Digital Reincarnation

Parker Busswood
CNET English 100
Aurelea Mahood
October 9, 2009

DIGITAL REINCARNATION

In her article “Always-on/Always-on-you: The Tethered Self,” Sherry Turkle makes reference to the widespread use of online social games as a tool for rethinking and experimenting with one’s identity. Users of such games are oftentimes adults who utilize these sites to gain a “feeling of everyday renewal” and escape for a few moments from their real lives. However, online games such as Second Life can also serve as a powerful means by which adolescents can shape their identities and self-images. Over the last decade, online role-playing games have evolved from simple forms of entertainment into influential devices for both adults and adolescents to experiment with and develop their personal identities.

Many believe that those who frequently delve into cyberspace through their avatars are lacking important social skills, negatively impacting their ability to fraternize with people they meet in the real world. The instant gratification and ability to experiment with one’s sense of self that Second Life and similar worlds offer is argued by some to be causing a dependence on these virtual worlds for social contact, potentially leading users to experience discomfiture in real-life social situations. Another characteristic of simulation games such as Second Life is that despite their efforts to faithfully recreate the real world, they experience, to some extent, a lack of verisimilitude in regards to their idealistic depiction of real life. This may not be an issue, however, to players who are eager to escape to an alternate and somewhat utopian vision of their lives and of the world in general.

In spite of these opinions, there is significant evidence to suggest that these digital 3D environments can benefit their users by allowing them to play out various scenarios and work out issues in their real lives, “often related to sexuality or intimacy.” People can utilize their virtual personae in an attempt to resolve certain dilemmas as they encounter them in life. This transference of aspects of people’s lives between the real and virtual worlds allows them to work through a myriad of challenges without experiencing real consequences as a result of their experimentation. The significance of these virtual worlds and their employment as self-help devices is alluded to by Turkle, who states that in these online settings, “the crippled can walk without crutches and the shy can improve their chances as seducers.”

The emergence of sophisticated online role-playing games whose purposes transcend entertainment has enabled users to resolve personal issues and develop their identities through the creation of online personae. Players are able to conceptualize an improved virtual life, providing them with the freedom to evaluate and experiment with various aspects of their lives in order to connect with themselves. These users are able to step back and view their lives from a different perspective and make changes to their online characters that can manifest themselves in the real world. This experimentation with personal identity in virtual realms effectively serves as a digital reincarnation that can have tremendous benefits on those who experience it.

Word count: 498

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