Self Discovery and IRC
If I learned anything at all from my time on Jesse’s MOO, it is that censure of self is a strange thing indeed. I should preface what I'm about to say with a few comments about my previous history with multi-user dungeons. I briefly visited MUDs and MOOs, and mIRC in high school, and used them mostly for meeting friends and playing chess. Generally, my complaints of them were similar up until a little while ago, all based on what I felt was a tremendous barrier in getting to actually know the person on the other side.
It was not until I logged into www.hellyeah.com's 7777th port that I got a chance to challenge those conceptions. In this case I had come to participate in something completely removed from my experience, that is a formally held discussion (or so I thought) on the internet, with people who knew who I was. I felt that the situation would be strictly ordered, a simple Q&A session on the internet, in which everyone would take turns saying bland, vague things. Upon review, I am overjoyed by what happened. People were themselves, and the dominant order fell through.
What I mean to say is something that was hinted at in class discussion. People show themselves regardless of the medium. The broad variety of options available in the multi-user internet context only broadens the range of tools that we can use. The class' childish, almost inebriated reaction at the outset seems now to be more natural, given the high of relative freedom from identity that some were experiencing for the first time.
It is incredible how much of our character shone through. A few disciplined individuals tried to create some kind of discussion, some others retreated from the virtual noise into a smaller, quiet room., while still others rejoiced in the moment, taking potshots from one another in ways that they would never have dared otherwise. As anyone that was present could testify, such divisions of action arose even more quickly than they would in a non virtual context, and why shouldn't they have. Take a real world introduction for example. A few people meet one another and talk. If the talk is boring or the company bad one is forced to persevere, make small talk, or do anything to avoidbeing rude. In MOOs and MUDs there simply is no reason. One can simply leave or, if the spirit moves them, whisper a damnation of their boring company, completely inaudible to its subject. This potential for things never before allowed or considered seems to lead to gross shifts in personality. This shift can be so sharp that it creates an entirely different entity, a mix between the flesh and the virtual world only possible in a MOO. Might this be this be the early precursors to the avatars that Gibson and other science fiction writers spoke of?
If it is true that people can somehow expand themselves with the help of these devices, can show more of what they consider important, then I was up to the wrong thing all along. My goal then , should not have been to know the person on the other side of the wires and screens, but the one we created in between.