By David Pflughoeft Special to Published Dec 29, 2007 at 5:12 AM

Everyone has at least one component of their life that they wish they could change or make better. It can be anything -- from a lack of love, a lack of friends, the way they look, or any other major or minor aspect of their life. Some people secretly wish they could become someone else, escape their own reality and begin life anew.

Today, many people are doing just that, albeit electronically, via the world of online gaming. With games such as "City of Heroes," "World of Warcraft," "Second Life," "Evercraft" and many others, they are able to transcend their own reality and in essence, create an alternate, virtual life.

In the book "Alter Ego -- Avatars and Their Creators" published by Chris Boot Ltd. Publishing -- authors Robbie Cooper, Julian Dibbell and Tracy Spaight offer more than 60 examples of individuals and a few couples who gave birth to their own virtual avatar, diving headlong into the MMORPG (Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) world. Avatars are the individualized characters created and controlled by the player.

This intriguing book details the individual as well as his / her created avatar. The person is pictured on one page, with a picture of the avatar on the opposing page. Below the picture of the person, is information such as name, occupation, gaming hours per week, the game that they play and a few miscellaneous others. Under the picture of the avatar is a description of the avatar, why said avatar was made, his / her abilities and other pertinent information regarding the avatar, the person or the game. The people highlighted by this book vary greatly, providing a plethora of occupations, ages and interests.

Mirror or Fantasy?

While many create characters that are completely different form themselves, there are some who enjoy making their avatar an almost mirror image of themselves. One example is Kimberly Rufer-Bach, whose avatar in "Second Life" is named Kim Anubis. Kim Anubis reflects her creator, as they both are seen wearing blue shirts, khakis and brown sandals. They have the same glasses and similar hairstyles. In her description, Kimberly states her reason for creating this avatar.

"Most of the time my avatar looks like my real self, but about 20 years younger ... She's just an extension of myself in this virtual space. Of course, she has a few abilities in 'Second Life' I don't have in my first life."

There are those who consider their avatar creation to be themselves reincarnate, but in reality, it's just a wild fantasy. Giorgos Loukakis created his avatar AereVoS, the Vampire Hero of Ultimate Darkness Incarnate in the game "City of Heroes," and claims his character to be himself.

"He looks like me, he thinks like me and acts like me because he is me and I am him. His past is my past -- he was a PhD student in a parallel universe until the day he realized that ultimate darkness was unleashed within him."

Others have avatars that are wildly different from their real life personas. Choi Seang Rak, a professor from South Korea, has an avatar named Uroo Ahs, a little girl in the game "Lineage II." He spends much of his time selling items to other players.

"People buy more from my little girl dwarf compared to the old male dwarf I used to have, even though they sell the same things. Because I'm very polite, people think I really am a little girl."

There are also a number of inspiring stories of people and their online creations. Jason Rowe, who is severely physically disabled, plays the avatar he created, Rurouni Kenshin, in "Star Wars Galaxies." He says the reason he loves to play online games is that it gives him a chance to interact with people around the world, despite his disability. He loves the fact that the people that he plays with get to know him by his personality and mind, instead of his disability and what he looks like.

"In 2002 at the Ultimate Online Fan Faire in Austin, I noticed that people were intrigued by me, but they acted just like I was one of them. They treated me as an equal, like I wasn't even the way that I am -- not disabled, not in a wheelchair, you know. We were all just gamers."

Another moving story from this book is from a gang of gamers who all live in group home for the handicapped. They worked with to create a place in the game "Second Life," where they could "dream, build, and play." Mary Boucher talks about why they play.

"Our virtual island, Live2Give, is also an educational spot where people can come and learn about physical challenges and see that people who may look and sound different are really no different at all."

Together, nine of them play a single avatar named Wilde Cunningham, and they are able to "experience everything life has to offer." "You never know which of us Wildes will be online at any given time," Boucher says.

"Alter Ego" is an interesting book that demonstrates that for many, the online world can be much more engaging than their real life. 

If you have an interesting "alter ego" in the online gaming world, post it using the talkback feature below, and I'll do a follow up story in the future with any interesting local gamers and their online counterparts.

David Pflughoeft Special to
David Pflughoeft is a 17-year-old junior at Menomonee Falls High School, where he plays football, baseball and basketball. He also is passionate about video games and writing. His stories have appeared in newspapers across the country.