My lovely friend Zeirah and I are challenging each other with a weekly blog post. We choose a topic and both write about it. This week’s topic is a bit different – this week we’re talking about ingame persona vs. real life persona. You can read Z’s post this right here.
There’s something about being in your own safe home with nothing but the glow of a screen to keep you company that offers a sense of security and confidence that is not otherwise afforded. In some ways it’s like when a surgeon puts on his mask or a police officer puts on her uniform or the actor puts on their costume – the “real” you is hidden away, and you start playing the role the mask gives you.
We see it all the time online, where the freedom of appearing to speak into a void with unseen consequences causes people to put on the mask of online vigilante. Some people say things they wouldn’t say to people if they were standing right in front of them, but when they’re mere pixels on a screen and the online mask is on, the new persona comes out and the behaviour changes, and suddenly making inappropriate and threatening comments are the norm.
This is obviously an extreme example of what happens when we live a life online, and not everyone behaves the same way. But the point is that, for a lot of people, the person they are online is not the same as the person they are in real life. In some cases it can be seen as a negative difference, in others it can be positive. I feel I fall into the positive changes.
Under the mask – the “real life” Cinder
The real life me is difficult to explain, especially to those who have not had similar experiences. But we’ll try anyway!
The short version is that during my final year of high school I suffered severe anxiety and became agoraphobic. Which basically meant for me I had a lot of difficulty leaving the house and being around people. My school was great and found ways to work with me to help me graduate, and I in turn found ways of coping with my anxiety so that I didn’t fall back in to being fully agoraphobic, and found ways to leave the house to go work, even live overseas for awhile.
My anxiety is a struggle to deal with every single day. The easiest way I have of explaining it is actually with a WoW quest. Remember in Mists of Pandaria there was a quest with a fellow named Mudmug who was in Valley of the Four Winds? He had you run around the water areas to fill up a vial that kept leaking. (It’s this quest here for those who don’t remember). That broken vial is me, and the liquid inside it is the energy I have to interact with people (or be out in the world). It is constantly depleting. Some things make me deplete more than others. I am (probably unsurprisingly) massively introverted. (My personality type is INTJ-T which you can read about here. I’m around 90% introverted). Being around people exhausts me. Crowds are the equivalent of tipping that vial over and pouring the contents out. I don’t cope well. Getting on the tram each day to go work, speaking to anyone, talking on the phone (oh god phone calls), sending emails, buying my morning coffee, going out to dinner with friends – all of it depletes that vial. And some days I don’t even start with a full bottle. Being with Thor helps (it is nothing short of a miracle that I found someone who understands my anxiety and helps me deal with it. Thor is my rock, as corny as it sounds.) He understands when I don’t have it in me to go to the movies or the shops or even outside the front door. But he also helps to keep the vial from getting empty when we are our in the world. It really helps.
Things that help me energise essentially involve me being alone. Things like reading or playing WoW or watching movies or just sitting staring into space – they all help me keep calm and able to leave the house again the next day.
Essentially the real me, if it were up to me, would live in the mountains by a stream with some books and pen and paper (and good internet access!). And I’d be totally ok with that.
It’s hard to explain this to people who have not had anxiety or who do not understand introverted behaviour. People don’t understand that if I’m upset or frustrated or angry, I’d rather be alone. People will say things like “go spend time with your friends” or “just smile anyway” or “just be positive” or “these things happen for a reason – it’s what you do next that matters most!”. It doesn’t work like that. Statements like that, while well meant, upset more than they help, because they say “you are broken and what you do to try and function in the world is not enough, and you are not right to feel the way you do”. Sometimes it upsets me; sometimes it offends. A lot.
The real me likes to have a laugh, (over)thinks a lot, tries to be creative and just generally tries to be a decent human being. I’m just better at doing those things on my own than with/around other people.
The Cinder that leaves the house
Obviously, I’m not a hermit. I still have to function in the world – I still have to go to work and pay bills. And I do like to venture out to the movies and things like that. I don’t like to miss out on everything. So I needed to find a way to do that. And it comes back to what I used to do in high school – I would act. I would put on a mask and pretend to be someone else to help me get through the day. All the while that vial underneath is getting emptier and emptier as the day wears on. Sometimes I do alright – I can do the pretending just fine, and deal with it all when I get home. Other days I’m not so great and don’t get too far (or out of bed).
The Cinder that leaves the house is not the real Cinder. Just a functioning one. 🙂 It’s the Cinder that people at work know. Sometimes it’s the Cinder that even my friends know (depending on how well I know the friend).
The online Cinder
Which leads me to who I am in WoW and online in general – the third Cinder, if you will. The online Cinder is who I would prefer to be in real life. Both my in game characters and who I am on my blog and in my podcasts – that’s who I would like to be in real life. Funnily enough, my online self is actually a lot closer to my real self than my day to day self is (i.e. the Cinder that leaves the house)
My characters in WoW are all representations of who I am, even with some of the negatives. My shaman in particular really embraces the split personality types that I have – the carer who wants to help and protect those around her, and the fighter who will stand in front of blades if it means doing the right thing. And already, every character I have played in the game is different to my real life self in that they talk to a LOT of people. They do everything they can to help, they stand up to fight when they’re afraid, they are good and they are kind. Mostly, they are strong.
The way I interact with people online is different as a result. My characters give me confidence that isn’t always naturally there. I have learned to channel my inner Cinderstorm and speak up when I want to say something and contribute to discussions and share things. Being in a raid team has really taught me how to work better with others and interact with them to achieve something. Because I’m doing that in game, I’m doing that in teamspeak as well. I’m also more confident in game to speak up for myself when I disagree, or even getting angry at people who are being dicks.
The other reason I’m more confident online is that people can’t see me. They’re judging me by my personality and my actions rather than how I physically look. Given that I am overweight and not an attractive person, I find that people interact with me very differently face to face in real life. There are automatic assumptions made about who I am as a person because of how I look. I’ve learned to ignore it, but it’s draining. In WoW and online I don’t have to worry about that because people can’t see me. It’s very freeing.
I think other things that also help with online confidence is that I’m talking to people who love what I love – they love this game. Sure it’s probably for different reasons, but having something in common with someone else is a big step towards making interaction a little easier. Doing the podcasts also really helps with this. No-one wants to listen to me be a robot. So I put on the “online Cinder” mask and do the best I can to be interesting and entertaining for people – I try to be the me I would like all the time. And yes it is exhausting – the energy is always dripping out of that vial – but it’s a different kind of exhausting. It’s draining but in a more satisfying way.
The overall point is that, yes, I am somewhat different online to what I am in real life. But I am trying my hardest every day to work towards being more like my online self. I will always be very introverted (that’s never, ever going to change) but I am trying more and more to be who I am online in real life as well. I’ve found at work I have more of a voice – I will stand up for myself if someone is being bossy or a bully, and I’ll make suggestions for alternative ways of doing things if I think they’ll be better. And it’s good.
When it comes down to it, I have a lot to be thankful for WoW. Not only because I’ve made some wonderful friends all over the world, but it’s helping me be better in the real world, too. And I like that. 🙂