ALT! Who goes there? – Part 5 – An essay by Extropia DaSilva

Ok, I know this is a ridiculous position to take. Nobody ever raised an issue over an author creating a character whose age and gender differed from their own. But, isn’t it odd how such concerns can be voiced over roleplay in virtual worlds? So, what is it about the creative medium of literature that makes Goldilocks a perfectly innocent creation, but an avatar designed to look like a little girl and roleplayed as one raises questions regarding what is/ is not acceptable?

DRAW ME A MAGIC CIRCLE.

It seems that when we read a story, the world and its inhabitants take precedence over the creative act. What I mean is this: While reading any book, you could imagine the author writing or typing the very sentence you are reading right now. You could picture him or her sat in front of a computer, research material at their side, occasionally gazing off into space in search of inspiration, and slowly shaping their manuscript into a proper story. But I bet you never do such a thing. Instead, what you see in your mind’s eye is the fictional world and its characters. You see a little girl, trying each bowl of porridge and deciding one is too hot, one too cold, and one just right.
In online worlds, though, there is a tendency to emphasise the real at the expense of the fantasy. If it were revealed that the person behind the avatar known as ‘Harry Potter’ was actually a woman called Joanne Rowling, a lot of people would insist on labelling ‘Harry’ as ‘she’. After all, ‘his’ gender is really female. And while we treat Ron Weasley, Hermione Granger and all the other characters as individuals who have knowledge, motives or feelings that differ from each other, in online worlds we would consider these alts to be the same person, and each must be treated as One.

How can we explain this difference? One thing to consider is the boundary between the fictional world and real life – what Johan Huizinga called the ‘Magic Circle’. With a fictional story, we draw a definite boundary separating the world and its inhabitants via the suspension of disbelief. We accept that, within the magic circle the author invited us into, bears live in houses and know how to cook porridge. And when the book is closed, the time has come to stop believing in bears that talk.

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