Character Consistency in Virtual Social Settings


An interesting mechanic in the video game ‘inFAMOUS Second Son’ (Sucker Punch Productions 2014) is the moral decision making of Delsin, the player-controlled protagonist. As has been noted in several gaming reviews (McShee 2014, Kollar 2014, Ingenito 2014), the morality system is quite polarized. There are only two endings; one good, one evil. The game rewards consistency in this binary approach: staying in the moral gray area by making alternating choices leaves the character less powerful.

As Nakamura (2008) notes, digital media have long held the promise of being able to be ‘anything you want’ in the virtual world. As cyber-culture progresses, one could argue that while you can indeed be anything you want on-line, you can’t be everything – and still be yourself. Online culture favors a consistent narrative, an singular identity with no internal discrepancies. Offline, identity can be diffuse and even hypocritical, with different aspects existing simultaneously in separate roles and contexts. Online, inconsistencies are often more easily connected by outside observers and come with social repercussions.

Klandermans (2007, quoted in Petray 2013) notes the distinction between personal and collective identity – one being a diffuse array of elements, the other based on a shared quality. Petray goes on to argue that relating back ‘mundane’ expressions on social media to an individuals involvement in a social movement strengthens that movement by showing the complexity of its members. One could however also argue that this same process weakens the individual and reduces them to a singular aspect of who they are. This goes hand in hand with the wish for ‘effectiveness’ – self-writing in the context of a social movement is valued on how it helps that movement, not on how it helps the individual.

Chun (2002) notes that we are not just observers – we are also part of what we observe, and are observed ourselves. Online observation is not passive. It classifies us as part of groups, ignoring diffuse aspects of what it means to be human. We easily adopt the Nirvana fallacy when judging others; to have value, a moral system must be perfectly adhered to. Our brains are predisposed towards construing a consistent narrative. But narratives do not contain people – they contain characters. And although we might find blatantly binary distinctions between good and evil old-fashioned, we still cling to consistent representations of character.

Chun, W.H.K. (2002) Othering space, in: Nicholas Mirzoeff (ed.), The Visual Culture Reader, New York: Routledge, pp. 243-254.
Ingenito, V. (retrieved 2014) Infamous: Second Son Review, IGN, Ziff Davis
Kollar, P. (retrieved 2014) Infamous: Second Son review: drain you, Polygon, Vox Media
Mc Shea, T. (retrieved 2014) inFAMOUS: Second Son Review, Gamespot, CBS Interactive
Nakamura, L. (2008) Cyberrace, in PMLA, 123.5, pp. 1673-1682
Petray, T.L. (2013) Self-writing a movement and contesting indigeneity: Being an Aboriginal activist on social media, in: Global Media Journal/ Australian Edition 7 (1)
Sucker Punch Productions (2014) inFAMOUS Second Son, Sony Computer Entertainment

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