Tag Archives: Research

Digital Identity Role-Play Guidelines

Digital Identity Role-Play Guidelines

Avatars by Nicola Marae Allain
Avatars by Nicola Marae Allain


  1. Engage in Immersive Role Play
  2. Conduct a phenomenological analysis of identity development in virtual worlds.
  3. Undertake a comparative analysis of two personal digital identities.
  4. Take field notes. See activity guidelines for complete instructions.


Martínez, N. M. (2011). Liminal Phases of Avatar Identity Formation in Virtual World Communities. In A. Peachey & M. Childs (Eds.), Reinventing Ourselves: Contemporary Concepts of Identity in Virtual Worlds (pp. 59–80). Springer London. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-0-85729-361-9_4

Note that I authored this article – Martinez was my married name, and I am now Nicola Marae Allain. I have previously conducted the type of research you’ll be doing for this activity.

Read: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/phenomenology/

Phenomenology defined in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy :

Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object. An experience is directed toward an object by virtue of its content or meaning (which represents the object) together with appropriate enabling conditions.

Smith, David Woodruff, “Phenomenology”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2013/entries/phenomenology/>.

The Research Methods Knowledge Base definition:

Phenomenology is sometimes considered a philosophical perspective as well as an approach to qualitative methodology. It has a long history in several social research disciplines including psychology, sociology and social work. Phenomenology is a school of thought that emphasizes a focus on people’s subjective experiences and interpretations of the world. That is, the phenomenologist wants to understand how the world appears to others.

From http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/qualapp.php

Creating Character in WOW, by Jana Allmand-Zeman
Character Creation Screen in WOW, by Jana Allmand-Zeman

Part I: Create Two Different Digital Identities/Personae/Characters

For this activity, you’ll create two separate avatar identities. These may both be in the same virtual environment/world, or in two different virtual worlds (for example, either both in Second Life, or one in Second Life one in World of Warcraft, or both in World of Warcraft, or one in World of Warcraft and the other in a different virtual or gaming environment/world, etc.). In Module 3, you’ll find detailed guidelines for creating characters and joining communities in World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV A Realm Reborn, Star Wars the Old Republic, and Second Life. Read those before continuing with this activity. For the purpose of this activity, we’ll call the identities either personae, characters, or avatars, with the understanding that we’re essentially referring to the same thing.

Digital Identity One

Your primary digital character for this course should be the avatar which you consider to represent your primary personality/self. Often, but not always, this is the one that most closely resembles your “real-life” self. For example, the human avatar worn by my SL identity Ragitake Takakura (a female human) looks a lot like me in RL. This said, Ragitake is also a dragon in SL, and may appear as a dragon (while still reflecting my primary persona in speech, mannerisms, behavior, and actions).

Your species or gender identity may differ from your real-life appearance (i.e., some males prefer using female avatars, and vice versa, and some people prefer to present themselves as fantasy characters (dragons, elves, fae, etc.) or furries (foxes, wolves, cats, etc.) rather than as human. Choose whichever primary avatar most appeals to your sense of self.

Digital Identity Two

Select a second identity that is distinctly different from your first one. For example, if the first is female and human, either select a male avatar (or otherly gendered character) or non-human avatar for your second identity. If you recall from my article on Liminal Stages of Avatar Identity, my secondary research avatar was Vick Dragonash, a male (Martínez 2011). If you are working in WOW or other game, select a character with significantly different appearance and attributes from your first one.

Spend some time customizing your characters and familiarizing yourself with their environment (s).

Share your avatar identities in Module 1, Week 2.

Part II: As you move forward with the role play activity, examine:

  1. How you feel when embodying one avatar vs. the other.
  2. How each character interacts with others in the environment.
  3. If the differences change how people react and interact with you.
  4. Whether your communication style and mannerisms change when using the different identities.
  5. Whether your avatar is adapted to (fits in with) the norms of the community you are visiting.
  6. If using the different avatars gives you different digital footprints, or if they both contribute to the same digital footprint.
  7. Any other observations you may have regarding your role-play experience in relation to the course readings.

Write notes about your experiences and observations that will be added to your field notes on virtual community participant/observation (to be submitted in the final course module).

Creative Commons License
Digital Identity Role-Play Guidelines by Nicola Marae Allain, Ph. D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Virtual Community Participant Observation Guidelines

Virtual Community Participant Observation Guidelines


  1. Complete Human Subjects Research training.
  2. Research virtual communities using participant/observation methodologies.
  3. Take field notes. See activity guidelines for complete instructions.

The Research Methods Knowledge Base definition of Participant Observation:

One of the most common methods for qualitative data collection, participant observation is also one of the most demanding. It requires that the researcher become a participant in the culture or context being observed. The literature on participant observation discusses how to enter the context, the role of the researcher as a participant, the collection and storage of field notes, and the analysis of field data. Participant observation often requires months or years of intensive work because the researcher needs to become accepted as a natural part of the culture in order to assure that the observations are of the natural phenomenon.

