Pai Sho

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Choi Seang Rak (left), an economics and public policy professor at Dongguk University in Seoul, South Korea, and his Lineage II avatar, Uroo Ahs. "Because I"m very polite, people think I really am a little girl," he says.

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Time was that the word "avatar" meant the earthly manifestation of a god. You might have sầu also used it to describe an archetype. But in the earliest days of the Internet — baông xã in the 1980s, when no one was looking — an avatar became one"s digital self.

If this is news to lớn you, consider yourself extravagantly late khổng lồ the costume các buổi party that is online role-playing.

Let"s get you up khổng lồ speed. Introducing 27-year-old wife and mother Becky Glasure, who complains of never being taken seriously.


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"Maybe I just exude it, I don"t know. But I feel lượt thích I"m this short person with this squeaky little Filipino voice & nobody toàn thân wants to pay attention."

Glasure"s first online game was Everquest and her avatar was female. But all anyone noticed were her pixel breasts, và this despite her considerable gaming expertise.

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Fed up, she switched digital identities.

"And I picked the biggest, blackest guy I could find," she says.

She called hyên ổn Stygion Physic — Stygion from the River Styx, Physic for healing. That"s the closest she could get lớn "Bad Medicine" in the game, City of Heroes.

And with her change of avatar, her pleasure in the game changed.

"When I play this big guy, everybody toàn thân listens khổng lồ me," she says. "Notoàn thân argues with me. If there"s a group of people standing around, I say, "OK, everytoàn thân follow me!" And they vày. No questions asked."

Though it"s hard not to wonder what her choice of avatar says about Glasure.

Cue the cyberanalysts & virtual ethnographers, including Tracy Spaight, who"s been inquiring inlớn human gaming behavior for as long as there have been online games.

"A sociologist at MIT, Sherry Turkle, described these environments as laboratories for the construction of identity, says Spaight. "In the virtual world you can be anything you want khổng lồ be ... construct a persomãng cầu that is wildly different from your real world self."

Spaight"s own fascination with role-playing, avatars & gaming has been realized in the book and traveling exhibit Alter Ego: Avatars và Their Creators. It"s a collaboration between Spaight và portrait photographer Robbie Cooper, who has avoided the temptation of massively multi-player online role playing games (MMORPGs, or simply MMO"s).

"I played one of these games for two days once," Cooper says. "Scared the hell out of me. I made the decision never lớn play one again. Because? I would kết thúc up just vanishing inlớn it!"

Cooper and Spaight traveled to lớn Đài Loan Trung Quốc, nhật bản, South Korea, parts of Europe và the United States lớn photograph và interview gamers, whittling down some 3,000 applicants to lớn the several dozen people featured in their book.

There is ample repetition, even aý muốn them. For one, quite a number of avatars are just younger, thinner và prettier versions of their creators. For another, just as many avatars are polar opposites of their people.


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Cooper"s portrait of Jason Rowe, for instance, stops you dead. He stares straight at you out of startled xanh eyes. But what takes you abaông chồng is his frail body toàn thân, his clenched hands, and the ominous ventilator strapped to lớn his face.

"My condition is called Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy," Rowe told Spaight. "It pretty much affects all the muscles in the body toàn thân. They don"t function."

Rowe does have a little movement in his thumbs, which enables hlặng khổng lồ play the MMO Star Wars Galaxies an average of 80 hours a week.

His avatar is a steely, robot-lượt thích character who rides Imperial speeder bikes và fights monsters, his head helmeted, his face unseen.

"My character in the game is a lot different from what you see here in real life," Rowe says. " pretty much gave me a window khổng lồ the world."

In the four years since he created his avatar, this frail 32-year-old has had an utienmadaichien.comecedented life experience: Online, he is treated as an equal among mỏi his peers. "Not disabled," he says. "Not in a wheelchair. In virtual worlds, everyone is on common ground."

trò chơi designer Celia Pearce, an assistant professor at Georgia Tech, is no stranger lớn the transformative experiences people often have sầu through their avatars.

"For instance, I have a very cchiến bại friover who"s in her mid-40s who started playing Everquest," Pearce says. "She"s kind of shy và extremely conscious of pleasing other people. When she came into the game, she took the character of a necromancer."

In the game, a necromancer is the master commander of the dead.

"She began to become much bolder, stronger and more assertive sầu as a result of playing this character," Pearce adds. "And she was able khổng lồ carry that over inlớn her real-life interactions."

Pearce"s friend didn"t set out lớn overcome shyness; Rowe didn"t mix out khổng lồ overcome people"s prejudice. And Glasure, whose male avatar became a leader, doesn"t mean khổng lồ thất bại patience when friends và family don"t fall in line. But stay in costume long enough — whether a general in a Civil War re-enactment, or a wench at a Renaissance fair — and the lines may blur between who you are and who you"re pretending to lớn be.