Monday, April 2, 2012

Virtual Identity: What Happens After Minnie Mouse Pulls Off Her Head

Identity Mishap 

Lalo Telling posted this weekend about the negative impact of meeting avatar friends in their human flesh. He wrote:
The difference, and the point of this post, is that meetups of virtual world avatars come freighted with preconceptions -- illusions, if you will -- regarding appearance, reinforced in most cases by the extension of avatarian identity into social networks, complete with profile photos to match . . . The illusion would be shattered upon meeting them face-to-organic-face... or by photographs with names assigned. It's an illusion I'd rather keep.
I understand Lalo's reluctance to break the magic circle of virtual identity. There have been people I've known for a couple years through avatar form who later disclosed their human identity including links to pictures.  In a few cases, the dual awareness created enough cognitive dissonance to create psychological discomfort. It was like what a kid might feel after he saw Minnie Mouse pulling her head off at a theme park. But I got over it eventually and gained new equilibrium.

The other side of the coin is what it feels like to give up your own pseudonymity. Identity within the virtual world community (and by extension the social network) is socially constructed. No matter how strong your own sense of identity may be, to maintain it, you need other people to suspend disbelief and play along. So when I eventually decided to disclose human identity after a year of very active and public pseudonymous life, I realized the viability of my virtual persona was at risk. Although a few people let it be known that I ruined it for everyone, I'm happy to report that two and a half years later Botgirl is still alive and doing pretty well. I'll write more later this week about the challenges of maintaining a viable post-pseudonymous virtual identity.

I have a feeling this subject is going to be hot again for a while. Yesterday, Whiskey Day wrote an interesting post on the topic and I look forward to other avatar writers adding perspectives on their own blogs.


Scarp Godenot said...

The main problem with linking one's actual photograph with one's avatar identity is one of prejudice.

Like it or not, we have created a lifetime of stereotypes in our heads based on appearance and age.

When faced with photograph that triggers these stereotypes, we have to fight our prejudices with what we actually KNOW about the character of the person.

Here are some of the stereotypes.
Fat people are losers.
Old people can't be hip.
Young people can't be wise.
Ugly people have no business conducting a social life.
People of any age are stuck with the musical tastes of their teens and early twenties forever.
One can't have anything in common with those that grew up with different pop cultural references.

Tell me you don't share at least some of these prejudices.

So, basically, the cognitive dissonance is that one is Faced with one's own long held and deeply rooted prejudices. And sometimes the prejudices win the battle...

Miso Susanowa said...

What Scarp said.

Botgirl Questi said...

I agree prejudice is a key factor. And I believe that EVERYONE (except maybe a few enlightened beings) are at least subconsciously prejudiced towards some group of others.

But I think the cognitive dissonance extends beyond negative stereotyping. Archetypes for instance, associate particular physical qualities with certain psychological characteristics and personality. And there's been a lot of research that suggests you can positively impact your own sense of self by experiencing an avatar form that represents the qualities you want to emulate.

In any case, noticing how your feelings about someone would change if you found out they were of a different age, race, gender, etc. than you expected is a great way to examine your preconceptions.

Yordie Sands said...

I have learned that the instant someone shows me their real life photo, they cease to be their avatar and remain that "real" person. I can't shake the image.

Even if its a nice looking guy it is still just not the person I thought I was getting to know. It doesn't matter if the guy is above or below me in relative attractiveness.

It's not about who I think the person is, it's about my feeling that he has no interest in trying to live the fantasy. (and the fantasy is what I love most about SL).

In fact, its even worse because I can't seem to find a reason to have a second life with someone who wants to be a "real" person.

This is just my point of view and I'm certain I must seem sooooo LOONEY. /me thinks, "fiddledee"

Yordie Sands said...

oh, and i have plenty of "real" firend, it just means i can't really share the second life I want to live.

Botgirl Questi said...

Yordie: Thanks for sharing your looniness! From the diverse responses to Lalo's post, it's clear that people care about virtual worlds for many different reasons. Since you value the deep fantasy it can offer, it makes sense that it spoils things for you when someone breaks character.

Another interesting point you brought up was that RL relationships, no matter how strong, inherently can't be vehicles for the kind of totally immersive fantasy that SL provides.

Unknown said...

Regardless of either our firstlife avatar or secondlife avatar we are unique individuals. SL allows us to explore a further depth of self and to learn about others through their soul. Descartes said, "I think therefore I am." I say, "I've digitized therefore I am more then I was."