How people construct their online identity is an increasingly complex concept for us to understand. So what about the most obvious representation of this – Avatars? When people create their own avatars, are their real lives echoed in their digital alter egos? If you were to create your own virtual character would it be just like you, or would it be a fantasy creation of how you’d like to be? What is the relationship between a virtual identity and a real one?
Photo-journalist Robbie Cooper has set out to answer some of these questions with his long-term project Alter Ego. He has photographed around 100 virtual world gamers and their online representations, as well as collecting stories about their lives for a series of exhibitions. What they reveal is intriguing.
The virtual images that people create vary hugely, but most avatars have an echo of the person that created them, if not in their physical appearance then often by reflecting aspects of their creator’s personality. The more control people have over how the avatar looks, the more likely it is to have some reflection of the real person.
Yet some people use their avatars to express, or experiment with, a totally different side of their personality. Like they are escaping the confines of their real lives or deliberately constructing something which is completely opposite to their real life identity.
This picture (above) is of Charmaine Hance, a full-time mother of three from Ashford together with her alter ego, Jova Song. Jova Song leads a second virtual life for Charmaine and has even featured in a collection of nude avatar erotica sold in second life (not to me I hasten to add).
Chris (above) lives in New York, plays City of Heroes, met his girlfriend through the game, and tries to make his online character as much like himself as possible.
It seems to me that the impetus and inspirations behind avatar creation are not only complex, but dependent on a whole range of motives including your real life personality, how comfortable you are in your own shoes, the need to experiment with different aspects of your identity, or escape mundane reality. According to New Scientist, research by Nick Yee of Stanford University in California suggests that extroverts tend to use avatars to try out new identities, whereas introverts tend to create avatars that are extensions of their real selves.