Identity Tourism

Our readings this week again discussed how one forms social and personal cyber identities, specifically in regard to minorities. Pervasive is the new notion of an uncentered multi faceted self. The popularity of concepts such as Miller's "'Transpostites'" and Nakamura's "identity tourism" reveal how the Internet transgresses boundaries as exclusive as race and gender. However, as these questions of identity and cyber performance arise, one must ask whether the binary oppositions are truly deconstructed, or just hidden a little deeper.

While identity is self-constructed and open online, the actual person remains stuck in his body. This groundedness is why "identity tourism" exists. If one were whoever one wanted to be at any given time, there would be no need for these MOO based identities. But people are persons, and we cannot escape this selfhood, no matter how much time one spends in cyberspace. The Internet allows the possibility of switching race, gender, sexuality, nationality etc. at the click of a button, but this accessibility itself does not wreck existing binaries.

Ironically, during participants' fantasy lives online, the new identities chosen often revert to stereotypes and ignorant generalizations. Rather than reconstituting the limits of previous understanding and expectation, the originators often only reinforce their own, favored, ideology. These participants do not transcend their own race or gender by incorporating the world of another. They do not necessarily discover a new part of themselves while posing as "AsianDoll," but further externalize and objectify an opposing world.

These tourists still know themselves as who they really are. The online identities emerge to see how others react to this chosen identity. The eyes and text of others becomes the core of these tours. This modified mauvaise foi is an absence of self, a relinquishing of self to the realm of others. Instead of grasping one's own Being, and realizing the one's inner will, the character relies on others to see himself. This identity tourism thus does not lead to a new understanding and composition of self; it leads to an exposure of gender and race based reactions.

Exposure, however, to stereotyped reaction is not near enough to qualify as a newly learned identity. Pretending one is an African American female might habituate one to being demeaned, but all this achieves is furthering an understanding of African American females through the eyes of the offending party. At best one may gain sympathy, but true empathy, true understanding and shared awareness does not seem possible. Imitating a woman online does not bring one much closer to true womanhood, but it may bring one closer to true misogyny.

In the end, though these tours may be enjoyable, and even somewhat educational, they do not break the groundedness of he participant. The ability to truly see oneself as the new created identity is not achieved, just the ability to see the new self through one's old eyes, or those of the surrounding characters. True transgression, true blurring of identity cannot include such crude tactics. It must be reached from the origin; there can be no "typical white male" point of view to start from if such binaries are truly broken.

I completely agree that although society attempts to escape from the physical and social confinements placed on us, we cannot truly understand the experience of another through simply playing the video game. I think the video games tap into an outlet that is what many people seek, almost comparable to a drug or alcohol, but the point of view, the real lens is always through the eyes of the actual person, as there is no real escape.