Monday, October 11, 2010

Identity as Mask, Filter and Window

avatar mask

As I was pondering a comment Splash Kidd made last week on identity, the analogies of masks, filters and windows came to mind:
  • masks that project a constructed image that hides underlying aspects of our self
  • filters that accentuate certain dimensions of our personality while diminishing or coloring others
  • windows that provide a glimpse into deeper levels of our being that are usually hidden
We meet the world through a multiplicity of masks, filters and windows corresponding to roles such as parent, employee, student, party goer, etc.  The way we dress, the style and substance of our communication and even subconscious expressions such as posture can vary quite radically between roles. Although this seems to beg the question "Which is the real you?",  upon reflection it's apparent that the being behind each persona inherently transcends any particular expression. 

It seems to me that all three modalities can be used to consciously explore the multidimensional expression of our being.  Although the realities of physical existence limit the roles one can play in the atomic world, virtual identities offer us an almost unlimited potential to break out of habitual modes of expression and connect with new aspects of one's being. 

There are many ways to play with virtual identities. Some people have a single identity that morphs into different forms and characters. Others create multiple "alts", each expressing a particular persona that deepens over time through a continuity of narrative. Like just about anything in life, the trick is to be immersed enough for deep and authentic experience while maintaining a spark of an observing consciousness to stay awake in the dream.


Miso Susanowa said...

I have been playing with masks and the concept of them for many years. Having social anthropology training, I see that masks are an integral part of every society.

I find all this debate about "masks" and "avatars" and "identity" to be a MacGuffin - we wear "masks" everyday in physical life; we use clothing, cars, homes, makeup and hairstyle to project or modify certain aspects of ourself for social or personal reasons.

I see no difference in modifying an avatar's (or for that matter, a bloggers or an artist's) appearance or projection and what is constantly and regularly done in physical life.

Mera Kranfel said...

I shapeshift a lot but I never feel I am somebody else when i change avatar. Pink bunny, female or male, im the same. But people interpret what i say differently depending on what im wearing. Thats the interesting part... I dont care much about avie appearance, i seldom zoom in other avies. Myself i mostly read the chat. But we are indeed different here...

True, irl we wear masks exactly like in virtual worlds... but its not that easy to change gender and thats whats upsetting people most in SL I noticed. Like here:

I really appreaciate your blog and these discussions about virtual identity!

Miso Susanowa said...

I agree, Kranfel; it is a very interesting and pertinent discussion.

The gender issue is one huge example. As you say, "you are treated different depending on..." Many of the men I have spoken to who have tried on a different gender role (aside from the immature and sexmad) as an experiment have told me how certain issues about treating a person based on her or his appearance have come up for them and been an enlightenment moment.

With the changing, sliding and morphing gender roles we have been exposed to for the last 30+ years, it is an issue that is striking at fundamental cords of identity, biology and orientation. No, it certainly isn't EASY to change one's gender in RL... if you mean purely biologically, I agree with you, although it is done quite often in RL. One CAN change their stereotype in RL and that's what the punk grrls, riot grrls, SexInTheCity girls and the rest were showing us.

Exploring these concepts of identity and what exactly anchors or informs us is well-worth it in terms of the cosmopolitan experience and maturity of a person, but my point is that it is hardly limited to digital worlds; it is something any sociologist, psychologist or anthropologist can easily recognize as a fundamental component in human social life.

After all, Second Life is only a mirror of our minds, like books or films or artwork.

Mera Kranfel said...

True Miso, shapeshifting is not limited to virtual worlds... But one thing I have noticed in my experiments with identity is that its easier for men than women to shapeshift. More accepted.

A lot of men has become extremely upset by my shifting between female and male avie. They get highly offended by it. It think what is ok for a man to do may not be equally ok for a woman... that is my own experience.

Some men has scold me severely for my "ill behaviour" and told me my avie looks like a thug and as someone that beats up his wife.

On the opposite hand, female avies adores my male avie and think he has kind eyes and are extremely attractive =))

That reaction is interesting and I have never heard anyone scold a shapeshifting male shifting to female in the same way... not as often anyhoo.

Maybee im wrong but iv seen a lot of male shapeshifting to female, its common. But the opposite is not as common i believe.

Maybee women "knows their place" also in virtual worlds and they dont dare testing the limits...or challenge the men(?)

I am mostly just a common female avie but i still like to shapeshift now and then. And I still dont "know my place by the stowe" im afraid ;)

Irl i´m really no "women libber", but i cant refrain from teasing
people a bit and testing limits, not in any world. If people gets
upset, im sorry, thats a trigger for me ;)

But still i dont do this to tease people. I do it to evolve myself.
To discover new things about myself and others. Its an exciting
journey and its easier to do in this virtual world.

Otherwise I had not been able to do it of course.

Two links to my male avie:

Miso Susanowa said...


This is the intersting thing yes?
"Knowing one's place."

A long time ago I made a decision to step out of my place. It was a good time; there were many strong women stepping out (1980s), leading bands, doing strong performance art, wearing motorcycle jackets and Doc Martens, being "technical."

For me this has meant being on the fringes of society, yet I accept this as the price of freedom to be myself.

I do not shapeshift like yourself, but I do not conform to the stereotypes of women. I am technical; I will argue back heatedly; I will not defer to someone's rank or position without good reason; I will not accept being limited by gender in my manner, my thoughts or my actions.

This too meets resistance and, as you say, "scolding." I am called a dyke, a man, a b****... but these are all reactions to refusing to be bound by the masks Botgirl talks about; the social and psychological ones.

