On avatars

I’m reading the blogpost Is your SL avatar a projection of yourself? by Shirley Williams and reflecting on my relation with Anna Begonia. I’m one of those who talk about their avatar in 3rd person. Anna Begonia does not resemble my cellular self at all: she is a brunette, wears pigtails, has red eyes and looks much younger (and thinner) than me. On the other hand, I usually say: I met Carol, I talked with Misy, I was interviewed by Cvetcka students, I’m working on a new activity for Italianiamo. So it’s a case of mixed identities :).

This week I’ve actually been thinking a lot about avatars and the importance they have in our lives (both SL and RL): a friend of mine and former colleague woke up one day to discover that he did not have anymore access to his avatar. The company he was working with and who owned the avatar decided out of the blue, without even bothering to tell him, to deny him the access to his avatar. Normal, I would say, if this happened when he stopped working with them, less normal if it happens 8 months afterwards.

When he warned me that he wasn’t anymore himself I was shocked. For how things happened, and because I realised that he was loosing not only his inventory but, more important, his contact and his “name”.
Name in SL is very important, it’s how people know you, is what people know about you, it represents you much more than in RL: in SL you can change aspects but people will recognise you by the name. Your SL name is your reputation and in some cases of very well known people is a sort of brand. I will buy a scripted object from Eloise Pasteur, go to an event organised by Dudeney Ge, read with attention a blogspot by Tateru Nino because I know their “brand” means quality. I trust them even though I do not know them personally and in many cases I don’t know who they are in RL.

To think that now another person can go around with the name of my friend (although I hope with another aspect, since the avatar face resembled very closely my friend’s) gives me creeps, and I understand how students once felt when they discovered that an avatar they were very found of was actually another person (I think the original one left because she was sick of delayed payments). It makes me simply dizzy to think that I cannot be sure of the person beyond the avatar, but yes, this with avatars owned by companies and school can happen.

When I was working for Languagelab I was told that I was to use a company avatar. I understand the reasons, and I even found the idea very practical but I was very annoyed to leave Anna Begonia at home. She was the one that got me that job, wasn’t she? And she had been around Languagelab for quite a while, developed a relationship with students and co-workers, she had a character and I’m very fond and proud of her.

To prepare me mentally and to make the change less abrupt to students I made another avatar. I did her rather ugly, with a big nose and a pronounced jaw. While I was making her I did not love her at all… it was something forced on me, it was an idea I did not like but understand and that it was my duty to accept.

The funny thing is that when I was going to choose a skin for her I did not stop until I found something that made her look rather pretty. It was as if in the process of making her I developed a sort of affection towards this new and unwanted representation of myself, as if she came to live and I couldn’t be cruel to her and make her ugly and nasty.

And yes, she wore sort of pigtails and had red eyes.

Luckily Languagelab never managed to make us all a company avatar and I did not have to contact all my friends and coleagues in November 2008, when my collaboration finished, to warn them that I was not anymore myself.

In memory of old times I add here a Languagelab video documenting classes and citypeople activities from October/November 2008.



Filed under Muvenation, mvn08, Second Life

3 responses to “On avatars

  1. Your tale of the guy who lost access to his avatar is very disturbing.
    The issue of identity in a digitial world seems to have many aspects. We have some work called “This is Me” in which we are exploring of this and creating learning materials (http://thisisme.reading.ac.uk/), and I would like as part of that to explore the topic more.

    • antonella

      I had a look at the course “this is me” and found it very interesting and usefull.
      There are many more cases of people losing their avatar in SL. The last case I became aware of was that of a RL and SL musician, who after 3 years of activity in SL (more than 300 concerts given) saw his avatar banned, for no apparent reason. In his case, his “name” was a brand, and knowing him I don’t believe he did anything to be banned.

  2. ivo

    me too have been adressing my avatar as a 3rd person, but for a different reason … not because she’s a different person, but because she is my previous self… the young girl age 15-25 who was so positive thinking and less skeptical…
    which I am not anymore in RL
    As for that friend of yours, true… if that avatar later be used by another person..I can’t imagine how the new person behind the avatar or the company will explain to the community which I bet will be the same group of community ‘he’ has been involved so far.
    As for the previous man behind it, he hopefully will manage to create a new avatar representing more of his own RL name, since he is not playing a 3rd person with the avatar..
    it will not be easy for the 2 people, but the new one might experience a less easy adaptation since the previous one has already well known by the education community in SL.
    SL can be so complicated…. as if RL not complicated enough…

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