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Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators

Jon Wood Posted:
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Book Report: Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators

This Memorial Day, MMORPG.com Managing Editor Jon Wood writes this review of an MMORPG-related book "Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators". The book uses photos, screenshots and words to take a look at people, and the avatars they create.

The other day, a new book arrived at the office. It's a bit of an odd-looking book; a little bit wider than a paperback novel, and half again as long. Now, an odd-sized book in and of itself isn't really that strange. Really, it's the picture on the cover that catches the eye. At first glance, it looks like a pair of 30-somethings holding hands on a street in South Korea. Shift your angle a little bit though, and suddenly you're looking at a pair of Undead from World of Warcraft.

The book is called Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators, and that's probably an appropriate title for a book that examines a cross-section of the approximately 10 million MMO players around the world and the characters that they play online.

Alter Ego is primarily a book of photography, comparing images of real people with their avatars. The images are also accompanied by text that tells a little bit about the lives of the gamers and their MMO experiences.

Every time you turn the page in Alter Ego, you are faced with a new real-life photo on the left, and an in-game screenshot of their character on the right. The left hand side contains information about who the player is: their name, where they live, the game they're playing, and information of that nature. The text on the right gives that player a chance to tell us a little bit about themselves as gamers and something about their characters.

While the subject matter of this book is universal, after all, we all have a real-self and an "alter-ego" or two, but it does seem to represent a good sampling of the people behind the keyboards of MMORPGs.

It's not the every-day stories that really capture the reader's attention, those stories serve as a reminder of what we all have in common. It's the unusual or out of the ordinary stories that make this book stand out:

  • Richard Bartle / Richard the Arch-Wizard worked and played in MUDs (yes, his avatar photo is textual)
  • Lui Da is a power leveler from China who is quick to point out that he's not a bot, and that he levels by the rules.
  • 31 Year old Jason Rowe, whose physical disabilities disappear in the virtual world through the help of some special equipment.

Those are just three examples of the extraordinary personal stories that are told in Alter Ego.

Robbie Cooper (the photographer) and Tracy Spaight (the writer) have done a wonderful job of merging photography and words to provide readers with an intriguing experience. It's what they call "...both an entertainment and a serious look at a phenomenon that is shaping the future of human interaction."

Spaight and his co-author Cooper first met while attending an Everquest Fan Fair in Chicago. At the time, Spaight was working on a film project called Real People, Virtual Worlds, while Cooper had just started work on Alter Ego. That was in 2003.

Says Spaight: "We had similar projects, but different media. We decided to pool our resources and work together."

The combination has been a winning one, providing a very entertaining read for anyone that might be interested in MMOs and their ability to provide us with our own alter-egos. Whether you're battling Goblins in Middle Earth, Undead in Azeroth, or fighting crime in Paragon City, take a minute to look at the characters all around you and try to guess who might be behind those toons. The real answers may surprise you.

The book carries a cover price of $35, which might be enough to dissuade some potential buyers, but if you've got a little bit of extra cash and have a real love of MMOs and MMO culture, you really should pick up this book, it's a great read and a natural addition to any MMO player's library.

Alter Ego: Avatars and their creators, is currently available for pre-order on Amazon.com (as of the time of this printing, it is being offered for $19.77). For more information, visit the book's official website here.


Jon Wood