April 14, 1999

From Gerald R. Lucas

Staging: Notes Toward a Theory of MOO-Drama

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Who we are is governed by many forces and constrained by those same forces: physical realities that sanction and define how we are perceived by others and how we perceive ourselves. Certain collective truths — by no means universal or essential — remain at the center of popular understandings of social order. These truths, whether generated by the autonomous individual or what Minh-ha calls the “ruling ideology of the ‘well-written”,[1] effect how we stage and act out our lives. The narrative of the white, middle-class, academic occupies the conceptual reality of each member of the social order, just as the impoverished, minority gang member has its place. While individual’s readings of these classifications may vary, the classifications are the a priori staging of society. These classifications, no matter how we might attempt to theorize them away, maintain the myth of our physical embodiments and must influence any other imaginative conceptions of order. Even in our technology, these orderings are evident.

However, while our RL embodiment must also be effected by these technologies, it cannot done away with. How we play in MOOs is not separate from embodiment—i.e., it does not distance or negate our physical bodies—but is necessarily influenced by the conditioning of those bodies. The psycho-social influences that construct our RL embodiment cannot be dismissed just because we enter a VR realm. Indeed, our VR embodiment will—must—still function as a product of our RL milieus. By living a dual RL and VR existence, the latter, because of its anonymity, may help players “refine their sense of who they are.”[2] In a VR environment, players may indulge in an identity play that can influences their conception of their RL selves. But this VR identity play still maintains figurations defined in and influenced by RL.

MOOs maintain traditional, self-defining categories, such as gender, and even though a male might play a female in a MOO, his conception of that role will be influenced by his RL experience of that role. Yet, by playing another constructed identity, like another gender role, we might learn a little something of our own constructed roles and how they affect others. This is not to suggest that isolating gender in a MOO session relates to the complex interactions of other social constructions, e.g. race and class, but it could provide a crucial step in making the imaginary boundaries between those theatrical/mythic constructions less clear.

References

  1. Minh-Ha, Trinh T. Woman, Native, Other: Writing Postcoloniality and Feminism. Indiana University Press. p. 29.
  2. Turkle, Sherry (1998). "All MOOs are Educational—the Experience of 'Walking Through the Self'". In Haynes, Cynthia; Holmevik, Jane Rune. High Wired: On Design, Use, and Theory of Educational MOOs. Ann Arbor, MI: U of Michigan P. p. xi.