Avatar Antics

I was in a meeting tonight in Secondlife with my colleagues on the other side of the Earth,¬† when we had a strange, weapon-bearing but ultimately harmless avatar turn up. He eventually got bored (we had voice, he didn’t) so he left and we continued our meeting which otherwise – went well.

Funny, we were wondering what might have happened in real life if that type of person turned up to a kinda private meeting in a public place. In the back of your mind, you realise other people *might* turn up and interrupt¬† in such an arena – but you don’t tend to anticipate a vampire dropping by mid-sentence.

This topic came up in presentation today also, around behaviour of avatars in SL. I realise this is probably discussed a lot amongst sociologists observing SL participants, but I wonder what Secondlife would be like if nobody had a “secret identity”? At work, we have a way of (generally) knowing the real identity of our colleagues and people pretty much behave :) On social networking sites like Facebook and LinkedIn most people use their real identity (or at least near enough). People can be whoever they like on blogs and forums and can cause some grief through their anonymous handles. I have talked before briefly about the Virtual Munchausen syndrome where people create fictitious disorders or illnesses (I even saw a virtual suicide once on a forum) and it amazes me that some people just get their kicks out of causing grief. A bit like the prank calls we made as kids (imagine Bart Simpson getting his hands on Homer’s avatar! heh heh)

What do you think SL would be like if people had no chance to hide? What if Jane Doe was Jane Doe? Would the rules of engagement be the same? Or would we see a completely different (and even kinder) virtual world altogether?

7 thoughts on “Avatar Antics

  1. mage ringlerun

    hello wonderwebby,

    good to see you on wp too :-)

    i think anonimity can lend itself to amazing revelations as well… its an area where people can see the content without being necessarily able to box it in a predefined context…

    i know i am guilty of boxing the ideas of some people… i start with a base of – this guy always comes up with rubbish (or for other people, great ideas), and we lend too much credence to the poster/actor rather than the post/act…

    lots of good and bad i think… but overall, i love the anonimity of the new medium… we already have one medium where we can contextuilise infomration based on where its coming from (aka, the physical world)… and now we have one where anonimity can take away that subconscious limitation… :-)

  2. wonderwebby

    Hi Andy! Once I manage to import my posts from blogger I’ll be much happier.
    Ringlerun, you make a good point. Sometimes freedom of expression and creativity is found in an anonymous playground.
    I just wonder what would happen if we had to be ourselves. Would it really hinder expression? Perhaps it would open new paths of expression in a more comfortable environment? Both applications have pros and cons as you mentioned.

  3. Solanio7

    Hi WW (want to call you DubDub for some reason, ;-)

    Thanks for this blog. There’s such a wealth of information, going to take me a bit to catch up with it all.

    I read an article that said that people tended to be politer in Second Life. If true, then I think that having to deal with an avatar leads to greater personification: even if not a true representation, it still more represents that the force driving this abstraction is a real person – harder to ignore that than with a forum icon or bit of text in a chat room.

    I suspect that removing anonymity would button people up quite a bit. They’d be afraid of repercussions or they’d come to realize that their online persona would have potential ramifications IRL. So – again, I’m not sure that would be a good thing. I think people feel more free to express themselves and I’ve read of some good – somewhat therapeutic aspects, of virtual reality. For people who feel repressed and unable to express themselves IRL, it gives them an outlet and becomes almost a for of self-exploration. I think the sad downside is that because of anonymity, the inner butt-head can come out at times and so we have to put up with a lot of rough edges brushing up against us.

    Cheers, Sol

  4. wonderwebby

    thanks Sol for your comment :)
    would love to read your links on the therapeutic aspects of VR.

    And here is another question – are people buttoned up because of the limited exposure to this medium? Will that change in 10 years? Will anonymity become the exception, rather than the norm and what are the implications on society?

  5. Pingback: Expression Therapy « Wonderwebby

  6. Solanio7

    Heya WW,

    Ya know… don’t have any links. You get these news feeds, read a couple paras, think kewl, file it away mentally, chaw the breeze with someone about the topic and then they hit you with source.

    Now I feel guilty about not bookmarking. But I promise, if it surfaces again (as these news stories tend to get rehashed and reblogged as if new) I will post it here.

    I don’t think buttoning up is a problem with anonymous virtual worlds. Yes, there’s that initial hurdles about virtual faux pas until the interfaces is semi-mastered. I think my buttoning-up comment was in relation to if there was no anonymity.

    As to the changes in society given the impact of online social networking, let alone the potential distracting impact of a pervasive and attractive virtual network, I think society overall is in for some real hard changes. People already seem a tad disconnected imho. And I think there can be a very unhealthy reliance on such virtual worlds, possibly for their anonymity, partly for their ease of access, that is pulling some people away from dealing with real life. MMO games have already shown this. I think a healthy person who is blessed with real life richness is not going to go that way. But there are so many who are ill-at-ease, or who suffer from insecurity or fear expression. I think these worlds are a real benefit for such but can be a real danger because they stop or slow that effort to find resolution where it has the most impact for real satisfaction, imho, IRL.

    There’s also a panacea effect. I do have a link for you here (see mid-post comments about attraction of virtual worlds in China: http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=15277). Reminded me about an Aussie piece (sorry, no link) that described the Oz real estate industry that I’d read just the week before describing how young people were having trouble affording homes and could vent some of that frustration by buying virtual homes. Now sim-style mockups are fun as a game. But when they channel energy away from seeking and making real change in the World for the better – then they become a bit like that “opiate of the masses” argument.

    Pixel-palaces might be fun but they’re not going to keep the rain out

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