Friday, May 8, 2009

"My Identity" guest post at Theories of Anything

After last week Tuesday's metaphysical discussion of identity, I guess it's somewhat fitting to follow it up with a discussion of my identity, or at least one small aspect of it. But you won't find it here. Today I have my first guest post!

Als at Theories of Anything had a series of guest bloggers for the month of April writing on the theme of "My Identity." I decided to jump on the bandwagon and do a guest post. I swear I got it in a couple days before the end of the month, she just chose not to post it until now. So head on over there to read my guest post. It's a bit out there (and by that I mean it reveals my supremely geeky nature, to a greater extent than I have on my blog if that's possible), and it addresses one of those "uncomfortable truths" of mine, so just appreciate how naked I feel and then maybe forget about it. Als's blog is great, so once you're there, stick around to check it out--she has some lovely poems (I love the four-part butterfly poem), some insightful essays and commentaries, and discussions of books and music that she enjoys.

This is my very first guest post! Hooray for the blogger community. Enjoy!

Update: Some time since hosting this guest post series, Als decided to make her blog invitation only. So, if you want to read the post, I've copied it below:

Guest post originally for Theories of Anything

If you were to meet me in real life, you would probably conclude that I'm a fairly normal girl who pretty much has her life all together. I graduated from a prestigious college, I've been working in environmental research for almost two years, and in the fall I will begin working towards a Ph.D. in oceanography. I take care of myself with a healthy lifestyle and maintain a normal social life. In fact, plenty of people know me a long time without ever learning that I am a total geek.

Now, geeks come in many flavors, but I fall primarily in the fantasy/sci-fi gamer realm of geekdom. My favorite movies and TV shows are in the sci-fi or fantasy genres, I read almost exclusively fantasy novels, and, perhaps most notably, I devote an appalling amount of my time to playing computer games. My favorite games are fantasy or sci-fi role-playing games (RPGs), particularly ones with complex, engaging storylines; ideally, playing an RPG should be like watching a movie or TV show except that you're in control of the main character.

Like most fans of the fantasy (and sci-fi) genre, I love it for the escape. Fantasy worlds offer magic and spaceships. The characters are always getting swept off into exciting adventures to save the world. What better way to escape from the boredom and harsh realities of the Real World than to dive into another world governed by completely different rules? What escape can be more thrilling and satisfying than saving the galaxy from evil? Books or movies allow the reader or viewer to live vicariously through the characters; RPGs go a step further by allowing the player to step into their shoes. It's almost like becoming one of the characters.

But just almost. Once in a while you hear stories about obsessive, addicted gamers who eschew their real lives for their in-game "second lives". I'm not like that. I know what's real and what's not, and I know better than to sacrifice my real life for the benefit of a virtual game. My true identity is clear; my love of fantasy and gaming has not given me any sort of identity crisis.

At least, I do a very good job of hiding my fantasy-related identity issues—even from myself. Only occasionally do these feelings surface, and they are always quickly suppressed. But delving into a personal journal that I kept while in college—a private journal that I never intended anyone else to see—I found some disturbing evidence of my identity issues:

If I should die, keep my computer, for it holds the people I wish I could be.

Though I am loathe to admit it, when confronted with this pitiful honesty, I cannot deny that I still relate to the person who wrote it. The truth is, there is a part of me that feels a strong kinship with my computer game characters. These characters live in fantastical worlds I find preferable to our own, live lives more exciting than my own, and because I control them in the game, they reflect my opinions and choices—they reflect a piece of me. This is not actually an exclusively game-related phenomenon. You name any fantasy or sci-fi world that I've ever loved—Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, X-Men, Heroes, Star Wars—and you can bet I've daydreamed about who I would be in that world. Frequently. I have had more of these fantasy identities than I can remember.

I know that these identities are just fantasies. They are illusory daydreams hidden beneath the real me who is just a normal, cheerful girl contributing her part to society. It has been said, after all, that it's not who we are underneath but what we do that defines us*. If we subscribe to that philosophy, my identity is defined by my successful young career as an environmental scientist and my healthy relationships with the people around me, not by these false fantasies.

If we subscribe to that philosophy. It is true that what we do in life defines us to the outside world. Our actions are what really matter, since they are what the rest of the world will witness and remember. The world doesn't care about our hidden thoughts. Our actions echo through the future, while our inner feelings die with us. Still, what we do is influenced by other people, limited by the world and the circumstances under which we live. Our dreams, in contrast, are unfiltered by reality. In that sense, what is more our own—more ourselves—than our dreams?

The way our unrealistic dreams have any relevance is through our personal happiness. My actions may affect the world around me in a tangible way, but when I compare my real life to my fantasies, it affects how I feel. Like many twenty-somethings, I spend a lot of time struggling to find my role in life. And my fantasy identities are always there to taunt me: You will never matter as much to your world as Commander Shepard or Gorion's Ward matter to theirs! These characters torture me because I love them but I know they can never be real. How can I ever be satisfied with my life when I compare myself to superheroes? How can I find my place in the world when I yearn for a different universe? Some day, I may mature enough to let these false dreams go. But until then, fantasy will remain my escape—and my prison.

*My fellow geeks may have identified this as a reference to Batman Begins.


Sebastian said...

'twas good reading, and your journal insight wasn't as scary as you think -- a lot of gamers play for the reason of escapism, and it's not rare for roleplayers to project entirely. There's a reason the main character never (?) dies in such games -- it would be traumatic!

After the guest post on my blog, people will certainly think you are a rather cute lady of varied talents :)

Eleni said...

Aw, thanks :-)

Hardcore characters in games like Diablo II die for good. That certainly would be traumatic!

Hezabelle said...

Great post, I really enjoyed it. And definitely identified with it. When I was preteen, I read an absurd amount of fantasy books and spent all of my spare time writing fanfic and daydreaming about being characters in novels - usually the medieval fantasy type. I was so obsessed with it that I would have given anything to be put into that world and get out of my Real World. Most people didn't know this about me - I kept it hidden mostly out of embarrassment.

But it all changed for me towards the middle of high school. I think the more I started to find things I enjoyed in the Real World the more I was able to let my escape go and be simply that - a temporary escape. Also, it allowed me to embrace my love of fantasy and history as a perfectly normal (though nerdy) hobby.

But to this day, there's nothing quite like reading an good fantasy book to distract me from life.