“The tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy: virtual reality offers a form of escapism.”
Long before I equated transgender with the person in the driving seat in my mind, I engaged in a form of virtual reality – writing fiction with the main character being whom I then saw as my alter ego. My mind explored a life I could not and will not be able to live. I had an imagined youth, became a young adult and matured – and what a time it was.
“Time it was
And what a time it was, it was
A time of innocence
A time of confidences
Long ago it must be
I have a photograph
Preserve your memories
They’re all that’s left you.”
~ Bookends: Simon and Garfunkel
The difference is – I still have the memories and many, many virtual photographs, preserved in my memory.
Although the virtual reality experience of Oculus Rift and similar advanced display technology is relatively new, another type of virtual reality, role playing games (RPGs), have been around for a very long time. Dungeons & Dragons is a fantasy tabletop RPG that was first published in 1974. It is commonly recognized as the beginning of modern role-playing games. A live action role-playing game (LARP) is a form of role-playing game where the participants physically act out their characters’ actions. The players pursue goals within a fictional setting in the real world, while interacting with each other in character. In addition to tabletop role-playing, LARP has its origins in childhood games of make-believe, play fighting, costume parties, roleplay simulations, improvisational theatre, psychodrama, military simulations and the likes.
And how great were those make-believe games… Castles, knights on horseback, a beautiful woman, dragons…
Although I never participated in any RPG from Dungeons & Dragons to the now popular World of Warcraft, or wandered around in non-gaming worlds like Second Life, I could easily embed the concept of an avatar into my life – having had an alter ego since before my teens. The Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication published a study* of the reactions to certain types of avatars by a sample group of human users. The results showed that users commonly chose avatars which were humanoid and matched their gender. Ha! I could have saved them a lot of money and time – Kris had always been male.
How you represent yourself in a virtual world, may affect how you behave toward others in the real world, according to research.**
“Virtual environments enable people to experience extraordinary identities or circumstances. People can take on superhero or super-villain roles using digital avatars in virtual space. By acting as these avatars, individuals may learn new behaviors and model their own, real-life behaviors after them (Bandura; Bem). The virtual environment is, thus, a vehicle for observation, imitation, and modeling; players’ avatars may fuel these processes.”**
Yup. I doubt I could have accepted the person behind the mask and cloak, had it not been for my ventures into my mind-world. Living in the real world has become just that little bit easier. Still behind a mask and cloak, but with self-acceptance and more inner peace.
Much have been and are researched and written about the psychological effects of gaming. The relationship between games and their effects is still too often found to be one of a direct cause/effect.
Dungeons & Dragons had for example been the subject of rumours regarding players struggling to separate fantasy from reality. The best known of these is the story of James Dallas Egbert III – the perceived link between his disappearance and later suicide being his partaking in a LARP version of Dungeons & Dragons (The facts later were fictionalized in the novel Mazes and Monsters (also a TV movie)).
The positive influences of online social communities like WordPress, still needs to be extensively researched. These communities can be a great source of social support where that support is lacking offline. Here I am talking from experience. The value of online friends is much discredited. Online friends are most often the most real of friends.
Today I thank you, my online and offline friends, for helping to make the line between offline and online totally fluid.
* Nowak, K. L. and Rauh, C. (2005), The Influence of the Avatar on Online Perceptions of Anthropomorphism, Androgyny, Credibility, Homophily, and Attraction. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 11: 153–178. doi: 10.1111/j.1083-6101.2006.tb00308.x