Posts Tagged ‘Imagination’

Thinking About Thinking: Your Inner Avatar and You.

November 6, 2009

I don’t think the Wikipedia definition of “Avatar” does the concept justice.

When you enter a virtual space – such as a video game, or online community, you do so through a kind of logical entity which maps your actions into the designated space (for instance, you hit a button, your guy fires his rocket launcher) and which in turn maps the virtual actions in that space and presents them back to you (for instance, if your character dies, your screen might turn all red and say ‘You are dead’).

In that sense, an avatar isn’t just a representation of you, but a medium for you, allowing you to interact in other, artificial worlds. An avatar is used to make you – your identity, your thoughts and actions – extend beyond the physical world and into the logical one.

In that sense, the avatar is not just a concept in computers. It’s a strong aspect of people’s everyday lives.

Whenever you construct yourself in any artificial or imaginary space, and then use that extension of yourself to interact in that space, you’re making use of your avatar. A good example might be the fictional character type of the “Mary Sue” – an authorial self-insertion into a story for wish fulfillment purposes. Here, the avatar exists in a world created, in part or in whole, by the avatar’s designer.

And yet even that, I think, only represents a small fraction of our everyday avatar usage. I think, rather, that the ultimate origin of the concept of the avatar is our own imaginations.

Imagining ourselves in a different situation, to envision how we would act, or how we should or would like to act, is the most fundamental and vivid use of the concept of the avatar – our inner avatar, if you will.

Which all finally leads me to the point of this – thoughts on how to be better aware of that inner avatar and how to better use it.

Know when to be realistic versus being idealistic: It may be fun to imagine yourself effortlessly accomplishing everything in front of you, you don’t necessarily benefit from that mental exercise.

Framing a challenge for your avatar in detail, as the challenge you expect it to be, can provide intellectual or behavioral insight. It can show you how to behave, or it can show you what information you may be missing about the challenge.

But don’t think that it’s never beneficial to use your avatar in a powerfully emotional matter, even if the scenario you envision isn’t very likely. Instead, the insights you gain from such an exercise are emotional ones. For instance, you can use your avatar in this way to bolster yourself against your fears and anxieties, or to energize yourself to take action on behalf of someone else.

Understand when you want to use your inner avatar for immersion or interaction with a fictional world: This is a choice similar to the above realistic/idealistic choice, but tweaked a bit for the relevant context.

If you don’t do this already, don’t be afraid to place your avatar into fictional worlds you’re experiencing – movies or TV shows, or books, or comics, or anything – if there is a fictional story, you can imagine yourself interacting with it, to your ultimate enrichment.

Using your avatar for immersion falls under the ‘mary sue’ form of self-idealization that I mentioned earlier in the article. It increases your emotional involvement in a fictional environment, and thus increases the energy your brain spends drawing potentially useful information from that environment.

Using your avatar for interaction, however, is more like constructing a video game in your head and then operating your inner avatar as a character in that game, obeying the internal rules of the universe. By doing so, you increase your intellectual understanding of that fictional environment and its’ rules, allowing you to better explore any themes the author might have written into the work.

Anyway, those are my thoughts on the subject. Now, if you will excuse me, I’m going to go imagine I’m an ancient Greek hero now.