The question of whether our real world lives and online lives are separate, the same, or a blend prompts T. L. Taylor to embark on her ethnographical exploration of MMOGs like EverQuest. Going into a study of this type of game, my initial perspective was that a distinct social world would form while playing in a game where you can control every detail of both your physical representation and maintain a mask of anonymity disconnecting you from what you say.
Upon doing more reading in the area, it seems that some scholars submit that you can never escape yourself, even when projected into a digital world, and so your online avatar and you are one in the same. However, Taylor’s proposition blends both of these extreme views into a perspective that addresses both, “We all move back and forth through our offline identities and our in-game ones” (Taylor Location 137). For Taylor, these two identities are not separate nor the same. Instead they each play into each other and help shape and form the other’s sense of identity.
The most interesting connection Taylor made was a statement all to familiar in the arts. Artists debate and struggle over whether their work should imitate life, or whether life imitates the ideals of art. Taylor brings this notion into the digital age as “Sometimes, it seems, it is the real that imitates the virtual” (Taylor Location 91). Based on her experience at a conference of EverQuest players, Taylor explains how one man began handing out flowers to fellow players in reference to his character in game. A behavior that started as a digital social behavior now translates to the “real” world. Similarly, throughout the conference the participants refrained from using their real names, and instead opted for the names of their avatars. Again, the social behaviors and realities created in a virtual “non-real” space can translate to the physical sphere in much the same way that our social behaviors in real life affect how we interact with people within a game world.
Though completely not a discussion of the formative notions of artistic inspiration, I can’t help but apply Taylor’s observations of the interplay between the two worlds of digital and biological to the question of art. Perhaps the same blend of dichotomy exists, and instead of either reality or art imitating the other, it is, in fact, a fluid symbiotic relationship between the two. While artists try to illuminate human behavior and realities through their art, art can also act as the inspiration for new and original ways of understanding humanity and reality. Much like Taylor’s discovery that game life and real life build upon each other, creating from what the other has created, art and reality cannot be separated, but rather act in conjunction with each other in a cyclical paradigm of understanding.