In the LA TIMES
article "Boy, You Fight Like a Girl
", Alex Pham describes how, through the anonymity that the Internet provides
, online gamers have often played characters of the opposite sex
. Though this practice in online role-playing games
is not new, the recent influx in numbers of subscribers these services have had provides an improved opportunity for virtual "cross-gender experimentation
", bringing an increased awareness to the nature exhibited with regard to social interactions, gender-influenced or not.
As Pham elucidates in his article, the anonymity that the Internet provides makes it a wonderful place to be(come) someone else. Identity discovery, though a more distinct possibility online, is often frowned upon by society offline. "Society doesn't see it as a healthy form of experimentation. At best, it's seen as duplicitous. At worst, it's sick and perverted", says Pavel Curtis from Pham's article. Real life is more often a sink or swim scenario when it comes to realization of one's true self, often leaving little room for experimentation into other avenues before delving in completely. As identity is indeed malleable on the net, opportunities that society would not normally allow to "try on different hats" exist. "What makes such behavior possible, of course," Pham writes, "is the anonymous nature of the Web."
This "nature of the Web", though it can provide opportunities for self-definition via experimentation, can also serve to stunt one's psychological growth as it pertains to identity. Many closeted homosexuals have found haven on the Internet because of the illusion of safety that anonymity provides. A cursory glance through the user lists of gay.com chat rooms will reveal a small percentage of out homosexuals. A good majority of those chatting are either in the closet or in the closet and married. They hide behind that inscrutability for their own safety and security, refusing to challenge societal norms to be themselves outside of the web. The Internet and its precious anonymity have become their crutch.
Granted, being in the closet is not itself a bad thing. However, by hiding behind the face of anonymity, the individual can never truly be part of a community (albeit virtually) nor involve himself in a healthy relationship with another without fear of discovery. Studies show that closeted gay men are more likely to engage in dangerous or at-risk acts in the interest of discretion. This application of anonymity can do nothing but aid in the decline of an individual's mental (and perhaps physical) health as he toils in loneliness and fear of rejection and indulges in the illusion of freedom presented online.
The Internet can provide many avenues in defining oneself as an individual via its provisions of anonymity. By adopting these identities can we truly learn how the other lives or how we ourselves should live. However, a distinction should be made as to whether or not this self-same anonymity should be used as a tool or a lifestyle.