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.
Australia’s Madison magazine (which doesn’t have a website) published the article below about Second Life in their January edition. The author was Alexandra Carlton, and I am reproducing it here with permission from the Deputy Editor, Lizzie Renkert.
I especially wanted to reproduce it not because of any startling revelations it has about Second Life (after all, the author of the article states she only spent 3 evening sessions in the world), but because it makes a link to one of the best magazines from inside Second Life, Second Style. I really like the fact that the author took the time to speak to Celebrity Trollop, the editor of Second Style, to better understand SL fashion. There’s repeated criticism about journalists and reporters who come into Second Life, spend a few hours there, and then make outlandish, unfounded, or very shallow comments about what it is and what it has to offer. Anyway, here is the article, with Philip Rosendale and Second Style featured on the final page. Click to get to the enlarged versions.
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.
As part of the NMC’s 12 day symposium on the The Impact of Digital Media, last night (from midnight til 2am) I attended a live press conference run by the MacArthur Foundation. The press conference was held simulataneously in New York, and at the NMC campus in Second Life. It was a wonderful event and I felt privileged to be attending. I got to hear Mimi Ito and Henry Jenkins, and I even managed to get a question relayed from Second Life to the panellists in NY, which they generously responded to!! There’s two fantastic summaries of the event and what was said by Beth and Rik, a series of pictures taken from the NMC here, and a list of links to the audio and more media coverage at the NMC Observer blog. Meanwhile, here are a few of my favourite pics:
Listening to Mimi Ito:
Listening to Henry Jenkins:
The SL Crowd (That’s me sitting next to Christy in the front row!)
Listening to the President of the MacArthur Foundation, Jonathan Fanton, who announced a 50 million dollar funding roll out over the next 5 years to improve the research into the teaching of digital media, with the burning question: How is digital media changing the way that children learn and develop and what are the implications?
Tonight from midnight to 4am its my turn to speak! See my previous post for the list of events organised for this 4 hour session, it should be both stimulating and fun.
Yesterday I went to the most fascinating presentation by Christy Dena and she has totally converted me into the heady world of Mono-Polymorphism!! This was one of the best “big picture” conceptualisations for the many forms of distributred narratives, ARGs, digital fiction, fan fiction and media franchise narrative “events” that I have ever seen. I love talks like this because they remind me how SLOW education is in this field and really challenge my thinking to new levels. Here is Christy’s abstract - if only I had some of her mind blowing slides to show too!
Mono-Polymorphism: A Paradigm for Understanding Cross-Media Entertainment
In the age of cross-media production works are distributed over time and space like never before. A story can be adapted into numerous media and arts forms; episodes traverse television and digital games; a plot can stretch from a book to the web; a work of fiction can be indistinguishable from reality and a work of art indistinguishable from marketing. The methodological discourses touched by this phenomenon are, among others, Narratology, Ludology, Media Studies and Semiotics. How does one recognise, analyse and frame these works? Introducing Mono-Polymorphism: the theory where many forms and the singular co-exist. Giddy with the notion of a ‘unified theory of everything’, this theory seeks to provide a schema for understanding the meta-discursive, taxonomical, and rhetorical complexity of these works. And yes, the dissonance with ‘mono-polymorphism’ is intentional.
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.
I wrote this report about the machinima festival for another purpose but thought I would include it here as well, since I am beginning to get a lot of queries about my research into machinima.
This month’s film festival showcased a diverse variety of machinima from Second Life film makers. There were 16 films covering a range of genres: MTV style clips, reporting a la video blogging style clips, video gaming style quest clips, documentary style, and two narratives: one a comedy and one a film noir horror spoof. Some films were fun and loose and experimental, and others were tightly shot and very carefully edited with traditional film techniques. Yet all films revealed one important and significant fact: Second Life is a perfect venue for machinima whether you are a resident with no film making background, or an experienced real life film maker coming into Second Life expressly for that purpose.
The festival commenced with BuhBuhCuh Fairchild announcing that there will be a real life meetup and festival in San Francisco for machinima makers. Coming from Australia I was kind of ambivalent about this but clearly it’s a great opportunity for the people who can attend. The showing then began and for the next hour I was immersed in the wonderful and colourful worlds that I was invited into by each of the filmmakers.
The first film was by P Pierce, and had a fun experimental feel to it and told the story of discovering Second Life from an outsiders perspective – not with words but through images and sound.
The next film was Free Falling by Aces Spade and was a fun MTV style clip set to a Tom Petty song. It was very well edited, and had a lovely interweaving of real life / second life. I laughed out loud at the image of the boyfriend, found myself appreciating the particle effects of the parachute and wondering where I could get one myself, and thoroughly enjoying the artistry of the piece. Very impressive film making techniques.
