Monday, February 22, 2010

Is Your Avatar A Parasite or a Symbiote?

Charlanna Beresford set off the latest wave of SL blogosphere discussion on the separation of avatar and human identities. The main contention of the post was that:
...the more people have to work to keep their first and second lives separate, the shorter their second life. No, I’m not talking about people who don’t divulge their first life name, because that is probably 90% of SL Residents. I’m talking more about the avatars who avoid acknowledging that they even have a first life. from Avatars in Wonderland
Is her thesis valid? Beats me. I don't know of any statistical evidence that confirms or disproves the relationship between personal disclosure and the length of active Second Life participation. What I do know is that many of those I've met in Second Life have wrestled with the issue. And some of them have felt compelled to abandon beloved virtual identities after realizing they could not sustain two full separate lives.

When digital and physical identities are completely segregated, an active avatar with a thriving virtual life can act as a parasite in relation to its human host.  For some of the tens of thousands of Second Life residents who spend more than thirty hours a week inworld, the negative impact on human relationships, creative pursuits and sleep deprivation can be substantial.

I've personally found that the connection of digital and physical identities allows for a more symbiotic and synergistic relationship that benefits both avatar and human potential. This does not mean that I believe that pseudonymity is the wrong choice for all beings at all times. In fact, I suspect that pseudonymity may be a necessary stage of development in the lifecycle of fully realized virtual identity.  And for people with sufficient reserves of time and energy, or whose professional or personal lives would be negatively impacted by disclosure, pseudonymity may be the best ongoing solution.

I'll write more about my personal experiences later this week.


WendyOfNeverland said...

I think a lot can depend on where you mainly hang out in SL, and whom you associate with. When I started in SL 3 years ago I kept my Second Life and my real life somewhat separate, although I made my av plus-size life the rl me.

But now my avatar is really just an open, "greatest hits" extension of real life me. Just ask all the people I annoy in SL with my real life stuff, like getting married and starting a family!

Southieface said...

It depends on what the person is using SL for. Most of the people I know that have abandoned SL are those who have used it to "escape" from something. People who chose to use the word "outlet" have actually been more successful in maintaining that balance.

Unknown said...

First I'll apologize for jumping all over your Plurk.

Lately it seems to me that something is being stolen from the original purpose in creating a virtual world, something inherent to the very name, Second Life, that all the "serious professionals" are forcing a retreat from.

What SL represents to me, is a baby step in the direction of enabling self-creation, the ability to define for yourself every aspect of who you are. This is also known as Morphological Freedom. Complaints about people not being who they "really" are, or having a name or identity different from their "real" selves are just admitting that SL just doesn't go far enough, yet. We're still not able to self-actualize fully. We're still pinned to bodies, and names, that we did not choose for ourselves but were assigned in a world that doesn't yet sufficiently yield to change.

So to me the suggestion that sticking to the real is the more mature or moral viewpoint is really just saying we've failed once again to live out our dreams.

-Ananda Sandgrain

Tateru Nino said...

The original purpose of Second Life was as a test-environment for prototype haptics equipment.

Second Life as a "Second Life" is a notion that Linden Lab appeared to flirt briefly with and then discard sometime around the time it was renamed.

Botgirl Questi said...

Wendy: Congratulations on the marriage and family, and on finding your personal path to a balanced RL and SL.

Southie: Good point! I was mostly speaking to those who really feel like they're leading two full and separate lives.

Chris: This is an emotional issue for many of us, which makes it harder to discuss, for sure. My intention isn't to label any particular pseudonymity decision as inherently right or wrong. I'm mostly trying to acknowledge the problems that many of us have faced in the hopes of coming up with various strategies to deal with them.

Actually, I feel like I could be the poster child for morphological freedom. If you think it's hard to be taken seriously by people who insist on being their "real" selves, try it from the standpoint of a self-admitted fictional character openly linked to a particular human. :)

rorowe said...

I started out thinking SL was a "game", and kept rl/sl very separate. I was definitely playing to escape, and put in very long hours.
My big change was filling out my 1st Life tab completely (including picture). While I'm not an open book by any means, My "Second Life" is an add-on to my life outside of any virtual worlds.
-Ipenda Keynes in SL