Let’s take a journey through your experience with your avatar. You downloaded the standard browser, selected a generic avatar and crashed into things. Your avatar appeared stiff and plastic. What you didn’t realize is that these actions began an amazing journey into a relationship between you and your avatar. The two of you will evolve a complex relationship while exploring the Second Life® meta-verse. This relationship offered avenues for self-exploration that often can’t be approached in real life, providing valuable insights that might otherwise remain hidden.
Your earliest experiences were learning to chat, move objects, change clothing and teleport. You strove to understand the “rules” of social engagement. At first, you act as a detached puppet master exploring a strange world. Each sim offered a different environment, frequented by people with different interests and therefore offering unique opportunities for interactions. You discovered a freedom to explore adventures in different sims that might not be appropriate activities in your real life. Were these adventures manifestations of secrete desires, or perhaps you just wanted to see if they “fit?” You felt safe because you did not face the consequences you would in real life. You were free to explore various fantasies because this avatar is not really you, but rather a collection of pixels being guided across a computer screen.
A transition occurs when your avatar becomes your alter ego. You are seduced into an intimate relationship when you begin designing your own “look” and unique style. Putting time, thought and creative energy into your avatar developed a sense of intimacy and a sense of ownership. As relationships in Second Life develop, based on your avatar’s adventures, your avatar becomes a conduit back yourself. There is a melding between your personality and your avatar’s behaviors. As other people react to your avatar’s persona, they provide feedback which fine-tunes your avatar’s personality.
After significant immersion in Second Life, your avatar begins evolving a personality distinct from the real world you. Serious role playing (RP) or intimate relationships reinforce and develop your avatar’s personality. Your avatar evolves a persona based on a sense of shared group history, which evolves as group expectations and RP situations change. This change is not predictable, nor is it is entirely under your control. You have entered a dynamic and interactive period which impacts how your avatar responds. Eventually, your role in “the game” defines who your avatar is and what your avatar does.
Having a partner in Second Life and developing a virtual life together significantly affects the identity of your avatar. The avatars representing you and your partner grow together in a life that is uniquely Second Life. The two of you develop a history, a way of communicating and an intimacy that exists only in this meta-verse. The intensity of feelings from watching your alter ego during moments of intimacy is way beyond what you originally expected. You become deeply, emotionally involved to the point of actually experiencing physical sensations. You slip so easily into avatar mode when you enter Second Life.
At this point, most people begin compartmentalizing their emotions to protect their real world situation, if not their sanity. However, compartmentalizing emotions and behavior is also about compartmentalizing certain aspects of the relationship with your avatar. Ironically, after developing an intimate relationship during the ownership phase, you are now forced to create some psychological distance between the two of you. This distance frees you of real life guilt for the intensity of your emotions experienced in Second Life. In effect, you are assigning those emotions and behaviors to your avatar, making them somewhat separate from you and relieving you of responsibility. You have now given your avatar permission to develop her/his own personality while you vicariously tag along at some distance.
Written by Aliya Decuir (Cary DeCuir)
Photograph by Leah Portland