It's knot what you would expect:

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It's knot what you would

expect:

H O W O M E G A V E R S E R O L E - P L A Y E R S E N G A G E W I T H N O R M A T I V E I D E A S O F G E N D E R A N D S E X U A L I T Y

Cyrilein Evertsen (11019956) Master’s Thesis

Research Master Social Sciences Graduate School of Social Sciences University of Amsterdam

Supervisor: Dr. Prof. O.J.M. (Olav) Velthuis 2nd reader: Dr. O.K. (Olga) Sooudi

June 18, 2021 Amsterdam, the Netherlands Word count: 25.643

(excluding appendix & references)

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1 I thank all the thoughtful, reflective, fun, and generous role-players that

were willing to take hours out of their day and trusted me enough to open up to me about their experiences. As cliché as it may sound, I could not have done this project without you. Thank you for the fun, enlightening, and maybe sometimes awkward conversations. It was a pleasure meeting

each and every one of you.

Now, as much as I loved this research project, the lessons I have learned throughout, and especially the people I have met along the way, I celebrate the fact that I will be able to role-play solely for my own

pleasure again without having to question my every move.

Important: I added trigger warnings (TW) for every chapter that list the sensitive themes that will be discussed. This allows readers to decide which parts to read or to skip, as role-players do in online role-plays as

well.

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2

Summary

In this research project, I explore Omegaverse role-players’ engagement with normative ideas, or structures, of gender and sexuality in their role-playing. Omegaverse is a genre of fan fiction, stories written by fans of existing content, that introduces three gendered categories:

Alphas, Betas, and Omegas. All three categories have distinct physical features and social positions within society that are related to their biological nature. Many role-players felt shame and embarrassment talking about their role-playing, which had three main sources: a stigma on fandom; normative ideas on sexuality and sexual practices; and a feared association with

‘bad’ sexual practices and interests such as bestiality. On top of that, many Omegaverse stories feature elements of gender essentialism, biological determinism, heteronormativity, and rape culture, many of which societal structures role-players disagreed with in real life.

I set out to understand how role-players with progressive worldviews were engaging with structures of gender and sexuality in Omegaverse role-plays, despite their disagreement with certain elements of the trope, and the feelings of shame they experienced. This research also sheds light on more general questions of shame and the complexity of consistency in one’s beliefs and practices. I combined two main methods of data collection: 30 in-depth interviews, and an auto-ethnography consisting of participation in role-plays and discussions of these with other role-players, informal conversations through voice and chat channels, and the keeping of an auto-ethnographic journal.

I argue that role-players were able to use personal experiences with and knowledge of real life societal structures in their role-playing to their advantage. Role-players enjoyed Omegaverse role-play because it was a form of play that is separate from real life and has its own set of rules that they could control. Participants also liked Omegaverse role-play because it generated pleasure, mainly sexual pleasure, and they could engage and explore their sexuality safely. For trans men and non-binary people, Omegaverse became a source of gender contemplation, exploration, and representation, which was something they could not find anywhere else. Lastly, many role-players used Omegaverse role-play as a form of therapy, to overcome past experiences and process their emotions. Here, they could also fantasize about relationships and futures without their own insecurities holding them back.

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Index

Introduction ... 4

Positionality: navigating being both a role-player and a researcher ... 7

Omegaverse and role-play: the trope, the practice and the platforms ... 11

The Omegaverse: Alphas, Betas, and Omegas... 11

Defining role-play ... 14

Platform: Omegle ... 16

Platform: Discord ... 19

Methodology ... 23

Shame & Omegaverse: role-players’ experience of embarrassment ... 30

Let’s (not) talk about sex ... 31

Fans hiding in the dark ... 33

As long as it’s not animal porn ... 34

Omegaverse Controversies: real world ideas in a fictional universe ... 38

Gender: Essentialism, biological determinism and gendered scripts ... 38

Heteronormativity: Alphas and Omegas are meant to be together ... 44

Rape Culture: consent in an inherently unequal relationship ... 46

Role-playing Omegaverse: why do we do it? ... 51

Play: your world, your rules ... 51

Pleasure: fun and sexual pleasure ... 54

Gender structure: contemplation, exploration and representation... 57

Therapy: free, safe, and online ... 60

Conclusion ... 66

Bibliography ... 71

Glossary ... 78

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4

Introduction

TW: mentions of sexism, rape culture, dubious consent, controlling and possessive behavior; inequality; shame

“In Omegaverse, I really like when it's very extreme, over the top. Alphas who are very protective of their Omega. But in real life I'm like, no, I'm an independent woman, I don't want someone breathing over my shoulder every time I do something.”

- Caroline, 30, she/her

“I like the possessiveness and the ownership there. Because it just shows that the characters are meant to be together and no one else should try to interfere. So I guess that's why I like it. And I don't know, I just really like it. The thought... The characters saying 'you are mine', I'm like: yes. In real life, if a man would say that to me, I would be like: fuck you.”

- Abigail, 27, she/her Caroline and Abigail have been friends for years and had spent almost as many years role- playing stories together. This ‘role-playing’ means that the two write stories together online.

They are each in charge of a character and send written replies back and forth. Abigail had recently introduced Caroline to Omegaverse, a genre of fan works, where three new gendered roles (Alphas, Betas and Omegas) are combined with existing sexes such as male, female or intersex. Both Abigail and Caroline spoke to me about their favorite elements of Omegaverse such as very possessive and protective Alphas. However, as Abigail put it, in her real life, she would tell someone to “fuck off” if they dared to do to her what she was writing in her role- plays. Both women were outspoken feminists and very vocal about gap between their progressive ideals and the Omegaverse stories they liked to write. This apparent contradiction between online values and offline practices has become the central topic of this research.

The Alpha, Beta and Omega roles that Carolina and Abigail briefly mention, are central to all Omegaverse stories and they have clearly defined biological traits and roles in society. In short, Alphas are dominant, Omegas are submissive and Betas are neutral. Stories focus on the dynamics between the three roles and often include inherent unequal relationships, lack of or dubious consent, sexism, and strong biologically deterministic behavior (Stasi, 2013). At the beginning stages of this research project, I was guided by my curiosity towards my own engagement with Omegaverse as someone who is a feminist and activist, both online and

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5 offline. Much like Caroline and Abigail, I felt an uncomfortable contradiction between my online preferences and writing, and my offline worldviews. This often brought in feelings of shame, too, making me hide my practices. Until now. I set out to understand the apparent gap between role-players’ progressive values and ideas of gender and relationships, and their online practices and preferences within the Omegaverse. The research question guiding this process was how do role-players engage with dominant structures of gender and sexuality in Omegaverse role-plays?

