At first glance, Robbie Cooper‘s Alter Ego: Avatar and Their Creators (2007) is fundamentally a coffee table book: large, non-standard size, glossy photos, high quality paper, and a really interesting topic. But it’s also more than that.
With the unprecedented popularity of massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) like Second Life and World of Warcraft, avatars–the customized, computerized virtual characters that move around a computer game when you move your mouse or type on the keyboard–are a big deal. They’re not only how a player interacts with a given game interface, they are also how a player presents themselves to that game.
For that reason, avatars also become a part of a player’s life–sometimes simply to enable gameplay but also often in very meaningful ways unrelated to the game per se. The chosen title of this book, Alter Ego, points out that fact very well. These are characters that players alter for various reasons. Some to adopt a persona more accurate than a physical appearance could ever be. Others to create a virtual version of themselves down to the smallest detail. At the same time, avatars also can become an alternative personality.
In this book Cooper has collected photographs of real people and the avatars they have created for themselves. The book also provides vital statistics (who they are, where they live, game played, etc.). Each person interviewed also explains, in their own words, the thought process that went into making their avatar and what it (and online role play gaming in general) means to their lives.
The book and its range of subjects is fascinating. Senior citizens in a nursing home, a disabled young man, teens, drag queens, actors, entrepreneurs, and regular people are all represented in this book. And they all have an avatar.
No one really knows what the implications of increased online socialization will be yet. But in a time where more and more time is spent online, Alter Ego shows that there is a lot more to gaming than mashing a few buttons.
(Also, the cover looks cool here but it’s even cooler in person because it’s holographic!)
Possible Pairings: Boy Proof by Cecil Castellucci, Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova, Freak Show by James St. James, Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde, Missing Abby by Lee Weatherly
Sound good? Find it on Amazon: Alter Ego