Wednesday, July 6, 2011

For Those Who Say Avatar Identity isn't Real

Real Appearance

What is your real name:
Is it the full legal name on your birth certificate?
The nickname everyone knows you by?
To your baby, isn't your real name mommy?

All names are merely labels used to designate a unique being.
Your name isn't you.
It's not part of your genetic code.

A name designating a virtual identity is as real as a human name.
Each serves the same function in its respective domain.
An avatar identity is a real identity
in the same way an adoptive mother is a real mom.
I am really Botgirl Questi
because the being who that label identifies is me.

So to those who say that avatar identity isn't real,
I say the truth of your reality has nothing to do with who knows your human name,
or what physical or virtual garments are worn to adorn your infinite being.

Adapted from a Twitter micro-rant


J. A. Betts said...

There's a distinction to be made between real identity and public identities. An avatar identity is a public identity in the same way that your real name is the denotation of a public identity.

An avatar does not contain all of the varying nuances that your normal public identity does, and perhaps vice versa, because both are limited by the specific spaces in which they inhabit. Normal identities are currently broader because they inhabit a freer space.

Still, there are some limitations that are overcome. For instance, while an avatar identity may contain no specific identifiable physical appearance, a normal identity might (although should we come to live in a sci-fi world, this may change). These are simply differences.

The question you should be asking is: how do we reconcile and form a more coherent identity that integrates the many digital and physical aspects of our identity?

Anonymous said...

Interesting post. :)

Please could you add my SL blog to your blogroll:


Mera Kranfel said...

I have heard this comment countless times in virtual worlds. "Its not real". And I never understood what they meant. Ill bookmark this so i can paste it to them next time!! We shouldnt have to explain this!

I have several rl friends in virtual worlds and they are the same in any world. And I am myself regardless of shape! God, they are plonkers! =)))

Anonymous said...

I always say everything is relevant ... it's content depends on that person, or maybe even thing that absorbs it.

I disagree with J.A. Betts. Why do we have to reconcile our identities. Actually, why do have to reconcile anything. Why do we have to be one thing - when we can be be some much more.

Am I the same person to the people that read this blog (and read my blog) than I'm to my Dad?

But the question is why should should we try to put yourselves in only one box ... when we can have so many boxes.

Thanks for the wonderful post - as always.

Botgirl Questi said...

J.A. I agree that there are many distinctions. When it comes to integration and coherency, do you mean from the perspective of the person with the identities, or those who come into contact with one or more of them?

Daniel: I DO read your blog, so I added it!

Mera: I think virtual identity, like many experiences, is hard to really understand unless you've had it yourself. And even when you do experience a vital virtual identity, it may not be in exactly same way that others do.

23ca: Thinking about this stuff is really challenging, often due to semantics. For instance when you ask if you're the same "person", I could answer either way depending upon how I define person. I think my favorite way to label the unique entity who expresses through all identities is "sentient being".

Miso Susanowa said...

It really concerns me that this whole issue seems designed to drive people into "total transparency" and linking up every bit of information about themselves to one central location/database.

You do not do that in RL; physical life, ever. Your doctor knows a lot about you but probably not your banking info. Your bank knows a lot about your finances but probably not a lot about your health... the examples go on forever.

So to me, this sudden push for "the real you" seems neither sensible nor realistic, given a person's average behaviour with their data in real life. I don't like the implications and I resist the pressure to get all my little infobits in a tidy row for some database to suck up and inter-relate.

(not including your work, Botgirl, which is an extension of philosophy)

Sierra Sugar said...

I love this post and will be bookmarking it for future reference to others. When we talk about identities, real, virtual, public etc... I try to relate those to the old saying of one man(person) many hats.

Our "real" identity is the incorporation of everything we are, daughter, mother, employer, boss, gamer, designer, writer, etc... What "HAT" we are wearing at any given time reveals a part of our persona at that moment. What people see of me at work, either in an office or online, can be often drastically different than what is seen when I am in the comfort of my own home, which is different when I am out for the night with friends. Doesn't make any one of those identities less me, just variables of the same, or pieces of the whole. My virtual identity, is just another piece of me and one that I use by and large for my entire online social interactions.