There are currently more than 91,000 Omegaverse stories published on fan fiction website Archive of Our own (Organization for Transformative Works, n.d.-b), and there are over 200 public Omegaverse servers on the communication platform Discord (Disboard, n.d.).

However, the chances of knowing what Omegaverse is, without being part of the community that engages with it, is minimal at best. In this project, I offer a glimpse into the hidden online world of Omegaverse fan practices and communities that many might not even know exist.

Besides a look into the online world and practices of Omegaverse role-players, this research explores two more common human experiences: one the one hand feelings of shame, and on the other hand the complexity of consistency in one’s beliefs and behaviors. I explore how role- players experience and understand their feelings of shame as they engage in practices that, on the surface, go against their progressive beliefs regarding gender and sexuality. This opened up a second question: how can I, as a progressive feminist, enjoy things that go against my moral beliefs? This project sheds light on these larger questions and details how to understand Omegaverse role-players’ supposed inconsistencies.

To be able to answer the posed research question and offer insights into these (a)typical facets of being human, I felt it would be best to speak to those who engage with Omegaverse.

Fan texts have often been the main sources of data collection and analysis among fan scholars (Cristofari & Guitton, 2017). There are three published academic works on Omegaverse, which are based on textual analyses of fan texts, with unspecified auto-ethnographic elements included as authors are often fans themselves as well (Arnaiz, 2018; Busse, 2013; Popova, 2018).

However, a textual analysis would not offer me the opportunity to better understand role- players’ experiences, and to understand how and for what purposes they were using Omegaverse. I combined two main methods of data collection: in-depth interviews, and an auto- ethnography consisting of participation in role-plays and discussions of these with other role- players, informal conversations through voice and chat channels, and the keeping of an auto- ethnographic journal.

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6 To analyze my data, I used theories from three different academic fields. I used works within fan studies to help define role-playing as a fan practice and Omegaverse as a product of such fan practices. Later, works on fandom help understand role-players feelings of shame and embarrassment in regards to their role-playing. I refer to works rooted in gender and sexuality theory to show that role-players’ embarrassment is rooted in a transgression of norms on sexuality, and later to argue that the controversial, or non-progressive, elements of Omegaverse are based on normative structures of gender and sexuality, such as heteronormativity and rape culture. A last theoretical influence is the notion of play as conceptualized by Huizinga (1949) which I use to begin to solve the puzzling contradictions of these role-players’ engagement with Omegaverse.

Following this introduction, I will begin by reflecting on my position as a researcher and role-player. As my dual and insider status informs many aspects of this research project, it is necessary to start by describing how I navigated this position and how it influenced my work.

I then move on to describing Omegaverse and the practice of role-playing and introduce Discord and Omegle, two online platforms role-players use to role-play Omegaverse stories. I then go into detail about the methods I have used and reflect on the ethical considerations that have guided the decisions I have made to ensure participants’, and my own, safety and privacy. The main body of this research is divided into three chapters. The first chapter explores role-players’

experiences and sources of shame and embarrassment in regards to their Omegaverse role- playing. In the second chapter, I shift my focus to the Omegaverse itself. Here, I argue that the controversial elements of Omegaverse are another source of shame and discomfort, and these controversial elements are inspired by structures role-players experience in their real lives, namely normative ideas on gender, heteronormativity and rape culture. Here the contradiction between role-players progressive values and their online preferences are most visible. In the final chapter, I detail what Omegaverse role-players do with the Omegaverse despite feeling shame and moral contradictions. Role-players enjoy Omegaverse role-plays because it is a form of play they are in control of; because their role-plays generate (sexual) pleasure; because they relate to the gender structures presented in Omegaverse; and finally, because they are able to use Omegaverse in a therapeutic manner. In the conclusion, I answer the research question, reflect on the research process and its limitations, and offer ideas for future research.

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7

Positionality: navigating being both a role- player and a researcher

TW: no trigger warnings apply

As someone who has been involved in fandom-related practices such as role-playing and writing fan fiction ever since my teenage years, it should be no secret that I am part of the community I have conducted research in. I started role-playing ten years ago, when I was about 14 years old, and have not really stopped since. I mostly write stories about existing characters from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. In this chapter, I briefly describe the nature of my position and the consequences of combining the two roles.

On being an aca-fan

Suffice to say, I have far more experience being a fan and role-player than I have being an academic. By being both, I would consider myself an aca-fan (Cristofari & Guitton, 2017). As I have mentioned before, the reason I decided to explore Omegaverse had everything to do with my own curiosity regarding my own role-playing. I remember countless of conversations with online friends that wondered how anyone could enjoy writing Omegaverse, as the genre is filled with content they found morally questionable. I found it difficult to answer their questions, and used that curiosity to guide this project.

While the position of an aca-fan can be seen as a continuum of fan to academic where different positions on this continuum relate to different experiences (Cristofari & Guitton, 2017), I found that despite fan academics arguing against their position being a binary one, I often experienced it as being so. Especially in the beginning stages of my project. In some situations I felt like a fan, and in others, I was just a researcher again. While sometimes these overlapped, this was often something I had to remind myself of. The position of a fellow fan and role-player led to some difficulties where my role as a researcher was momentarily suspended. For example, I would catch myself reacting from the perspective of a fan and emphasizing my own experiences instead of asking participants about theirs. Other times my opinion of a participant’s experience was informed by assumptions based on personal role-play experiences. A painful example of this was during my conversation with Morgan. Morgan told me about her role-play where she plays an OC (original character), based on herself, with her role-play partner writing two canon (pre-existing) characters for her to play with. I reacted as a

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8 role-player who had experienced role-plays like that before. To me, those role-plays felt as if I was writing solely for someone else’s fantasies and desires. Of course, most role-plays are self- indulgent, but I always felt this should go both ways. So when Morgan told me about her role- play, my initial response was based on my own experiences as a role-player and I was admittedly judgmental. I asked myself why her role-play partner would want to write a story that so obviously solely catered to her desires and fantasies. I am glad I did not voice those initial assumptions because I would have been both rude and unprofessional. I also turned out to be wrong when I spoke to her role-playing partner, who did enjoy the role-play a lot. In that moment with Morgan, I risked losing valuable insights and data, as I had forgotten about my role as a researcher and was reacting solely from the point of view of an insider.

