Are Author Avatars Great Ideas?
News & Opinion, Culture & Community
Recent and dramatic events at SCP have sparked discussions about the relationship between author and author avatar.
(Editor's note: If you are not caught up on this, get caught up quickly here.)
So I'd like to ask a question:
Would Bright's List be an issue without an author avatar?
Author avatars ("AA") in fiction are characters that are often used by authors to represent their own thoughts, beliefs, or personalities. These avatars may be intentional or unintentional, and to a certain extent, all characters are author avatars. But when this is dismissed, and an author's desire to become more visible to their readers is emphasized too much, AAs can become problematic.
AAs can be perceived as self-indulgent and egocentric.
By inserting a character that represents themselves into a story, authors can give the impression that they are more interested in promoting their own ideas, viewpoints, and clout than in creating a well-rounded and compelling narrative. This can be especially true if the avatar is depicted as being more intelligent, attractive, or morally superior to the other characters in the story.
AAs can limit the author's ability to explore different perspectives and experiences.
When authors use characters that are based on themselves, they may inadvertently limit their own imagination and creativity. They may be less likely to consider viewpoints that differ from their own or to create characters that have experiences or identities that are different from their own.
AAs can disrupt the suspension of disbelief that is necessary for readers to fully engage with a story.
When readers encounter a character that feels like a stand-in for the author, they may be distracted from the plot and themes. This can be especially true if the avatar behaves in ways that are inconsistent with the story's internal logic or the other characters' motivations. If readers feel that they are being lectured to or manipulated by the author through a character that represents them, they may become disengaged from the story and less likely to enjoy it.
And we see each of these issues surrounding author avatars on the SCP.
It is understandable that some authors desire to leave a more direct signature in their works, especially with the chronic attribution problems the SCP Wiki and its contributors face. But how many authors with AAs, when answering genuinely, when asking the question to themselves, would be able to say that their motive is something other than clout chasing, or increasing their community presence?
SCP AA's are often given places of importance, success, and intelligence in the rank of the Foundation, showing up as Site Directors and leaders. Many of them are larger than life, and some are above the law. Most are at least given the title Doctor. This is a pretty alarming case with Dr. Bright, with the benefit of hindsight. (Consider how the lusty, body-hopping, and immortal qualities of the Dr. Bright character seem in hindsight now.) Many authors adopt artwork of their avatars that are visually gentrified, idealized, and that reinforce problematic, normative depictions of societal beauty, leadership, and charisma, further encouraging an approachable, lovable image of themselves that can be inaccurate.
Also, how many AAs end up being an antagonist? I'm sure there are a few, but these are likely the exceptions that prove the rule.
Speaking of exceptions proving the rule, let me add that AAs can of course be used for good. The best example is maybe Dr. Gears. His leadership early in the SCP was increased by the persona of his AA. However, I would add a hot take here and say that Dr. Gears is a dramatic exception to the tendency. Most people are not interested in using their AAs to better the site like Dr. Gears did, but to better their reputations... and the site too, but only if it just so happens that way.
AA issues can compound over time. Perhaps the most pointed result of not addressing this as a community are the new generations of authors who mimic their author and lore favorites. They want AAs as well, because their heroes have them. This has been the case for so long that any questions of whether or not they are a good idea to begin with have been dissolved. And AAs are on the rise at the SCP. There's one in the "Featured SCP" slot on the SCP home page right now.
Dr. Bright was, and for some still is, the chief among AAs. And how many authors casting the character of Dr. Bright in their works knew that it would go over well with the readers because he is/was a fan favorite? It is an impossible question to answer unless you are the author. But it is safe to say that a fair number of cases used the character of Dr. Bright for his popularity and the benefits he would give to their work.
Take another example of a soured author avatar, Agent Jackrabbit's Jacqueline O'Hare.
When Agent Jackrabbit was popular, O'Hare was featured in numerous stories and articles on the site. Since she was exposed as a questionable community member, the community has had to backtrack on their incorporation of her into their works, as a way to signal their disapproval of what she did, and to not be complicit or feed into her problematic persona.
An article that featured O'Hare as the primary protagonist and that included Agent Jackrabbit's modified image on an employee ID card has now been replaced with another name and model. A prior, entire SCP was directly about Jacqueline O'Hare, SCP-721-EX. This ended up being pretty unfortunate messaging, in that it was Valentine's day themed, and only barely made a distinction between the author and her avatar. (It featured a cosplay image of her as the primary picture, as if straight from her Twitter.) It was deleted by the author despite being positively rated.
Lastly, AAs on the SCP can be extreme vacuums to a reading experience. Without naming names, they can get rather ridiculous, and in some cases have prompted convoluted backstories necessary to justify how odd and unfitting of an inclusion their names are. While it is usually delightful to see how creative authors can be in fitting their IRL usernames into believable fictional ones, there seems to be a competition to see whose AA can have the most ridiculous name. This is great for on-stage fun, or navel-gazing, but makes for a bad reading experience, and a worse artistic product.
In conclusion, if an author's reputation became tarnished to the point of community exile, would a beloved character they created and who is not an author avatar be boycotted too? Did David Rosen suffer any drop in stock after Harmony's ban? If so, was it lessened because it wasn't a direct author avatar? For anyone who was AHT banned for that matter, did their articles/tales/characters suffer rating-wise after?
As uncomfortable as the line between author and AA can get, something the current circumstances show clearly, it seems as though plenty space can still exist. All it takes are those who don't make a point to emphasize the celebrity of their works as a good reason to fashion celebrities out of themselves too.
The SCP is about writing good stories. AAs can be exciting and enriching. They have been a fun-loving practice on the SCP since Dr. Gears and other early authors, although with no large readership or audience, their highly collaborative nature, and no taboo or rules against roleplaying (as there are now), their AAs were maybe more innocent than what some have become since. The association between author and AA is one that we have seen can be exploited to promote bad intentions, and be used strictly for personal gain. When AAs cross the line into becoming extensions of the author's idealized self, the writing suffers, but so can the community too.
I have asked a question. Now it is time to ask one to yourself. To all authors: Why did you create your author avatar? What are you using it for? How are you conveying it and how does it feed into the public perception of you as a person? Is your story truly that much better with an AA than another original character? Do you have an aversion to writing bad or grey qualities into your AA? Could you ever see yourself writing your AA as an antagonist?
These are important questions that can hurt the community if you don't answer them honestly.
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