Everyone has a want to be someone else or emulate them. This want has become more and more of a reality. It is so easy to get access to a computer and play a virtual game that helps us to be what we want and do the things we want. In some cases this is connected with our want to escape reality.
How does this impact our identity and the theories of identity? There are many movies and pieces of literature that also hint at this want of various individuals to be someone they are not. Are we still the same person when we are gaming online and have a different nonphysical ‘body’ (sometimes 2D or other times 3D), sometimes magical powers, and are basically in a whole different world. Our identities were already hard to explain and technology seems to be complicating them further. Let us see if it bolsters, illuminates or undermines our sense of identity.
There are different criteria used to determine what identifies us. One of which is our physical bodies. The determination of a person’s identity through their physical characteristics. There is also the conception of life after the destruction of our bodies. The fact that some people still believe that even if our bodies are not be present that our minds, and our identities will continue to exist. This can be seen through the movies such as Transcendence. In this movie Johnny Depp dies, however his wife in the movie is able to save his mind and upload it onto a computer and the aftermath of that.
Then there is the idea of escapism and its connections with our identity. Our want to get away from the existential angst that many individuals, especially teens, face. This is the negative feeling that some feel when experiencing human freedom and responsibility. This conception can best be seen in the United States through the representation of the time in the book The Great Gatsby (1992) by F. Scott Fitzgerald. In this Gatsby, the main protagonist, tries to be the rich and successful man that Daisy, the women is loves, wants. He accomplishes this goal, however Daisy is already married to someone else. Also due to this want he is no longer himself anymore, all he cares about is money and having the things Daisy wants, and in the end losses everything, including his life.
Along with this idea of escapism there is also the factor of aesthetic illusions. This is when “one does not just watch this world from a distance but has the impression of being present in it and, above all, of experiencing it in a way similar to that in which one experiences life.” Gatsby was living in this dream that once he had all the things that Daisy had wanted then he would be able to get her back, he ignored everything else. Basically when we are so immersed in a representative world and we feel like it is real. This is different from hallucinations in that it requires an outside factor, for example alcohol or as we will later discuss virtual gaming. We do not want to be in reality that we become immensely involved in a fantasy world.
Gaming and many other virtual activities are becoming more and more common. This is because people want to escape the reality of the life that they are living. Some want to escape from bullying, bad financial situations, feeling of not belonging, and others who just want to get away and be isolated, there are many reasons. Therefore individuals turn to the online world, where they can become whoever or whatever they want to be. There are “a series of alternative online realities where new societies are quickly evolving from scratch.”
Such virtual gaming sites include Second Life, the Sims, roleplaying sites, virtual simulation, and many more. Also individuals who do not feel like their bodies fit them, they can alter to their will. This does not just allow for people to be in a different world but individuals can also get help from real people without letting them know of their true identity. These are “uniquely comforting place for those who find reality challenging or hostile.” However what really differentiates their virtual identities from their real ones? What makes the virtual world so essentially different? How can our minds become so immersed in these worlds?
As we play this game, the “time immersed as a virtual character or avatar… can numb you to realizing important body signals in real life.” In this study done by Ulrich Weger of the University of Witten/Herdecke in Germany and Stephen Loughnan of Melbourne University in Australia, they saw that individuals who played virtual games had a desensitization of feeling such as pain, hunger, sympathy. Even though “technologies provide individuals with symbolic sustenance in times of strife,” this can take away from important aspects of their lives as well. Sometimes they do not really get to experience time with family and have success in the “real” world.
Our virtual worlds provide us with a third person perspective. In the ‘real’ world where we experience qualia, subjective dimensions of our experience, obviously even with a console, one does not quite experience what the virtual character does. Even though we have generated these virtual selves which provide us with a sense of control, they do not really correspond to how we experience life ourselves. Maybe the ‘self’ is an extrapolation that operates similarly to certain kinds of virtual reality, it’s a way or convention that allows us to navigate through our experiences but does not correspond to anything real in the world. There is not a real self and a fake, virtual self—rather there are different selves, just like there are different points of view (i.e., your view of yourself as a devoted family member, your view of yourself as a student, etc.).
The world is not what we want it to be, therefore we have created our own virtual ones. However it is hard for some individuals to become themselves outside of this virtual world. In a way virtual reality undermines the way that we value the “real” world. This is due to the fact that it conforms more closely to our desires and self-image. This is because we still need to survive outside—or that our desires need to meet resistance, our self-image needs to contain imperfections in order for them to have value. It might be more worthwhile for some to “live” in the virtual world, but then if they totally live in it, then they will become addicts, they will get sick also, and we do not know who they might find online. Maybe even lose their desire to live in this world or close themselves off from it.
Virtual realities complicate the way we understand actual ‘reality.’ Virtual realities can be used to help people get over their fears without putting them in the real world. Although we want to escape reality, we have to make sure that we do not leave it absolutely.
There are many movies and pieces of literature that try to depict our want to be something else, and be something beyond our bodies. However why is there a need to turn to virtual world, can the problems of the world not be solved in this one? We need to find ways to turn this into a further nurturing program and not become something detrimental for individuals. If this continues, then individuals will stray from goals in reality and that could lead to further degradation of not only our identities, or communities, but also our world. Let us all aim not to be someone but something.
Featured Image via Flickr/Maurizio Pesce
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