Avatar identity

August 13, 2007

Initially, we all created an account with SL, selected a default avatar, and began making modifications from that starting point. Though working with a three-dimensional model was a new experience for many of us, we finally managed to manipulate our avatars enough to differentiate them from the other avies on the grid and made them our own. We created a virtual life.

We got our feet wet on orientation island, learning the basics of the platform and how to make our avatar interact with other avies and the environment. Though our skills were still rather rudimentary, we finally took the step of leaving orientation island behind and venturing out amongst the general populace.

From that point, we began accumulating experiences. Some of us began chatting it up with other avies, enjoying the social aspect of the platform. Some of us began to explore, taking in all the interesting and not-so-interesting builds of our fellow avies. Others sought out places for SLex, curious as to the mechanics of it and why it had garnered such attention from the press. And there were likely those ambitious ones among us who immediately began searching for ways to make money. We all took divergent paths and began buidling our avatar’s identity in Second Life.

What does it really mean to develop the identity of an avatar in Second Life, though, and are all of us really doing it?

Some people claim that avies are merely virtual dolls. We dress them up and then join other users to play with them. We create storylines the same way that we did when we were young, playing with our Barbies (or Ninja Turtles or X-Men or whatever). We’ve just found a more sophisticated and more acceptable way of continuing the play acting we did as children.

Are avies just virtual dolls?

I have to admit that I do get a certain amount of pleasure out of dressing my avie in different clothes, especially recently, as I’ve been cycling through different looks. I’ll even admit that the wording some people use when referring to their avies also seems to promote we’re just play acting. For example, there is one person on Flickr who always starts the description of her photos with “In the game Second Life, I play the avatar . . . .” Personally, though, I think the relationship is more complicated than that.

Much of the time, I refer to my avatar in the first person, as we share the same emotions and thoughts, but there are times when I refer to her in the third person, which I definitely don’t do in RL. Early on, I would profess that she *is* me, but I don’t think that is entirely truthful. She is a representation of me, and one that is filtered through my own perceptions and the limitations of the platform. She is the RL Chloe as interpreted and presented by the RL Chloe through the medium of Second Life.

And yet, that doesn’t seem to cover it entirely, either.

A lot that has happened to the SL Chloe has impacted me in RL. The virtual has transgressed into the real, causing change. It’s something that couldn’t have happened if I were playing with dolls or were gaming. It’s as if avatar Chloe really has taken on a life of her own and sometimes is leading her user along, perhaps providing some insight into what might or should be occurring in RL.

I’m curious if and when the time will come when I bid adieu to Second Life. Will it be because my RL becomes too busy to devote time to the platform? Will something happen to change the metaverse so much that I no longer enjoy it? Will it be that I never get broadband back and finally decide that dial-up SL is too frustrating too continue? 😉

Perhaps—just perhaps—it will come when SL Chloe has finally provided me all that she has to offer and forces me off the grid to integrate it all into my RL identity.



  1. Chloe, this is really an interesting point of view. Speaking for myself, I never had the urge to talk about my avie in third person. It was always ME or – as you described it – the “RL Timothy as interpreted and presented by the RL Timothy through SL”, as I’m surely leaving out some parts of RL me when “playing” on SL. And I can also say that my SL avie has an influence on my RL, e.g. a slight change in my view on life and relationships (and the occasional “posing like your avie” in RL). So, for me my avie is much more than a doll, it’s my representation of myself or maybe me as I’d like to be in RL more often.

  2. I feel much the same Chloe.

    Lately I have been neglecting Wolf, not caring where I leave him on the few occasions I visit, and not changing his clothes in weeks. That’s a big warning sign to me that I am neglecting my own wellbeing too, just getting through life at the moment, not really living it.

    I’m not saying this for sympathy, I promise, but because I think that Second Life acts as a mirror in more ways than one. It not only lets us experiment and gain confidence to be our true selves in real life (and it does that very well), it also serves to magnify our real life state of mind.

    I might not know I feel lonely in real life on a given day, but I will certainly recognise that feeling in Wolf if I go into SL, and that tells me that maybe it’s something I need to address.

    Equally, I might feel at a dead end in real life but be industriously working on a new build or script in
    SL. I can then consciously stream some of that energy back into real life action again, rather than thinking I don’t have any enthusiasm for anything.

    As for when it will end, the journey never does, and I do not see Second Life having a limited timespan, for me at least. We keep changing as we grow, and having somewhere that allows us to experiment with aspects of our psyche is always going to be useful.

  3. My feelings are similar to yours, Chloe. Even i have the theory that my avatar is more me than my RL body, in the sense that my RL body is what my parents gave me (thanks, daddy and mammy), i just can customize it a bit (some clothes, maybe some hair style change, well, hair every day less 😉 ), however i can do (almost) what i want with my avatar, so as a expression of myself is more “real” than my “RL avatar”.
    Of course, all this is talking about expression, don’t call the shrink for the moment 😛

  4. wow talk about food for thoughts. personally in a way i see my avie as a vessel. a vessel that permits me to try new thing, that let me see things and experience them in a safe environment and with more guts then i have irl. so my avie is both me and a vessel as if i didnt see my avie as a part of me, i wouldnt be able to live those experiences fully

  5. Well as one of those Crazy RPers, I do often refer to the image of me presented to others in third person… Though that has more to do with a version of myself being what I project as a character to interact with others…

    In fact that in a way brings up an interesting point in the reverse… I used to read sci-fi and I gave life to my characters inside myself much as an actor ‘lives’ the role they play… I find the same sort of things happen in SL, but stronger…. As the role I play lives, breathes, and feels through me… If my character in Midian is annoyed I get annoyed.

    This also works in reverse and I often effect my characters to… All depressed and Moody…? So are they…

    I think this all plays into one big connected subject that I’d ahve to have more psych classes to write a good paper up on… 😉

  6. Reading these comments, I’m curious about everyone’s thoughts on plastic surgery — especially if some of us consider our avatars as vessels. How does this translate to our RL selves? Are our RL bodies also just vessels?

  7. I find depending on the AV apearance that I choose, it effects my level of freedom I personally feel when playing SL.

    For me the most restricting is playing an adult human, but I also will play this when I go out dancing and want to chat with the ladies.

    When I play as a child I can have fun just playing around, jumping, and running. I have also experienced of mother like figures asking me to please sit down and stay still for a moment haha.

    When I play as a furry neko, I find I feel comfortable wearing all sorts of things that I would never wear in RL, but for some reason interest me. I also do not feel the restrictions that society would press upon me in this form.

    In all the forms I have played, my personality of course will flow through them, it would be impossible for it not to since I am the one controlling their actions. I personally love to play differnt AV’s because I may discover something new about myself and hopefully in my RL become a bit more free in thought and action.

    Though there will always be my favorite AVs to play and some AVs take on more of a life than others.

  8. Wow, it’s really interesting to read how everyone sees his/her relationship to his/her avie 🙂 There’s still so much I think I could find to say on the subject and so many questions I could ask.

    Maybe the next time I see some of you in SL, I’ll bug you about this more 😉

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