Cyborgs among us and our projection in the virtual world

We imagine cyborgs like this:

ex-machina-trailer

or like this:cyborgs

An image probably proposed for the first time by Metropolis’ (1927) mechanical Maria, which was, as the ones in the images above and Rachel from Blade Runner, who’s on the cover photo, made of steel, of nuts, bolts, and screws, covered with a synthetic pellicle resembling human skin. These science-fiction visual representations shaped through the years our perception on cyborgs. We could not possibly be something like that. We were born from our mother’s womb, we breath, we bleed, we feel. While we might not be robots in the denotative sense of the word, we do tend to ground our daily activities on technology. The first thing I do in the morning, while I’m still sleepy under the covers, is checking my phone. I listen to music on my way to university and my earphones are plug into my ears while I usually hold my phone in my hand to check the time because I’m always just a bit late.

If I drop my phone, I panic (actually not anymore, as I dropped it so many times I still wonder how the poor thing still works), if my laptop stops working or isn’t working properly, which tends to happen quite a lot in the last couple of days, I get angry, I feel like a part of me isn’t working. This addiction, this constant need for technology couldn’t be a sign of “cyborg-ing”? The fact that we almost feel the pain when our precious technological device hits the ground, isn’t a sign that we’ve incorporated it not only into our lives but in our “selves” as persons?

And just between us, Rachel from Blade Runner did feel, she had memories, she fell in love, she suffered, she didn’t even know that she wasn’t human in the sense of being made out of flesh and blood. She went through an existential crisis when she understood her nature as a cyborg. Seeing myself as partly cyborg isn’t nearly as dramatic, although it might change a bit my discourse on what makes me a Human being.

If being vulnerable, getting hurt, getting tired are some of the characteristics which shape my humanity, then what about Heilwig? Heilwig gets tired too, she gets hurt too, she even dies, but then, World of Warcraft has this awesome feature of reviving characters, which isn’t the case with the real world. No, of course, Heilwig isn’t human, not as me and you, not as a race either, she’s a Draenei (a word I don’t even really know how to pronounce).

draenei2

“The Draenei (meaning Exiled Ones in their own tongue) are a faction of uncorrupted eredar who fled their home world of Argus to escape the corruption of the demonic Burning Legion. Led by Prophet Velen and guided by the divine naaru, they traveled throughout the cosmos in search of a safe world to settle on, eventually landing on a planet they would come to call Draenor, or “Exiles’ Refuge”. For centuries, the draenei lived in relative peace with Draenor’s native orcs, until agents of the Burning Legion found them. As the orcs were corrupted by the Legion and formed the original Horde, the draenei were slaughtered en masse and driven into hiding. Eventually, they managed to escape Draenor on the Exodar, a vessel of the naaru fortress of Tempest Keep, crash-landing on Azeroth; more specifically, on the Azuremyst Isles off the western coast of Kalimdor. Once they had arrived on Azeroth, the draenei allied with the Alliance and aided them in the war in Outland.” (1) Of course, I knew nothing of this when I chose my avatar’s race, I just liked that she was blue and had horns. She looks partly human, but still had that fantastic, mythical, and mystical aura, and though she is a part of the “good” side, I still feel her looks give the impression of a dual nature as if she could flip sides at any moment.

Heilwig isn’t a cyborg either, at least not by herself. No, she is my projection in the realm of World of Warcraft, my embodiment, which if I think of it, makes me a cyborg. My choice was looks based mostly as I knew close to nothing about WoW. She does not necessarily depict features that I would like to “borrow” in the outside world, but I did create her in the way I would have created a fictional character in a written fantastic short story. The name I chose for her does not say much about myself, other than that I do have a soft spot for Germanic names. She is a wizard, because I had a passion for witches when I was little, so a bit of magic never killed anybody.

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As far as my identification with my avatar goes, there are two ways in which I refer and think of my character. When I’m in the game, playing, I do identify with her. If she dies I won’t think Heilwig died, I’ll say I died, my bag is full, and not Heilwig’s bag, when a siren’s attacks Heilwig, I’ll just think I’m being attacked, and that grisly creature is trying to kill me; of course if the siren isn’t attacking me, she’s not a grisly creature anymore, she’s just another  bytes-breathing being.

The game itself does help with this identification through the auxiliary characters which address you in the second person. Of course, they say “Hello, Heilwig!” and not “Hello, Maria!”, but I don’t seem to really notice that, because I am not really playing as my self. It’s more like my character is some kind of alter ego of mine, a part of me which isn’t visible on a daily basis, and only manifest itself when I enter World of Warcraft.

The view changes when I’m outside Azeroth. I will still say that I’m a Draenei, that I reached a certain level, or that I was killed 3 times the last time I played World of Warcraft, but I’m saying it out of habit. In my mind I project Heilwig’s image, and I am fully aware of the fact that she and me are distinct entities, which is totally different from when I’m playing. If I’d be informed she died, or she was the great hero of Azeroth I wouldn’t be impressed, I wouldn’t actually care much. She’s not real, I wouldn’t have to go to her funeral, I gain nothing from her grand success. She’s just a character, fictional character who wouldn’t be missed by anybody… until I click play. Until I see her on the screen. until I move her around and direct her to complete missions, which make her evolve as a character, as a part of WoW community. When I have that power over her, she suddenly becomes important. I start caring if she succeeds or dies, because it’s not Heilwig who does this, it’s actually me. I don’t feel as creator watching his creation, I feel as I am the creator and the creation at the same time. I allocate myself all of her merits, and I accept her defeats because it is, in fact, me who is playing, and she wouldn’t exist without me, which isn’t applicable the other way around.


(1) http://wow.gamepedia.com/Draenei


References:

Crick, T. (2011) ‘The Game Body: Toward a Phenomenology of Contemporary Video Gaming’. Games and Culture [online] 6 (3), 259-269. available from <http://gac.sagepub.com/content/6/3/259.full.pdf+html> [11 November 2016]

Farrow, R., Iacovides, I. (2014), ‘Gaming and the limits of digital embodiment’. Philosophy & Technology, [online] 27 (2), 221-233. available from <http://search.proquest.com/docview/1530371718?OpenUrlRefId=info:xri/sid:primo&accountid=10286> [20 October 2016]

Graham, L. T., Gosling, S. D. (2012) ‘Impressions of World of Warcraft players’ personalities based on their usernames: Interobserver consensus but no accuracy’. Journal of Research in Personality [online] 46 (5), 599-603. available from <> [11 November 2016]

May, S. (2012) ‘Embodiment, Transparency and the Disclosiveness of Failure’. Body, Space & Technology [online]. available from <http://people.brunel.ac.uk/bst/vol11/shaunmay/home.html> [20 October 2016]

http://wow.gamepedia.com/Draenei

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