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Sunday 31 July 2005

Screenshot CoH

Pic of the day: Screenshot from City of Heroes. Can you guess which of these characters are mine? That's right: Both of them. They have different roles, and I play them both, sometimes at the same time.


By "MP" and "RP" I mean respectively multiple personalities and role playing. As I mentioned two days ago, most of us don't exactly have multiple personalities in our brain, or rather they are not in control of our consciousness. (They still come out in dreams, though.) But we still behave differently depending on the situation. We don't just do different things, we are different; we have different attitudes and different feelings depending on the "role" we play.

In real life we don't really think about this. We come into a shop and have the customer attitude, then we discover that an old friend of ours work there; suddenly we change from the customer role to the friend role. We don't even think about it, and neither does anyone else. In Japan people even have different personal pronouns depending on who they talk to: Not just "you", but also "I". Yes, they use a different word for themselves depending on their relationship to the person they talk to.

These roles are more or less imposed on us. Yes, we choose our job, we choose whether or not to get married, or get drunk for that matter. But when we have chosen, there are certain expectations. You may say that real life is a kind of role playing game, and you are expected to act "in character".


Today, many people play actual role playing games. On the Internet, there are now so-called "massively multiplayer online role-playing games". Intriguingly, they are also sometimes called "persistent worlds". You can return to your character in that imaginary world for months or even years. Your character meets other characters, and you have a very strong impression that it is you who are meeting other people. Real people. In some cases, marriages have been broken or made through such role-playing games.

There are not only the typical fantasy games, set in an imaginary Middle Ages or in the far future or in a comic book. There is also another class of games, if you can even call them games. "Massively multiplayer online social games" (MMOSG) or "virtual worlds" are perhaps more related to chat rooms, but they still take place in a three-dimensional imaginary world where you are represented by an "avatar", a character you have designed or selected to represent you. Even though these games lack the excitement of battle, they are still popular, and not least among women.

But as with other role-playing games, not all who are women in the game are also women in real life, and the same holds true for men to some extent. There are also games where you can be represented by an alien or a "furry", a humanoid animal. And the social roles you play in the game may be very different from your ordinary life. A person who is shy in real life may be bold in the game. There is a saying that "on the Net, nobody can see that you are a dog". (I like to add "until you sniff their butt".) As long as you play your role well, you can experience parts of life that would otherwise be beyond your reach.

As I have said before, I don't think a boy who roleplays a pretty wood elf princess will suddenly wake up one day and think he is female. Or royalty. Or has pointy ears. If that happens, something equally disturbing or worse would probably have happened anyway, for instance if he was reading the Koran.

But I think role-playing changes the way people perceive the world, and mostly in a good way. It becomes easier for them to understand others and see things from their point of view. To take our wood elf princess again, if she is exposed to indecent comments from the male characters, the player may get an idea of how this feels for women in real life. And perhaps he thinks: "Women are people too, not just boobs with legs." (Ironically, if he had thought that in the first instance, he might not have chosen a female character to begin with. But as you play your character, you learn to identify with them.)

If we become aware of the roles we play, we may be taking our first steps toward a better way of organizing our soul. But even if we do not come that far, it is still better to be aware than to just drift with the current.

Yesterday <-- This month --> Tomorrow?
One year ago: "Key to Havoc" review
Two years ago: Professors and Civilizations
Three years ago: Morrowind magic
Four years ago: A somewhat queer dream
Five years ago: Unbored
Six years ago: Debunking Pascal's Wager

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