I'm writing my dissertation on WoW, and my recent work has been on race in this game: both the ways the game's design depicts race, and the ways that players respond to that design. Right now I'm working on the latter, and I've noticed a funny trend in the way that WoW players talk about race: when they're talking about their own racial identities and bigotries, they tend to substitute in-game races for real-life races. Here are a couple of examples.
About a year ago, I witnessed the following conversation between two members of my guild:
Intrigued by these players' use (or misuse) of African American English, I asked them if they'd mind telling me where they were from and what race they were in RL. Mehet got cagey – he suspected that I was criticizing him – but after a long pause, he wrote, "I be a Troll in RL, mon."
The other night, in the trade chat channel, about thirty players got into a heated discussion about illegal immigration. At a couple of points in the conversation, they started naming their RL races/ethnicities: "I'm like 14 different kinds of white," "I'm frickin' German," etc. Then one of them claims, "I'm Draenei." Later, another one writes, "I'm racist, I hate any undead," to which someone else replied, "I hate undead too, such asswipes."
So the questions I pose to the group are: what do I make of these substitutions of in-game races for out-game races? Are there any theories that might explain them? Have any of you noticed similar practices in the games you're studying?