"Online, I didn't have a problem talking": the empowering role of virtual worlds

Stephanie Thompson

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


The allure of virtual worlds to adolescents is still somewhat of a mystery to adults. The ability to meet up with friends via a video game or the use of multiple social media accounts – one monitored by parents, another solely for friends to view (as observed by boyd, 2014) – are just some of the ways adolescents use virtual worlds to experiment with and develop their own subjectivities. Technology continues to be perceived by adults as disconnecting adolescents from the real world, yet technology provides adolescents with access to multiple (virtual) worlds, all of which have the potential to inform their real world existence. It is the voice discovered in the virtual world that empowers the individual in the real world. In contemporary dystopian fiction for young adults, virtual worlds function as what Foucault identified as ‘heterotopic spaces’ (1986). In dystopian narratives depicting virtual worlds, an individual may enter such a space to challenge the hierarchies that have constrained them in the real world. Virtual worlds are represented as offering intangible spaces for the developing subject to engage in identity-experimentation that informs their identity-formation. The representation of such spaces in Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One reflects the different trends and tensions in contemporary young adult dystopian fiction. The tension between the positive possibilities of technology and the fear of the impact technology is having on the way in which we connect with one another is represented in the novel. Technology and its development of virtual spaces enables the developing subject to engage in identity-formation in ways that physical spaces in the ‘real’ world do not. In Ready Player One, Wade’s experiences in the virtual world are integral to his maturation and identity-formation. It is in the virtual world that the developing subject may wear an identity – or several identities – which enables the interrogation and development of a real-world subjectivity. Drawing on Foucault’s concept of heterotopic spaces, I posit that, for some adolescents, there is little difference between offline and online life; rather, virtual worlds function to empower the developing subject and encourage the construction of a posthuman subjectivity. Virtual worlds give adolescents a voice, and a space to use that voice, which ultimately echoes in the real world.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2019
EventInternational Research Society for Children's Literature - Stockholm, Sweden
Duration: 14 Aug 201918 Aug 2019


ConferenceInternational Research Society for Children's Literature
Internet address


Dive into the research topics of '"Online, I didn't have a problem talking": the empowering role of virtual worlds'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this