Some creators have explored the subject of alter egos and masquerade in the “real” world -Cindy Sherman, Gillian Wearing, Nikki S.Lee, Jim Naughten, etc- but the British photographer Robbie Cooper (1969) has traveled the virtual and real worlds to find the people behind the avatars of Second Life. In his book “Alter Ego: Avatars and their Creator” (2007) he juxtaposes the portrait of the person with the image of his avatar, attaching a text where the subject explains how he uses the game and what it means to him:
In 2003 I was photographing the CEO of a company, when he told me that he used virtual world games to play with his children. He was divorced and had bad access to them, so he would meet them every evening in “Everquest”, where they would play and chat. I asked him, what did they talk about? He told me that they discussed things like homework, school, their mother; the normal stuff of humdrum reality.
His description of this banal but emotionally important exchange, taking place in the vivid fantasy of the game, got me thinking about the nature of the game itself; it’s a world of surface appearances and symbols. Within that, their interaction had been reduced to text; it was a technological extension of psychological models- the imaginary, and the symbolic structure of language.
Reading the work of the economist Edward Castronova, it was already obvious that these surface appearances were rapidly achieving significant real world value, as items for sale between players. Castronova’s 2001 paper “Virtual Worlds: A First Hand Account of Market and Society on the Cyberian Frontier” now seems quaint in how far it underestimated the rate of growth in this secondary market. But the level of demand was already climbing at an extraordinary rate.
Name: Thierry Te Dunne.
Occupation: Building superintendent.
Location: Angers, France.
Average hours per week in-game: 21.
Avatar name: Naemie Theud.
Avatar created: 2005.
Game played: Guild Wars.
Server name: Arenanet.
Character type: Warrior and secondary professions.
Character level: 20.
Special abilities: Elite swordsmanship, Hundred Blades, Elite axe mastery and evisceration.
Name: Kim Nyvang.
Location: Roennede, Denmark.
Average hours per week in-game: 27.
Avatar name: Ligar.
Avatar created: 2002.
Game played: EverQuest I.
Server name: Kane Bayle.
Character type: Barbarian shaman.
Character level: 65.
Special abilities: Barbarian strength.
Name: Kimberly Rufer-Bach.
Occupation: Software developer.
Location: San José, California, USA.
Average hours per week in-game: 70.
Avatar name: Kim Anubis.
Avatar created: 2004.
Game played: Second Life.
Character type: Content creator.
Special abilities: Building interactive objects.