What does your avatar look like?

The internet has given ability for users to interact together. For strangers to become friends, gamers to play against and with one another, to fall in love all in an online community. In the online game Second Life, a player can create their avatar however they like. One that looks exactly like them:

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OR One which doesn’t exactly identify with them :

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Myself, I like to create an avatar which looks nothing like me physically, but may describe something about my personality. For example I like to put tattoos on my avatars to express my desire to have multiple tattoos.

In the readin, Nakamura stated :

“… the maintenance of this [online] fantasy, that of a race-free society, can only occur by suppressing forbidden identity choices.”

Most people don’t mind sharing information about their demographic openly online on sites such as facebook, twitter or youtube. But what about that few percentage of people who want to become someone online that would be impossible in real life?

Do we have the ability to put aside our embodied identity online completely?

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A great example comes from the 2010 film, Catfish. A young man, Nev, meets a girl on the internet and begins to have an online relationship with her through facebook. The relationship progresses from strangers messaging on facebook to a close, intimate relationship talking on the phone. After investigating and going to her home, Nev found that who he thought his young love was, turned out to be a woman years older. Although, this woman’s structural identity is completely different than how she portrayed herself online, many of her relational and identification identities were her own? This woman could have chosen a hispanic or african-american woman as all of her profile pictures on facebook, yet she identified  herself as white, therefore used images of a white woman.

While looking at one’s profile picture or avatar, judgements of race and class are quickly made. But as one online gamer from Nakamura’s article adds :  “I don’t include ‘caucasian’ in my description, simply because I think it is unnecessary.” Is it unnecessary to include your race in such an online community? One in which lives are shared and interactions take place every day?

In dealing with racist comments on the online community game Second Life, Minx Kurosawa a user posted a forum about racism and prejudice in the game stating that “to bully and harass others with racial discrimnation is the one thing most of us are coming here to secondlife to get away from.” Another user, Pussycat Catnap, with a Caucasian avatar said she found this surprising because she “… always found the majority of SLers to be entirely accepting of diversity.” This comment sparked Kobuk Farshore, another user to say : “There’s no good way to put this and I don’t mean to offend, but – you’re not a target with a blond caucasian avatar, assuming your forum pic is a match for your inworld look. So you might not ever see it.”

Kobuk Farshore automatically assumed that Pussycat Catnap‘s avatar matched her structural identity, which it did. But Kobuk Farshore brings up another good point that the reason Pussycat Catnap may not notice racism and prejudice because she is associated as being white from her white avatar.

We can try as much as we’d like to become a different person online, or hide certain structural identities about ourselves. Though as easy as it is to hide such qualities, it is almost just as easy for someone else to discover the truth if they try to dig deep enough.

 

Katherine Gosko

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One Response to What does your avatar look like?

  1. minzunza says:

    Creating your own avatar can be fun. When I was young I used to play Sims. This game gives you the ability to create your own avatar and create your own family. Every time I created my avatar I was like you, I never did them like me. Being able to do the same on the Internet is something that can be fun but also dangerous. I do agree with you that most people don’t mind sharing their demographic online. However, the Internet provides a reality in which a buffer exists between ones identifies and the identity one chooses to create, allowing one to create an avatar in which one may live vicariously, whether creating new experiences and personality traits or eliminating undesirable ones.

    I found this intriguing article wheter authenticity or anonymity is more important online:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2012/apr/19/online-identity-authenticity-anonymity

    The executive director of the Tor Project, Andre Lewman said, “The ability to be anonymous is increasingly important because it gives people control, it lets them be creative, it lets them figure out their identity and explore what they want to do, or to research topics that aren’t necessarily ‘them’ and may not want tied to their real name for perpetuity,” Before reading this I thought anonymity was a negative thing, but Lewman made a nice point by saying that being anonymous gives people the ability to create and interact without stipends or personal conceptions.

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