Hi! I'm an academic in Australia. I teach English Education and my research interests include new literacies, digital fiction, fan fiction, blogging, identity, pop culture, computer games, systemic linguistics, feminism and young people online. Recently I have been teaching and researching in the virtual world of Second Life, where I am known as Anya Ixchel.
Following my previous post about the dark skinned avatar, Celebrity Trollop, Second Style fashion magazine editor, modelled one of her favourite dark skins for me, and pointed me to these divine Raspberry and Cow Skins, which just goes to show that I haven’t been getting out much in SL! A gorgeous array of multiple toned skins representing a range of ethnicities. Isn’t Celebrity just fabulous - I love her “I am woman see me roar” poses!
I bought several packs because the skins are just so beautiful. I wore the “Rachel” skin for hours and felt very Dreamgirls-like, but right now I just can’t take off the “Susan” skin, because she looks like she comes from a Botticelli painting!
I am wondering, when the body is purely art, what we can make of a culture in which body modification allows us to freely become another gender, another race, another species. “Real life” physical body modification practices such as asians having their eyelids modified to resemble non-Asian eyes are considered controversial at best. When I walked around with a dark skin I thought I looked beautiful, but I also considered the fact that there is a sense of “taboo” about appropriating another person’s race for the sake of art, or experimentation, or comedy. Remember when Ted Danson (dating Whoopie Goldberg at the time) wore a “blackened” face to a party and was slammed by the media for it?
Are there no taboos in Second Life?
It seems to me that in a world where we can be anything, if I wear an Asian skin, an Indian skin, or a Mediterranean skin, its just me saying “your look is beautiful to me”. I can’t imagine anybody would seriously equate manipulating skin colour of the avatar with any form of racial discrimination. Or would they?
Skyping at 2:45am for me, we begin to map out our workshop for this conference. Here’s the overview for the conference program…
Embodiment in Virtual Environments: Exploring Literacies, Identity, Research, and Community
Charles Kinzer, mathematics, science, and technology, Teachers College, Columbia University
Angela Thomas, University of Sydney
An increasing number of scholars, researchers, game/educational designers, and reporters in the popular press are writing about the economic, educational, and personal aspects of a virtual life online. Communities form and disband, individuals join or are excluded, and people can take very personally the virtual environments that they present, either intentionally or unintentionally, to others. With crossover from the “real” to the virtual (and the opposite) being an area of research and providing the underpinning for transfer of learning across real and virtual boundaries, educational opportunities and issues related to literacy, broadly defined, are being foregrounded.
Participants in this workshop will enter a virtual world, tour environments within that world, meet people and consider issues pertaining to research in such environments. The workshop format allows discussion and consideration of possibilities as well as presentation of some current activities. Thus, in keeping with the workshop format, the session will range from a presentation and consideration of issues related to virtual environments to hands-on tours and examination of applications in Second Life. We will meet others in-world, see how education might be facilitated, and consider embodiment and reality with spaces that exist electronically and perceptually.
See Rebecca, that’s how I manage to be involved in several projects at once, planning meetings at 2:45 am Who else here thinks I am crazy?
Here’s a new form of interactive game / narrative which pushes the boundaries of what is real and what is virtual - the Girlfriend Experience. I find it really interesting from a linguistic point of view that they mention Second Life, and refer to “first life” - the terms seem to have become synonymous with a sexy new way of referring to 3D vertual worlds in general, regardless of whether it is actually Linden Labs’ Second Life or not. Here’s the blurb from the site:
The avatars of The Girlfriend Experience will be available every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 20:00- 23:00. They can also be observed live in the Analog Villa, the Mediamatic Exhibition space.
The rampant growth of online avatar communities such as Second Life and World of Warcraft has enabled the creation of a personal online social and economic existence. Simultaneously this triggers inherent questions about this existence, as it questions what the consequences will be for first life, or reality.
When you use virtual avatars you can do as you please. In The Girlfriend Experience you will have to get to know each other first. Player and avatar explore what they can do for each other and how far the avatar wants to go to execute specific desires. It is ambiguous who is really controlling the situation. You have ten minutes to figure out what you can do with your avatar. After that, your time is up and another player can take your place.
The title of the project, The Girlfriend Experience, denotes the paradoxical character that online social interaction has. On one hand, the safe anonymity by using the avatar, on the other the intimate releases and projections that can spread easily. For Martin Butler is this the merging of two apparent extremes, anonymity and intimacy, which characterizes an important part of contemporary social traffic. The best paid prostitutes are the ones with whom the client feels as though he is with his girlfriend, or with whom he has a Girlfriend Experience.