Wearing different hats

What eventually helped to overcome this problem was to imagine my dual positions as hats that could be taken on and off. While it was not that simple in reality, the image of hats helped make my two distinct roles more tangible. Sometimes it was necessary for me to take the role-player- hat off for a moment, and to remind myself I was there as a researcher, too. At other moments, I told participants I would put on my fellow-fan hat and we sidetracked a little to discuss a movie or our favorite piece of fan fiction. Most role-players never spoke to outsiders about their online practices and by opening up about my own experiences I was able to show participants I was part of the community. This was good for rapport. Later I was able to tell participants I put my researcher hat back on and we could focus more on their story again. The interview with Morgan highlighted the tensions having this dual position, but it also forced me to take a step back and find a method to deal with these issues. These moments of tension and disagreement later became a valuable source of data and forced me to reflect the consequences of my position, such as being biased. Once I had figured out the use of the two hats, my position began feeling a little more fluid again, much as Cristofari & Guitton (2017) suggested. Researcher and role- player were able to alternate more fluidly and easily. While in some interactions, like interviews, the researcher hat would be worn most, in others, like during introductions or informal chatting sessions, the role-player hat came out more often.

The conversation with Morgan emphasized that I am not a neutral observer. My personal experience and knowledge of (Omegaverse) role-playing inform every aspect of this research, from critically comparing articles to my own experience as a role-player, to tapping into the knowledge I have gained throughout years of being a role-player to define key terms. I have likes, dislikes and opinions on Omegaverse role-play just as much as any other role-player has.

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9 Because I wanted to include my own experiences as a role-player as a source of data, and to keep my process of navigating my insider position a continual element of my research, I decided to use the method of autoethnography, which I will get into further in the method sections.

My own role-playing: change and vulnerability

I had considered my dual position as an opportunity to tap into my already existing network and to establish rapport, and, more negatively, as a source of possible bias. But I had not considered how it might change my own role-playing habits. Before this project, role-playing used to be a hobby of mine, a way to relax and have fun. During this project, however, when I would sit down to role-play for fun, I felt I had to collect data, and when I role-played to collect data I did not enjoy it anymore. Whereas role-playing used to be a way to have fun, it was now a task I had to complete. I quit role-playing for a couple of months and am only really getting into it again now that I am done. Another issue I had not thought of beforehand was my own anonymity. For years, I had carefully kept my online and offline identities separate, and keeping these private had allowed me to feel free and safe exploring big themes relating to identity, relationships and sexuality when I was younger. Now, I was suddenly faced with the decision to either create a new account as a researcher, or to use my personal role-playing account and reveal my identity. Many methodological decisions were complicated by my position as fan and researcher, but as this issue related so deeply to my own position, identity and even my beliefs, I wanted to discuss it here. I discuss other methodological choices in the methods chapter.

I eventually chose to go with the second option of revealing my identity for two reasons.

By using my role-play Discord account, I was able to tap into an already existing network of past role-play partners and online friends, with whom I had already established rapport. Besides gaining access more easily, this decision is in line with my belief in feminist research methods (Oakley, 1981). To ensure an equal relationship between my participants and myself, it was necessary for me to do more than use participants for information. This included opening up about my identity, my own experiences and an emphasis on creating an open, safe space where rapport played a central role instead of being a tool to collect more data (Oakley, 1981) Although I felt vulnerable and sometimes a little uncomfortable revealing my real name and identity, it felt right as I asked participants to do the same. The participants of this research are the only people who know my ‘real’ name as well as my online identity, and when they trust me to protect their identity, I believe they will do the same for me.

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10 However, I had not expected that revealing my identity to participants would also significantly alter my anonymity. Although my participants know my real name and online alias, I still keep these separate. During the final stages of my research, I went to role-play on anonymous website Omegle that matches two people on shared interests. It only tells you that you have an interest and language in common. I connected with a stranger on shared interest

‘Omegaverse’ who, after a moment, typed “is this cyrilein” in the chat. I remember staring at the screen for a solid ten seconds, feeling horrified. I felt like a deer caught in headlights, caught and seen. Until that moment, I had believed I was completely anonymous online. I was a stranger behind a screen, anonymous and safe. The other ‘anonymous’ stranger revealed themselves as Aiden, a participant. Aiden claimed they had been making a wild guess when they asked if it was me, since there are more Dutch Omegaverse role-players around. Ever since that moment, when someone used my real name in a space I thought I could be someone else or no one at all, I am far more aware of the ability of others to recognize me where I used to trust being an anonymous user. The need for anonymity is connected to the feelings of embarrassment I feel regarding role-playing and Omegaverse, which is the topic of the first empirical chapter.

Conclusion

Navigating a dual position is complex, but figuring out how it influences my research is both valuable as well as necessary. I influence my research and, somewhat unexpectedly, the research has also influenced and changed me, and the way I role-play and understand my practices. In the next chapter, I properly introduce the central concepts of this project:

Omegaverse and role-playing. Because these descriptions are very clearly based on my own knowledge as a role-player, it was important to me to clearly reveal the extent of my involvement beforehand, which I have done in this chapter.

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Omegaverse and role-play: the trope, the practice and the platforms

TW: rape, dubious consent, sexism

There are many specific terms role-players use, and even more when they role-play Omegaverse. Because it might be a lot to take in, I have added a glossary where readers can look up the role-play and Omegaverse terms mentioned in his research. In this chapter, I will introduce the narrative trope1 or genre that is Omegaverse, define role-playing and then describe the two main online platforms role-players play on: Omegle and Discord. While the glossary can be used as a source of extra information, in this chapter I introduce the reader to the concepts needed to follow the argument of this project.

The Omegaverse: Alphas, Betas, and Omegas

Omegaverse is often referred to as Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics or A/B/O. It is a trope, or recurring plot device that originated in fan fiction (works written by fans of existing content).

As to the origin of the trope, fans provide, compile, and distribute this information themselves.2 The main belief is that Omegaverse originated within the fandom (community of fans) of TV show Supernatural (Busse. 2013; Organization for Transformative Works, n.d.-a).

Omegaverse is built on earlier existing tropes and is constantly being reworked and rewritten by fans. Unique to fan fiction works is that they are not just in dialogue with canon (the original material the story is about), but they are also in dialogue with other fan texts (Popova, 2018; Stasi, 2006). Stasi (2006) refers to this phenomenon as intertextuality in the second degree (2006, p.126). Referring to both Kustritz (2003) and Derecho (2006), Popova (2018) argues that fans are able to do meaning-making through the rewriting of characters,

1 A term for common storytelling or plot devices. This is a term you can read more of in the Glossary

2 For years, fans have provided information and meta-analyses of their interests in blogposts, video essays and messages online. Among other tropes, fandom events and experiences, Omegaverse history has been traced back by members of Fanlore. Fanlore is a fan-run wiki page that allow fans to be a part of the preservation of the history of transformative works, a history they are part of. The existence of these meta sources from fans themselves helps write about topics that might not yet have received a lot of academic attention, such as Omegaverse. Fanlore is part of the Organization of Transformative Works (OTW), a non-profit organization that also runs popular fan fiction website Archive of our Own (AO3) and the peer-reviewed academic journal Transformative Works and Cultures. Because Fanlore emphasizes fan participation and a multitude of experiences, pages are constantly peer reviewed, compared to other primary fan sources. I therefor believe it can be used as a reliably source in this section of my research project.

