring more to the character's combat capabilities instead of telling the character's story; i.e., the speaker was describing the character in the context of its class abilities. It reads better (although still a bit oddly) with a class explicitly stated in the antecedent:

"My Paladin isn't a good fighter -- it was exploring and it got killed by wolves."

In most current MMOs, where personal storytelling is ancillary to combat mechanics, I think it makes sense to view characters as essentially piles of capabilities, and the "it" language would reflect that.


Interesting..... I usually use "I", "I was dancing to the Stones last night on SL." "I put an addition on my SL house." But if I was doing something uncharacteristic of my RL self, I refer to my avatar by her name, Leondra. "Leondra was Sara Palin for Halloween and went pole dancing."

I do not do other virtual worlds, and I bet there is a difference between how gamers view their avatars, with all those super powers, and those that use SL for building, teaching and socializing.


I would use "I" for most things, like "I don't like fishing". When I'm explicitly talking about alts I'll usually objectify them, like "I have that staff on Neru" (a character) or "I have a mage and a priest".

If my point was to show that the character was weak and killable by wolves, I might say "I was exploring as Kuran, and got killed by wolves" or even "Kuran can get killed by wolves". This difference is because the key information to convey is that this character specifically can be killed by wolves, unlike other characters perhaps. Simply saying "I was exploring and was killed by wolves" doesn't convey any of this.


"I" is the standard for me, also, and most of the people I know. I can only think of one person who uses "he" and "she" to refer to online characters/avatars.

It's interesting, though, to consider how much people integrate online avatars into the self, and what kind of consequences that might have for people. Specifically, I'm thinking of the costs and benefits of spending a lot of time in a virtual world. Is an "I" person more likely to gain the benefits and give up the costs of an online world, whereas a "s/he" person is less likely to gain anything or lose anything?


This sounds a *lot* like the communication theory of BIRGing (basking in reflected glory) and CORFing (cutting off reflected failure), which is best known in studying sports fans. It's about feeling good about yourself, really.

When your team does well, you tend to use the first person, and when they fail, you tend to use the third. Cialdini showed this in a series of really fun experiments and tests of Arizona State students, and I think Zillman did it with Indiana basketball as well. Following victories, fans use "we" and wear more team clothing, e.g "we killed them!" Following losses, fans use "they" and wear less team gear, e.g. "they played like shit."

Basic ego protection stuff, but pretty fascinating.

Also germane here is my strong sense that players generally speaking do not role play. They are mostly themselves when playing, which I'm guessing would make the connection with the outcomes more potent. That might cause more BIRGing/CORFing then a weaker connection. That's my hypothesis anyway.


I had a similarly jarring experience at the AAA's a few weeks back. I attended a panel with a paper about WoW, and heard the PI refer to the research as taking place with "three researchers and our avatars." While at first it was kind of nifty to consider your avatar as part of your research team... isn't your avatar a representation of yourself? The deliberate separation confused me.

I always consider my avatars in various places (both in games I may play, and even the picture I use on livejournal to identify myself, which is most certainly not me!) as a representation of myself, not a separate entity.

I may differentiate if I were to have two different class characters... "I was playing as my rogue and I got totally pwned by some jerk..." or "I can't do that, my rogue isn't high enough class" but only if I had several characters on one game. They would still be representations of me, just different aspects.

this reminds me of a conversation I got in with my mother shortly after the AAAs about Second Life (which I'm not on). She and I ended up arguing over reality and what is real; her thought is that SL is 100% fake, and that any avatar is a fake representation of a person. This caused me to question her idea of what 'reality' is ('what if they're transgendered and SL is the only place they can express that? What about someone who feels small inside, like a child, and uses SL to explore that? What's real? What's not?')... I ended up calling her ethnocentric. I'm surprised she didn't hang up on me.


The pattern in games is more likely to be that "your character" has a different identity (Mario, Master Chief, Shrek, etc.). RPG characters are often seen as a kind of tool, reflecting their varying capabilities - most Everquest players I knew had several avatars with different skill sets tuned for different kinds of playing experiences.


I've noticed that in my own pattern. I'm much more likely to refer to the actions of my female avatars as 'she.' Male avatars, I'll alternate between "I" and "he" depending on the type of characters... if their personalties are molded closer to my own, it's "I".

I'm not a hardcore roleplayer, but I try to give my creations a personality in-game. I naturally speak in-character in chat- even my female characters- in game it's "I" and "we"... but in voice chat, often going on at the same time, it's 3rd person.

