Reflections of 2010 NY Comic Con: The Aborted Birth of an Avatar

12:01:00 PM


Amid a dozen of computing stations arranged for Final Fantasy XIV at the New York Comic Con this weekend held at the Jacob K. Javits Center, one had been left unattended, displaying an incomplete stage of avatar creation. A progress meter on the upper left hand part of the screen showed that no less than four steps remained before the nascent creature could enter the world and engage other player-characters.

The fantastical figure was identified as originating from the "Hyur" race and equipped with armor indicating the it was of the class, "Descipline of War." It stood proudly on glowing disc awaiting the selection of its guardian deity - its in-game astrological alignment. A description on the lower left half of the screen described the qualities the character might possess or champion with the current selection. The right hand side of the screen indicated other possible selections were available, each with their own properties and each pregnant with the notion that, once selection had been made, one's experience of the game would be, unalterably, unique.

The booth was empty - waiting for human choice to complete the circuit. I engaged it, but unfamiliar with what choices had already been made till this point, I clicked the "previous" button, undoing the work the person who had occupied the station prior to my arrival. I was soon at the fist step - race and gender. I went with my gut, or more precisely, with the spirit of, "If I could represent myself in any way I choose within the boundaries of this game, how would I want to be related to by other players."

I chose one of the taller breeds, the "Elezen" - proud, angular, pointed ears and overall sylvan in nature. I debated over being male or female. Why constrain myself to an Earthly allotment that had been beyond my control for my own life? Here I could rewrite myself. Ultimately, I went with what I knew - male and not one of the short half-ling "Lalafell" or human-like "Hyur" or brutish ogre-like "Roegadyn."

At each stage my avatar seemed to emerge as something uniquely me and from my psyche. I chose to be a roguish "Discipline of the Land," - a ranger class. I chose the kind of hair style I would wish to have had if the tides of fortune had not made me bald in my mundane existence. I put blue highlights in it. Felsh tone - off-pallid. Height - on the short end of the species. Quite deliberately I did not want to be an imposing figure to other player-characters when I released my creation into the game world.

Towards the end of the sequence, it was not only quite clear that I had made innumerable choices, even selecting my avatar's date of birth, but also that my avatar did, indeed, express something of myself. My creation gave me winks and nods of approval between each stage of its creation, equally satisfied by who he would be in his world.

Finally, my avatar was ready to be placed amid others, and here again there were was a choice. There were multiple worlds it could engage. I selected the least popular based on ratings others had ascribed to it. Could my creation be the big fish in a small pond?

My progress was stalled when it came to giving my avatar a name. It would seem that the demonstration at the Comic Con had its limits or that the names I was selecting were taken.

A Final Fantasy XIV representative approached me at this point, cautioning me that, for the purposes of the demonstration, my selection of a "Discipline of the Land," would be somewhat inappropriate. His admonition - this class and the "Discipline of the Hand" were makers and foragers - passive roles not active ones. The limited time I would have at the kiosk would not find my character with much purpose. The demonstration - or limited game play time at The Con - would not be exciting in his opinion.

I was somewhat disheartened. He also advised me that for the purposes of the demonstration, participants were encouraged to name and select worlds that were listed in a print-out tapped to the kiosks counter under the computer keyboard.

I had felt a sort of kinship to the choices I had made thus far. My avatar seemed to have approved of my selections for him. In my heart, I had hoped to release my creation fully realized and then go home, buy the game and find him awaiting my direction.

When I realized that The Con's demonstration had its limitations and that my work would be washed away and I would have to start the process over again, I stopped playing. My avatar, still proudly awaiting my final actions on a glowing disk looked back at me, and I felt no connection to it anymore. I would not name him Steve as the paper suggested, and I would not throw him into a world not of my choosing. I turned away from my console, and my creation, in the last reduction, still-born.

Game over, man. Game over.

There was a sense of attachment, not necessarily to the game or the graphical character that would have been my avatar. There was an attachment to the choices I had made - my work. Those choices were particularly me and, likely, no one else could claim the presumption to neither know why those choices were made nor be able to re-create the Logos behind each decision. That avatar was a tangible record of my will, and once released to the game world, its fate would have been shaped by the time I had spent on its creation. The game world and other players would react to what I had done.

I was attached to that, and was saddened that, were I to install the game at home, I would, likewise, be unable to remember all the choices I had made. Strange to think that to re-engage the game again, this time with the privilege and equipment where my authorship would be stored, would set up a whole new set of conditions; it would be another avatar with a disposition befitting the mood of my abode.

The existential probabilities are ungraspable, but I guess, as with all things that relate to identity, that's life - real or virtual.

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