Who am I? An existential crisis in MMOs

whoamiBree’s column last week about sex in MMOs set off an interesting discussion in our office chat, mostly of the pros and cons and logistics of a sex system in an MMO. Personally, I am not against having some sort of “whoopie” system in-game, but I don’t see (a) why it would be worth the fuss to add it in, (b) how it could be accomplished in an interesting manner, and (c) how multiplayer games would deal with issues of minors and potential for abuse.

Anyhow, that led me to say that I simply wouldn’t engage in sex in a video game, whether it be with another player character or an NPC. At this point in my life, it feels too much like being unfaithful to my wife, so I elect not to. Plus, from past encounters in CRPGs and the like, it never feels like it adds much at all. If I’m romancing a character, the dialogue is always more interesting to me than an awkward cutscene that fades to black.

So saying this led me to do a little thinking about who I felt my character was in-game. And the truth is… I don’t know.

Without ever having deeply contemplated it, I’ve found myself striding a line between two positions. The first is that my characters are merely a digital extension of the human me. They have no personality apart from me, and while they look cooler and have powers in cyberspace, they are (to borrow a biblical phrase) in the world but not of it. They are visitors because they are puppets of me, speaking with my voice and making decisions as I would make them if I were there.

The second is that my characters are a fictional collaboration between the assets and story of the developers and my own imagination. They are not me the person, but me roleplaying (to a degree) a certain character. I know I’ve done this in the past, because I’ve started to see my characters as having their own personalities, attitudes, and history. I’ve also had them make decisions that I, personally, would not. Like my character in the Fallout 2 series — I wouldn’t steal, but he has no problem with it.

I don’t willfully choose between going in-character and simply using an avatar, other than what feels right at the moment. But it weirds me out a little to see that I’m not consistent in doing one or the other. Are my characters female because I am expressing my girly nature or because I think capable female protagonists are awesome? Do I make in-game moral decisions based on my darker nature or because my imagination has empowered that character to do what they would do on their own?

Who am I?

Probably both.

I don’t like thinking about this too much. Makes my brain hurt.

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5 thoughts on “Who am I? An existential crisis in MMOs

  1. Jeromai June 1, 2015 / 10:22 am

    I wouldn’t worry about consistency. Even writers put a little of themselves into their characters, some of whom take on a life of their own and some of whom are mere extensions of authorial will. MMO avatars are likely subject to the same phenomenon.

  2. bhagpuss June 1, 2015 / 10:28 am

    Who our characters are and what they represent is one of the most interesting questions that can be asked about MMORPGs, I believe. I have been meaning to go into this in detail for a long time but it’s such a vast and fascinating topic I keep postponing it.

    One thing I would say for certain is that none of my characters is me. Never has been, never will be. But even saying that much presupposes an unequivocal belief that we as human beings have individual identities that remain constant over time and I am far from sure I would sign up to that either.

    Needs more thought. A lot more.

  3. Dan June 1, 2015 / 10:42 am

    I’ve always seen my character as a sort of digital child of mine – I can “teach” him or her to grow as I would or I can help them find their own identity, separate from me or my beliefs.

  4. Tyler F.M. Edwards June 1, 2015 / 10:55 am

    I’ve always felt very strongly that my RPG characters are separate entities from me. I find myself a very boring and frankly unlikable person, so those characters are a way to escape from myself, and I deliberately make them utterly unlike me both physically and mentally. Hence why the overwhelming majority of my characters are a different species, gender, or ethnicity than me, or all of the above.

    At times something of my true self will eventually bleed through — this is especially true of Dragon Age games for whatever reason — but mostly I view my characters the same way I would characters in my novels.

  5. Ettesiun June 1, 2015 / 5:56 pm

    About Sex in games : having sex is first a physical sensation driven by emotional / psychological lead. But sex without physic sensation is nonsense for me, and that is why I think no game try to simulate it.

    For character i have difficulty not following the code of moral I have, even while trying to do so ( such as trying to role play Gerald as described in the wit her book) . in MMO the game does not have enough story / character depth to even start role-playing. My character is only the medium used to interact with the game( like the queen in a chess game)

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