Archive for September, 2009

Identity Crisis

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

The journey continues.

Welcome back. Sorry I don’t update as often as I would like to. I’m new at this, and my struggles to earn money to pay bills have to come first when there is too much month at the end of the money. I make no money from this blog; I am a Web Developer and the recent U.S. recession hit me hard. I went from a $75,000 a year job to nothing…and have been struggling ever since.

A note to my comment posters: I appreciate feedback, but I am afraid I WILL delete comments that (a) contain long lists of commercial links or that (b) are in languages I personally cannot read.  I will not be responsible for indecipherable content, and, with ap0logies, that includes languages other than English. I appreciate that other languages exist and are preferred by many…but feedback that I cannot read myself does not help me.

This time, I’d like to explore the world of alternate identities. Some virtual worlds only support one current login per user, but many others allow you to run more than one instance of the client program at the same time. And most allow you to create more than one avatar.

This creates two types of virtual multiple personalities: (a) serial multiples and (b) parallel multiples.

If the virtual world only allows one client program instance to be running at any given time per user account, we have the possibility of serial multiplicity. That is user A can choose to log in as avatar A1, A2, A3, …etc. You can log in as Cyril the Conqueror, vanquish demons, log off, log back in as Princess Frogkisser and chat with handsome princes, and so on.

(Notice I slipped a sub theme in there….your avatars can be different genders, for men who want to play women sometimes or vice versa …)

This sort of thing is handy, especially in online games such as City of Heroes, where you might get bored with the powers of one superhero and decide you want to play another one for a bit. In RP environments such as Second Life, you may have different avatars built for different roleplay themes and may prefer to change avatars for different roles rather than go through the tedious beusiness of changing skins, clothing, weapons, hair, etc. to configure yourself for play in a particular sim.

This “serial multiplicity” brings up some ethical issues, however. In simulations or games where you can be captured by enemies, it can be too tempting to log out and log in as a different virtual person so that you do not have to spend your valuable time looking out of a cage at your gloating captors. A captures B1, but B1 pretends to “crash” and logs out and logs back in as B2, free as a bird.  The serious roleplayers in places such as SL Gor sims really hate this sort of thing, because it defeats the whole point of capturing anyone. It is like being able to teleport right out of a jail, and if everyone did that, what would be the point in working to capture anyone?

In addition to negating the effect of simulating capture, there are virtual military advantages to be exploited by using serial multiplicity. For in the situation above, for example, suppose A and B1 are in rival factions or armies of opposing cities. If B1 is captured, that reduces the forces his army can bring to bear in battles. But if B1 just logs out and logs back in as B2, who is in the same army as B1, then the military advantage of the other army is eliminated with the stroke of a key. The player they captured is back in action and attacking, and their prison cell is empty. You must admit that this is cheating, and the ability to do this makes many roleplayers announce that they will not have any dealings with players who have other alts.

Consider another possibility, maybe even worse than the foregoing. When B1 logs out of his captured avatar and logs back in as B2, maybe that B2 is a citizen of the enemy city that A is from. This allows B1’s army to spy on the enemy whenever they want. How do you fight an enemy whose members can blend in with your own…any time they like?

I am tempted to utter the commandment: thou shalt not play on both sides of any conflict. But it would be useless for me to advise this rule….since there is no known way to enforce it. It is once of the unresolved issued of multiple-avatar user accounts. I am open to suggestions as to how any virtual world can allow more than one avatar per account and still avoid these kinds of cheating.

Since we are on the subject of cheating, let’s open a related can of worms. People form relationships in cyberspace and some of these are supposed to be exclusive, in spite of the fact that the persons involved never meet in Real Life. if you invest time and energy getting to know a special someone, you might think it only reasonable to ask them to stick with you and not spread them selves too thin to have time for you, by seeking other virtual lovers.

Serial multiplicity destroys any assurance of cyber fidelity. if your cybermate is not online (or if you are just bored with him/her/it), you can always create a new avatar and take your alt in search of cyberlove also. Again, as above, there seems to be no way to avoid this loophole, apart from limiting users to single-avatar accounts. It is one of those features of cyberspace that you either accept or ignore, since it usually cannot be prevented.

Okay, let’s beat a new dead horse. Enough of serial multiplicity. Now it gets even weirder. PARALLEL multiplicity. With some virtual worlds you can alter the command line associated with the launching icon and enable the client program to run as more than one instance. Now, B can log in as B1 and B2 at the same time!

This opens a near-infinite can of worms. Those two ladies you see talking to each other over there? Be careful what you say to either of them — they might be the same person in real life. Oh, and that military conflict we were talking about? Guess what: the opposing generals are the same guy!

Parallel multiplicity offer endless ways to mess with people’s heads. If you break up with girl A and meet girl B…you might be just talking to “A 2.0″. She can get back together with you by pretending to be a different person. You can log in as guy B AND as girl C who appears to adore B, so to make other ladies jealous. And so on. Parallel multiplicity means that you appear as a couple.

Parallel multiplicity brings up so many issues it is hard to know where to start. You can go to a dance contest as a man + woman couple and win both the male and female prizes. You can beat yourself up in order to establish your street cred with a cybergang. You can buy products from yourself to inflate your product popularity ratings. You can secretly vote for yourself in surveys and elections. It is astonishing how many of our real world practices and values include the automatic assumption that every person has one and only one body. We carry these assumptions over into the cyberspace realms without bothering to remember that it might not be the same there.

Now I am sure some of you might think I am advocating for single-avatar only cyberspace, perhaps one in which we all wear UPC bar codes or some other version of the Mark of The Beast to uniquely identify us. Far from it. To legislate mono-identity virtuality would be so sacrifice one of the key advantages of cyberspace: the freedom to reinvent ourselves.

Let’s try to hang onto freedom without driving each other crazy, ok?  –MRK

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