Thursday, February 4, 2010

Ambiguity of Identity Project - avatar as art or statement

5. The avatar as a work of art or idealized self or to make a statement.

As usual what follows is rambling disconnected thoughts on this topic (maybe one day I will pull it all together into some form of coherent whole)

This I can relate to. For me the avatar is an expression of my "self" just as anything we say or write is an expression of our self on some level - even if it is only in our choice of words/context/timing etc.

I came across the following in a blog post from last year by Zhaewry:
Connecting people via computers doesn’t introduce anything that isn’t present when two people interact. Putting aside fundamental debates about the nature of self awareness and consciousness, avatars are projections of people. Excepting explicit role play, an avatar acts and speaks as an extension of the person controlling it. Second Life isn’t a game, it’s a medium through which people interact. Calling avatars “characters” “playing” a “game” may sound cute but its a corner case.
This expresses my feeling on what is an avatar and how it relates to Second Life.

The avatar is clothing, decoration, communicating choices and values both explicit and implicit.

The avatar is not separate from the human controlling it - however much some may try to say otherwise.

In a VR humans still relate to others as they would to a physical entity in most cases. Whether this is a good thing , or indeed if it will continue to be the case as further generations experience various forms of representations via avatars remains to be seen.

At present it is a factor which is possible to exploit to effect the way others respond to one's own representation in SL (and any other VR where there is a wide range of possibilities in customising the look of one's avatar).

Personally I use this often - morphing my avatar to suit the environment or people whom I am with - making it either easier or harder for them to interpret my words and actions, making statements with my choices, challenging assumptions.

Unconsciously we "read" an avatar - and once you have been in SL for a while you learn to see an avatar who chooses to not explore past the "default" avatars given them by LL in a different light than say someone who chooses to explore the amazing variety of content supplied by the residents of SL (not always needing a huge investment of time or money).

Anyone who plays "dress ups" is on even the slightest level using their avatar to express themselves. And those who mash up various creater's content to create their own avatars do this to a greater extent (my own avatar falls in this area). And then there are those who actively create their own avatars from scratch - making shape, skin, clothing, and attachments.

The idealised avatar is common in SL - where it is not actually that easy to make an avatar that recreates your RL self. Sure you can get a photo realistic skin made and roughly approximate your shape, but much of who we are seen as in RL is in the facial expressions and bodily movements that are so hard to recreate in SL. So instead most people, who want a human avatar, will end up making an avatar that is an idealised version of either how they see themselves or how they would like to be but are not. Even those who choose to wear non human avatars are often idealising their mental view of themselves, taking on the form of their "totem" or other mental ideal image.

edit 100319
quadrapop after the Ambiguity of ID meeting:
there is an interesting aspect to vr - the mix and dissonance of RL human responses (the reading of physical cues that doesn't quite map onto VR) and
once the user is matured within the VR
a much wider range of opportunities to express
and ability to read others and their choices
but at same time
you have to keep in mind that what you see may be completely arbitrary and relate in no way to the intention or wishes of those involved
in here lies the ambiguity of identity
for me it is integral to my online existence
it incorporates the very human ability to believe one thing and think another and do a third
all simultaneously

(I'm thinking this particular post will end up with lots of images illustrating the points better than my brain is capable of at present)

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