I’m the kind of girl that gets deeply immersed in the narrative of my beloved fave awesomesauce genre that is RPGs. In my first playthrough, I usually attempt to create an avatar that looks (more or less like) me. Depending on the character creator and my amount of patience, the result is usually a girl that is “like me” at least regarding basic criteria: Very fair-skinned, golden blonde long hair, blue eyes, slightly eccentric purple or blue eye shadow and fancy earrings, if available. If the editor allows, I pick a youngish avatar with an average build.
I’ve been doing this since first playing Baldur’s Gate, or even before that, but have never given it much thought. Some time after I started blogging about gaming, I realized that it’s not only about the looks, but also the behavior. Roleplaying for me usually isn’t playing someone entirely different, but playing myself in an entirely different setting. So, depending on whether I can pick the avatar’s sex and customize the appearance, and how much freedom I am given in the course of the game, I end up with Ally in Post-Apocalyptia, Ally as mankind’s best hope against the Reaper threat, Ally as Champion of Kirkwall, Ally the Daughter of Baal…
Maybe this isn’t quite the core definition of roleyplaying and some people I know find it lazy and uncreative, but the settings of my favorite games are usually so exotic compared to my real life, that I love having myself as a sort of anchor point from which to judge virtual societies and characters.
In games that let me, I really have my avatar act as I would have under those often extreme circumstances, and accept the responsibility for her/my actions. (I recently read in a book that enthused players constantly switch between first and third person when describing what happens in a game, and realized I do this all the time!) So, there certainly is a sort of overlap or merger between “I, Ally” and “I, my avatar”. I think it also explains why I can’t bring myself to be evil in a game, even if it’s my fourth playthrough and I know the do-gooder path inside-out.
Let’s face it, most of us would be reluctant and/or scared to face zombies, aliens, thugs and rabid dogs in combat or explore dark dungeons, cursed forests or haunted mansions. Especially as a woman in a setting like Fallout or The Witcher, I’d probably run for my life and hide away until the end of my days rather than be mugged, enslaved, raped and/or killed. I don’t know if I’d have the courage to stand up to the injustice of these societies. I don’t even know the basics of self-defense! All I really have, is words. And I love when I can talk myself out of tricky situations in games. I loved it in Vampire: The Masquerade, in Dragon Age, in Fallout, in The Witcher 2 and especially in Knights of the Old Republic (Force Persuade, I heart you). I especially adore the witty remarks I was able to make at other characters in the aforementioned games, and I’ve used many of these lines in real life. Definitely an overlap between those worlds and my real world. And one of the few I can really “import” from the games, quite unlike the fighting and others skills. [This part of the post was written in mid May 2011.]
Today, June 2 2011, I’m in class hearing a lecture about transmedia storytelling from JC Hutchins -> http://jchutchins.net, who was talking about when he got contacted by a mysterious company and given material (documents, photos, a USB drive) and access to a website revealing bits and pieces about experiments on people. He was then invited by that same company to test FEAR 2 in NYC – in the “FEAR Lab”, where the experiments were supposedly conducted. We didn’t discuss it in detail, but the campaign was quite spooky and well-implemented and thus very immersive, but as JC says, it was soon clear it from well-placed hints that was a game promotion.
You can see several videos about his personal experience with this promo on his blog that I linked to above, so I won’t go too far into this here, but revisiting the draft post above, I wonder where this “immersion thing” is going. Games are becoming more realistic and extend into the “outernet”, our real lives, with the same immersive force. I wonder how I would feel if it was me getting drawn into such a transmedia campaign. I’m sure I’d love it if I figured out it was a game or game promotion. But what if I didn’t? What if I missed a hint that made that clear? Maybe the line between fact and fiction will soon become so blurry one day that we can’t tell the difference? I wonder because as much as I love immersion, love to be IN the game, I also value the freedom to be OUT as I please.
On the other hand, maybe this kind of campaign will become so commonplace that we lose our skepticism towards them. After engaging in several similar transmedia campaigns, would you trust a stranger too easily if they followed this pattern of pretending to be a real company and cleverly hinting at that being fictional/fake, while never even touching on what their goals REALLY are? Am I getting, or won’t we all get paranoid trying to figure it all out? Or will we develop new skills to deal with this development just as we have started with social media zum Beispiel? (that’s German for “for example” and one of three things JC can say in German, so I couldn’t resist)
This is definitely something I’ll be thinking about. Or should I book a self-defense course and take shooting lessons just in case it’s not just a promo?
PS: I’ve recently played a point & click adventure called Overclocked, where teenagers are invited to test a game and end up in a psychiatric hospital. It was a freebie that came with my game mag, so you might get it for free as well. It ties in nicely with this “game promotion conspiracy theory”, and atop of that also simulates transmedia in the game, i.e. you use a virtual cell phone for various things in the game.