Things Change

Yesterday Whiskey wrote a post called Narcissus which inspired me to think. This is not unusual as Whiskey is brilliant and I am a thinky kind of person but normally I have a lot to say. This time I was without words while the ideas swirled around in my head trying to gain form.

Whiskey uses the mythology of Echo and Narcissus and asks us to think about how we relate to our own avatar identities. She asks if there is a danger in loving the images we create of ourselves in the form of our avatars. Alternatively, she wonders if we benefit from the identity we create and our relationship with that virtual reflection of ourselves.

I started to think about how my avatar has changed over time, how I have changed as a result of being Chestnut Rau for all these years. When I was first "born" I considered myself an "immersionist" and surrounded myself primarily with other people who felt the same way. Back then it seemed there was a hierarchy and if you were truly "one with your avatar" how could you not be an "immersionist?"  We kinda looked down our noses at those who talked about their "humans" because -- lets be honest here -- they just didn't get the power and the glory of Second Life like we did.  (Do you hear the snark in my voice?  I hope so.)

I remember long conversations with Zha about friends of ours who considered themselves digital people or individuals who don't exist at all outside the virtual world. These friends, most of whom "no longer exist" believed their avatars were entirely separate beings from the humans who sat at the keyboard.  At the time I couldn't put my finger on what it was about the concept of "digital people" that made me uncomfortable. I cared for these people but something about the insistence that the avatar was fundamentally a different individual was something I never could quite understand.

Fast forward a few years and I guess I am an augmentationist after all.

I started talking about my offline life here on this blog. I felt more open about mentioning my family and details about my activity outside Second Life.  I have not linked my wallet name to Chestnut but I think most anyone with a bit of Internet savvy would not find it hard to track down details.  I am not worried and expect one day it will probably happen. I am not offering up my resume just yet but I have come to realize I am fundamentally the same person no matter where I am or how I look.

Chestnut is part of me. She is the artist, the writer. She is more introverted than I am which is really odd but that is the truth. Perhaps in my avatar form I have found the freedom to be more *me* than the world allows me to be otherwise.

Is there a danger in loving a more perfect, crafted version of myself too much?  Maybe.  My hope is in using my avatar to explore parts of me that are hidden from the "real world" I can learn to love the flawed human a little more.


Miso Susanowa said...

One of the fascinating aspects for studying identity online is the tendency over time of someone's "real identity" to peek through the projection. This is well-known to netizens.

Deep role players have known this for some time; it's also standard psychology. You can only keep up a "front" with a lot of effort, concentration & persistence. Most deep role players I've known keep notebooks of their character & study them constantly to keep "in character." It doesn't always help.

Actors have the same problem; it's like true acting as opposed to "pretending you're someone else". It's a lot harder than it seems to project a full character with no leakage of the performer's persona. It's one of the tools the net makes available to study the persistence of identity and self-image.

Anyone who's spent a great deal of time on the net encounters this, particularly late at night when the masks slip & the "regular persona" shines through.

Chestnut Rau said...

How interesting Miso! In writing this post I had 3 paragraphs about what I was thinking about as the lifecycle of an avatar.

There do seem to be some distinct patterns. Some find the evolution hard and choose instead to create a new identity. Others struggle with ways to integrate all facets of our lives into a single, hopefully more rounded individual.

Botgirl Questi said...

Wow! I just remembered the first time I met you. It was at a party in Extropia that I think was for you and Zha. Seems like a couple of lifetimes ago. I guess it was.

I do think there's something to the idea that avatar identity can be related to developmental psychology. I've long suspected that one reason many of us initially found virtual life so rewarding was that it allowed us to work through one or more of the developmental stages we had not yet mastered in human life.

But no matter how fulfilling the initial months or years in avatar form, it seems that there eventually comes a time when the honeymoon is over and we find ourselves struggling with the same core issues we thought we'd transcended. It's like when you leave a "failed" relationship for a new one, only to find that you're dealing with the same crap six months or a year later.

Anyway, thanks for the memory.

Chestnut Rau said...

I think it was a rez day party for Argent.

And, it certainly feels like a very very long time ago. I almost can't believe I am still here.

Carrie Lexington said...

I never even heard of the terms "immersionist" or augmentationist" until maybe early last year. But certainly, my first year in SL was mostly about my av living an independent life, being separate from me - which I guess is why I chose a sl name completely different from my wallet name. Carrie, was my persona I could escape too, to temporarily suspend reality for a little while. It always felt like a relief when I logged in and she would rez on my screen.

It didn't take me long to figure out that didn't work for me. It's weird because the more I tried to keep things separate, the more I was faced with having to confront parts of me I never wanted to look at.

I too haven't publicly linked my real name with my avatar. I can count on one hand the amount of people from SL who know my rl identity and I would prefer to keep it that way. However, it probably wouldn't be too hard to figure it out.

Anyway, great post Chestnut, as usual.

KarmannGhia Inventor said...

A very thought-provoking post. I love the concept of "more me"!