Reality of Role-Playing

Posted: August 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

In Lisa Nakamura’s article of “Head-Hunting on the Internet”, she argues that race, gender, age and disability are visible in the so called anonymous world of the internet.  The common belief was that the Internet was a medium where individuals could become anonymous, where race, class and gender do not matter. However, the reality is that in this virtual world, we feel the need to make our “visibility” known. We create characters that depict how we want it to be, by skin colour, eye colour, hair colour and of course gender. Even with the online names that we choose for ourselves reflect our desire to become a certain identity. Many nicknames are in some ways represents the image/identity we try to create. Users have the ability to create an “avatar” to represent them graphically in online communities. It’s a way for some people to explore their identities, becoming who they fantasize. Some people create their avatars to actually look like them in real life. Other people create characters that they want to become, the constructed “other” race. The typical white male players fantasize about the exotic Asian characters that they want to explore. With the possibility of creating any identity online, it reinforces the idea of race discrimination we experience in the real world. Instead of non-white avatars being talked down to, they are seen as culturally cool and exotic. For example, the belief that all or most Asians are into Anime is a misconception. And for some reason, many online white male players are obsessed with the Asian culture, wanting to be a part of it where they are unable to in real life. They want to cross the racial boundaries through the Internet or virtual spaces.  The idea of being someone else even in a virtual world is very enticing, where we believe we can experience anything and become anyone.

When a person does not want to disclose personal information about themselves, such as their age or gender, we naturally create this fantasy of what they look like and we are intrigued and wonder what they actually look like in real life. As usually the case, the image/identity of the person we meet online is never what we expect to see in real life. People use the internet as an escape from their real life. Why do we fall into the belief that all unknown avatars are white males? Is it because we know they dominate the Internet that it must be the case? In doing so, we are only reconfirming that there is a “digital divide” between the white class and the minority classes. They view it as a way to take vacation from what they are used to and just be someone else. In their mind, they are living their fantasy, to know what it feels like to be other than what they are. In some cases, online users even go as far as “computer cross dress” where they become the opposite sex in online communities. Majority of the times it is males that creates female characters, participating in the act of role-playing. I agree with Nakamura’s concept that with the virtual world developing environments and people creating personalities to participate in these environments generally incorporate from what we know from the real world. We merely moved from the real world and create similar attributes online. The Interne has boundaries and divisions as well, creating inequalities that exist in the world we live in. Even though we are aware that online, anyone can be anyone, we still develop judgements based on how their avatar looks and how they describe themselves.  At least on the Internet we are able to construct our own identities instead of being discriminated by our physical looks. In a world (real or fantasy) race, gender, and other physical characteristics will always be factors in determining our identity. As the saying goes, “Old habits die hard”.

I’ve attached a link to an article that shows that online communities can create positive environments.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/online-hangout-brings-stutterers-together/article550204/

~ Tien Vuu

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