This is the second part of QJ.NET’s Alter Ego interview (you can read the first part here). We had to split it, because there were two people answering our questions about this concept book / art project / MMORPG documentary. That meant twice the fascinating details and twice the thought-provoking answers.
So here are Robbie Cooper (project originator and photographer) and Tracy Spaight (project writer / researcher) of Alter Ego: Avatars and Their Creators as they tell us more about their journey to create this book.
Here’s a sneak peek (click on the Full Article link below to read the full interview):
Tracy Spaight: In his “Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman penned the wonderful verse “I am large, I contain multitudes.” The same could be said for the gaming community.
Tracy Spaight: In Asia, few people were willing to talk candidly about what their avatar meant to them, or to discuss what they found so compelling about life in virtual worlds. Many didn’t want to be photographed because they feared their parents, teachers, or colleagues would see them and disapprove.
Click on the Full Article link below to read the full interview. And to all gamers, you princes and paupers, you superheroes and spaghetti monsters, look for Alter Ego: Avatars and Their Creators in bookstores – and museums – near you. For more information, go to www.alteregobook.com.
Buy: [Alter Ego: Avatars and their Creators]
This is the second part of our Alter Ego interview (you can read the first part here). We had to split it, because there were two people answering our questions about this concept book / art project / MMORPG documentary. That meant twice the fascinating details and twice the thought-provoking answers.
So here are Robbie Cooper (project originator and photographer) and Tracy Spaight (project writer / researcher) of Alter Ego: Avatars and Their Creators.
QJ.NET: We can’t come up with a MMO players are ___ or MMO avatars are ___ statement that would be true for all the biographies in your book. Were you surprised by this lack of finality? Were there moments when you thought you had spotted a trend or truth?
Robbie Cooper: There is a truth, I think. But I would find it very hard to express it in words. My old English teacher used to repeat this phrase “know thyself,” over and over, whilst teaching us Chaucer at school. Nothing changes, really. In the book “The Book of Imaginary Beings” by Jorge Luis Borges, he actually uses that quote (listing Plato as the source) when describing “The Double.” He also quotes Pythagoras’s “A Friend Is Another Myself.” The meaning shifts according to how the person is using the technology. But although the technology is new the meanings are very old.
Tracy Spaight: Gamers come from all walks of life, from all over the world. They are truck drivers, students, housewives, lawyers, and movie stars. They defy easy classification. In his “Song of Myself,” Walt Whitman penned the wonderful verse “I am large, I contain multitudes.” The same could be said for the gaming community.
“… the Chinese authorities
weren’t too keen
on us visiting the prison …“
QJ.NET: So it’s really a cross-section of the gaming world – a “who are the people in your MMORPG” kind of book. Were language, nationality, or politics barriers towards completing the book?
Robbie Cooper: Asia was challenging, particularly Korea. Culturally they are less inclined to be open towards strangers. Tracy had a hard time getting past the defenses.
Tracy Spaight: Online gaming is a global phenomenon, so we wanted the book to reflect that reality. Language was definitely an issue, particularly in Korea and China. An interview that might take ten minutes in the U.S. could take an hour or two in China. We worked with some great translators, but none of them were gamers Â– so they didn’t always understand what the interview subjects were talking about. They had to translate from “gamer speak” into Chinese or Korean and then into English!
Cultural barriers were often the most significant. In the West, people were eager to talk with us and wanted to be photographed for the book. Americans, in particular, told us the most intimate details of their lives and their online adventures.
In Asia, few people were willing to talk candidly about what their avatar meant to them, or to discuss what they found so compelling about life in virtual worlds. Many didn’t want to be photographed because they feared their parents, teachers, or colleagues would see them and disapprove.
Political barriers were only a problem in one case. We wanted to interview the guy who killed his friend over a virtual sword in China, but the Chinese authorities weren’t too keen on us visiting the prison to interview him, so we decided to drop it.
QJ.NET: The diverse photographs are a lot of fun to browse through. We imagine that taking those images must have taken a while. How long did the photography process take?
Robbie Cooper: Each situation was different. Ideally I like to take time shooting tiny variations on a specific idea. It’s really about how the person is presenting themselves to the camera. So I try to shoot beyond the point where they are tense or putting on a front.
But sometimes you have literally a few seconds. There was one in Korea where we set up in the street and she came over, I took 3 frames and that was it. She was off. But that comes across in the picture. When we were talking to her, her leg was literally shaking with tension.
QJ.NET: Were there specific directions in terms of art and concept that you wanted for the pictures?
Robbie Cooper: I wanted there to be a relationship between the two pictures. So for example with Francis, he had this thing about cars, and had designed a car in Second Life. We walked into his apartment and there was a steering wheel set up on his dining table.
The ways in which the pictures relate weren’t forced, they were just part of the person’s environment or the way they chose to dress for the shoot or the way they designed their avatar.
Some of it isn’t explained in the book either. So for example Thierry is standing infront of a building in the real world that he is caretaker of and where he lives. In the virtual world he is standing in front of his guild building, and his guild is composed of his family which is spread out over the country.
QJ.NET: We love the “holographic” cover. It would have been nice to have all the images like that – but the cost would have been prohibitive! Did you have to wrestle very much with sacrificing your artistic objectives versus getting it down into something realistic that people can hold in their hands? Did the size or format change?
Robbie Cooper: The lenticular works for the cover but I’m not sure it would work for every picture. You need to be able to scan each image and the lenticular isn’t totally clean like that. That was the designer’s idea. And so was the shape of the book.
The great thing about working with other people is they bring things to it. They add to it. The book is a different object to what was preoccupying me, which was how images would look when they were hanging in gallery spaces.
Tracy Spaight: When Robbie and I first discussed doing a book, my mental image was “coffee table” book, like something National Geographic might publish. We had the good fortune to work with an excellent editor and designer. The end result is small enough to hold and your hand, like a field guide, yet comprehensive enough to offer a good cross-section of the global gaming community. It’s a good balance.
“… the form that gods take
in the mortal realm.”
QJ.NET: Speaking of the holographic cover – and recalling that Alter Ego photographs are being exhibited in art galleries – will a future incarnation of Alter Ego be in another medium? An electronic medium?
Robbie Cooper: There has been a virtual gallery show of Alter Ego in Second Life. And a science museum in Italy wants to do another virtual gallery.
I would love to put a version of it into something like PlayStation 3’s Home, but haven’t spoken to them about it. There are a lot of possibilities and probably a few things we haven’t thought of yet.
QJ.NET: Finally, if there was an avatar of the concept that Alter Ego explores, what would that avatar be?
Robbie Cooper: That’s the best question I’ve ever been asked in four years of working on this.
The word “avatar” is Hindu, originally, and refers to the form that gods take in the mortal realm.
Since the avatar is to represent a concept rather than a character, I would probably choose an elephant. Ganesh is the lord of beginnings and of obstacles, patron of the arts and sciences, and god of intellect and wisdom. Also, there’s an old expression, which I think is originally European, “seeing the elephant.” Which means seeing reality. It’s said to have come from old freakshows where an elephant was the final act.
Thanks to Robbie Cooper and Tracy Spaight for taking the time to sit down and deal with our questions. And thanks also to Chris Boot Ltd (the publisher), editor Bruno Ceschel, and Studio8 Design for a truly memorable and memory-making book. And to all gamers, you princes and paupers, you superheroes and spaghetti monsters, look for Alter Ego: Avatars and Their Creators in bookstores – and museums – near you. For more information, go to www.alteregobook.com.
Buy: [Alter Ego: Avatars and their Creators]