[-empyre-] Audience Spectatorship and Participatory Avatar Identities

Online role-playing games and virtual worlds like Second Life offer very different types of spectatorial identification than is possible for film and television viewers. These new interactive screen spaces act as 'portals' allowing us to become a part of the media image rather than just watching it. Because of the participatory nature of these new virtual media arenas, players can literally inhabit and become a screen character in their own right rather than just imaginatively identifying with their on-screen heroes. All of a sudden, we're not just spectators watching our screens, we're active participants and performers. In the digital age, we are entering the screen…

Through our avatar bodies we can recreate ourselves as 'actors' or characters on the virtual stage. The avatar becomes our virtual prosthesis allowing us to enter and interact in the virtual media space. I suspect that this is the key appeal of these new spaces – the ability to act and perform rather than just watch. And of course, in our media and celebrity-driven culture, the promise of being visible on the virtual screen is very seductive, particularly when you can be whoever you want to be (or at least look like them).

But what is our relationship with these new avatar bodies? How closely do we actually identify with our online avatars? How much is our sense of self as well as our subjectivity and agency transmitted into and distributed through our virtual avatar bodies? How much are we affected in turn by what happens to our avatars?

Obviously, users' levels of identification with their avatars varies depending on different contexts and motivations, so I'd like to ask the participants of this forum about their own experiences of constructing and performing their avatar identities in Second Life.

So here are a few questions …

Is your avatar basically a facsimile of your real world identity? - maybe a bit younger and a bit better looking ;)
Or is it a more transformative idealised identity or fantasy alter ego?
Or is it a 'character' that you are playing?
Do you have a variety of visual identities for your avatar (or more than one avatar) or do you stick to one basic identity?

How closely do you identify with your SL avatar?
Is it a second self with whom you closely identify? Or is it more like a virtual puppet (or action doll) that you can manipulate and mess around with? Or is it just a vehicle that allows you to move around in the virtual environment, as Edward Castronova suggests?

I’ll post again soon talking about my own thoughts and experiences, but I'm curious to hear what others have to say...



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