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?
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.
I am so thrilled to be in communication with Barry Joseph of Global Kids, and to be learning more about the work that is being done with teens in Second Life. Their site, Holy Meatballs, is truly inspirational, full of texts, images and machinima that the kids have created. UNICEF’s voices of youth project featuring these kids is explained here, and is the subject of the video above. My friend and colleague Danielle Mirliss first raised my awareness of Global kids in her Slatenight article, Henry Jenkins has been to visit the kids there (with the support of the NMC), and I’ve been excitedly following along, looking forward to becoming much more involved myself. So stay tuned
Although I only had a very tiny bit of funding last year to start me up in Second Life it didn’t last long, and I spent a small fortune on land, tier, and classroom costs from my own pocket. Although I applied for funding to continue, I was unfortunately unseccessful (honestly…. it was deemed that paying for land in SL was “an inappropriate use of funds”, but let’s not get into how upset I was when I was told that). So I had to sell up and return to being homeless.
However thanks to the amazing kindness of my friend Dell, I am now squatting on his gorgeous sim in my cute yacht (thanks to the clever craftswomanship of Sabrina Doolittle, of Linden Lifestyles fame). Here we are chilling out on the deck and pretending that we are still on vacation:
I also tossed in my academic “serious” image for a while with this cute pink hair (appropriately called “Party Girl” from a design house called “Naughty Designs”). So… I might be entrenched in unit outlines, meetings, more meetings, “retreat” days, lecture preparation and admin by day, but by night I’ve turned into a wild woman!
OK, maybe wild woman isn’t really me … actually its an interesting phenomenon to have my personal and professional lives blend so much in Second Life. I made an alt (which means an “alternate” account with a different name- I called my alt Sofie) in an attempt to keep personal and professional lives seperate, but then I realised that almost all my friends in Second Life were professional colleagues in some form or another, and I didn’t feel right not being Anya for very long!
What I’ve started noticing is that people can tell what mood I am in by the colour of hair I am wearing. I teach visual literacy, and I do art as a hobby, so I know the power of colour as an interpersonal meaning making resource. But I didn’t realise just HOW powerful it was, and how it affected my interactions with others. I have three colours I seem to regularly use: blonde, dark brown, and pink. Blonde is when I am feeling happy and energetic. Dark brown is when I am feeling serious, and pink is when I am feeling a little silly. Although I consciously choose what I wear for the social purpose of my activities (academic, personal etc…) I wasn’t consciously aware of choosing according to mood. My friends all knew before I did!!
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!
Because I did the talk using double page spreads, the slides should really be viewed in pairs (text on the LHS, image on RHS) to go with the podcast talk properly. But hopefully you get the idea!
I hated listening to myself speaking and couldn’t bear it after the first 5 minutes, so I apologise in advance for the fact that I was presenting after midnight in Australian time and was not at my most articulate!
But isn’t this is a VERY COOL new social application!!
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.
and there’s lots more about art, identity, relationships in SL, musical events, SL lifestyles and more! Phew… and issue 3 is shaping up nicely, with some fabulous articles covering the arts, education, culture, and life in Second Life.
Well some of you may be wondering why my blog has quietened down a little lately, and besides the usual writing deadlines, semester beginning, art classes, and general life as usual, I have also embarked upon a little project in Second Life with some friends, and that is *drum rolllllllllllllllllllll* developing a magazine which focusses on the Arts, education, culture and entertainment in Second Life.
Although there are some great magazines about fashion, some great podcasts about SL, some great forums about dducation, some great news-like blogs…. I think this is the first magazine catering explicitly for the Arts and education and entertainment in a virtual world.
So we have an online version, a pdf version, and an in-world version, and our big launch party is in just under two weeks!!! Everybody is welcome and we will have the fabulous Jaycatt and Frogg streaming live music at the event.
Ummmm…. and we are looking for advertisers (you can go here for information) and sponsorship so if you want to support the arts and education in virtual worlds, please let me know! Hope to see many of you there.
Also, I am still looking for enthusiastic writers on any of these topics (see the website for examples of all the content covered), so if you are a Second Life citizen who enjoys writing, can manage to take snapshots and is reasonably familiar with blogging software (and wants to earn a few extra Lindens) please let me know - just im me - Anya Ixchel - in world.