Monday, April 12, 2010

Would the Real Me Please Step Forward

I think I've mentioned before that I have played a few online games in which I get to be a whole new character other than myself. Some of them can be quite fun. Some not so much so.

What I find most enjoyable are the people I meet. Yes, we're all telling fantastic lies about ourselves - mostly with regard to our appearance. For even if we confess our age (which I kind of do - I give a decade) our visual images are generally young - and quite good looking. Mine is compared to the real life me anyway.

I've met people from a variety of occupations and countries. And ages. One of the people I've met is a young psychology student from somewhere in the eastern side of the United States. I actually know the state, but will grant her further anonymity by not revealing it. She said she read about people and their online behavior in one of her classes. There have been studies made. (Of course there have been studies made. There's always a study.)

Not surprisingly, the studies reveal that people are often more the way they want to be when playing these online games. Shy people often find themselves with arm loads of friends. And I suppose weak and powerless feeling people become dominant in the war games. (She didn't say that one. I'm guessing.) Followers must become leaders and I bet some leaders even become followers. And then there are the gender swappers.

I asked this question of her: So, if being online removes the barriers and fears I have in real life which prevent the real me from displaying to the world, does that mean I'm more real online than in real life?

Her answer: In way, yes.

What online has done is remove the visual aspect of who I am - which ultimately has little (nothing) to do with who I really am.

I believe this. Kind of.

For what I look like, and my physical gender, both directly affect my behavior in real life. If my body has limitations then I have limitations. There are places women and can go but men can't, and places men can go but women can't. There are socially accepted behaviors for women which are unacceptable for men, and the same in reverse.

She asked me to close my eyes and envision myself. Who do I see when I look at the me inside my body? In a cooperative mood, I began to list about six to eight character qualities I think I have - but rarely display - in my real life. As I listed them I felt a chill on my arms. Why? Because many people online have used those very words to describe me - without prompting of any kind from me. In real life I don't often get these compliments, even with prompting.

That conversation made me feel happier about myself online. And I realized just how many people online actually seem to like me. And if all of this mumbo jumbo about the real me showing up online more so than in person, then perhaps I am as kind, caring - and likeable - as I wished I was in real life.

Also makes me wonder about the people who are complete assholes in these games.


fairyhedgehog said...

I have yet to have a complete shock when meeting someone face to face after getting to know them online. I have to say though that when I met one of my best online friends for the first time we were both in fancy dress and that meant a bit of getting used to each other's real appearance the next day!

But I've found people's personalities remarkably similar on and off line. Maybe it's because I don't go in for the same kind of role playing games. I'm pretty much myself online although I can see the attractions of anonymity and I do hide behind the fairyhedgehog label.

I think the internet gives you the chance to explore different facets of your character that might not be allowed into play in the rest of your life. That can be quite freeing.

Sarah Laurenson said...

Ah yes. Anonymity does allow some people to give vent whereas others, like you, find their true selves. Do I believe the assholes are assholes in real life? Not necessarily. I think some of them are using the cloak of anonymity to allow themselves to express anger they are not willing or able to express in real life.

So in a way, they are being more true to themselves, but it is not defining who they really are. Just the parts they cannot or will not show in real life.

And perhaps that is a truism for all of it. It's the hidden parts that come out online when a real mask is in place.

I know if I spewed what was really in my head, I could be lumped in with the assholes. But I don't. Just because my brain can put certain words together at a certain time does not mean I need to open my mouth and speak them (or type them). It's called impulse control and it comes with maturity. Took a long time for me to get a handle on it and I still screw up sometimes.

Wings in the Night said...

Thanks to both of you for your insights into this. Having only met one person in real life and then met her on the internet I have to say she is the same in both places. Maybe I am, too. But I don't think so. Otherwise, why do I have friends online but not in real life?

If some people need to (and feel free to) vent their darker side online then perhaps it's a good thing. They get the destructive outlet without causing any real damage. What a pity terrorists and government people can't do the same.

I used to always speak my mind about everything, too. Now, I often find myself holding back from speaking/writing anything. I think I've changed over the years. Hopefully, I'm a better person now than ever before.

But I do know that today has been one of the happier days I have had in a very long time. The message my friends have been sending me is finally getting through at last. I owe all of you more than I can ever repay.