Let’s be honest, folks: James Cameron’s Avatar was a disappointing waste of time. If I wanted to see Pocahontas, I would have just dug through my parent’s VHS collection. Of course, the visuals were stunning and we can blame it on Cameron that nowadays every movie requires you to put on silly glasses, but the movie had an interesting element: transferring to one’s avatar, becoming an entirely different physical being with new capabilities and looks. It’s a thought many gamers can relate to, since it’s what we do every time we pick up our controllers or log-in to our game of choice. But just like the protagonist in this mostly boring piece of visual ecstasy, some of us don’t simply put on our avatars: they become their alter ego, and the more time they spend in that skin, the hard it becomes to shed off.
Now now, I might sound a bit too dramatic now. However, anyone who has invested a decent amount of time in a game knows that the character you take control of somehow becomes you. He is your interface with the gaming world, in the beginning not more than a tool so you can move around boxes, slay monsters and gather experience. However, the more you get to know about the digital world and the role your character plays in it, the more attached you become to those pixels. I mean, isn’t it funny that many gamers say “I slaughtered that dragon” instead of “my character killed that dragon”? That’s already an indication for how much we place ourselves into the game we’re playing.
Psychologists, sociologists and smartass bloggers have written and talked about this phenomenon since video games have captured the media’s attention, and I have taken a look at myself lately. During my peak time in World of Warcraft, I played a troll shaman named Akinya. To my fellow guildies, I simply was that shaman since they had nothing but my voice from Ventrilo and that troll model to represent me. When more than twenty people start calling you by the name of your alter ego on a regular basis, it’s hard to not become that troll. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t running around my neighborhood trying to throw lightning bolts at people, but when my account was hacked and Akinya was robbed of his belongings, I felt honest rage in my stomach. Not because someone dared to steal digital, replacable goods from me, but because someone had robbed Akinya. Someone had robbed me.
Luckily, I’m a sane person and I can still draw the line between pixels and real people. I got over it, and considering the fact that Akinya has been catching dust since almost three years now is proof enough for how much I care about him now. Still, we gamers have only a thin border that separates our digital personas from our real personalities. In time, it’s unavoidable that one spills over into the other. As long as you know where one begins and the other ends, you’ll be fine.
Then again, where does one begin and the other end?