It seems that I text chat AS the character, but I voice chat ABOUT the character...


I tend to speak of acts in the virtual world in the first person, with the exception of clarifying which avatar I was using.

"I was in Orgrimar the other night and saw a Rhino."

"My Shaman seems underpowered at times."

or combine both:

"I was leveling my Death Knight."


My avatar (I usully keep basically the same one in every game) is definitely third-person. "She" is the one who plays all those silly games, not me!


As I was reading this I thought it sounded a little strange, but then I realized that I use third and first person interchangeably. Since I have multiple characters on both WoW and SL, I have to differentiate between them sometimes. I may say something like "I did this Heroic already" and then say "My girl got a major upgrade" all within the same conversation.


It's context-dependent for me: usually, I refer to my avatars as I, but sometimes I alienate them by using he/she. Most of the times it happens when RP plays a part in a story or when I want to signal that in a given occurrence I personally had lesser influence than the game mechanincs - at least according to my feelings -, eg. "poor XY WAS stuck so I had to wait for the GM", but naturally:)it is always ME who did that aaaawesome crit heal;)


Even though my wow avatar was female, It is "I" when I speak of action: "I went to Karazhan" and third person "she" when I speak of characteristics: "My character is a night elf".

I find (very informally) that this is common among people who play these games quite a bit while people who play less (or have just begun to play) use pronouns in dramatically different fashions. Some say "he/she/it" for all actions or statements, especially when speaking (Rather than typing). Some say "the character" (meaning that they avoid the general personal pronoun) or "my character". Some (few newbies but many infrequent players) use the character name and speak in the third person.

The adoption of the trope of personification is part of establishing yourself in this new culture. You sound like a nub if you talk on vent about your character in a fashion totally out of joint with the guild. Social cues generally nudge new members into the homogeneous speaking habits. Whether this is "passing" or acculturation is not clear to me. IT is probably different paths for different people.


Your language reflects your level of immersion. The more immersed you are in a virtual world, the more your language will be in the first person rather than the third person. Yes, if you're explicitly talking about the separation then you'll say things like "my mage is a herbalist" even when you're fully immersed, but otherwise you'll stick to the first person.



Interesting question..

I tend to refer to myself when acting through an avatar. When I've got multiple avatars in a single game or world, I still refer to actions in the first person, but to the avatar as a companion, tool, or third person. It's still me acting, but through a different medium of sorts.

So, in a simple case, I'd say "I killed the bear", but in a more complex one I'd say "I couldn't kill the bear with Rufus, but I killed it easily with Blort"


Depending on the avatar and world I will refer to them as "you".

As in "You 'act of unloving sexing' piece of 'waste matter', grab the 'naughty act' platform you 'unmentionable'".

Only rarely though you understand.


If you are discussing a VW where you have only one avatar, does that change things? I suspect so.

I'm rarely in SL, but I have one (albeit many-faced) avatar there. I always use the first person unless I'm strictly describing the avatar. In WoW, where I have lots of characters, that's different; I think of whatever character I'm playing as "me playing X". But I bet if I only had one character there (which I did for the first months of the game), I'd use the first person more and think of the world in terms of my one avatar there.

I have a hunch that the avatar in a VW is a new category, not a tool and not the self. Sometimes it's like a tool (as Trond described above) and sometimes it's an extension of self. But neither quite gets at the phenomenon fully.

Here's a side thought: a golfer's clubs...there's some overlap with the VW avatar, I think. The golfer might say, "Oh, that new driver crushes the ball," or maybe "that Ping putter can't hit straight on a fast green." But usually, golfers use the first person. I think there's something useful in thinking about avatars there.

And another thought: people differ. (Surprise!) Some people connect more with the "becoming the character" element (I'm avoiding the phrase role playing on purpose because of the connotations it might bear, but that's really what it is). Others are not concerned with the "becoming" factor, I think, and just play it the way they might play Madden Football. (And how do people talk about Madden? I've heard, "I'm invincible with the Giants" but never a sort of "I AM the Giants" kind of thing.)

Lastly...My wife really has affinity for her WoW main. When we pretty much stopped playing for a while this year, she felt that she was somehow being mean to ol' Poppee. (We tried Warhammer for a while, and I think it's safe to say that she didn't like the game a lot partly because she didn't connect with her character's looks, voice and lack of emotes. I liked the goblin shamen in WH because they had such great personality, esp. compared to the other classes.)