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12 tropes and stories in a constant dialogue of comparison to original source material and other fans’ interpretations. Story elements that are used in Omegaverse already existed in other tropes, such as mpreg (male pregnancies), distinct social hierarchies, knotting, soul bonds and soul mates, especially in the Supernatural fandom (Busse, 2013; Organization for Transformative Works, n.d.-a; Popova, 2019). This constant conversation with original media products and fan works means that while Omegaverse might look like this now, it might be different in the future. It is not static, nor are there very strict rules how Omegaverse ought to be.

While Omegaverse might change in the future and all my participants explained A/B/O in their own terms and emphasized different aspects of the genre, there are a few central elements and tropes that belong under the umbrella of ‘Omegaverse’. Central to Omegaverse is the introduction of three categories of humans: Alphas, Betas, and Omegas. Alphas, Betas and Omegas have distinct roles, behaviors and bodies, and their interpersonal dynamics are based on imaginaries of wolf packs. The idea is that Alphas are the leaders of the pack and Omegas their submissive and lowest ranking wolves, often meant for breeding. The characteristics and relationship dynamics described in Omegaverse are not actually found in actual wolves (Mech, 1990). It is important to note that characters in the Omegaverse are human. Some writers will feature actual wolves in their stories, this is uncommon. Most often, Alphas, Omegas, and Betas are mostly regular humans with added animalistic characteristics. Characters in the Omegaverse are both male or female (other options are not often explored) and an Alpha, Beta or Omega.

This means there are six possible combinations, such as a male beta or a female alpha.

Alphas

In most Omegaverse stories, Alphas, whether they are female or male, can impregnate Omegas.

Alphas are often dominant, more aggressive, imposing, physically stronger and bigger than Omegas. They are the dominant actor in most interactions. When an Omegaverse story features pack dynamics, a form of kinship based on interpretations of wolf packs, Alphas will be the leader of the pack. All Alphas have penises similar to those of wolves and dogs, referred to in Omegaverse as knots. The base of an Alpha’s penis enlarges after an orgasm, locking the Alpha inside of the Omega, something that happens in canines and enhances chances of impregnation.

Sometimes female Alphas have both a penis and a vagina, but often they only have the Alpha characteristics in regards to their bodies. In these universes only a small percentage of characters are Alphas, role-players often mentioned this was about 20%, and they are often an elite minority within society. They are in positions of power, whether that is in politics, the labor market or, on a micro level, in intimate relationships.

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13 Betas

Betas are often seen as the neutral dynamic of Omegaverse. They are the normal people, the baseline, and often do not have any of the non-human characteristics Alphas and Omegas have.

Many role-players will write stories where 70% of all characters are Betas. They are described as not driven by biological urges like Alphas and Omegas are. Betas are often levelheaded and sometimes take on mediating roles. In reality, most role-players I spoke to rarely wrote because they deemed them uninteresting.

Omegas

Omegas are often defined in relation to Alphas. They are described as being more sensitive, vulnerable, soft, docile, physically smaller, weaker and they often occupy lower positions in society. Omegas are often seen as the rarest type of the three, usually making up around 10%

of the population. All Omegas, whether they are male or female, can get pregnant. In and outside of sexual encounters, Omegas are often described as being submissive. Omegas and Alphas both go through mating cycles. Omegas go through heat, where they are extra fertile, while Alphas got into rut. Scent and smell are important in the Omegaverse and Alphas and Omegas all have unique scent. During their heat, Omegas often give off pheromones that are picked up on by others, both Alphas and Betas. In comparison to Betas, Alphas react strongly to Omegas’ pheromones and it triggers a biological imperative to mate. Scent can be used as a mood indicator, to measure compatibility and attraction, and to influence the mood of a character’s partner. Often Alphas and Omegas have scent glands around the groin, wrists, and neck where their scent is strongest. To signal the meaning of scent in role-plays, role-players will often either explicitly state that their character’s scent signals their mood. They might use a specific scent for their character, for example a flower. They could then describe their character smelling like a wilted flower when unhappy, or a blooming flower when happy and comfortable.

Omegas are able to get pregnant and always have some kind of opening akin to a vaginal opening. Female Omegas are usually described as having a vulva and vagina, but there are many different notions of what an Omega male has. Some describe male Omegas having vaginas, others use their asshole or anus instead. The mechanics are not often described in great detail. Male Omegas in heat, when aroused, produce ‘slick’ from their ass. Slick is a wet lube- like substance similar to vaginal arousal. Heats and ruts are biological imperatives that make both Omegas and Alphas want to mate. An Omega in heat will often suffer from cramps, pain, and other uncomfortable sensations. Often this discomfort can only be solved by an Alpha’s knot. During mating, an Alpha might bite the Omega’s neck. The Omega then has a mating bite

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14 or mark that indicates the Omega’s taken status by the bite’s alteration of the Omega’s pheromones or simply by the mark being a visible scar. This can also be referred to as a bond or bonding, which can be understood as a sort of corporal union or marriage. The bond changes the pairs’ scent and often connects the two on a deeper emotional or ‘soul’ level. It is often described as physically painful to be apart from one’s mate for too long once bonded, especially for the Omega. Though less common, in some cases, role-players describe intense mental connections such as soul bounds and telepathy. Omegas are often dependent on Alphas to get them through their heats, for protection or simply to survive in a society where they are in the lowest positions.

Most published Omegaverse stories feature two men, or male/male relationships. 3On fanfiction website Archive of Our Own, out of all Omegaverse works, about 84% is tagged as

‘m/m’4. While this is not unique about Omegaverse, and about half of all published fan works on AO3 are tagged ‘m/m’, the percentage of m/m stories in A/B/O is significantly higher than in general fandom.

While I will go into this in depth in the chapters on Shame and Controversies surrounding the Omegaverse, many role-players describe Alphas being based on masculine scripts and Omegas on the position of women. In line with real life structures, many stories feature elements of inequality, such as Omega’s dependency to Alphas and Alphas’ positions of power. Everyone writes their Omegaverse differently, and my participants and I often found ourselves trying out new elements, letting go of one and including another in different role- plays. Despite these differences, Omegaverse stories always feature Alphas, Betas, and Omegas, and an understanding of how these three dynamics relate to each other.

