The Not So Level Playing Field: Disability Identity and Gender Representation in Second Life

The Not So Level Playing Field: Disability Identity and Gender Representation in Second Life

Abbe E. Forman (Temple University, USA), Paul M.A. Baker (Georgia Institute of Technology, USA), Jessica Pater (Georgia Institute of Technology, USA) and Kel Smith (Anikto LLC, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-759-3.ch009
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Abstract

The study reported in this chapter examined gender and disability identity representation in the virtual environment, Second Life. In Second Life, identity representation is the choice of the user and is a matter of convenience, style or whim, rather than a fixed characteristic. A survey of groups that identify as disabled or having a disability, especially focusing on gender, was conducted in Second Life. The distinct categories analyzed in this study included: groups associated with disability/being disabled, race/ethnicity, gender, aging, and sexuality. In the virtual world, the visual cues that exist in the “real world” are removed. However, in the “real world”, those visual cues serve to activate schemas that may help explain the stigmas and ensuing isolation often felt by people with disabilities. Interestingly, in Second Life even when the visual cues are removed, users with disabilities still associate with others who identify as having disabilities. The study specifically explored groups (i.e. “communities”) found in Second Life that jointly identify by gender and a disability identities. Regardless of binary gender framework, the differences between the groups that are externally classified as having some degree of disability, and those who choose to self identify or affiliate with disability related groups, have rich import for the sociology of online communities as well as for the design and characteristics of games.
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Identity, Disability, And Gender In Virtual Environments

“Cyberspace has been cast as a post gender, post-human world, where the ‘lived’ body or ‘meat’ is be [sic] left behind in the real social world. It has been suggested that there is an absence of a physical body in cyberspace, and instead, a disembodied free floating electronic/cyber self or cyber-persona manifests itself in netspace.” (Ward, 2001, p. 189).

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