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Avatars

 
These are some of the various avatars I use in Second Life (R), or more accurately, these are different forms, since these are all different looks for the same "me" in Second Life, i.e. they are all Gann McGann. These forms are all stored in my Second Life inventory and my avatar can then be changed with a couple of mouse clicks. Over the past four years I've collected 118 forms, partly out of curiosity, partly to experiment with different representations, mainly due to lack of things to do in Second Life. The result is that I am still recognised, but I am recognised as someone who is always different, my online identity is that of "shapeshifter" (or Protean), not as any single representation. What has proved interesting is the different reactions I get from other residents depending on which skin I'm using (and I think of them as different skins, not as different costumes, an important distinction if these are my extended body). Research indicates that the look of the avatar forms part of how one communicates with others within these worlds. I'm not sure what it says about me that only two out of the 40 or so I use are recognisably human. These are all shot against the wall in my back yard, which is where the presentation was originally displayed.

The later research I've been doing indicates that an extended body image, and subsequently an extended body schema, are both important to a feeling of connection to the virtual world. I've wondered if this is also relevant to me, since I shift from shape to shape so much. After taking a break from Second Life for a couple of months, I realised that I do have a body schema, an awareness of which does make a difference, but that my body schema is actually my inventory. I have the various forms in different directories and subdirectories and can quickly switch from one to another, like some demented Hagunemnon.

This was the subject of a session I did for the University of Worcester entitled"Do Shapeshifters Dream of Electric Sheep" on November 11th 2010. Talking about the relationship between my embodiment, identity and learning in virtual worlds is also the subject of a series of talks I'll be giving throughout 2011.