Recently I spoke at a learning and teaching conference about digital citizenship and the importance of enabling students (and staff!) to make informed decisions regarding their online identities and increasing awareness of their digital footprint.
This got me thinking about how we construct an online identity as gamers and whether many people in the online gaming community consider their digital footprint. When participating in online games and communities usually people will choose a handle or name to play or post under, often using the same handle across different games and platforms. Through in-game interaction, and community contributions a person’s handle becomes part of their digital footprint, creating a lasting impression – for better or worse! In some cases the behaviour you express through your handle creates an impression not just of that individual but also of the ‘guild’ or other in-game group they are part of.
People who play MMO’s will often be aware of a few specific players who they may not have even met but whose reputation precedes them. This can create many preconceptions that in actuality may not be accurate – a friend of mine recently expressed surprise at how reasonable a fellow World of Warcraft player was after speaking to them on Ventrilo, after years of seeing their comments in the general chat in-game.
Whether it’s contributing to fan art, expressing opinions on a forum, chatting in game or even leaving reviews, the language and etiquette used will contribute to an identity being formed online. Increasingly those people who have grown up in a digitally connected world (the common term is digital native .. but that phrase opens up a whole other debate for me!) are creating a digital footprint that grows up with them, crossing the boundaries of social and private – and the many sub-sections within social and private.
The concept of a digital identity and responsible digital citizenship is something I feel needs to be promoted more, especially within education where we can provide students with tools to not only benefit their online academic portfolios but also their online social interactions. Alec Couros has summed this up nicely saying “digital citizenship is a renewed view of web participation”. Our identity as a gamer, as a scholar/academic or within a social media platform can all interlink to form a permanent digital identity.
Just as people need to be ‘streetwise’ in the physical world, so they need to be aware of the implications of being part of the ‘virtual global society’. You can argue that really we should not distinguish between the two when considering how we are presenting ourselves. Far from looking at this from a negative or scare mongering point of view, I believe we need to emphasise the many valuable interactions and collaborations that can be initiated by a positive digital identity.