“There isn’t one for you.” I listened as my sister insisted, “You never even liked to watch cartoons.” I had to agree. I only liked the Looney Tunes. Otherwise, I only watched cartoons because my sister and brother did. Two of the three of us voted and PBS and I got voted off. Still, I figured some cartoon character reflected me in some meaningful way. So, when my sister could not think of any character, after I had admittedly failed, I turned to Facebook: same result. No one thought of anything first time around. Then, as if something dawned slowly upon them one at a time, I began to get responses like, Inspector Gadget and Goofy, Rabbit from Winnie the Pooh. Even the faceless teacher from Charlie Brown? I am, in the opinion of those who know me best, a quirky, nerdy, killjoy who chastises everyone around with, “whaaa wa waa waa?” I was feeling frustrated that with my inability to relate to American popular culture. I decided to hop onto my computer where I could sit and sulk along the beach in my favorite virtual world with a good book, of course. Just as the screen of my computer rose from black to a perfect dawn on nameless strip of sand, I realized the most obvious and perfect answer to the question of my toon identity existed but was not one of the well worn icons of American cartoons.
I first created an online persona after reading an ad on Facebook for a game that called itself a “virtual world.” I thought the concept was interesting; the Facebook game was pretty childish, though. I wondered how this concept had developed and what the possibilities were. So, I pulled up my trusty search engine and found several listings for web applications calling themselves virtual worlds. I picked one that looked like it had a lot of users. Soon I was logged in as the newest citizen of this virtual world, Eliza Quinzet, fully anticipating I would soon be deleting her. I had suspicions that the wrong kind of avatars were hanging out in these kinds of places. After Eliza, had been tutored by a helpful vampire, she was flying solo to Costa Rica and the virtual Louvre Museum.
In a few weeks Eliza Quinzet became more than a one dimensional character with a perfect figure. I came to admire her ability to make other avatars laugh, and to make friends out of strangers with little effort. She has friends and acquaintances from all over the world and has even picked up a bit of Swedish. After a few basic lessons, she became a virtual artist known for her glass sculptures and vases Eliza can dance, play pool, fly a plane and skydive. I have never seen her hair out of place or nails broken, unless it was the fault of a slow internet connection. She has traveled in Sweden, France, Mexico, Greece and parts of China and Japan. Part fashionista, part superhero, part girl next door, Eliza is everything I would like to be.
Eliza’s adventures sound like elaborate escapism. Many do use virtual environments to escape the humdrum or the chaos that is their real lives. For myself, and others I know, having an alter ego opened life up to new possibilities for creativity and relationships with intelligent and sensitive people from all over the globe. Certainly, as an English major I had a lot of opportunities to be creative and explore the arts. But, virtual reality breathed new life into my English studies. I began to find more connections between literature and art and to consider new perspectives on the problem of making literature more a part of the lives of people who are not necessarily readers.
If I must choose a cartoon character to with which to identify myself, Eliza Quinzet is the perfect choice. She refuses to be like any other toon out there. She can do all the stuff Wonder Woman can do and make being a nerd really classy.