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How am I not myself?

October 22, 2008

It was bound to happen as my current graduate curriculum has converged into my blog. Luckily, it is a subject I am completely immersed in and intellectually stimulated with at this point in the semester. It is the notion of transference between the identity of the player and the identity of the avatar, where the two subjects do not collide but exist in tangent parallels to one another. I apologize to fellow students that are currently reading my blog, but it is the “Lacanian” sense of the internal gaze where one is aware himself as himself as the other peering at himself.

This idea was sparked by the most recent post by the Brainy Gamer, Michael Abbott, who references a link from Iroquois Pliskin’s experience with the game Fallout. One particular passage caught my interest:

You feel like you share an experience with your character, this experience of being thrust into a world you barely understand, one that is unpredictable and promising at once; and sharing an experience is the beginning of a relationship.”

What grabbed me was this shared instance with the character when the character actually is yourself. Essentially, when you a playing single-player games it is a very intimate, personal experience the player has with himself. This fits especially well with an RPG such as Fallout where the sense of loneliness is imperative to the gameplay experience. Another good example is Half-Life 2. I am, of course, ignoring the dialog that occurs between the player and the designer in this particular instance and I am sure if I were writing some sort of dissertation this element would most definitely be addressed.

But I find this aura of simultaneous separation and identification fascinating. It is the moment where the player thrusts himself onto the avatar, creating his own identity, yet remaining distant to the character in the game space unbeknown that that character is, in fact, himself. There is a kind of aloofness to the relationship someone has to an avatar that is extremely familiar and artificial, which I believe, Pliskin touches upon in her experience with the game.

So what does this all mean? Well, it is an experience that can be comparable to the idea audience identification within film. Where the viewer begins to not only fell empathy but identify himself as the character on screen. But, I believe, the division becomes even more blurred in video games because the player is shaping the character as himself or as whom he unconsciously wishes himself to be in the game space. While at the same time, this construction of pixels is inherently not himself and artificial. This is an experience that video games, in particular, provide almost exclusively. When this relationship becomes aware to the player, for example in a game cinematic, it disrupts the channel between the player, himself, his avatar, and the game. And that is why the video game cinematic has come under such recent contention.

I do not want to delve too deep into this dynamic relationship between the player and the avatar, but it is definitely an avenue of intellectual curiosity that I hope to revisit in the future.

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