Defining role-play

After defining Omegaverse, now it is time to see what people do with the trope, how they do it, and where it is done. Most of the people I spoke to role-played on Omegle and/or Discord, but many had experience role-playing in other online spaces and used multiple platforms at the same time. Role-players write on Omegle, Discord, in chatrooms, on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and on a range of internet forums.

3 This is a popular topic of research among fan scholars. Fans, often times women, do this to escape the male gaze aimed at women’s bodies, to play with characters on more equal footing and to imagine ideal men. Men are also overrepresented in popular media, giving fans more male characters to play with. To read more as to why m/m relationships are more popular, I suggest reading Kwon (2019), Neville (2015) and Somogi (2003).

4 You can find these numbers by searching for ‘Alpha/Beta/Omega Dynamics’ and checking the ‘m/m’ box on https://archiveofourown.org/works/search

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15 From a fandom perspective, there are many different ways to conceptualize and define role-playing5, but the role-playing I refer to is an online practice of interactive, collaborative writing with turn-taking between two or more people, who take on existing characters and use existing worlds to textually play with this canon, changing elements or building onto them (Barnes, 2015; Black, 2009; Jeewa & Wade, 2015; McClellan, 2013; Thomas, 2006; Wood &

Baughman, 2012). Because of the collaboration and interaction, role-playing is an inherently communal activity, for without other role-players, one is unable to role-play (McClellan, 2013).

Role-players use media products and artifacts from these sources in their role-plays (Jeewa &

Wade, 2015), and usually attempt to write characters like they are represented in canon (Osborne, 2012). Many role-players I spoke to wrote canon characters. Role-playing can be understood as performance of an existing character, and when a role-player does this well, they are writing in character (Jeewa & Wade, 2015; Osborne, 2012) For example, to write Iron Man, a role-player needs to know enough about him to convince the other of the fact that they are writing him, and not someone else. This often requires having interacted with the original source content, but often includes fandom interpretations of characters as well. By writing a character out of character, or ooc, role-players risk the other player leaving. However, some role-players I spoke to did not write canon characters. Instead, they wrote OCs, or, original characters. Original characters are characters people come up with themselves. Some wrote their OC in a canon universe, but others role-played original characters in original settings.

In its core, role-playing comes down to an interactive form of writing where each person takes control of a character and players create a story together based on a shared premise, or prompt. A prompt is often called a starter as it starts role-players off. A prompt gives direction to a story through its description of context and characters. While the content of the prompt can be negotiated before the role-play starts, once it starts, it is not supposed to be questioned or challenged. It is seen as bad role-playing to suddenly change the shared premise or controlling the other role-players’ character.

5 Fan scholars use different terms such as: narrative role-play game (Osborne, 2012; McClellan, 2013); Role- Playing Games (Barnes, 2015; Thomas, 2006); collaborative writing (Thomas, 2006); fan role-play (Jeewa &

Wade, 2015; Wood & Baughman, 2012); role-play (Wood & Baughman, 2012,) and role-play writing (Black, 2009). Some argue that these fan role-plays cannot be understood solely in terms of games or narrative (Stein &

Busse, 2009), while others argue that because of its inherent world-building aspects, it can and should be conceptualized as an RPG (McClellan, 2013).

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16 Learning about ‘proper’ role-playing etiquette requires a lot of experience as there are many unwritten, informal rules that help keep the role-playing enjoyable, such as not controlling the other’s character; writing characters right or ‘in character’; writing out of character speech ((like this)); using trigger warnings (TW) for sensitive content; allowing all players to develop their characters; using somewhat proper grammar, style, punctuation and syntax, and finally, remembering that role-playing is a collaborative act in which an equal amount of effort and reciprocity is required. The role-players I spoke to mostly role-played on Discord and Omegle, which I describe next.

Platform: Omegle

Omegle is a free, online, anonymous chat site that connects two users in temporary one-on-one chats based on a list of shared interests, which is relevant for role-players’ use of Omegle.

When opening omegle.com, role-players are met with the following screen (see figure 1). It shows them how many people are currently online (A.); a banner put up in support of the 2019 Hong Kong riots (B.); a quick introduction of Omegle itself (C.); a box to add topics they would like to talk about (for example: Omegaverse or ABOresearch) (D.); an option to find strangers that speak a specific language (E.); which type of conversation they are interested in:

text-based one-on-one or video (F.). Role-players solely use the text button.

Figure 1 Screenshot of Omegle homepage

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17 Omegle does not provide an option to register or create an account, nor is it possible to track, follow or befriend another user. Instead, the connections work through interests, or, tags.

When role-players are interested in canon role-play, they add the name of their favorite character pairing. This is a ship name and is a term coined by fans to refer to a specific relationship. For example, role-players interested in writing Batman and Superman together will use the tag ‘Superbat’ to find each other on Omegle. Most role-players focus on writing romantic and/or sexual relationships. Role-players who write original characters often find each other in more general tags such as Omegaverse, writing, and role-play.

Once a match has been made, only the role-players’ common interests are listed, which makes the website mostly anonymous. Sometimes a role-player might recognize someone they have role-played with before because of a specific combination of tags, or a prompt that they had seen before. But even then, the stranger could be anyone (although my online run in with Aiden somewhat complicated this for me). Once a connection is made, a role-player will send a prompt. The person writing and sending the prompt is in charge of who and what they want to write. In theory, someone can send as many messages and prompts as they like, but often the norm is to send one and wait for the other person to decide whether they want to participate or not. Once one role-player has sent a prompt, the second role-player has two main options: they either leave or reply and hope the other role-player liked their writing. If the players choose to disconnect later, there is the option to save the log of a role-play, which works like a transcript.

This is used to continue role-plays in other online spaces such as Discord. It is a screenshot of the conversation and offers no extra information of either role-player. While they can save this screenshot or the link, unless role-players store this somewhere, Omegle will not save it for them or connect it to a username or profile, nor will others be able to have access to it without having the link. As with any screenshot, it can, of course, be shared by those who have it.

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18 Figure 2 is an example of what receiving a prompt might look like. Besides context information and an introduction of the characters, a prompt offers information on the format of the role-play: texts or paragraphs. This is a text based role-play, and replies are often formatted like text messages and might include emojis such as ‘:)’.

When a role-player is typing, the other person will see ‘Stranger is typing…” just above the box meant for them to write their reply in. These text-based role-plays are usually quick-paced and feature two writers firing short texts messages to each other as their characters. When role- players step away from the role-play, many role-players decide to send a quick ((brb!)) to communicate they will be right back to continue the role-play. The conversation between brackets signals the message is out of character and not meant as being part of the role-play.

