Virtual Death: Subjectivity and the Permanent Loss of an Online Self

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Authors
Cihosky, Kyle R.
Issue Date
2014-04-26
Type
oral
Language
en_US
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Abstract
The virtuality of the online landscape affords an illusory invulnerability to the embodied identities of a digital citizenry. The threat of death, traditionally conceived as an end to existence in the physical realm, is mitigated and trivialized in contemporary virtual environments in which the ultimate end is immediately followed by rebirth, or “respawn”; identity is preserved in the revived avatar body. But what is the impact when one’s avatar cannot respawn? This presentation will inquire into the effects of such a permanent virtual death on the amalgamated subjective totality of the individual experiencing loss. The phenomenon of online identity articulation, as captured by theorists such as Turkle (1997) and Suler (2002), forces one to ask: does the loss of an online presence result in the death of that aspect of one’s personality, or does said aspect survive within the player to be projected upon offline and other online interactions? If the dissolution of virtual spaces causes the metaphorical death of one’s imagined ideal self, it is difficult to accept that the consequences of permanent online death will be exclusively virtual; the displaced alternate personality may seek to materialize elsewhere. Virtual identity research has paid little attention to the irrevocable loss of identity in online environments. This research will employ a grounded theory methodology to inquire into the psychological effects of the permanent loss of an alternative online subjectivity.
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