Apart from this pretty neat jacket featured on textually.org, I haven’t seen many posts about the phenomenon of “wearable teachnology” lately. That is, until I read Chris’s most recent post about how he is preparing for his next marathon run…. it made me laugh for several reasons - 1) his description of it is so funny and 2) because here we are, looking for instances of this “phenomenon” to write about, while right under our noses our friends and kids are doing it already! Here is Chris’s description about his running shoes which I am sure you will enjoy too:
Ok, so I figure some of you are just being polite and saying “Umm, nice shoes Chris”. But these are just no ordinary shoes. They are Nike Air Zoom Moires. Still nothing fancy? Ok, I’ll let you in on a little secret. The left shoe is in fact a secret agent for my iPod. I have covertly implanted a computer chip into the sole of this shoe which wirelessly transmits to a receiver attached to my ipod, and records all the statistics I want from my run: distance, time, pace, even calories burnt. This is also relayed to me at regular intervals throughout my run. So as I pass a kilometre my music dims and a little voice tells me how far I have run so far. It also tells me when I have made it half way, and then starts counting down the kilometres right through to my target distance. Of course, if I want to I can set it based on running for a particular amount of time, and for other conditions too.
Thanks Chris, I really needed that laugh!!! (And best of luck in your runs to come!)
Here is an interesting project called the “13 most beautiful avatars“, which my friend Alice sent along to me today (thanks Alice!). It’s based on Second Life avatars so the definition of beauty is rather limited to humnoid form.
I really like thier slogan though:
It is quite amusing because I happen to know of a couple of very high profile artists in Second Life who are totally scamming the residents with their “alleged” art.
Anyway I am most put out that after months of fine tuning my own avatar, I have not been included in the most beautiful list *sighs petulantly* Perhaps its because I am sporting a new look these days?
Avatar beauty is one of Second Life’s most bankable commodities. Apart from the land barons in SL, and the companies that do large scale builds for corporations, beauty and fashion are the next most significant economic commodities. Its a shame that there isnt a richness in variety of “species” in SL like WoW, because as much as I like my Barbie-like avatar, I would enjoy making myself into some more magical fantasy creature. There is some of that in SL, but with more and more “serious” businesses entering into SL, there seems to be less variety and more conformity. And lots of very dull looking men in business suits and ties. I tend to conform too, but at least I can make fun of myself!
I realise this is part of Dove’s viral marketing campaign, but since I already use Dove products, I am happy to spread it here. This is really important - you know maybe in Second Life I can enjoy the playfulness of being Barbie-like beautiful, but everybody KNOWS that avatars are pixels, and EVERYBODY is equal. It’s when those pixels are used for deception to distort real world images and create unrealistic expectations and pressure on women that I feel genuine concern.
Following my talk was a special kind of fashion show, where people were invited to showcase their unique identities and discuss their decisions and reasons behind constructing the avatar that they did. The podcast of this event is here.
Next up was the incredible Dell Wilberg, who’s talk was entitled Future Perfect: Towards a Better Second Life. Using knowledge of trends in technology over the past several decades, Dell offered us an insight into what we might expect in our immediate future.
Finally we heard from Danielle Mirliss and Heidi Trotta who spoke about their work with Undergraduate students in Second Life: Engaging the Disengaged. It was fascinating to hear their experiences and to compare their thoughts with my own experiences with post-grads. The podcast is here.
In my closing remarks I mentioned that Christy was being interviewed in just a few hours time by the ABC media in Australia about Second Life, and here is the podcast for that (go Christy!!!).
The NMC blogging and recording of the four hour event was fantastic and my thanks go to Larry Pixel and CDB Barkley for inviting us to be a part of this very significant symposium. it was an honour and a thrill to be invited.
85 more photographs here, thanks also to Gary Hazlitt and NMC for many of the photographs in this set.
The New Media Consortium will host the 12-day symposium on the NMC campus in Second Life, focusing on the impact of digital media on all aspects of our daily lives. The Symposium on the Impact of Digital Media will explore the ways we encounter and understand digital media — inside such a setting. This virtual symposium is informed by the MacArthur Foundation Series on Digital Media and Learning, a two-year project in which the NMC is helping to explore the impact of digital media on our lives in a variety of ways, and encouraging dialogue among experts, visionaries, and thought leaders from around the globe.
In my dual role as an educator in Second Life and as editor of Slatenight (a magazine about the Arts, education, culture and entertainment in SL) I was invited to plan a live event inside Second Life for Sl residents.
I have planned a four hour series of events, and here is our program:
Friday October 20th 7am-11am - Live Event SLATENIGHT hosted events
* The Avatar as Communication - Dr Angela Thomas, Sydney University (Anya Ixchel, editor of Slatenight)
* Fashion parade: Fashioning the Avatar (showcasing the range of unique identities in SL)
* Remediation of the Art Space in SL - Christy Dena, Sydney University (Lythe Witte, writer for Slatenight)
* Future Perfect: Projections forward to an even better world - Dell Wilberg (creative designer of Slatenight)
* Engaging the Disengaged: Using SL to Revitalize the Undergraduate Classroom - Danielle Mirliss and Heidi Trotta, Seton Hall University, NY (Danielle Damone and Heidi TeeCee, writers for Slatenight)
So, if you are in SL, come along and listen to us - our voices will be streamed into world as will the music, and you’ll probably hear lots of laughing and informal chatting during the fashion show - oh and the musicians tell me I will never be able to shut them up, so you may even hear me getting very stern trying to keep them in line *grin*
If you have Second Life downloaded already, and are a member of the NMC guests group (to access the NMC sim you need to be a guest of the group), here is the SLURL.