I also use first and third person interchangeably, and I think that's interesting in and of itself. I talk about I and she in the same sentence or thought. Complicating matters further, when I create artwork in virtual worlds, I even question who the author is: she or me. Since she is a "known" celebrity, definitely with a persona of her own, that justifies the third person aspect. On the other hand I don't lose sight of who is on the keyboard side of things.

An important idea to consider is this: in RL, we are not completely in control of our personas; example: perceptions get muddled and this can get reflected in something called reputation. Further, I would argue that an online virtual world persona is not unique to its specific RL counterpart. The persona is enhanced through the unique set of social (and other) relationships in that world. The identity is distributed set of relationships that bind to that world, other worlds if known, and RL, if shared.


I remember James Gee, at one of those many blendable and indistinguishable conferences of the past, going on about "me and my avatar" and "my avatar and I" in some keynote about Portal (I think). eg: "That was something my avatar and I learned together." That sounded pretty weird. But, otherwise, it doesn't seem that weird to use first person sometime and third person some other time.

I don't know if I quite agree with the Dmitri theory about blame and praise and whatnot. If you say, for instance, "sorry gang, my rogue srsly screwed up there," you would appear to be making your rogue the undeserved scapegoat for your own suckiness. Normally, it's just something like "my bad, sry, i suxors."

I consider the choice of person and reference more commonly based on game function than on (social) status building and/or diminishing. Sort of like driving a car. "I drove to Atlanta" = "I finished the quest." "My engine is sputtering" = "My toon sucks at aoe." Like that. Though Im sure both greg and steven pinker can come up with many counter examples. Language is a funny thing.

Nevertheless, "I am not an animal!" = "I am not my toon."

Roleplayers, of course, are (like always) the exceptions. Who the heck knows what those people are doing.

Also, pvp'ers have more ego invested in their avatars than pve'ers. So I think there would be some different patterns of references between the two.


Gender could also play a strong role in ego protection. Of my female friends who play WoW who don't identify foremost with the gamer culture - but rather pop culture/commercial culture, there could be some emotional distancing from a hobby not in general acceptance for them. As the number of games or avatars/alts increases, you might expect that ego/identity anxiety to also increase.

In my master's research from a couple of years ago (across a few games), women had an interesting dispersion of alts. While men were likely to have a few each - women would either have one, or many more. The only respondents reporting 10+ alts were women.


If I were discussing to a panel or a group or somesuch my avatar's actions, I would probably use third person to create a faux objective perspective in my audience. Also, it feels kind of... intimate to discuss my in-game actions to strangers as if they were my actions.


Oddly, I use "he" when I'm referring to attributes, but "I" when I'm referring to actions.

If it's about attributes, I use third-person: "he needs a new skin... this one has freckles and it bugs me" or "he's a GM blacksmith and tamer."

But if I'm doing something as my avatar or character, I use the first person (e.g. "I walked up to the podium and found that it was sized too short and had to raise it" or "then a bear attacked me.")


I just wanted to thank everyone who has commented so far. All these responses are just what I was hoping for. As many of you know, there's a great deal out there in the research & scholarship about the avatar/player presence/embodiment questions. But it was the contemporary linguistic framing that I was interested in. If I can't locate recent empirical data directly on that point, an informal survey like this is better (a lot better!) than just wondering.


Greg: Keeping in mind, of course, that your sample here is probably considerably more preoccupied with questions of image, self and avatars than a random sample of players would be, of course. ;)


Complete over-interpretation in my opinion.

You said in the article that "that she had several avatars in several virtual worlds" (which is realy not uncommon, because you cant realy have the same avatar in several virtual worlds.)

When talking about these avatars, the english language (or any other i know for that matter) doesnt allow you to talk about several diffrent 'I's. (which is an interesting shortcoming of language itself actually)

So if you want to talk about these diffrent 'personas' in one context, you need to use the third person speech as a workaround to avoid very awkward constructs as "here I am doing blabla, and here the other I do blubblub" (kust a random example, but i guess you get the idea.)

I'm not saying here that there are no diffrent implications when using 3rd and first person speech. but in this case, its just language-'hacking'.


Situations using 3rd Person:
When I'm talking about an Alt that I'm not currently playing. "Oke still needs the key. Let me log onto him." You can't really say that you need to log onto your alt without calling your alt in the third person.

