A few days ago Jeromai mused on the uses of social media and people wearing masks for different purposes. He elaborates on why masks are actually a good thing and that every mask represents a different but potentially true aspect of an individual. I agree with him completely although the word “mask” still carries the somewhat negative connotation of “cover-up”. I think what we agree on is that human beings are multi-faceted and can take on many different roles, none of which are necessarily fake. In a sense we are all our roles although some of them we may feel closer to than others.
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” [Oscar Wilde]
The post reminded me of a draft I have sitting in my blog’s backlog since 2012 on online communities and why I love MMOs. I never got to finish it and after returning, I can see why (the ramble monster got me!). There is however one paragraph there that still speaks to me today:
“Those geographical lines that are supposed to divide us and tell us how different we are of nature, of values or faith – how imaginary they are. In MMOs we get a chance to be just people. We can make friends or enemies but we do it only as people. It’s said that the anonymity of online gaming let’s people hide and slip behind a veil but more often, the opposite is true. We get to see behind the mask, the outer appearances, the labels – and all we find there is a bit of ourselves.” (my unfinished post)
I believe most of us who have an internet life go there to unwind and be themselves rather than the other way around. Sure, there’s a whole cyberworld out there of scammers and con-men, of fake identities and dangerous promises. When I think of my time within MMORPG communities however, of the people I’ve met online and stayed close to (and some I even met offline later), the “roles” they got to play through their player characters felt more real, more unrestricted than the person they returned to by day. Avatars can give us courage to be ourselves – they can give us wings. They will take us places we never even imagined we could go. They may lend us a voice we never heard before.
We are the total sum of our masks/roles. But there is also that strong feeling (and need) of when we are truest or when we are genuinely ourselves. Some of the social studies on identity building I came across as a teacher, suggest that the greatest degree of personal unhappiness is inflicted on an individual when their social environment does not reflect the image they have of themselves (disparity between self- and external perception). People who manage to be around others that do not only recognize them, but accept and support them in their true self, will prosper indefinitely. This is naturally also an important field of study for developmental psychology when it comes to the effects of unconditional love on children’s upbringing (and later success in life).
We long to be accepted. We yearn to be recognized. All of that suggests there’s such a thing as a true self (which is not to say that can’t change over time). Applied to online gaming and with Oscar Wilde’s above quote in mind, I conclude this means our online avatars really are the masks we use in order to tell others the truth about ourselves. I’m kinda happy to know that MMOs can serve such a powerful purpose.