17 Eye-Opening Portraits Of Gamers With Their Avatars
Who are you really speaking to in the virtual world?
Visual artist Robbie Cooper unmasks the gamers behind their MMORPG characters in his book,
Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators, to get an inside look into the decisions people make when crafting their own digital persona.
Rebecca | Stygian Physic
"My avatar in
City of Heroes is my complete opposite. I created him that way because I didn't want to get hit on all the time. I wanted to be noticed for my skills, not my pixel-boobs. By playing as a guy, I found that people treated me differently. When I play as a female character, I get challenged a lot more and have to argue about everything."
In his search, Cooper discovers that these decisions are more deeply rooted than for pure aesthetics. The ability to create a new identity with a social presence removed from the physical world involves a far more complex psychology.
Jason | Rurouni Kenshin
"I have a lot of physical disabilities in real life, but in
Star Wars Galaxies I can ride an Imperial speeder bike, fight monsters, or just hang out with friends at a bar. I play online games because I get to interact with people. Online it doesn't matter what you look like."
The following examples illustrate the diversity of people, why they are who they are, and the social issues they run into in the digital world.
Geoff | Rice
"After returning from Iraq, I worked with Forterra on a training simulation to help teach soldiers the tasks they need to know. We've simulated everything from running a military checkpoint in downtown Baghdad to dealing with a hostage situation. Nothing beats the real deal of course, but putting a soldier in a simulator beforehand might save their life."
"I was the first Korean transgendered celebrity. When I go out to a restaurant, everyone recognizes me. Once I came upon a group of avatars who were chatting about transsexuals. They were making jokes and saying how much they disliked them. So I just told them who I was. They were embarrassed and tried to take back what they'd said. The virtual world is very much like the real one."
Choi Seang | Uroo Ahs
"My avatar is logged in 24 hours a day, seven days a week. She sits in the marketplace, buying and selling items while I'm away at work. People buy more often from my little dwarf girl compared to the old male dwarf I used to have, even though they sell the same things.
Lineage II is a microcosm of the real world, complete with competition for social status, ostentatious displays of wealth, political intrigues, and a complex economy. I enjoy the challenge and so far I've stored up about 150 million Adena in profit – about $15,000."
Philip | Philip
"Many outsiders see video games as an uncreative or anti-social activity. The challenges that stand between you and success in
Second Life are often more complex than those you face in real life. I think that playing Second Life is actually going to make you smarter, hour-for-hour, than being in the real world."
Lucas | Gaenank
"What I'd like is to be able to keep pace with the best players, but no matter how hard I try, I never seem to catch them up. For a while I'd be playing up to 12 hours a day to try and get into the top ranks. But it cost me. Everything else in my life started to suffer – my social life, my schoolwork, even my health."
Young | Knight Lummis
"In the real world, you have to conform to the expectations of your parents, teachers, and peers. What matters the most is how much money you have, what schools you go to, and who your parents are. In
Lineage it’s different. It’s not like in the real world where things are set for you."
Elizabeth | Thaila
"I designed Thaila to look the way that I aspire to be when I'm older. I know the kind of person that I want to be, because I see some women like that, in real life or in films – like the character Aunt Meg in the movie
Twister. That's how I want to be, and in some ways, by creating my Hero's Journey character to look like my own future goal, it gives me something to visualize and work towards."
Kimberly | Kim Anubis
"Most of the time my avatar looks like my real self, but about twenty years younger. I'm jealous of some of her clothes. She doesn't have a separate persona or anything. She's just an extension of myself in this virtual space."
Androniki | Amymona
"Names are very important. 'Androniki' in Greek means 'The one who wins men.' My favorite toy is a man called Giorgios. He was deeply in love with me but he didn't just want to win me, he wanted me as a final prize. Some time after I left him, Giorgios began spending his time in cyberspace. I wanted to play
City of Heroes too and I wanted to prove my name again. And I did. That's how Amymona was born."
Kim | Ligar
"Not long after I started playing, I met a woman who went by the name ‘Tropical Storm’. We could talk about anything – real-life problems, our jobs, and so on. After a couple of months I asked her if she wanted to marry Ligar in the game. I tried to explain my in-game marriage to some non-gamers once, but you really can’t make them understand."
Mun & Lee | Crammer
"Like many young couples, we enjoy going to the movies, going out to dinner, or just hanging out. We also like playing video games together. It's a very popular dating activity in Korea. We're not hardcore players. For us, there's a clear boundary between the game and real life. Neither of us is deeply invested in our character. We just play for fun."
DaVe | Horror Priest
"When I play, I'm not very social, I just want to play the game, get on with it. Life can be pretty boring around here. I work in a factory. I guess we're always looking for something to do."
Francis | Frances
"I didn’t meet very many people very early on – I guess I was just stuck on the real-life convention where you don’t just walk up to strangers on the street and have a conversation. Then I created this female character. Having an avatar that wasn’t at all like my real-life self made it easier to accept that we don’t need to follow real-world etiquette."
Jean-François | Dark Freeman
"Because I am concerned for the image of MMORPG players in France and elsewhere, I work very hard for this atypical community that brings people together from all social and professional backgrounds. The final goal is to promote these people to the neophyte and non-gaming communities – to get recognition for a phenomenon that could now be a new sport, or a new form of leisure. And to demarginalize these players who suffer from a negative image, surrounded by prejudices and misunderstandings."
Wagner | Hamlet Au
"What I like most about virtual-world communities is that they’re a meritocracy based on creativity and socialization – wealth, race, national origin, and so on doesn’t matter. Unfortunately, they do have similar levels of pettiness, backbiting, and destructive competitiveness. In other words, they’re highlighting some of the best and worst of real-world communities.
For more gamers and their stories, a print copy of Alter Ego can be purchased here. You can follow Robbie Cooper on Twitter, @BitMechanic. BuzzFeed Daily
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