Patchen Barss on Avatar Identity

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Whether you’re on Yahoo, Twitter, or World of Warcraft – if you’re an Internet user, you have an avatar identity.

A modern-day avatar is simply an icon or figure that represents a user in a digital game or web platform.

But what really is an avatar? Is it a virtual identity created as an escape from real life or is it a persona used to reflect an even truer you?patchen-barss-avatar-identity

Patchen Barss, author of The Erotic Engine: How Pornography has Powered Mass Communication, from Gutenberg to Google, says it’s the latter.

You can create an avatar that looks nothing like you, sounds nothing like you, or moves nothing like you. But Brass says parts of your real personality will eventually come through in your avatar identity.

“It seems as though you go online and you can construct any identity you want,” he says, “but what seems to happen for a lot of people is that who they are prevails and almost gets distilled down to some kind of intense essence of who they are.”

Separate entities or an unconscious visualized representation

Some may still see avatar identities as separate entities from the people who operate them, but there are also some who seamlessly shift into the mentality that the avatars are them.

“I think that that is an important shift, and a real shift. And that’s how you go from something that’s essentially a bunch of polygons moving on a screen to something that’s part of yourself.”

Barss says this is because the virtual world uses the same social principles the real world is based on. The environment might be different, but the interactions are exactly the same.

What do our avatar identities tell us about our communities — whether virtual or physical? You could argue that it lets people lead double lives. But you could also say that it fosters tighter knit communities where people are still allowed to have human interactions within a virtual environment.

Check out our video on online identities and let us know what you think.


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