Being Real on the Internet

Being Real on the Internet

Many people know that for the past few years I’ve been leading a guild in the MMO that I play. I don’t really talk about that much with people that I don’t absolutely have to, because it’s definitely not something a lot of people get. Unless you are also an avid gamer, the idea of guilds or clans or what-have-you ventures into a nerd level that does not compute. But this is something that I do and have been doing and very much enjoy doing – cultivating a group of people that want to hang out together on the internet. MMO’s can get very boring very quickly if you don’t have people to talk to, or run events with, or to help you with various things when you need it, and guilds bring together people to socialize with, and get things done.

But this isn’t a treatise on why guilds are super cool- that will have to wait for another day. The way that people interact in guilds and online, the way that we parse out information about ourselves and trade it to build ideas of who each of us are, that has been fascinating to me for a while. In some ways it’s similar to how we make friends in person, and in other ways I think it’s totally different. It’s different, because on the internet you often have much more control about the information you release to others. In my guild, we use text chat in-game, but also a VOIP server where we can talk to each other, like Skype without the video. We have also have a Facebook group, and people who like can join it–either as their real selves or as their characters.

On the internet, you don’t have to share your gender, what your name is, what you look like- those things are unknown until you tell someone. When I got into playing online, I didn’t think much at first about what information I was giving out. I didn’t hide the fact that I was a woman, and after a bit I told people my name, and since then I have become friends with many of my guildmates and we have shared other details. I’ve been honest with what I’ve shared for the most part, as far as I can remember. But even so, you have many people who choose not to share more that a little bit of their life online, even after years of knowing each other.

This is neither good nor bad- it’s a personal choice that everyone makes when they create a version of themselves online. So where am I going with this? I want to talk about something that happened to me when I DIDN’T share particulars of myself, and how I think a little differently because of it.

See, I had been upper management in this guild for a while (I can’t remember if I was a leader of just an officer at that point) when one of my guildmates posted a video in chat one day. He told me to watch it, because the girl who was talking in the video was what he imagined me to look like in real life (at this point I hadn’t made the Facebook or posted a picture of myself).

So I watched the video, which was of a friendly woman chatting about games on a Twitch stream or podcast or something like it. She was skinny, with bold makeup and tattoos and cool hair- she was a beautiful representation of the gamer girl. There was absolutely nothing wrong with her, and maybe my guildmate thought I would be flattered to be compared to this obviously cool woman. But instead, I felt a little shocked and disappointed.

Because she really didn’t look like me, to me. Rather, she was missing some large characteristics that I inhabit- one, that I don’t wear makeup 364 days of the year, and two, that I am a large woman. Chubby, plus-size, voluptuous, whatever you want to call it. And I realized in that moment that I had never told anyone my size, so how were they to know not to imagine me this way? It was the first time I realized that I had been translated into a kind of fantasy girl.

We do this all the time- anytime we read books, we create images of the characters in our heads based on the description and personality the author gives us. And of course I had done this to people in my guild as well- made mental pictures to fill in what I knew about them. We are all going to do it, because our brains need concepts to pile details onto, and it’s really good at filling in blanks with nothing else to correct it based on what we like and our views of the world.

At first this idea of a fantasy-me bothered me because I felt like I had lied to people, cheated them somehow. Like they were only going to be disappointed when eventually they found out I wasn’t as pretty or suave as the person they created in their minds that uses my voice. And so I started telling people the truth as it came up in conversation- that yeah, I’m a big girl, and they shouldn’t picture me otherwise.

For awhile I did this as a defense, because I couldn’t stand to let people down. It was a product of terrible self-esteem issues that I hadn’t dealt with, and I thought that if I outed myself first then it wouldn’t hurt as much later down the line. But something interesting happened that I wasn’t expecting: no one gave a shit.

Seriously, no one cared. Or if they did, they didn’t tell me. The world kept turning, the sun still rises, and all that crap. As infamous as the internet can be for being cruel, sometimes you can forget that largely it’s just made up with people who are worried about their own stuff and whether or not you wear a size 6 or 16 is inconsequential to them.

So, I still tell people about my size if it comes up. And I don’t feel like it’s a protective maneuver anymore, but one of confidence- people who respect me will continue to do so. I tell people now so that when they are making their myriads of mental images, they can start including women who look like me, no big deal.

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