Roleplaying in social software is not contained to just Friendster. I remember being quite humored to find that both Saddam and Dubya had LiveJournals during their tiff. This morning, i got a note from a fellow researcher, Anindita Basu, responding to my postings of Live Journal statistics:
oh, reminds me– i meant to respond to your post about lj stats. i’m not sure about this, but i don’t think they’re taking roleplayers into account in their stats, and they’re (or rather we’re) probably throwing numbers off. that’s what i’m looking at now, research-wise. blog-based roleplaying. communities appropriating online technologies to co-construct stories. there are a lot of young teenage girls who’ve set up blogs as harry potter characters, for instance, saying they were born on july 31, 1980 like harry potter and live in the UK. so male/female numbers are off as well as ages and locations. besides the whole harry potter community, there are a bunch of others, including buffy, lord of the rings and even pop icon based ones. i’m not sure how many are out there, if the numbers are significant enough to skew their stats out of their million users, but it’s something to take note of.
I have *no* idea how many roleplayers exist within the world of LJ, but i’d bet that it’s no small number. Yet, all too often, these subcultures go unnoticed by the larger tech world. This behavior is quite reminiscent of that vast community of fan fiction and slash fans. When i started working with Henry Jenkins, i was astonished to hear how many people produced fan fiction online. For those who don’t know what fan fiction/slash are, imagine watching a TV show (like Buffy) and then writing back stories about what is really happening behind the scenes. Using the characters from the show, people would produce thousands of subplots, stories of the characters when they were younger/older, etc. Slash is a particular subform of fan fiction where underlying homoerotic/sexual subplots are revealed. Before the net, people were using zines to write fan fiction. Now, fan fiction writers from all over the world are connected via the Internet.
Fan fiction is a fascinating form of participation in media consumption. The audience participates on a deeper level, engaging with the characters and building a community of like-minded folks who help each other with writing, personal struggles, etc. Not suprisingly, quite a lot of fan fiction is created by individuals trying to work out their own demons.
Of course, here’s where the lawyers have a field day (oh, Creative Commons…). The first issue is not surprising… Some have charged that this reappropriation of characters violates copyright/trademark. But, here’s a beaut…
Often, teens are using fan fiction to explore their sexuality. When 14-year olds write fiction about sex, is it child porn? Even worse, when 14-year olds write about imagined sexual encounters with teachers (i.e. in the context of Harry Potter), is it pedophelia? Henry is having a field day looking into these claims. But it certainly puts a nice twist into the process.