Last week, I posted on how the study of online gaming, specifically interactive multiplayer games such as World of Warcraft, could lead to new insights into how to best minister on the Internet. As part of that research, I have just finished reading I, Avatar, a fascinating book about just what happens when someone spends more and more time in a virtual world and focuses specifically on the concept of the avatar.
The author, Mark Stephen Meadows, defines an avatar as “an interactive, social representation of a user”.Â And here is where it gets interesting: while we may think of an avatar as something that only exists in a virtual world such as WoW or Second Life, he also points out that anytime we create an interactive, social representation of ourselves we are, in effect, creating an avatar. So that Facebook account you keep where you present the most interesting side of yourself to your “friends”: avatar. That blog you write where you put all of those highly intelligent posts: avatar.Â Even that car you drive that tells everyone something about you: avatar.Â The way I see it, all of us have multiple avatars, whether we use them in interactive online games or not.
So what does this have to do with Internet ministry?Â It’s all about relationships. From the book:
When someone slips into an avatar, they slip into the ability to be competent, to be who they want, and to spend time with a community that they choose. Being able to do all three things at once is a rare experience for many people – perhaps because of appearance, gender, race, sexuality, age, or simply the fact that they want more friends of different sorts…
Each avatar we encounter online, whether it be the more two-dimensional kind in Facebook or three-dimensional in WoW or Second Life, represent a real live human being with a soul. A person that is just as important to the Creator as we are.Â This person has created their avatar as a way to connect with others in a new way. They are looking to connect!Â And how do you connect with an avatar? While not addressed directly in his book, it seems that the author would caution against trying to get past the avatar to the person – he counsels that the important thing is the avatar and that the first step in the relationship is the avatar. Connecting with the “driver” behind the avatar may or may not happen.
This is a beautiful book that is both engaging and disturbing.Â It includes some mature content describing activities that go on in some of these virtual worlds – if discussions of the acting out of alternative lifestyles bother you, you may not want to read it. If you are interested in the study of how to use virtual worlds and online gaming as a method for reaching others, then it is a book that will further your understanding.
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