The second format is that of paragraphs, which is most similar to how books and fan fiction stories are written, though here the stories are not written alone.

Stranger: After Y had practically jumped onto their feet and ran out of the team meeting, Character X had excused herself and followed them. The signs of a heat were clearly there, and X felt stupid for only now realizing that Y’s heat had been the explanation for the sudden sweetness of the Omega’s scent when they chatted that morning. Had Y really not realized? No one else had seemed to be able to smell it, but X did. The Alpha knocked on the door and cleared her throat, “Hey, do you need me to get you anything?” When there was no answer, she knocked again. “You kinda just ran off.”

Figure 2 Screenshot of Omegle: receiving a prompt and replying

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19 These narrative paragraphs are often third-person narratives that include information about a character and their actions, thoughts, emotions and surroundings. Paragraphs can be short with one line of text, or long paragraphs that might take up an entire page. Most role-plays on Omegle are in English and many fans and role-players improve their writing and language skills through their fan practices. However, many role-players expected the other to write well, which meant writing in character and included English grammar. If they did not like a partner’s reply, they would end the role-play, which can be done with only two clicks.

Platform: Discord

When the role-play is not terminated early on, Omegle role-players might at one point wish to continue. Many role-players move their role-play to a separate role-play email account, or, more often these days than in years prior, role-players move to Discord. All the role-players I spoke to were active on Discord.

Discord is a communication program where people create an account with an alias and can communicate through texts, voice or video calls. Once a role-player has created an account, they can add other users, referred to as friends, to talk to, or role-play with. Anonymity works differently on Discord than Omegle as people create and use one account, forming some kind of online identity.

When role-players open Discord, they will see a screen like figure 3. In the far left are the servers (A.) a role-player is a part of . Then there is their list of friends (B.) that they can have direct messaging (DM) conversations with. Once they click on a friend, a role-player sees what I see with ‘Philine’ (C.). They can see their username, their profile picture and chat history.

In the bottom left corner users can find their own personal information (D.), such as their full username others can use to add them, their status (green for actively online) and whether their camera and microphone are on or off. In the upper right corner (E.), users can start an audio call (the phone), a video call, they can see messages they saved (pinned) for later and they can add another friend to their direct messaging (DM) conversation to create a small group chat.

Then, at the bottom of the DM section, is the box to type messages in (F.) and a button to send gifs and emojis, as well as a button to gift someone Nitro, a premium version of the software.

Role-players can see when someone is typing right underneath the text box.

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20

Figure 3 Screenshot of Discord, what a role-player sees opening Discord (I do not actually use the ‘Cyrilein’ account and it is used solely for this section)

Discord is most known for its servers. Servers work much like chat rooms, they are private but others can join if they get permission or an invitation. Role-players can hang out in a Discord server, move between their different pages, join chats and voice chats, get certain roles assigned, and more. Many role-players find role-play partners in big role-play servers that can have hundreds of members by posting a prompt or a message asking for someone to discuss possible story ideas with.

Role-players also create small servers for a specific role-play. This way, they can create different channels to organize content. I created a server to use as an example. In figure 4, I have created a text-channel called role-play for the actual role-play, a plot-channel for talk about the story and the ooc channel for non-RP related conversations. There is also a voice channel as some role-players enjoy talking to their more long term online role-play partners to discuss the role-play. In the center of the screen role-players find the channel they are in. Here, this is the role-play channel where the Omegle log is shared and pinned so that the role-players can

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21 continue the story they had started on Omegle. On the right they can see the members of the server and whether they are online.

Figure 4 Screenshot of a Discord server

To join a server someone needs to be invited through Discord or to have an invitation link. One way to find servers that are open to new members is to use ‘Disboard’. Disboard.org is a site where those who have created a Discord server are able to add their server for others to find them. They introduce themselves, use relevant labels to be found by others, and offer invitation links. When they find a server they like, Discord users can join a server with one click on the ‘join’ button, which is a hyperlink to the server’s invitation link. There are currently over 60.000 public RP servers on Discord; 206 servers are labeled ‘Omegaverse’, and 70 servers are specifically labeled as Omegaverse RP servers that range from having over 300 members to having only a handful (Disboard, n.d.).

Conclusion

In this chapter I have introduced Omegaverse as a trope that introduces three new roles: Alphas, Omegas, and Betas. These three types have specific characteristics with origins in other fan tropes and popular understandings of how wolfpacks function. Like fan fiction, role-playing is a fan practice. Role-play is an interactive, collaborative practice where role-players write stories about their favorite or original characters together. Omegle and Discord facilitate Omegaverse role-playing by providing a platform for role-players to connect and write. Role-playing has its own rules and expectations all embedded into, created and facilitated by specific online platforms. I have already hinted at some elements of Omegaverse that role-players defined as

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22 controversial, such as the power imbalances between Alphas and Omega, which are central to the contradiction between values and actions my participants and I puzzled with. In the following chapter on methodology, I will describe how I set out to collect and analyze my data.

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23

Methodology

TW: mentions of feelings of shame and misgendering

To answer the research question I posed: how do role-players engage with dominant structures of gender and sexuality in Omegaverse role-plays? I conducted 30 interviews, participated in role-plays, had countless of informal conversations, and kept an auto-ethnographic journal. All the methods were used simultaneously. In this chapter, I discuss each method and the ethical considerations that have guided my research.

Interviews

I conducted 30 in-depth interviews with 23 role-players, including some follow-up interviews.

Role-players were between 20 and 43 years old, although most of them were in their twenties.

I spoke to one cis man, two trans men, six non-binary people and fourteen cis women6. Most participants identified as queer7, and only two identified as heterosexual. Most participants came from the United States and European countries such as the UK, France, Italy and the Netherlands. I also spoke to one role-player from Mexico, one from Egypt and two from Canada. Their experiences with Omegaverse seemed not to differ across geographic location.

It is important to note that I looked into Omegaverse role-playing as experienced by fans of mostly US and Europe centered fandoms. While most of the role-players I spoke to were from Western countries, Omegaverse has been incredibly popular in other countries as well, notably Japan, China and Korea. Kwon (2019) argued in their book that Korean fan works have strong cultural and geopolitical influences that are necessary to understand these fan practices and stories. Because the role-players I spoke to were involved with a US and European based form of Omegaverse, and I use theoretical works on gender and sexuality based on American and European literature, this project cannot be generalized to the Omegaverse found in Asian countries. However, it would be interesting to explore how the differences between the two tropes came to be, such as the introduction of a fourth Omegaverse dynamic ‘Enigma’ in the anime and manga fandom8.

