Managing your “Alt”

A good friend of mine Heleno Nishi has admitted that she has an alternative avatar/character (or simply alt). I do as well; actually I have several of them. The topic of alts is quite fascinating and can also become a quite tempered discussion. Dusan Writer explores many of the ideas about alts in a recent post (and there is a nice comment as to the con of alts from Prokofy Neva, which seems to sum her feelings about alting) but I feel that we’re really not delving into the real core of alting. Creating an alt is really defining a new role for a person; take a look at the reason to create an alt in World of Warcraft. In WoW, I have several rouges, a warrior, and a ranger, each alt is different, each one does different things, and in the guilds I’m in, each alt performs different roles. Having an alt creates a different role for that person; much in the same way in the non-digital real world we have different roles.

In our life, we carry different roles, that of a lover, a friend, a colleague, a parent, a person of business, a student, etc. It is also become increasingly popular for one person to have two different jobs, a day job and a night job or some sort of hobby. In each space the role for that person is different. There are stories of sports cheerleaders who also are teachers or business women, their role as a teacher and a cheerleader are quite different, in some way they are alting. Their role as a teacher may be hidden (or not) from their role as a cheerleader, and both roles exist in two different worlds and have very different responsibilities, and tasks. In actuality, we alt several times in one day, switching from our role as a friend to our role as a business person to our role as a family member; it is quite normal to “alt” and not to share everything about ourselves with everyone. Some people know a few things about me, others don’t.

When we create an avatar, we are “alting”, we are creating a virtual representation of our selves but assigning that avatar different roles. This has become a topic of late that I’ve only begun to understand, how do you manage the roles of your avatar and the roles of your real life self? I always content that my virtual live is an extension to my real life. Nexeus Fatale is an extension to Leo Newball Jr., but even as an extension they have to exist in separate worlds. The work that I do as Leo is in a familiar circle but not the same as what I do with Nexeus. If I were to discuss, as Leo, some of the work that I do, many of my twitter followers as Nexeus would either not care or not be quite interested.

In some way, I have to separate the two on the outside, different accounts for each person (even on the same service), different blogs and even different twitter accounts (guess whose more popular!). Internally, it is all the same but it is also figuring out the roles that I have, even between my real and virtual self. What’s so different between Leo and Nexeus that I need to separate them? What can Nexeus really say that Leo cannot? Who is speaking to whom?

The question isn’t if I have an alt or not the real question is how do I manage all of these “alts”?

5 thoughts on “Managing your “Alt”

  1. Wonderful insight Nexeus. Game designers often talk about the different gamer ‘types’ and how users evolve those types over time – explorer, social, etc. There seems to be an emerging idea that there might also be different motivations behind avatar selection and alts, thus the titling of my post – possession or expression.

    The concept of alts as possessions seems to have greater prevalence in game environments, where it’s common practice to run multiple alts for specific tasks and purposes. Guilds will have an alt that acts as a bank, you might run a healer and a fighter alt and swap them depending what the gaps in a group are, and it’s not uncommon for players to swap alts with each other in order to put together a good hunting party. Game environments are built with goal-orientation, leveling, rewards, and in these environments alts facilitate goal achievement. Mods and plug-ins are developed to specifically assist in managing multiple alts or to run them simultaneously.

    Another perspective is that avatars and alts are symbols of expression. The domains aren’t exclusive – I can have an alt that’s purely for business purposes, but it can still be a vehicle for self-expression. In open worlds with self-selected goals, an argument can be made that outside of business (and rue those who camp their alts to drive traffic) and a few other obvious ‘use of alts for as a possession (i.e. created with a purpose), it seems to me that there may be a wider range of reasons for using an alt than to facilitate transactions or roles, and that these reasons may include using alts to facilitate expression, or to facilitate access to different venues in which different expressions can occur.

    While I empathize with the management challenge of multiple alts, we don’t see in SL as much alt-swapping, as many mods and plug-ins as we do in WoW, simply because role-oriented use of avatars (in your sense of assigning “them” roles) is a lesser priority than the self-extension and self-expression.

    If this is true, then the management issues are less important in the long run than understanding and recognizing that the code is restrictive – code always is, and is based on a philosophy both of space and identity. To put it another way, you talk about assigning avatars different roles – but why do some roles even need avatars? If I run vendors of an alt to avoid chat spam, why do I need an entirely different identity including avatar presence? Why couldn’t I just have a corporate shell identity that can and load up my SLE box but that doesn’t need a profile or maybe even a physical presence? A decision was made that we would replicate individual presence, but in many ways this is a moral choice and is, in my view, leading to a tribal-based morality.

    Now, having said all that…you do strike on an interesting idea – if you can be more successful in WoW by managing alts well, and sometimes we need them in SL because of different roles, then maybe there’s a future business in alt management? IBM would love to see a portable avatar but don’t hold your breath. Sometime in the not so distant future middleware will arrive which will provide a skin between you, multiple virtual worlds, and multiple alts within those worlds, aggregating your finances, transactions and interactions.

    Anyone wanna go into business together?

  2. Hamlet recently discussed the issue of bots ( and from his article an interesting point arises. At what point do we need the equivalent of NPC’s? In some cases, when you think about clothing or animation stores, these “alts” that have very specific purposes.

    An alt bot hosting service sounds like a great idea (i.e. I would love to figure out the real logistics to do it, run that sort of business.) But in doing that, the host will have to deal with some very interesting privacy issues. Linden Lab knows who’s an alt and who is not, but do we really trust someone else with that information?

  3. I cannot imagine why in the world this would be of interest to you! :P

    Perhaps a consideration to the psychological perspective of “alting” is worthy of a mention. You nailed it on the head in your description of how people create figurative “alts” in real life – mother, daughter, employee, manager, friend, student, teacher, etc (not to mention hobby-profession). There is a thought that when people cannot clear out the noise of their day, they naturally seek means to order it all. Perhaps one way to help manage it all is through the use of RL “alts”, or as Ms. Writer suggests “symbols of expression”.

    In days gone by the principle was likely referred to as “switching hats”. For example, the rise of women in the workforce demonstrated a change in the way that women behaved overall. They needed to find new means to move between work woman and wife woman and mother woman and friend woman, all a matter of switching hats (and thereby changing outfits!). Eventually, most women found a means to do so, although I should note that there are many books written on the same subject today as it has morphed into “stress management”.

    An additional thought relates not just to self management, but to self realization. A virtual alt provides a means for one to explore new aspects of themselves. I met a professional the other day who discovered he had some artistic talent in SL and after a year or two, opened a gallery. In RL, he never had the confidence to walk into an art class (or computer class as the case may be) to learn. But in SL, he was able to manage his learning process apart from criticism etc, or on the other side, people constantly nagging him about his abilities/skills (well meaning or not). He was simply able to be creative for himself, apart from RL pressures, and once he felt comfortable, was able to share his work. I should mention that this principle also can have a darker side, one that rarely produces (in my opinion) happy, healthy, socially adjusted people.

    May I add that I have an alt unknown to most of my friends. The only reason I mention it is because I walked into a store and the greeter greeted me accordingly. I noticed everyone in the store was being greeted but noted that she had forgotten to say hello to me.

    It was later that it occurred to me that, to her, I wasn’t Ribbons. I was my alt.

    Interestingly, my time in SL is as Ribbons, even if I am in alt form – just like in RL. I simply am who I am, regardless of my pixel count, my titles, my responsibilities, etc. And my goal is to love, and be loved, simply as all those different people in one, just like everyone. :)

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