Monday, November 19, 2007

Third thoughts about Second Life

I attended a seminar in Second Life yesterday on "the wounded Avatar," about the meaning of bloody, scarred and otherwise "damaged" avatars in this pixel-perfect world of idealized bodies. Fascinating in a very strange way, it made me realize that I haven't yet seen an avatar in a wheelchair or on crutches or walking with a white cane and seeing-eye-dog. I arrived quite late so cannot comment meaningfully on the issue of bloody avatars, except to report that several participants reported feeling "empowered" by choosing extreme, unusual styles of display. I found it interesting that there were no furries at the seminar: there seems to be no overlap between those who play with identity by being non-human or only partly human, and those who play with identity by being differently human.

The discussion afterwards centred around the concept of "truth" or "lies" in the appearance of avatars: is this female-looking avatar a woman in real life? It's a very strange question to be asking in a world where appearance is optional and completely malleable: What gender is that mouse or this butterfly? what gender is a lime jelly with fruit and nut bits, or a chair, or a cactus? One of the participants identified as "cross-gender" and reported with wry amusement on the confusion that she causes in SL: whichever gender of avatar she wears, somebody is upset by it.

Not to mention the fact that even "truthfully" gender-correct avatars are inaccurate and unrealistic representations: much too young, tall, thin, beautiful, healthy, symmetrically proportioned—and almost all white-skinned. My short, fat, balding old man is a more realistic human body-type, but he's nothing like my physical self (except for being identifiably male).

Why exactly does it seem to matter to so greatly to certain people—mostly men—that they know the gender and sexual orientation of the person with whom they are speaking? I think part of the amusement of SL is precisely that one doesn't know that, one knows the person one is dealing with only as a more or less consistent personality revealing itself by its words and actions (not unlike the blogging experience); and part of the attraction of SL is that one may without risk speak to people (and animals and objects) whose real-life equivalents one might hesitate to approach, whether from caution, cowardice or sound common sense.

Afterwards, M2 happened to find a group for those who cannot cope with such uncertainty: "Are you sick of meeting female avatars that are really men? Our members are certified to be of the right sex, must submit real-life identification to join, bla bla bla." (My summary.) How very peculiar to be so worried about such a simple, strange thing. After all, it's not as though you were going to be having sex with this avatar—or is that perhaps the point? My, what a shallow-water, plain-vanilla, seatbelts-fastened-and-trays-stowed-upright life I lead.

In other news I am preparing to go to Munich for the (in recent times only bi-)annual Developers' Conference of the database toolkit that I use. Still feeling rather poorly, I considered not attending but decided to "just do it," as the saying goes. (The decision was helped by having arranged to meet the Münstermeister after the conference for a discussion of the state of the world.) I shall stay overnight twice in Munich and return home on Wednesday morning.

In other words, there is a fairly high probability that I shall be unable to fulfill my NaBloPoMo obligations tomorrow. Have to hope that there is wireless available where I shall be staying (surely there must be, surely nobody lives without access to the Internets in 2007). [Updated: there is, of course. Null problemo as one says in German.]

Nineteen down, eleven to go.

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Blogger JoeinVegas said...

You come up with such interesting things to attend. That sounds interesting - perhaps a lime jello avatar - hmmm.

November 19, 2007 at 10:36:00 p.m. GMT+1  
Blogger zhoen said...


I've never understood the potent emotional absolutism around sexual identity. But I did have this conversation on Friday. According to my hyper intelligent friend, thus. Straight men look most at women, gay men at men. Women look at both equally. We all look long and hard at the androgynous, which confuses us. Some deeply hormone driven men see knowing the sex of those they interact with as a life or death data.

I also know that children rigidly enforce gender stereotypes.

November 20, 2007 at 4:02:00 a.m. GMT+1  

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