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We have all heard, read and seen several tales related to individuals' alter ego. Even many of the modern video games call the player's avatar's as their alter ego (especially in Role Playing Games I think - not sure).

Apart from Superman and other superheroes who have a secret identity (which I would never consider as Alter ego), I have noticed that alter egos are always darker, and bad in many aspects, crueler, etc...

Is my observation true? Do these characteristics define "Alter Ego"? Or can you give me some examples where the alter ego is a better human being than the original?

Also, in the real world, is it that each person's alter ego has got to be darker and a worse human being?

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    The Star Trek 'Mirror Universe' is also a good example of this. I think it's just a writers' excuse to write stuff they like to write but doesn't fit with their heroes' normal characters for one reason or another. – Junuxx Jan 21 '13 at 10:02
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    @Junuxx Star Trek contains at least one counter-example: Quark in the Mirror Universe is more "good" than in the primary universe. – Izkata Jan 21 '13 at 11:59
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    It sounds like you’re just asking for a definition of alter ego. It means “other self”, so not necessarily “darker” other self. Not quite sure what you mean by “in real world” either — pretty sure that’s off-topic here! – Paul D. Waite Jan 21 '13 at 12:19
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    Isn't this question entirely a matter of which direction you're looking from? ex Mirror Kirk's alter ego is the normal universe Kirk which is a less dark character. – Dan is Fiddling by Firelight Jan 21 '13 at 16:59
  • I think that @Neil's answer covers that point rather well – user11295 Jan 21 '13 at 19:33
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No. It's just a writing convention or trope that makes for more drama if a characters alter ego is darker.

Not every use of an alter ego is darker though check out this Farscape page for several different 'Alternate Crichtons' to see what can be done.

There are many variations on the idea because the concept is older than radio.

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If you're following the protagonist, which is usually the case, then normally that protagonist is portrayed as good in some sense or has some redeeming qualities otherwise you could not sympathize with the protagonist.

As such, logically an alter ego would offer an alternative version of that protagonist, and although an alter ego doesn't have to be darker, it is usually the case, since otherwise you'd risk that readers would sympathize with the alter ego instead. For the same reasons, doppelgängers are often seen as evil versions of the protagonists.

This isn't to say there aren't exceptions. One exception that comes to mind is Dexter, whose alter ego is a forensics analyst for the police when really he's a serial killer. Interestingly, he himself is dark and his alter ego is the mask he puts on for others to see.

An interesting quote I found from Quentin Tarantino on the subject:

“Superman didn't become Superman. Superman was born Superman. When Superman wakes up in the morning, he's Superman. His alter ego is Clark Kent. His outfit with the big red "S", that's the blanket he was wrapped in as a baby when the Kents found him. Those are his clothes. What Kent wears - the glasses, the business suit - that's the costume. That's the costume Superman wears to blend in with us. Clark Kent is how Superman views us. And what are the characteristics of Clark Kent. He's weak... he's unsure of himself... he's a coward. Clark Kent is Superman's critique on the whole human race.”