On the Pathological Proliferation of Parasites in Massively Multiple Online Worlds
In insider discussions of Massively Multiple Online Games, the recent proliferation of supernumerary avatars (“alts” for “alternate characters”) in online environments has been given a playful pathological diagnosis: ‘altaholism’ is a playful term for someone who can not focus on just one character in an online game, usually known as their main, and who grows an often large inventory of alts or alternate characters. Alts are explorers of systems: they can play as many roles or perform as many functions as the game systema nd game world affords. While “alts” are attested from the very beginnings of online games, older alts often represent “alternate personas”, affording forms of escape from the singular identity of the main character. Contemporary alts, by contrast, often play alongside the main character: here alt often takes on a range of subservient functions in relation to the main character. But alts also proliferate in the ecosystem of affordances provided by the system that they inhabit and feed upon, so that it is impossible to define in advance what the possible range of functions an alt may fulfil is in relation to a main character. That is, an alt exists partly as a parasitic relationship to a relationship of identity between a player and a ‘main character’. Like the parasite following Paul Kockelman’s recent discussion (2010), the alt is a “really a joker, or wild card, who takes on different values depending on its position in a system.” Debates about the proliferation of alts, including humorous diagnoses such as “altaholism” and actual attempts to ferret them out, and the role of third party softwares in mediating this transition (multiboxing to multibotting), reveal differing ideologies about when an alt moves from being a human to a non-human actor (“bot”), and when an alt becomes a parasite of a legitimate game world “host”.
Keywords: alt, alts, altaholism, altaholic, parasites, MMO, gaming, RPG, Ryzom, pathology, City of Heroes, roleplaying