Today, the BBC news, technology section, released an article entitled Universal avatars bestride worlds" It seems that IBM and Linden Lab are working on a way to allow avatars created in one virtual word to travel to another virtual world.
I’d have to say that although I don’t care for Mr. Parris’ drain analogy, I do believe he’s correct in that it’s necessary for both game design and academic communities to continually challenge assumptions about the way virtual worlds are created. However, it’s important not to forget some of the interesting work Psychology and Sociology has done in the study of how we create virtual identities.
Recently, I’ve been guiding my class through discussions from our readings in Sherry Turkle’s, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. In the section, Aspects of the Self, Turkle gives examples of people who create multiple virtual identities online to exercise the varied parts of their psyche that may not get the opportunity to exhibit themselves in the material world. The construction of multiple identities is therapeutic in that it allows us, though it may not be entirely conscious, to sit with a part of ourselves that we may not pay attention to in our “real lives.” These varied digital selves gave some of the people Turkle worked with a chance to engage with others in ways they felt they weren’t allowed to do otherwise. Take for instance this line from the article.
Without considering the ways that game narratives and situation may hinder moving an avatar from one virtual world to another, such an idea seems to rely on the idea of a singular identity which any examination of how people represent themselves in virtual worlds would find hard to support. I could see their proposal being accepted more widely in games that keep track of stats of some sort, but how would that alter game dynamics? When most games are trying to level the playing field between casual and hardcore gamers, something like this may make that nearly impossible to do.
And so, though I can see difficulties in their assumptions, I have to say, more power to them, because those of us that believe in the potential of virtual spaces need this kind of border crossing. Even if their attempt isn’t successful, we may find in it fertile ground for discussion and new ways of thinking about the ways we inhabit virtual spaces.