For my Cybercultures class this session (DIGC335 for anyone who’s interested, I highly recommend it) I ended up delving quite a bit into the idea of persona and what exactly that means and where exactly it ends, which was a surprise to even myself given I’d started out by looking at Nuzlocke story sharing. So hopefully this doesn’t get too wibbly as I ramble about my findings over there for a while because it’s relevant and hella interesting.
Essentially my research came down to the phenomenological concept of experience defining reality. We only experience the world through sensation, so it is our experiences that make up everything we are. I experience therefore I am and all that. But when looking at persona online, that reality gets stretched beyond just physical sensational experiences.
So, to use the Nuzlocke example: A Nuzlocke webcomic would be an artistic rendering of a player’s experiences playing a pokemon game using the Nuzlocke ruleset. However, using our phenomenological definition of beingness, trying to identify which persona is the “real” person becomes incredibly tricky. Where exactly are you supposed to draw the line when you have a player artist experiencing the game, a character they’ve drawn based on themselves experiencing those same events within the narrative, as well as a character avatar enacting those events within the game’s coding AND an audience reading and experiencing those same events once again through a cathartic empathy with the comic protagonist?
It might seem like an extreme example just suddenly dropping this from a third year subject into a first year one without any context, but really I think it acknowledges strongly that we have to recognise different personae as being just as “real” and “authentic” as our analogue selves, even if they don’t all match up with each other or meet our expectations of what reality should be. Because, just as with any simulation; if you’re experiencing it as reality then what’s the difference? What does it matter?