I finished reading As You Like It a few days ago for my Shakespeare class, a play in which many of the characters end up in the Forest of Arden. Arden is a place that can be called magical or wild, where the characters are freed from constraints of society and opened to playing with their identities – young ladies become young men, young men become mothers, old men become newborn fawns. Gender, age, sexuality, names all change.
Social media is our Arden. With every account on each different website, we become multiplicities, creating new spaces where everything about us can be played with. We can choose new names – not only new usernames (of which many of us probably have too many left over from embarrassing middle school years), but new given names, names given to ourselves to replace or exist with the names we were given at birth by others. We can find safe places to explore identities, whether they are questions of sexual orientation or gender or anything else. We can engage in communities and in parts of ourselves that are not visible or are not welcome in the “real world”. There are problems with this, of course, and potential for harm in cases like catfishing or identity theft, but I remain excited and hopeful to exist in a realm like this one.
I think video games can also be our Arden. There are games who force the players to play as a certain character, much like how books don’t allow a choice in main characters, where playing with identity is perhaps limited or at least more difficult (I am not very confident in saying this). However, there are also the games that allow extensive character customization, or that allow more than one character to exist at once, or that can greatly change in plot depending on choices made by the player. Many games allow at least a choice in gender and in name. Goals or a sense of purpose can also vary greatly, even in games with relatively straightforward plots or no choice in character selection (100%? Speedrun? Nuzlocke? Three Hearts?). In more open-world games, the character’s (and so the player’s) priorities can span wide ranges. When games move to virtual reality, the potential for play will likely be even greater.
I feel like there is a sense of worry that we focus too much on our online selves when they don’t matter as much as our “real life” identity. On the other hand, I would love to see more people spread themselves into the media and the technology around us and perhaps learn to see themselves as changing systems rather than immutable individuals.
This blog is obviously a very temporary one, so perhaps its/my identity with it will also be quite temporary, but I do hope that at the very least it/I will decide on some sense of purpose beyond obligation.