In Sherry Turkle’s Aspect of Self, she discusses how identity and self is formed in a virtual world. There are many different ways to explore the identity and self in a virtual world, and Turkle argues that a common use is to explore parts of our identity or self that we cannot explore due to real world constrictions. She gives us an example of a man upset with his alcoholic father, and tries to be a perfect man in his virtual world (MUD). After some time, he realized that he is addicted to his MUD and his MUD character, and has a better understanding of what it means to be an addict to something. In another example, a high school student would start arguments in his MUD to blow off some steam to prepare for a test. MUDs have helped people to find themselves and to explore themselves in different ways because they are “an escape valve for anxiety and anger that felt too dangerous to exercise in real life” (Turkle 189).
When I was in middle school (junior high), I had a very interesting experience exploring identity through CMC (mainly Google Chat). I devolved a crush on another girl in my class, but she had a boyfriend. Her boyfriend, however, was mean to her and would break up with her about every month. I was always the shoulder that the woman would cry on (this sounds like a bad love story…lol). One day I confessed my feelings for her, and she admitted that she had similar feelings for me. She refused, however, to break up with her boyfriend, because she still loved him. I’m not sure exactly how it happened, but about a month after this event we both created other identities. Mine was called Tom and hers Angel. These identities would ‘come out’ when we were too stressed or too fed up with something in our lives and needed an escape from the real world. Tom and Angel also lived out an aspect of our lives that we could not in real life. After about a month of knowing each other, they got together. They went on hikes and dates and all sorts of other romantic adventures. They talked about their feelings for one another, which often was a way for us to communicate how we felt about each other, but they never met in real life. These personal identities allowed us to explore what it would be like for us to be together, without actually being together. Our freshman year of high school, her boyfriend cheated on her and their relationship was officially over. Tom, and myself, were there to comfort her throughout the entire thing. About a year later, we ended Tom and Angel because we did not need them. We were together in real life, and have been ever since =).
Turkle describes how MUDs can be used to explore aspects of the self we could not explore in real life. In my experience, although it was not a MUD, my girlfriend and I were able to do just that. We explored what it would be like if we were together, it gave me a chance to show the differences between dating me and her then current boyfriend, and it gave her a chance to compare between the two experiences. While it was easy to be more romantic than is normally possible in real life, the experiences we had allowed us to know more about the other person and understand how our relationship would be. Just as Turkle mentioned the student who used MUDs to be a perfect man, I used Google Chat to try to be the perfect boyfriend.