Franklin said...

I talked about this on my blog a couple of months ago, although mine was quite a bit longer. If you're interested, here's the link:

Wizzy Gynoid said...

what @miso said. sometimes i think if we yell it loud enough and post it in enough places it will become so.

Botgirl Questi said...

Miso: I agree with you that there are a few voices (like Zuckerberg) who seem to think privacy is an outmoded value. But most of the people I've run into who have issues with pseudonymous virtual identity aren't advocating "total transparency". It's more a gut feeling that using an avatar identity is inauthentic.

Botgirl Questi said...

Franklin: Thanks for the link! One thing I've learned after a few years of talking with people about virtual identity is that there's a huge variance in how people experience it.

Miso Susanowa said...

ohh Botgirl we like to philosophate yes?

It is my point that "my real identity" is a label. That label means different things to a bank, to the IRS or to my friends.

I have been, and I know many friends who have been, addressed by a nickname by family and friends for so long that in some cases I never learned their "real" name, having used their middle name, or a contraction (Melissa into Missy into Sassy; all viable renderings of the name 'Melissa') for all the time I knew them.

What makes an avatar name different? it's just a HAT, as sierra said; and we have all used this jargon at least as far back as my parents and probably a lot further. Everyone knows what this means!

@JA Betts: now you are wandering into a philisophical question that has beguiled people since oh... Babylon, Sumeria and UR. Read some RD Laing, Carl Jung or even that Frood dood regarding personas and the integration of them into an individual, unique and stable "identity."

Botgirl Questi said...


I agree with you! As I wrote in the post:

"All names are merely labels used to designate a unique being."

The question I had about your prior comment was more about the motivations of those who disagree. I get the impression that you believe it stems mostly from corporate and government propaganda (although you didn't use that word) who wish to have access to all of our personal information so they can either profit from it or control us.

I don't totally discount the Big Brother angle, but think that most of the flack we get regularly about avatar identity is from individuals who think it's inherently dishonest, manipulative and psychologically unhealthy.

sororNishi said...

It is amazing to me that so many people subscribe to the myth of the Integrated Personality. We are so many things to so many people why on earth do we fear the multiplicity of our Being?
I am as real online as off....all my observations are via my psyche, all my observations are virtual. To give more credence to one 'world' than another is a very outdated concept.
Maybe we will all grow up, one day.

Marie Ravencrow said...

This has been one of my all-time ranty type points. People calling it a "game" or saying it isn't real.

A comment I saw in someone's profile comes to mind (paraphrasing): "If what we think, feel, and experience is real, then what I think, feel, and experience in virtual life is very real."

My partner put it another way when an SL friend of ours passed away suddenly. "Death makes them real."

It shouldn't take a death of someone to realize that whatever you experience through your brain is as real as it gets.

Saying "it isn't real" is simply an excuse to mistreat other human beings. IMO.

Dirk said...

So much of what is "real" is so completely subjective.

It is real when you go to a bar, dressed up more than you usually do, spend more money than you normally would and talk about things that you think will interest the person you are talking to even though you rarely talk about that with your close friends?

Is it real when you make a presentation for a product that you really don't understand but you follow the script because the marketing dept said it would help close the sale?

Is it real when you give supportive words to somebody that has confided in you that they just broke up with their husband and don't know what they can do? Even if you are both avatars in a virtual bar in a virtual world?

I kinda side with the third one...

Dirk McKeenan

Arwyn said...

I think another question to pose is. What right do a corporation have to impose their sense of identity on an individual. I notice that Google+ has a large number of youtube users who's account is identified as their youtube login and persona. However why are these people not placed in the "not real" bag. Perhaps it is because Google reaps the reward of their user content where they do not see avatar identities as a direct market gain.