2016 was the year anime and reality started to mix.
Until this year, I had been careful to keep my online identity (and, by extension, my anime fandom) separate from my real life. This was mostly for privacy reasons, although if I have to honest, it was also because I’m more confident expressing myself through writing than through speaking. I still don’t put pictures of myself online, and that’s probably for the best.
Eventually, however, I ended up identifying under my real name for Anime News Network and Crunchyroll, and I’ve met several internet friends in person throughout the year. The result? Nothing really changed. On hindsight, I realise that there was never a clear separation between “reality” and “online” in the first place.
12 Days of Anime
#7 – Mixing Anime and Reality
Your actions on the internet have consequences in the real world.
This was a concept that only fully hit me during the Gamergate clusterfuck of 2014. Until I saw my friends speak up about online harassment, I never realised that it could be that bad. You can tell that I’ve never been attacked by an angry internet mob before, which is actually mildly amazing when I think about it.
The reason why social media is so rife with harassment is because it’s an extension of reality, yet people convince themselves it’s not reality, so they act out in ways that they wouldn’t normally do in the public sphere.
Online harassment is an extreme negative example of this kind of behaviour, but the tendency to think of our online selves as “less real” has also underpinned my own actions. In my eyes, my “Frog-kun” identity became an idealised version of myself, someone who was far more eloquent than my real-life self. Now that I really think about it, though, I am Frog-kun. All the things I like about my online personality apply to my real-life personality as well.
In the words of Kurt Vonnegut: “We are what we pretend to be.”
This all might sound super obvious to anyone else, but as an insecure teenager, I didn’t get it. Part of it has to do with the social stigma that surrounds “otaku” fandom. As “Frog-kun”, I was able to openly express my appreciation for anime girls and so on. On a more fundamental level, I was able to explore my “herbivore masculinity” side through watching anime and participating in online fandom. Out on the streets, I feel much more pressure to conform to gender norms.
But just because I can’t act on my impulses in an offline setting doesn’t mean that those impulses don’t exist. We consume fiction and role-play because it helps us get in touch with parts of ourselves that we don’t normally express. Those parts of ourselves are definitely important to us, and we’re better off not denying it.
I realised this after meeting my online friends multiple times in person. The first meeting can be awkward because you might think: “Oh, this person looks/talks differently from how I imagined them.” But after getting to know the person better, it’s easier to see where the online persona comes from. I wonder if the friends I’ve met feel the same way about me.
For example, I only got to meet the Youtuber Canipa briefly at Madfest last September, but he’s definitely still a HUGE NERD in person. Literally the first thing we did when we met was start geeking about the animator Tetsuya Takeuchi…
(Specifically, we talked about his work on Sword Art Online II because we both attended an SAO panel that shared a surprising amount of production-related info.)
I also got to meet some other cool twitter people at that con, including @DoctorDazza, @Bashnekk, @JRPictures, @YonkouProd and @TheAniTess. I’ve met the Melbourne-based twitter people a few more times since, and now it’s come to the stage where I don’t distinguish much between those twitter friends and my “irl” friends. That this happened so quickly still amazes me.
So for me, at least, having my “real” life and “anime” life cross over like this has been a positive experience so far. There are still some things about myself that I’d like to keep private (naturally), but I like to think nowadays that my core personality is the same no matter where I am.
And that goes for everybody else too.