6 Cis: when someone’s gender identity is the same as the sex assigned to them at birth. Trans: when someone’s gender identity (or expression) does not match the sex they were assigned at birth.

7 I use queer as an umbrella term for sexual identities that are not heterosexual. The term can also be used to refer to gender identities that are not cis.

8 For more, see: https://fanlore.org/wiki/Alpha#Non-Western_Fandoms

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24 The aim of these interviews was to collect empirical data on role-players’ experiences, opinions and motivations for role-playing Omegaverse. The lack of existing literature and the explorative nature of this research required an open, inductive approach. I chose to use a topic list because it allowed me to remain flexible and would not be imposing too much structure and pre-set direction on participants. I was aware the topics would change throughout the research process as I learned more about which topics were relevant, such as defining Omegaverse and role-playing, thinking about possible motivations, and discussing fandom, anonymity, and online communities. Despite my flexible approach, many interviews had similar structures overall. I asked participants to begin by introducing themselves and their journey into fandom and/or role-playing. Based on their answers we would continue to talk about role-playing or Omegaverse in more general terms before we explored their personal experiences and understanding of Omegaverse role-playing. This often included a conversation about motivations, fantasies, and different modes of engagement. The topic list enabled me to follow participants in their storytelling, which usually meant the interviews were informal and conversational. Participants expressed enjoying the informality of the interviews and many said it felt like a conversation with a friend.

The interviews were conducted online because of participants’ preferences, Covid-19 safety measures, and the geographical dispersed locations of participants. I either used Discord video or voice calling, or Zoom, depending on participants’ preferences. Interviews lasted on average an hour and a half and I collected over 50 hours of interview material. Besides these 23 role-players, I also spoke casually about Omegaverse with two more players in Discord (voice) chats without recording conversations, and another role-player provided me with incredibly insightful feedback throughout the research process without participating in the interviews. All interviews were transcribed by hand using Otranscribe, and irrelevant sections (the weather, e.g.) were summarized between brackets and not transcribed verbatim.

I was able to find participants through the use of my network of online friends and past role-play partners. A few of these participants turned out to be important key figures who shared my information in Discord servers and among friends, leading me to more people to talk to.

One example was how I contacted Maru. Maru and I role-played together on e-mail, and when I started my research I emailed her asking if she had experience with Omegaverse. She had and we connected on Discord, scheduled an interview and spoke online. She offered to share my research with others in a Discord server and she then introduced me to her online friends who also role-play Omegaverse. This way of snowball sampling, using my own network as a starting

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25 point, proved useful and necessary, as many role-players mentioned they would have not spoken to a stranger about their Omegaverse role-playing.

Overcoming interview anxiety

My insider status was central to conducting successful interviews as it offered me a network and helped feel participants at ease, especially during online face-to-face interviews. At one point, a strained conversation with one participant completely changed the moment I casually mentioned that I too enjoy sexually explicit Omegaverse (“I’m also here for the porn!”) to which Harvey (27) laughed and said, “Oh! So you are like me!” He reported having been filtering himself up until that moment. Knowing that I also wrote sexual stories, he opened up about his way of role-playing kink-focused Omegaverse stories and what he got out of them.

Another method of opening up the conversation and establishing rapport was to tell participants about my experience having to explain to my thesis supervisor what slick (Omega’s arousal) was. The point of that helpful anecdote was that I too had talked about sexual elements of Omegaverse, and I had even done it with a complete outsider and in an academic setting. I wanted to show that participants were not alone in their feelings, I too had felt awkward. The story often earned me gasps of horror and some tears of laughter, as that was for many people, me included, a very uncomfortable merging of our online and offline lives. The story emphasized my insider status and helped strengthen rapport, which allowed us to continue the interview.

I was careful when approaching the more controversial and sexual topics of Omegaverse because of my own experience talking about A/B/O. I never spoke of it outside of my online community and felt embarrassment talking about it to outsiders, especially those in the academic field. I experienced Omegaverse as falling on an intersection of two taboo subjects in a professional space: fandom and sexuality. I was not alone. A lot of participants also experienced shame, embarrassment and nerves when we spoke of Omegaverse. Some participants got visibly red in the face, others told me they were feeling embarrassed, got sweaty palms and felt their hearts racing a little. These were always moments where I checked in with them, asked if they were too uncomfortable to continue, and most importantly, what I could do to help them. Often, this was a moment where I introduced the Slick-story. Other times we discussed the emotions they experienced and I reminded them I understood and would not judge them. I sometimes worried if I asked too much of participants, and made sure to voice my concerns when they arose. Aiden (21) was someone who got flustered during the interviews.

When I asked, they explored the complexity of their emotions, as they felt nervous and anxious

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26 discussing sex, and specifically sex in Omegaverse, and the fear of judgment from me, all while also being excited to be able to finally talk about Omegaverse with someone ‘in real life’. Aiden sometimes needed a few moments to think of their answer, but ensured me they wanted to continue the interview. Aiden reported it got easier over time and I interviewed them three times and remain in contact with them to this day. Participants reported that the interviews were fun, comfortable and a positive experience overall, even though they also experienced some (temporary) nerves and awkwardness.

These experiences of shame and nerves, including my own, had me approach participants in a careful and almost overprotective way, something not all participants appreciated. One participant found that I was “coddling” him by being as careful as I was, and was making the topic of sex a bigger issue than it was for him. This made me acknowledge the fact that I had assumed others would have the same issues discussing Omegaverse as I did, and while this was the case for most participants, it was not the case for all of them. I learned not to assume whether someone was comfortable with the topic or not, and instead let them tell me how they felt about talking A/B/O with me. The aim of the interviews was to have role-players talk to me about their experiences and ideas, after all, and any possible discomfort was a part of that.

Participation in role-plays and informal conversations

The second method I used is part of the auto-ethnography I conducted. I used participation in role-playing and role-playing related activities such as voice and text chatting to illustrate, compare and deepen the data I collected throughout my interviews.

I role-played with four participants with whom I also had interviews. I discussed and agreed to role-play an Omegaverse story with Sebastian (23), Abigail (27) and Emily (20) on Discord after their interviews. I was already role-playing Omegaverse with Daphne (28) who later agreed to be interviewed, she then permitted me to also use our role-play for research. I took notes during role-playing for auto-ethnographic purposes and have access to the logs (transcripts) of these role-plays that I have included in my analysis. These logs and notes helped define Omegaverse and the controversial elements I will get into in the next two chapters. A second form of participation was role-playing on Omegle. I spent many nights role-playing Omegaverse on Omegle, and narrated my experiences, thoughts and feelings throughout three of these 4+ hour sessions. I transcribed the recordings and used this data, in combination with the interview material and role-play transcripts, to describe the practice of role-playing.

