by Naushin Rehman
M.Phil. Semester I Course: MP 1 “Introduction to Literary Theory” Course Coordinators: Dr. Simi Malhotra & Dr. Mukesh Ranjan Second Paper Presentation December 7, 2010
Department of English Jamia Millia Islamia
Lost in the Virtual World: Identity and Power in Cyber Games It is not virtual reality, because when our symbolic environment is, by and large, structured in this inclusive, flexible, diversified hypertext in which we navigate every day, the virtuality of this text is in fact our reality, the symbols from which we live and communicate. (Castells, p.403) Instead of a greeting, the first thing you hear when you meet a friend these days, is “ Why didn't you comment on my wall post yesterday?” or “Add me to your gang on Mafia Wars.” One ignorant of the context of these terms would wonder when or how one became a gangster or since when has one started scribbling on walls. But it is common language now. This is the terminology that we have borrowed from the virtual world and made it into real. Or, perhaps, we are living in that virtuality and take it for real. One instance of such an illusion is the development of social networking sites, like Facebook and computer-generated cyber games that have become popular over the last few decades. People have become addicted to them to such an extent that it's effects can be felt in the real world. The present paper aims to understand the significance of virtual reality in terms of the concept of identity as shaped and affected by cyber games. This paper also attempts to analyse how cyber games cannot be viewed only as a form of entertainment but as sites of contesting for power and creation of identities. Physiologically, man in the normal use of technology (or his variously extended body) is perpetually modified by it and in turn finds ever new ways of modifying his technology. (McLuhan, p.46) We call the present one a technological age or a digital age which is a world-wide phenomenon but it affects a certain group of people, the digital natives. These are people who have been born in the digital world and depend much on technology. The invention of computers has brought about this massive revolution. And ever since, new things have been added to the achievement records of the human mind. With the coming of the Internet, an interactive network society was established. It was the beginning of the world transforming into the so-called 'global village', where everyone knew or could know everyone else. In this 'global village', one's identity suffers a jolt as suddenly everyone has become equally significant and at the same time as insignificant as anyone else. In his book, The Power of Identity, Castells writes, By identity, as it refers to social actors, I understand the process of construction of meaning on the basis of a cultural attribute, or related set of cultural attributes, that is/are given priority over other sources of meaning. (p.6)
Although Castells is talking about identity in terms of roles of individuals in the society, one can relate it to the present context of virtual reality since there too we socialize in the network societies. It is a shrinking world which, in Virilio's terms, is bringing about 'an end of geography'1. A Hungarian writer, Frigyes Karinthy, proposed a theory called 'six degrees of separation' in one of his short stories, 'Chains'2. According to this theory, every person in this world is six steps away from every other person. This theory was developed in 1929 when the Internet was yet to be conceived. But today, in the age of 'facebooking' this theory becomes even more relevant. Karinthy argues that the world is getting smaller, an argument posited by Jules Verne in his novel, Around the World in Eighty Days. Karinthy writes, Planet Earth has never been as tiny as it is now. It shrunk – relatively speaking of course – due to the quickening pulse of...