Friday, 29 March 2013

Online Identities: The Blurry Line Between Reality and Fiction

Alright, so I am not a gamer nor do I spend my time on fantasy games creating different identities for myself but that doesn’t mean I do not have an online identity. Social media in general is a great platform for people to develop a new or advanced identity, something different from their physical identity. There are different degrees to this. Some people create a whole new reality for themselves online and others enhance or slightly alter their identity. The argument that many are faced with is if online reality is truly reality.

Online or virtual identity is becoming more popular as technology advances. Very common platforms for creating online identities are online games. Internet reality gaming often requires one to develop a complete identity for them self, both physically and spiritually. Insecure about your body, gender, height, race, religion? Never fear reality gaming is here! Well not quite actually because there are many pros and cons to developing an online identity to this intensity. Not only are there psychological factors of living two different identities, one physical and one online, but the fine line of reality and fiction can become deteriorated.

I’m not sure I really alter my identity through social media to a great extent but I’m sure there are aspects about my identity that I fabricate on Twitter. For me, I am in the process of graduating, so I limit swearing and try to promote myself as a professional in the communications field. Therefore I think online identities range in very different ways. 

In Finding Your Identity in Online Games Mark Ramirez discusses the positive attributes of online gaming. He demonstrates that through what is called Massively-Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games or MMOPRG’s people can often find happiness in their physical world. Players can customize their online identity in terms of physical appearance, voice, possessions, and professions. Ramiriez says that online games enhance gamers’ lives where ones identity created in the online world can flow into their identity in the physical world. I would have to agree that online gaming does provide a good platform for online identities to prosper into peoples’ real lives, but what about those people who take it to the next level?

A specific game called World of Warcraft allows people to not only build a complete online identity but also form relationships through these identities. A video called Identity and Relationships in Online Gaming points out that this game provides a simulacrum between online reality and physical reality. This makes me think of the concept of “cat fishing” where one pretends to be someone else online and starts a relationship with someone using a fake identity. For one, this isn’t fair to the other person in the relationship and for two this requires and intense fabrication of one’s real identity. Someone can be homosexual and act as a woman to find a man, or a pedophile can act as a young girl to talk to other young girls – scary. These instances are more serious and I’m not saying all online relationships are like this but there are many possibilities.

I want to tie in the concept of blended or augmented reality here, where there is no distinction between real life or online life; a reality where the online world and offline physical world relationships merge. Take the new phenomenon of Google Glass for example. If you have not heard about this new product because you live under a rock it is basically a way to live your life though a pair of glasses; the ability for your technological world and physical world to blend. There are pros and cons to this, for instance how great is it that technology can now allow you to do so many things through a minor chip in the corner of your vision, on the other hand how disturbing is it that your whole life can be filed into an online database now owned by Google, yikes, didn’t think about that did yah!

Online identities can be an extension of ones reality or can create a whole new world for one to live their life, but the blur between them is becoming more and more fine.

Toodleoo from another participating citizen of media


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