The psychology of online characters

About a week and a half ago, I walked into work, just like any other day. It was 8:36 a.m., I was a few minutes late, and I was eager for a coffee from the magical machine that makes more varieties than you can shake a mug at.

There was just one teensy little thing that was different that day.

I was sassy.

Okay, so this wasn’t entirely out of the ordinary. As my poor coworker (yes, the Beyonce one from the other week) can attest, I usually have some level of sass in my everyday conversations.

But that day, it was next-level.

It took me a while (and several witty outbursts) to figure out what was going on, but when I did, it was like a little lightbulb going on above my head.

I was channeling my character from Final Fantasy XIV, Diana.

Getting into character

When I first started playing Final Fantasy XIV, it didn’t take me long to get used to the idea that for the time I was logged in, I was someone else. I’d had plenty of practice putting myself into a character’s shoes with Harvest Moon, and at that point, this felt pretty similar!

Sure, she was a cat-person who had an innate talent for anything she touched, but she was still me. I’d put a lot of time into deciding how she looked, how she acted, how she sounded, and what she was interested in.

It also didn’t take me long to start identifying with her. Usually, I can distance myself a bit from what my character does, because the logical side of my brain can argue that it isn’t real anyway.

But her successes had me feeling good about myself, and every time an NPC critiqued her on something, I’d grumble something incoherent but identifiably rude.

Realizing I had an alter-ego

I didn’t realize how close I’d gotten to my fictional character until my dear friend, whom I met playing FFXIV, started a blog a few months ago. I was very excited about it when she told me, and immediately headed over to read it.

Her first post gave me a lot of food for thought.

She talked about how she didn’t feel a huge connection to her real name, because she identified so strongly with her game character and the identity she’d created for herself. She had even started her blog using her character’s name instead of her own.

That intrigued me; her online, unfiltered self had become stronger to her than her real-life self, and that had left her confused and unsure.

That stuck with me, and it wasn’t until I started a very impulsive Instagram account for my character that I really understood what she had been saying.

So why did I connect so strongly to Diana?

Confession: I thought about this question for days, and I’m still not convinced I have a complete answer for it.

When it comes right down to it, Diana is still me. Sure, she’s her own person with her own backstory (written by Square Enix, but still), but she’s me. It’s kind of like Bruce Wayne and Batman, except where Bruce Wayne is way more vanilla and Batman is a Robin Hood-esque cat lady.

She’s turned into an outlet for me. She’s a compartmentalization of part of my personality; she’s all the sass I filter out of my real life, and she can say everything I can’t.

She’s all the excitement I contain in real life, because I don’t really want to startle people with enthusiastic outbursts that make me sound like a hyper cockatoo.

She’s all the meme-based ridiculousness I keep to myself, because I know I spent too much time on 9gag a few years back and people don’t always know what I’m saying. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to say “It’s a meme” in my life.

She’s all my creative outbursts, because she can make just about anything in-game without breaking a sweat, where my real-life creative attempts generally end up disappointing me.

And when I’m having a bad day, she’s all the savagery and saltiness I’ve been internalizing all day, because she can just go out and beat things up.

As much as I’m not a violent person, sometimes it’s just good to have an outlet.

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