Saturday, August 18, 2007

Unabashedly unreflexive SL moment

Tonight I had the luck to fall into my friend EllisDee Welinder's art show in Caledon Eyre (Caledon Eyre, 30, 116, 23).

The art was gorgeous as well as disturbing. The theme, nuclear war.

Reminded me of art from the Sandman graphic novels, complete with haunting subject matter. EllisDee said he'd been working for many months on this project, and was relieved to be able to move on.

EllisDee and me. Nuclear war theme, hazmat suits.

The gallery space was fabulously planned out. Nice marriage of form and function.

Some of EllisDee's art behind me.

One of the best exhibits I've seen in SL. Glad I had the chance to go.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Me vs. me

Me as a scary cat demon in a gasmask

Something that I love about Second Life is the way in which you can play with your own appearance. Avatars are infinitely modifiable, and you can change sex, color, gender or even species with a few button clicks. Today I didn't travel much, but spent some time putting together a consciously off-putting avatar to use when I don't want to attract attention.

Strangely enough, Second Life and Real Life are much the same in that beauty tends to draw, and ugliness repulse. It doesn't matter that none of Second Life is 'real' -- a fair number of the population of Second Life tries to realize their own inner perception of beauty.

That means that there are few out-of-shape avatars, and a lot of tall slender model types. After I put on this avatar, I was left quite alone while exploring. The lesson I'm learning is that perception might just be everything. :p

Me as a pretty Victorian maiden

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

The SL Botanical Gardens

I hopped into Second Life today thinking that I wanted to do something more than what I usually do, which is ponder online identity and change clothes. Luckily, Miss Jasmyn was free to explore with me! The typical Caledonian thing to do is sit around and drink tea (which is nice), but with an entire virtual world an easy teleport away, it's hard not to spend one's free time traveling.

The Second Life Traveler website yielded a review of the SL Botanical Gardens. It was indeed a gorgeous sim.

We got there and were joined by Miss Autopilotpatty. We walked (I admit that it's hell on the Victorian heels), took photos, and even swam.

I had a lovely time. It really is like traveling while sitting on my butt eating Parmesan Wheat Thins.

Miss Jasmyn, lounging.

Miss Autopilotpatty, near the lotus ponds.

Me, contemplating pixelated life.

A view of the gardens by moonlight.

Ah, natural rocky outcroppings. So rustic!

And a beautiful falls.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Kate is on the left, I'm the one in glasses on the right.

For a little while in Second Life I was changing my skins quite frequently, and avatars as well. I wasn't tied to one particular look, equipping appearance as often as I equipped outfits. Just yesterday I noticed something. I was making an effort to move "my" skin (Geisha skin with red lips) and "my" shape (default Haragyaru shape, vaguely Asian), into each outfit folder.

What does this mean? In one sense, it's as though I'm finding my own "identity" in Second Life. Hanging out with my friend Kate yesterday, she squinted at my avatar and said, "Hey, you kind of look like you." Meaning that somehow, I'd hit upon a look that identified me with my RL as well as OL selves.

I didn't intentionally pick a vaguely asian, curly-haired girl in glasses. Or maybe I did. The upshot is that I no longer "identify" with my darker-skinned avatars, or even my boy avatar.

In another sense, it's buckling to peer pressure. I've been hanging around one specific part of the online world of late -- Caledon -- which means that I'm becoming "known" in Caledonian culture as a certain person. This person is associated with a particular look, so much so that I find myself unwilling to wear short dresses around the sims (it's a Victorian 1800s simulation). I've danced at balls as a male avatar before, but now I feel unable to, simply because my online identity has become associated with a female me.

Thus does culture and gender infiltrate even the world of an MMORPG. At any rate, I still think I'm pretty.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Blogging my comprehensives

Avatar-Achariya, dancing in Caledon Tanglewood, Second Life

For my comprehensive exams, I'm pondering identity and why it's such a concern in online spaces. I think it's so important because when you're online, big categories of meaning that pertain to identity disappear, like physical appearance and social class and in fact everyone's embedded social identity. In fact, you can start out from scratch on the web, building yourself as whoever you like.

A few cases come to mind of people who've built their own identities that were quite different from real-life identities. One case happened to a friend of mine at For a long time she remained friends with an autistic boy, gently helping him along and sending him things and becoming quite attached to him, until it was suddenly revealed that he was in fact someone else entirely in real life. Another case happened to me -- someone on my LiveJournal turned out to not really have life-threatening cancer after all.

Or this used to be the case.

Nowadays, in "web 2.0", there are huge networks that attempt to reintegrate RL identity back into the web. Facebook, MySpace, all attempt to join you to networks of people that you really know, verifying how you know them before you can be their "friend." (Or, as the front page of Facebook says, "Facebook is a social utility that connects you to the people around you.")

Facebook has an interface that lets you write notes on other people's pages, both signifying connection to a vast social network and acting as a check to behavior that people might identify as out-of-character. This gridwork of connection reinserts RL into OL, complete with photos, music, movie taste, and other markers of affiliation.

However, there are still spaces online that allow you to express different identities than your RL ones, and express several identities simultaneously. Instead of attempting to deal with your entire social identity at once, special interest sites (and fandom sites in particular) allow you to interact in a specific way that does not need to take real life into account.

Abstracted even further from this is the world of MMORPGs, where avatars seem to distract people from RL physical appearance, and gameplay becomes as important a part of lived reality as real life. (Examples of this are the South Park episode in which the South Park boys play WoW; another is the NYT article where people take photos of themselves next to their avatars).

Anyway, enough, although thinking through this informally has really helped.