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27 Finally, I participated in a lot of unplanned, informal conversations with online friends and participants through Discord chat. Participants reached out post-interview to share their thoughts or to add something to the topics we had discussed during the interviews. Participants sent me YouTube videos and TikToks related to Omegaverse, and Omegaverse fan art and fan fiction stories they had created. The topics discussed, insights and thoughts during these informal conversations were also written down and later used as empirical data for data analysis.

Auto-ethnography: keeping a journal

The final method I used, where I aimed to use my own experiences as a source of empirical data and to make my dual-position explicit, was that of keeping an auto-ethnographic journal.

Implicitly, this research is auto-ethnographic in the sense that I am part of the community I am studying, which influences my understanding of the field. While all research, especially fieldwork, warrants a researcher to self-reflect on their experiences as they influence and construct the field by simply being present (Hine, 2015), I used auto-ethnography to make this self-reflection an explicit part of my data collection. I did a form of ‘insider research’ (Hine, 2015, p.85). Hine (2015) warns not to over-essentialize the status of an insider because it is not stable, much like how aca-fans must be aware of their position on a continuum of fan – academic, instead of a stable, oppositional one (Cristofari & Guitton, 2017). I chose to combine auto-ethnographic methods with interviews to make sure this insider position is not over- essentialized. This works as a form of implicit triangulation (Flick et al., 2004).

Throughout my research, I kept a diary where I wrote down experiences, memories or thoughts related to my Omegaverse role-playing, and asked myself questions I asked participants as well. Diary entries were later cleaned up and put together to prepare for analysis, much as interview transcripts were. Examples include exploring how I got into Omegaverse;

how my dislike for certain tropes changed throughout my role-playing; and what turning my hobby into work meant for my role-playing.

In the beginning stages of this research project, I had planned to combine these methods with observations and more ethnographic methods of data collection. The decision not to observe role-playing in Omegaverse groups was based partly on the trouble of acquiring informed consent within big online groups. A second issue was that I did not want to become a

‘lurker’, someone hiding in the shadows and simply observing without participating.

Ethnography and active participation would have solved the problem of lurking. However, I reached out to four Omegaverse role-play servers and found getting entry to be a more time

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28 consuming and complex endeavor than I had originally anticipated. While I could have hidden my identity and gained access the ‘normal’ way as a fellow role-player, I felt uncomfortable lying to possible research participants. I eventually chose to focus on interviews and auto- ethnography instead.

Data analysis

In regards to data analysis, I decided to use a thematic analysis to identify implicit, abstract topics (or ‘themes’) that are organized around a network of reoccurring ideas (codes in Atlas.TI) (Braun & Clarke, 2006; Bryman, 2012). I followed the main phases of thematic analysis: (a) getting to know my data through reading and rereading; (b) (open) coding in Atlas.Ti; (c) constructing themes; (d) critical evaluation of themes; (e) and finally, writing down findings (Bryman, 2012; Maguire & Delahunt, 2017; Ryan & Bernard, 2003; Vaoismoradi et al., 2016).

Throughout my open coding, I wrote notes and memos with my thoughts to stay close to the data and think about possible connections between themes. In the third phase, I referred to Ryan and Bernard’s (2003) twelve techniques to find themes, and I especially took time to look for repetitions, ‘indigenous typologies’ or community-specific terms, metaphors and analogies, and similarities and differences between role-players’ accounts. I printed out over 200 codes and spend a few days forming and revising groups and possible themes. Based on the open coding and grouping of 10 interviews, I created a coding scheme that I used on the other data. The coding scheme was flexible and went through minor changes as I continued to go back and forth between data, codes and possible themes. The main themes have now become the thesis’

chapters, such as shame, controversies, and the motivations described in the final chapter.

Ethics: ensuring safety and anonymity online

I was guided by Diener and Crandall’s (1978) four core considerations of ethics when conducting social science research: (a) possible harm to participants; (b) informed consent; (c) privacy; (d) and deception. To ensure no harm was caused to participants, I was mindful to be sensitive to possible emotional and mental harm by checking in on participants before, during and after interviews. As mentioned briefly before, some participants reported feeling awkward or embarrassed, but no one wanted to withdraw. Often, a brief discussion as to why they were feeling awkward, followed by my own experiences discussing Omegaverse with outsiders helped participants to feel more comfortable and safe. I especially checked in these participants post-interviews to ask how they were doing and how they felt about the interviews.

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29 When first reaching out to participants, I asked them for their first name if they were willing to share as this made conversation easier, and their pronouns. I believe misgendering participants equals causing harm and therefore this needed to be avoided. Asking for pronouns was a good decision as many participants informed me of their preferred pronouns and instructed me what they wanted me to use in different situations. All participants said they had felt safe during our conversations and looked back positively on the experience.

To inform participants of my research and what participating would entail, I created an information document using Google Documents. I introduced myself, my research and described what participating would entail. The aim of the document was three-fold: I wanted participants to be able to give informed consent; to easily share information about my research with others; and most importantly, I wanted them to feel comfortable and safe discussing Omegaverse role-playing with me. The document was the first step towards building rapport.

Participants expressed finding the document both helpful in providing information as well as familiarizing them with me as a researcher, which was seen as helpful and comforting.

Interviews were recorded with participants’ permission and then transcribed.

Recordings will be deleted once the thesis process has ended. All participants I spoke to were either using pseudonymous or anonymous e-mail accounts. But this did not mean their privacy was already a given. The use of pseudonyms in social media poses a new set of challenges when it comes to the anonymization of qualitative data, and the protection of research participants (Gerrard, 2020). Role-players used online usernames or email addresses that functioned much as a person’s name in offline spaces. To protect participants’ offline and online identities, I do not disclose any names, whether they are made up usernames or their legal names. All participants have been given pseudonyms.

In regards to deception, I did not deceive participants and was honest about my aims and my identity as both a researcher and role-player.

Conclusion

I used a combination of qualitative methods to collect empirical data that allow me to answer the question of how role-players use Omegaverse to engage with structures. Through a combination of in-depth interviews, informal conversations, participation in role-plays on both Discord and Omegle, and the keeping of an auto-ethnographic journal, I collected the necessary data to help explain the striking disparity between role-players’ offline, progressive world views and their online practices. In the following chapter, I will begin to solve that puzzle by exploring role-players’ feelings of shame and its source.

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References

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