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Alter Ego: Avatars and their Creators Hardcover – 18 Jun 2007
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If anything, I was surprised at the lack of balance. Of the 60 avatars, 16 come from Second Life, 9 each from City of Heroes and the Lineage games, 6 from World of Warcraft, and 5 from the Everquest games, with the remainder made up in ones and twos. Perhaps the author and photographers had difficulty in finding people willing to be exposed this way - shining the light of day onto the fantasy of online roleplay.
It was interesting to see how peoples' avatars differed (or not!) from their physical person. The people themselves are from all over the world, from the gold farmer in China to the superheroine in Greece to the wheelchair-bound Star Wars rifleman in Texas. Their jobs are just as diverse: a housewife, a butcher, a model, an IT consultant, and of course, students. I found it very interesting to hear what brought these individuals to their games, what it means to them to play. I heard echoes of some of my own reasons. Whatever the game, whatever the server, whatever the country: we gather and play online. (My game is WoW, with toons on several servers.)
With the unprecedented popularity of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) like Second Life and World of Warcraft, avatars--the customized, computerized virtual characters that move around a computer game when you move your mouse or type on the keyboard--are a big deal. They're not only how a player interacts with a given game interface, they are also how a player presents themselves to that game.
For that reason, avatars also become a part of a player's life--sometimes simply to enable gameplay but also often in very meaningful ways unrelated to the game per se. The chosen title of this book, Alter Ego, points out that fact very well. These are characters that players alter for various reasons. Some to adopt a persona more accurate than a physical appearance could ever be. Others to create a virtual version of themselves down to the smallest detail. At the same time, avatars also can become an alternative personality.
In this book Cooper has collected photographs of real people and the avatars they have created for themselves. The book also provides vital statistics (who they are, where they live, game played, etc.). Each person interviewed also explains, in their own words, the thought process that went into making their avatar and what it (and online role play gaming in general) means to their lives.
The book and its range of subjects is fascinating. Senior citizens in a nursing home, a disabled young man, teens, drag queens, actors, entrepreneurs, and regular people are all represented in this book. And they all have an avatar.
No one really knows what the implications of increased online socialization will be yet. But in a time where more and more time is spent online, Alter Ego shows that there is a lot more to gaming than mashing a few buttons.
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