When talking what I like about my character, sometimes. "I like Zeph's new haircut." I wouldn't say X"I like my new haircut."X Because then other players would think I am talking about a haircut in real life. But I can say "I like my new mount." Because I couldn't possibly be talking about a mount I got in real life.

Situations using 1st Person:
To describe battles or deaths "Wow, I just killed 3 Alliance at the same time!" "I almost died, but luckily I had Divine Shield." "Aww man, I wasn't paying attention and I fell off the world." I wouldn't say X"I wasn't paying attention and Zeph fell off the world."X

Other examples:
"Let me rez you." Never X"Let my guy rez you."X
"Am I high enough level to do that instance?"
"I have 400 hp left :("

It is also interesting to think about first person, plural. I would say "We need to down Prince." But would never say "Our characters need to down Prince." That sounds ridiculous.


For me personally, I use the third person to refer to videogame characters in games that give me multiple characters, such as turn-based strategy games which give me a team to deploy. In this situation, it is difficult to use "I" as you would have to either pick one character to identify with. The immersion centres upon your management of the team, not on your identification with a single avatar. Perhaps players with multiple characters in multiple games would have the same perspective?

When I think back to my play of online virtual worlds, I struggle to remember how I referred to my avatar. But I imagine I said "I became a religious official and presided over several marriages after I retired from the Romulan Embassy" rather than "She retired from the Romulan Embassy". I really can't be sure though.

Interesting topic!


Well I think it is just a style in which you can play games. Didi you notice that actors when tel about their roles in films often use third person of their characters too. I think you can play a game as yourself or take some role who is not you and explore it which actually may be a lot more interesting experience if game provides enough depth to explore this.


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Hi guys,

Can't find any contact address but thought your readers may be interested in a dissertation I recently completed: "Ownership of Intellectual Property in the Virtual World its real world effects and justification: focusing on UK / EC Trade Mark Law" it is available to download from the Class 46 weblog at the following address: http://class46.blogspot.com/2008/11/european-trade-marks-in-virtual-world.html


Using third person when referring to roleplayed character, or if discussing technical merits of a character otherwise first person. This is outside the virtual world, though.


I wonder if any studies have been done showing a correlation between the amount of time spent playing in 1st person POV (e.g. mouselook in SL)and the extent to which persons refer to their avatars as "I".


I wonder if this is an issue of present tense vs. past tense.

Specifically, if playing in a raid situation, I wonder if the person in the original post would say, 'It's going to go and get aggro' or 'I'm going to go and get aggro.'

I find it easier to talk about my character in the 3rd person when talking about past events. More difficult in the present tense.


My good friend, Catullus, who is a level 78 Blood Elf currently questing in Northrend, recently published his own views on this issue in the new book, Human Futures: Art in an Age of Uncertainty, edited by Andy Miah. If I understand Catullus correctly, he argues we should take much more seriously the independent existence of virtual beings.


Horoshaya infa!


I think I mostly use "I". Even if I'm referring to a second character, I seem to mostly keep it first person. "I will log on as X", for example. The thing is, I don't get hugely immersed in WoW when I play it. I don't like playing it without doing something else, at least watching TV, so it's not just a case of being immersed. Involved in my avatar maybe, but not especially focused on the game.


I refer to most of my avatars as "she" or "my girl" when describing what my avatar does in the third person. If the experience is positive, I'm most likely to use this sort of phrasing ("My girl got her first discovery", "She's an alchemist," etc.). However, when describing something negative, I'm much more likely to feel personally attached ("I just died," I failed this quest," "That Death Knight silenced me.").


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I have 3 avatars in Eve Online, which I always refer to in the 3rd person (2 males and 1 female).
Each have certain attributes and characteristics unique to themselves, and I dare say personality differences. This makes perfect sense to me, as I believe people enjoy MMMORPG's as an escape from stress and conflicts in RL, and sometimes create characters that would do things they would never do in real life, such as piracy/theft, double dealing, etc. Depending on my mood, I can select and play a character that fits my outlook at the time.


With Achaea, it is very common, on the game's forums to refer to your character as 'he' or 'she'. But then, Achaea is RP-enforced, so the expectation is that you are constructing a wholly separate identity. This applies to the combat-focused players as well as the RP focused ones, though pure fighters who are only interested in the game mechanics are more apt to use 'I'.


Was this person primarily intent on researching virtual worlds or was she otherwise personally involved?

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