The Virtual Self
In Mindjammer, it’s possible to remember not just your own memories, but those of other people – gestalts of memory engrams uploaded to the interstellar mindlinked internet known as the Mindscape. The more advanced artificial intelligences have their very personalities based on the compound stored memories – known as exomemories – of dead individuals. Imagine you can remember pretty much every memory that Napoleon, or Lincoln, or Hitler, ever had, but that you’re none of those people, but someone else, someone new – what kind of person does that make you? That theme is one of the most crucial of the Mindjammer setting, and one I never seem to get tired of exploring.
There’s a great article in today’s Guardian discussing this very topic – the instability and indeed variability of memory as a foundation of our own identities. Reading it today, my mind began to wander over a territory I still have to explore one day in much more detail: the memories and identities of roleplaying gamers. I’ve been a gamer for over 30 years, and some of my fondest “memories” are of events which never ever happened. I remember when I embarked upon an expedition to the Demonweb Pits and slew the evil goddess Lolth when I was about 12 years old; I remember when Tryfan Ironsword returned from the Hero Plane with God-Cleaver, the Unbreakable Sword, and thereby became the new son of Humakt, God of War, incarnate. And I remember the first time we encountered the insidious alien device known as the Uranawaltzer on the war-torn world of Amida, occupied by the nefarious Venu.
None of these things happened, of course. Or, rather, they happened as part of role-playing games, where I played the role of a fictional hero in a mutually created story. But, in some way, they are my memories, they’re part of what I remember of my life and they go some way to explaining who I am. I’m sure any role-player out there will understand what I mean.
It strikes me therefore that roleplaying games are very powerful tools. They can actually affect our memories, who we are. Maybe, almost 40 years after their invention, we’re only now beginning to realise their importance in the construction of our virtual selves. Especially as video roleplaying games become ever more realistic, and they too begin to create memories of things which never happened in the “real” world. Let me tell you of some of my adventures in Skyrim…
What do you think, folks? Has your sense of self been affected by being a gamer? Do you have memories from roleplaying games you treasure as if they’d happened to you yourself?