Art3mis: But you still don’t really know anything about me. Or my real personality.
Parzival: This is the OASIS. We exist as nothing but raw personality in here.
Art3mis: I beg to differ. Everything about our online personas is filtered through our avatars, which allows us to control how we look and sound to others. The OASIS lets you be whoever you want to be. That’s why everyone is addicted to it.
Parzival: So, IRL, you’re nothing like the person I met that night in the tomb?
Art3mis: That was just one side of me. The side I chose to show you.
[Ernest Cline – Ready Player One. Ch.17]
Back in the good old days, most of us tended to be fairly one-dimensional. Unless you happened to be a double agent, undercover cop or actor, the opportunities to explore some other aspect of our identities were pretty limited, and whilst it’s true that most of us would display a different persona depending on the circumstances we were in – work, family, friends – it wasn’t really the norm to have more than one authentic identity. Then along came the internet, and boy has that changed things.
The combination of anonymity and freedom that the internet provides – virtual worlds and online gaming, in particular – has really brought us out of ourselves. No longer are we tied to a single character and identity, instead we can live double, triple, even multiple lives, with most of us adapting with remarkable ease to a multi-faceted existence and accepting with equanimity that most of those with whom we interact are in much the same position.
It’s reasonable to assume that this shift in perception must have an effect on the manner in which we relate to the world, if only in the way that we – and those around us – perceive ourselves. There are many, myself included, who maintain that the persona they present to others in sl is ‘the real me’. Whilst i wouldn’t deny that may be something i’ve professed in the past, on reflection, i wonder just how accurate that description is. Perhaps it would be more honest to say that the person you meet in sl is ‘the idealised me’, since when you take into account the character, personality, look and activities of the sl avatar, it should be patently obvious that the ‘real’ me – with the best will in the world – is very different from the actual real me. My avatar is a projection of my inner thoughts and feelings, certainly, but there’s a vast range of other attributes that she exhibits which fall into the realms of aspirations and fantasy and are no more real than the pixels she is created from.
Then there are those who maintain that they are no different in sl to the person you’d meet in rl – although a great many will still display that catch-all caveat in their profile that rl and sl are separate and never the twain shall meet. With relatively few exceptions however, i’d suggest that even those who state that if you’ve seen them in sl then you’ve pretty much seen them for real, will have found it difficult to resist tweaking the sl version – it would be weird not to be tempted to cover up the blemishes in a world where it’s so easily achieved. What about activities too – do you really dance that well in rl? Is your worldly wardrobe quite that extensive? You’re in a biker gang in real life?
There is a further collective of sl residents for whom the virtual world is a platform to explore their personalities in a manner that is completely ‘outside the box’. Furries, tinies, roleplayers, vampires, robots and all manner of, what we’d probably term in the real world as alternative lifestyles, for want of a better equivalent. All have a place in the virtual community and little can disguise the fact that any resemblance to real life is strictly incidental. You’d possibly include gender-swapping in this group too.
Let’s not forget that neither sl, nor the internet limits us to one or other of the alternatives available either. We may make use of alts to cater for different moods, other aspects of our personalities or to allow ourselves to become immersed in a range of activities. In the same way, many of us think nothing of employing multiple email accounts to convey the right message to those with whom we communicate – a sensible, no-nonsense address for business and ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’ for friends and family. In doing so, we are filtering our personalities and our traits, and filtering the information we are prepared to share within our circles of influence.
So, when abroad in sl, are we perceived by others as a product of our raw personality, or do we carefully tailor our personalities to reflect only what we want others to see? And, does it matter?
What do you think?
Art3mis: So what do you imagine I look like, then?
Parzival: Like your avatar, I suppose. Except, you know, without the armor, guns or glowing sword.
Art3mis: You’re kidding, right? That’s the first rule of online romances, pal. No one ever looks anything like their avatar.
And I don’t want to ball about like everybody else,
And I don’t want to live my life like everybody else,
And I wont say that I feel fine like everybody else,
Cause Im not like everybody else
The Kinks – I’m Not Like Everybody Else