From http://www.socialresearchmethods.net/kb/qualmeth.php


Boellstorff, T. et al. Ethnography and virtual worlds: A handbook of method. (2012). Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.

Pay particular attention to Chapter 5, “Participant Observation in Virtual Worlds.” Read closely.

Emerson, R. M., Fretz, R. I., & Shaw, L. L. (1995). Writing ethnographic fieldnotes. Chapter 1.

Keep in mind that this is written for on the ground physical observation rather than virtual – you’ll need to transfer the concepts to virtual environments and digital media. For example, you may want to type up your raw field notes while participating in virtual community observation.

Song, F. W. (2009). Virtual communities: Bowling alone, online together. New York, NY: Peter Lang.

Pay attention to how Song analyzed the communities she observed, and interpreted her data. Also, what theories informed her analysis and interpretation?

Part I: Learn about participant/observation methodologies, and select your approach.

Prepare yourself for the task. Take the Institutional Research Board sponsored CITI Training, as follows:
Human Subjects Research (HSR) Series, Social- Behavioral-Educational (SBE) Track, basic modules. http://www.esc.edu/irb/citi-online-training/

Part II: Select your community (or communities) to observe

Darnassus, an Alliance city, during a rainstorm. Image by Jana Allmand-Zeman.
Darnassus, an Alliance city, during a rainstorm. Image by Jana Allmand-Zeman.

For this activity, you’ll use your digital identities created for this course to participate in, and observe, the virtual community or virtual communities of your choice.

In Module 3, you’ll find detailed guidelines for creating characters and joining communities in World of Warcraft, Final Fantasy XIV A Realm Reborn, Star Wars the Old Republic, and Second Life. Read those before continuing with this activity. You are not required to use those communities for your research. If you’d like to select a different one, please discuss this with your instructor.

Share your virtual community selection in Module 2, Week 4.

Part III: Participant Observation

Please do not use any interview techniques to learn about the community you have chosen, although supplementary knowledge you have from prior experience may be included in your discussion if you are careful to distinguish between information acquired from your observation and prior knowledge. Please confirm your proposed community with me before you begin.

This assignment is weighted more to your analysis, your “read” of the situation. Demonstrate that you are acquiring the skills of “seeing” as an ethnographer. To be sure you gather enough data to generate significant opportunity for analysis, here are some things to keep in mind while taking your field notes:

  1. Describe the scene, paying attention all sensory If it seems useful, draw a map of the setting, indicating the position and movement of persons. Who is present? Who is absent?
  1. Look for the structure of the situation: are the participants differentiated from each other, as, e.g., leaders and followers, or those with more or less status? Is status differentiation or equality represented in dress, behavior, symbolic markers, differing prerogatives? How do people interact with each other?
  2. Are there any elements of ritual, either formal or informal, in what you observe? How do you interpret the meaning and effect of these ritualized behaviors?
  3. What appear to be the unspoken – or spoken — rules that underlie community participation and communication? Is there any mechanism for correcting a distortion or a mistake? Is there any formal authority? To what extent is it respected? Do people seem to follow the rules, explicit or tacit, or do they bend them?
  1. Is the event characterized more by order and agreement or conflict and disorder?
  1. Do all participants seem to be deriving the same benefits or satisfactions from participation? Do they have means of communicating positive or negative judgments about the situation?
  1. Are there stylized actions or modes of self-presentation that seem characteristic of this community? Do the participants seem aware of them? What purpose do they serve?
  2. What shared values or assumptions are reinforced (or contested) in this community?

Turn in:

  1. Your raw field notes as well as your post-hoc typed elaboration of your notes.
  2. A 1-2 page summary, descriptive write-up of the observation (scene-setting and highlights).
  3. An analysis and interpretation of the community (using the above questions as a guide) – 6-8 pages.
  4. A 1- 2 page self-critique — be sure to touch on both epistemological and ethical issues of research (g., to what extent did you ‘participate’ and to what extent did you ‘observe’? How did the two inform each other? Comment on the effect (hopefully minimal) of your presence and the degree to which you understood the community without having directly questioned the participants. What do you think you might have misunderstood or missed?).
Gridania player housing area, by Jana Allmand-Zeman.
Gridania player housing area, by Jana Allmand-Zeman.



Part III – Participant Observation is adapted from the Participant Observation Assignment in Heather Paxson. 21A.801J Cross-Cultural Investigations: Technology and Development, Fall 2012. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), http://ocw.mit.edu (Accessed 2 May, 2016). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Creative Commons License
Virtual Community Participant Observation Guidelines by Nicola Marae Allain, Ph. D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.