After attending a brilliant seminar this evening on language and identity I’ve been stimulated to reflect on two negative experiences I’ve had over the past week in Second Life. These incidents both disturbed me and I feel that they were both violent and othering in their effect on me.
1. My visit to DarkRose Castle
My good friend Trasgo is an online DJ and he invited me to his live broadcast event which was streamed into Second Life. His shift was delayed somewhat while another guy was DJ-ing and so I arrived at the event early. What I didnt understand was that the location of the event varied according to the DJ, so I ended up in the wrong location: a Gothic horror private roleplaying sim. I dragged Kronos along with me, and we arrived in our normal avatar states: blonde, casual clothing, kind of Barbie and Ken avatars. It was obvious that we were guests because we stood out so markedly from the crowd of goths there. Yet all attempts at conversation were ignored - we were given a curt nod, a couple of hellos, and then when I asked a question of one guy, he just looked me up and down and then turned around and walked away. It was so like we were invisible that I really felt hurt. The hostility was so strong - I felt very uncomfortable. I tried to make a comment about it to the rude person who walked away to me but he pretty much told me to ********* chill out. There were other guests there but they were dressed appropriately and seemed to know “the Prince” so were accepted immediately. in fact, they were offered tours of the castle. Kronos thought we were being offered a tour and asked about it, but was ignored. The Othering I felt at this event was painful - the silence of the goths towards me was a violent experience and it literally took me over 10 minutes to start talking to Kronos again normally because I felt so hurt.
The seminar today focussed a lot on Derrida and the notion that identity always involves exclusion. Derrida talks about the boundaries of identity as painful and conflicted, and the violence - either actual or potential - played by the role of language in identity construction. At this goth site I felt these boundaries and I felt excluded. What pained me most was that I actually love the goth aesthetic and even have some goth clothes in my real life for special occasions. But I dont have a goth avatar and here I was marginalised by multiple semiotic means: I had the wrong image, I didn’t have access to the knowledge required to participate in conversation, I didn’t understand how to behave in this context.
Let me talk about my avatar for a moment as a segueway into experience 2. I have deliberately chosen a “Barbie” avatar for a number of reasons:
- because I wanted a human avatar to be more approachable for my students when they come on
- because I did not want to be marginalised by the general population for being different
- because I am fascinated with the aestheticisation of beauty and its effect on identity
- and because its fun to indulge in a certain set of feminine fantasies which will never be my reality
Because of this I have invested a lot of time and real money into my shape, skin, hair, makeup, clothes, gestures, animations and other bits and pieces. So I am heavily invested in the avatar I have right now and to be excluded or mocked or ignored because of my avatar is WORSE than a personal insult - because my avatar reflects so many things that are ME - my choices, my desires, my ideas, my aesthetics. So this leads me to talk about:
2. My changeling friend
I have a friend who will remain nameless who changes her avatar frequently. She likes tinkering with her identity and I get great amusement at the new personas she adopts. She knows I am fascinated with identity and that I write about it, so she often trials new looks and personae with me. One day recently she im-ed me that she had a great new look to show me. When she arrived, I laughed when I saw the look: it was like a fairy version of Ursula from The Little Mermaid. But my humour soon turned to shock when my friend started talking with an entirely new linguistic pattern, an entirely new voice, and in an extremely aggressive manner. I couldn’t believe it was my friend because she was just so… awful. She was condescending, mocking, and…. and here comes the painful blow…. she called me (very derisively): DOLLFACE! I was stunned because as I said, I had invested so much of my time and energy and self into making my avatar, and here she was mocking me!! It actually hurt my feelings even though I knew what she was doing and why she was doing it. I started wondering whether my friend secretly thought I was betraying my feminist ideals by choosing a beautiful avatar - she made me feel ashamed of myself for my decisions. It was really quite horrid, even though I laughed it off. I am sure people reading this will think it silly, but I was genuinely hurt by my friend’s comment.
And today when I listened to theorisations of language, identity and othering, and thought about the ways society and language can softly, discreetly but absolutely violently Other and Alienate, I began to wonder what it might it be like if I was forever caught in that Goth castle and silenced, or constantly spoken to with derision and contempt by so called friends. My two little instances of violence through language are fleeting - just minor moments in my usual joyous Second Life. But hearing about Derrida and learning more about his critique of the intellectual structures which are associated with violence, truly helped me to understand these moments.
I’ve written about this before, but really, the more I “play Barbies” with my avatar the more attached I am - I love this new hairstyle that I’m wearing and it goes best with this glam skin I have. But if I was keeping a formal research journal I would have to write: “Spent 3 hours today trying on outfits and posing in model poses. This proved to be so entertaining and pleasurable I began to wonder whether I was secretly a narcissist”. Kind of embarrassing and a pile of “real work” not completed because of it!!