Virtual worlds give interesting possibilities to explore these areas; as you say, it is easier to do some things in the virtual; easier to explore certain options.

I do find that adopting a different persona/shape/presentation can inform and affect one's behaviour; I also find that, with long-term exposure, certain inner personality traits cannot help but surface and be exposed unless extremely-tight mental discipline is maintained, and even then it is not always as effective as people would like to think.

Mera Kranfel said...

Miso -

To keep my self respect I have to speak my mind and do my thing, my way. As you seem to do :) As you say:

"This too meets resistance and, as you say, "scolding." I am called a dyke, a man, a b****... but these are all reactions to refusing to be bound by the masks Botgirl talks about; the social and psychological ones".

I think you are right also about adopting different persona/shape affects ones behaviour.

I know I myself have a tight mental discipline on myself as a person but I also know, in spite of that, im not totally unaffected by my shapeshifting. But if I were, it wouldnt be so interesting maybee? And its not a negative thing, its a way to evolve.

Its not easy, but it has to be worth it. And this is partly why i love these virtual worlds so much. And i sleep well at night anyhoo


Kejira Ansar said...

Agree with this: "Although the realities of physical existence limit the roles one can play in the atomic world, virtual identities offer us an almost unlimited potential to break out of habitual modes of expression and connect with new aspects of one's being." What fascinates me is what we take with us from one expression to the next. Why we are able to be so present as avatars for example. When we consciously adopt a mask we are asking others to see us in a different way - to respond to the mask. What are we trying to learn? But in response to Miso's comment that an avatar is no different than the ways we modify our physical selves I must disagree. As avatars we are freed from many of the societal restrictions and assumptions that go with our physical form. These are not just what others assume about us, but what we have assumed about ourselves based on those restrictions. I learn new things about me every day as an avatar and my question to myself continues to be, "who am I if I am free to create my reality?"

Botgirl Questi said...

Miso and Kranfel, great discussion!

Miso: I agree that there is probably little difference in the underlying psychological process of masking in physical and virtual life, but I see some key differences in its expression.

The first is the ease and fluidity which one can shift appearance. The virtual world offers an almost limitless potential for expression as compared to the physical, and can be designed to almost exactly match one's imagined image.

The second difference is probably more crucial. The kind of "stepping out of place" you mentioned in RL demands a degree of commitment and a measure of risk that is far beyond the scope and intensity of virtual identity modification.

Kranfel: Many people are certainly uncomfortable with virtual gender switching or even uncertainty. I think that most of it springs more from a visceral feeling of "ickiness" than a philosophical foundation. It points to how crucial and foundational gender is to the way we perceive each other.

Kejira: For me, using avatar forms to explore human potential is by far the most interesting aspect of virtual worlds. It's great to hear that you're making the most of it!

Lalo Telling said...

/me makes a mask using filter paper, and puts window glass in the eye holes.

Unknown said...

Nice post and discussion Botgirl. Is that mask image your artwork? Love it.

Liz D. // Chimera Cosmos

Botgirl Questi said...

Lalo: Maybe @SecondLie has something deeper going on than comedic relief.

Liz: Thanks! And yes, I created the image. It's an iPad sketch.

Mera Kranfel said...

Botgirl and Miso mfl. I agree Botgirl, thanks a lot for a great discussion :)

Botgir: you said " Many people are certainly uncomfortable with virtual gender switching or even uncertainty."
I say, I never stop wondering why some people are so occupied with it and others dont seem to bother?

Kejira you had a good question here: "I learn new things about me every day as an avatar and my question to myself continues to be, "who am I if I am free to create my reality?"

I say, just let go of your real life body and just be your inner you, regardless of how your pixels look. Free your mind and soul". But be aware of the risks....

I developed this a bit on my blog today because this is sort of a theme for me also. I like shapeshifting and i came to Second life once because i saw a flying rabbit on CSI and i wanted to try it :)

Miso Susanowa said...

arrggghhh this is another area of my research: how pure text can be so limiting as regards of content modifiers and under- and overtones. It's really an issue that must be tackled in the online community.

In my muddy way, I am trying to agree with your investigations. My main point is that our underlying psychology may be modified by a masked presentation, and it may also allow us glimpses of that underlying substrata of being, but many core values and ideas will often surface and carry over between these masked presentations.

I find this a fascinating glimpse into core personal realities and personas. I have Jungian analysis experience, so I am comfortable knowing that most people are a collection of personas formed in childhood and beyond; the illusion of a centralized "identity" is more tenuous than most people think.

I also agree with your observations about the fluidity and ease of transiting these personas and presentations online; it is one of the most interesting and important tools of human psychology and persona that we have and what makes the net and these discussions important in a real sense.

To the "stepping out of place" comment, I totally agree. It has been my pleasure and experience to be involved with people making those supreme efforts to step out of their categorically-given body, mind and spirit (the punk scene, the body-mod scene, the gender scene, the radical art scene, the psychological scene) so perhaps this informs my perspective on the fluidity possible to the human being.

Thank you for such a stimulating and interesting discussion!

ps- Kranfel, I tried to look you up in Search and friend you but couldn't find you. Please friend me in SL!

Botgirl Questi said...

Miso: It's all good! I have a lot more questions about this topic than answers. It seems to me that no matter what tentative conclusions we draw, just staying a little conscious of this stuff at play in our own minds is beneficial.

Mera Kranfel said...

Miso ty, i will sure do!! Im Mera Kranfel in inWorldz and in SL im mostly Vesper Kling nowadays. My alt in SL is Alessia Kranfel, i started out that way =)