Cyberculting

A blog about Cyberculture and ICTs.

Posts Tagged ‘escapism’

Lose yourself

Posted by candacewhitehead on August 3, 2008

In my first blog post, I talked about how people could lose themselves in their Internet identity: they choose an avatar, a nickname and ultimately, an alter-ego if they wish. The same is true of gaming – and the escapism for me is more intense than any of my cyber alter-egoes.

I researched this topic quite thoroughly throughout my July vacation. I clocked Dungeon Siege II, started and finished Fable: The Lost Chapters and carried on a bit more with my Morrowind character (which has been a work in progress since December, really).

The majority of the games that I play are fantasy-genre, you see. I love to take on magic-using characters, and for a couple of hours I can be a powerful sorceress (or sorcerer, if your game constrains you to one character of one sex) who battles against the evil of the world. I love the freedom, I love the possibility, but most of all, I love the story.

Successful games, I have decided, are actually good literature. The ones that I love the most have strong storylines which carry your character through the game. The only difference with literature is that you are shown what the character is doing – either through reading about Harry Potter’s last and great battle wih Lord Voldemort, or through watching the aliens battle it out in Aliens vs Predator, you aren’t in control. However, in a game, you are in control – or at least, in as much control as the developer allows you to be.

The hundreds of literature-based games available reveal just how important the story has become within the game. Mobygames.com gives a relatively comprehensive list of these. Serious gamers I have spoken to criticise a game on a number of criteria: one of the most important of these being the storyline. Is it plausible? Does it carry through the game? Am I still interested half-way through?

Gaming series such as The Elder Scrolls series have created an entire world for their games which resemble the worlds of great fantasy writers. Indeed, fantasy writers are often brought in by game developers to write storylines for games, or even to assist in developing games based on their books. Raymond E Feist, author of The Riftwar Cycle and novels such as Magician and his latest offering, Wrath of a Mad God, was approached by game developers to assist in developing games based on Midkemia, the world his books are set in. Eventually the games were turned into books, and have become an integral part of the Riftwar Cycle. Good games become good literature.

It boils down to escapism. I want to get lost in a good story – I want to sympathise with the main character and share their triumphs and their losses.

Gamers often cultivate their characters, rearing them as they would children, where each level-up is a personal triumph and a decision that is the gaming world’s equivalent of where to send your favourite kid to university.

I know that this is what I do. I want to forget how crappy my last week was, and I want to delve into a world as far-removed from mine as possible. And what easier way is there than to actually become someone else for a few hours, even if they are just a few pixels on a computer screen?

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You can’t always get what you want

Posted by candacewhitehead on April 14, 2008

I learnt a valuable lesson yesterday. Make sure everything is saved in at least two different places. My dear laptop crashed – and took everything with it. Including my blog draft. I’m going to have to wing it, so bear with me.

I would love to give you a first-hand account of my Second Life (SL) experience, but alas. After two attempts at getting it up and running, I gave up. At first I tried to download it onto a computer I knew was better than my little Fujitsu. Installation and registration was fine. And then it came to choosing a name.

I must have tried about twenty names for my female character, and all of the cool ones were taken. For those of you who don’t know how SL works, you get to live your “second life” online – choosing a name for yourself, and a new image (an avatar). You have the freedom to do whatever you like – and you can even charge “Linden dollars” to your very real credit card in order to buy things. 

At the end of March, over 13 million people were registered residents of SL – and each has to have their own individual name. You can type in your first name of choice, and then have to select a surname from a prepared list. And some of these names are pretty weird.

So after beating my head against the desk for about half an hour, I managed to find a relatively cool, unisex name. Trouble is – 13 million other people want to have a relatively cool name too. So screw having a normal first name – if you want to have that, you’re most likely going to have to pick a surname that would have seen you beating to a pulp at breaktime in primary school. Sorry folks, thanks for playing.

Once I’d sorted out the name dilemma, it was time to choose where I wanted to land. On that first island, they said I could meet and interact with people, walk around, even fly if I wanted to. Fantastic, I thought! One of my major aspirations in life, after watching X-Men in my childhood, was to be able to fly like Rogue could in the cartoons. Fortunately for Rogue, she didn’t get an error message saying that they couldn’t pick up her network connection.

So I crawled under the desk to check the network cable, disabled the firewall and the antivirus, chickened out and re-enabled the antivirus. And so ended part one.

Then I tried to get it on my laptop – and SL sniggered in its sleeve at my puny machine. See, SL wasn’t designed for people with computers like mine.  If you don’t have at least the recommended (recommended, not minimum) graphics card, SL jerks and shakes until you quit out of pure nausea.

But despite the admin issues, SL is hugely popular. A number of universities have a SL presence, where you can take classes. The Maldives were the first to open an embassy in SL on “Democracy Island”, and were swiftly followed by Sweden and Estonia . 20th Century Fox premiered X-Men: The Last Stand on SL. Reuters has a news bureau. Sky News has a virtual newsroom. Mazda  and Toyota offer virtual replicas of their cars. It’s bizarre, I tell you.

I think it’s the escapism. I think it’s the way you can make up for your past mistakes, and be able to turn over a new leaf and go “this time, I know what to do”. I think that now, but I don’t know. This is only the beginning of my exploration into SL – setting the stage for what is to come.  One virtual step at a time.

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