Do You Want To Date My Avatar?
This is the first of my July Friday series of Tech/Social Network articles. OK, it was suppose to be the first but the Oakland riot took it’s place last week.
We have a wide variety of entertainment options in the gaming industry. XBox 360, Wii, PS3, DS, apps for ipad and iphone however on-line games for the PC have been the staple of computer gaming since the 1990’s. Nowadays, the most popular games are MMORPG’s (Massively Multiuser Online Role Playing Game). You create characters, usually a fantasy character such as an elf, dwarf, human who has a specific talent. Generally those are defined as a fighter, wizard, cleric, etc. Some of the newer games also have genres such as Star Trek characters or Comic Super Heros but the basic format still applies.
You create a character (avatar) who can be either male or female, enter a “virtual universe”, interact with other real people in this environment, go on quests, collect rewards and kill monsters/bad guys. On the surface it’s a way to unwind, kill time or escape the boredom of dead-end jobs or bad relationships. In other destructive ways it can be an all-consuming compulsion just like sitting at the pub all day, watching porn 24/7 or huffing glue.
Speaking for myself, I was roped into the on-line world of Lord of the Rings by my friend Val. She is a huge Tolkien geek and said we could play together. I soon found out that it was really fun! We joined a Kin or “guild”, which is a group of other people across the country that we play with. We started chatting with them using headsets and have even met a few of them in person. They’ve actually turned out to be pretty cool, normal people.
This is not always the case. I’ve heard stories about when “virtual space” has crossed over into the real world with unfortunate results. One friend told me about a guy he met on-line who tried to break up his marriage because he thought his wife was hot. Another friend told me about a Hoard raid buddy who thought stalking was an acceptable form of off-world interaction.
There are people out there in cyber space who think your avatar is actually an accurate depiction of how you look. Well, that isn’t true. I currently play six characters in LOTRO (Lord of the Rings Online). Two are human, 3 are elves and 1 is a hobbit. Also two are male. My main character is male which has elicited fun ribbing from some male on-line friends who say they can’t flirt with me in game because “I’m playing a dude.” Well guys, how do you know the girls you do flirt with in game that you aren’t on a direct vocal link to are female?
Virtual world interactions can be strange. Here are two of my personal examples: My hobbit is called Merrywine Butterbum. I admit, I generated this character because I came up with the name and wanted a character to use it on. Now, anytime I am in the mostly hobbit areas, I get HIT ON BY HOBBITS ALL THE TIME!!! WTF? Remember, there are real people playing the characters you see running around. I’ve had male avatars ask me if I wanted to be their girl friend, give me presents (like in game money or loot) or just follow me around. Creepy! I also had another character I don’t play anymore. She was a blond human with long hair and huge boobs. Guess what? If I was out by myself, guys are hitting on me. You know, I could be a burly trucker for all they knew but it didn’t seem to matter. If my avatar had blond hair, huge hooters and wasn’t with a group of people, it seemed I was fair game for all kinds of undue attention.
Is it any wonder that my major character is a dude? He never gets hit on though he is an elf. Now that I think about it that’s close enough to a girls in many aspects. Hmmm, maybe he needs to use more hair product….
For a hilarious look at MMORPGs, check out this show on YouTube. “The Guild” is based on a group of socially stunted gamers who are forced to interact in real life in addition to their on-line lives and character interactions. Felicia Day, who originated the series and plays Codex, also put together a “music video” of sorts that answers the question I posed. Check it out – it’s brilliant!