*this blog post is in reference to Ragnhild Tronstad’s “Character Identification in World of Warcraft” (249-263)
In chapter 12 of Digital Culture, Play, and Identity: A World of Warcraft Reader, Tronstad delves into the “player-character” identification process of World of Warcraft by analyzing the relationship between character appearance and character capacity and how these aspects of the game enable a player to experience flow with their character throughout the different game modes. Tronstad begins her chapter on character identification in the World of Warcraft by discussing the topic of identification. She states that there are two ways identification can be understood. The first, sameness identity, happens when the player has a sense of being their character while the second, empathetic identity, is achieved when the player experiences what their character experiences. Tronstad then briefly illustrates how these identities encourage flow in the different game modes included in the World of Warcraft. For her, flow is a state in which the player becomes immersed in their character, or in other words, they become one. She states, “When, in World of Warcraft, gameplay is experienced as flow, the capacities of the character and those of the player are experienced as being in perfect balance. The player and character are here perfectly connected, which requires that the player has internalized the controls and game mechanics to such a degree that the medium between himself and the game world becomes transparent” (254). This transparency is what enables a player to fully identify with a character. Tronstad continues, “In flow, the player is freed from the burden of interaction, as there is a loss of self-consciousness in which he is delivered from himself” (254). Ragnhild Tronstad concludes her chapter on identity by restating that understanding controls, knowing the game mechanics and having complete knowledge are essential to experiencing flow in World of Warcraft. Tronstad’s argument in this chapter is interesting. She believes that in the World of Warcraft, the duration spent questing, enhancing armor, and learning the game mechanics, improves the flow between player and character. More so, she argues that that appearance and capacity equally improves the player’s processes of identification. Although her argument is insightful and thorough, there is one topic that grabbed my focus.
The argument that I found interesting was her idea that appearance and capacity are equally important in the player identification process. She is correct. In my opinion, and I feel she would agree, that appearance and capacity are dependent upon each other in video games such as the World of Warcraft. When you create a character in this game you are essentially given a choice of human or non-human. For my example, I’ll use the Human and the Pandaren to better illustrate my thought process. When you choose a human you are, in one way or another, able to create your appearance. You can choose your skin color, hair type and color, and gender. Ultimately, you can easily imagine yourself as, “Athera: Goddess of Goldshire”. However, as a Pandaren, while you can match your gender, a panda will never resemble a human. If that is true then how are these players able to identify with their character? Simple, Tronstad already told you: their capacity. Their capacities become their appearance. The characteristics of a Pandaren entices player personalities that value remaining neutral in times of war or personalities that will fight for the side they emotionally believe to be right. In this aspect of the game the characteristic are characteristics in you, and as a result you can now identify yourself with the panda character that does not look like you. Further, I would argue that this is not only true for MMOGs but also for most video games. Appearance wise you’re not a Lombax who runs around a with your bestfriend robot fighting evil but due to the his capacities, you can relate to Ratchet and envision yourself traveling through the Solana Galaxy. Despite appearance being one of the easiest ways for players to relate with their characters, a character’s capacity is also essential to the process. Although I am not a warlock, the way he approaches battle both mentally and physically, I can envision myself as him, thus supporting Tronstad’s argument of appearance and capacity equally contributing to my player character identification process.