Next was a very quick film called Home Run Derby, by Digi Vox, showing people playing baseball in Second Life. It was fun and received much applause by the audience. It flashed past so fast I missed getting a snapshot.
The fourth film was by RacerX Gullwing and was a fascinating “Quake” style film – I felt like I was inside a video game as the character played by RacerX raced through mazes in the temple trying to find the “snail dude”. The movement made us feel a little dizzy but I think that was a very clever way to metaphorically convey the sense of confusion when you become lost and are searching for your way. The fast movements made somebody on the audience call out “It’s like Spielberg on a Snail Trail” and I thought that was a fun way to think of it – fast paced action centred around the search for everybody’s favourite character the snail dude. Personally the film was a little long for me and I had to look away because it made me dizzy, but for game players with a stronger stomach I am sure it was perfectly paced.
Next was Moo Money’s report from the Pixels in Pink “Relay for Life” party. Just like a live reporter at an event, Moo exaplained the context of the party and then showed us some of the action and told us about the special moments in the vening, including how much money was raised to support the cancer foundation.
The sixth film was the very funny horror spoof by Angrybeth Shortbread, one of the leading machinima makers in Second Life and the winner of last months “Best Story” award. This film also delivered in a multiplicity of ways: from the very clever story with a great twist at the end, to the use of foley sound effects, and the black and white palette to create the type of shadows and atmosphere reminiscent of 1940s film noir.
The next film was a hilarious but kinda creepy MTV clip which featured a giant spider dancing to the Black Eyed Peas “Mama”. This spider sure shook her boom boom mama (can you tell I am not au fait with this music?) and the audience clapped with pleasure at the end.
The next film was the brief “The Trailer” by Kronos Kirkorian. This was just a fun interlude he captured in between takes of the set to his real machinima, which will be discussed shortly.
“An Avie Scorned” was the next film, another made in the MTV genre, setting Second Life scenes to a song with fast paced clever editing. It featured a very cool car crash, drama, revenge, and pathos. The special feature in this film that caught my eye was the shots of imaginary Second Life news papers with screaming headlines to complement the lyrics of the song, and the very very VERY cool Harry Potter style moving images on the newspaper. I loved this effect, well done!!
Tenth up was a Tao Takashi piece announcing a forthcoming event in Second Life to again support the real life cancer foundation. The tag line was “Make Cancer History” and the film took us through the sims which were supporting the event. I liked the front on view of an Arnie style av pointing a la Uncle Sam saying “We Need You” to help donate money. I like the way people are using old metaphors but reinventing them for new purposes – in this one a call for charity. I also loved the lilting violin music that underscored the announcement – it was a very emotive reminder about the real life effects cancer has on us. As a text of persuasion, this film included multiple semiotic triggers: the music, the direct request to the camera, and the appeal to you to help out. Very cleverly done!
“Living in Game Space” was the 11th film and this was a film made for the introduction to the Open Source podcast which was a fascinating podcast about life and identity in online worlds. The podcast featured one of the leading world experts on virtual identity, Sherry Turkle, and is a must listen to! The clip as a consequence takes us through the many scenes in Second Life which are mentioned in the podcast.
Next was Tumbleweed’s “Happy Birthday” – another MTV style clip shot to the music of Conway Twitty. As I watched this I found the characters to be too dark – I couldn’t make out their facial features. As a machinima actress myself I use an invisible light attached to my torso called a “Key Light” to ensure my face is properly lit. I think that this film maker could have used the lighting to help better, unless the darkness was a desired effect but if it was, I couldn’t quite determine why. Nevertheless the editing was well done and the message conveyed well.
Unlike last month, this month we only had one commercial clip and this was the next film, a demonstration type advertisement by Robbie Dingo featuring his Hyper Flute. I think it was meant to be more of a demonstration rather than a commercial. Either way, I have one of these flutes and adore it!
Film 14 was another MTV style movie again showcasing the clever filming and editing effects of the filmmaker. Set to a Johnny Cash song, the music seemed less important than the techniques, which were clearly visible. If you are a filmmaker wanting to advertise your skills in a more explicit way, this is how to do it! But although I was highly impressed with the editing techniques and composition used, I found my attention was so clearly focused on those that I don’t actually know what the story was from my first viewing.
The 15th film was another film by Tao Takashi, a clip in which he interviewed two actors about their machinima called “When we were robots”. I loved the clever dialogue of the two actors he interviewed, and once again, the issues they explored were all related to virtual identity, post-humanism and the worlds we inhabit in, around and between flesh and software. The funny outtake at the end left me laughing for real as well.
And finally… the last film to be shown was our very own Lip Flap, made by Kronos Kirkorian and starring myself and Dell Wilberg!! I actually felt a little nervous as it started up but was delighted for Kronos that it received great applause and positive comments. Kronos packed so much into the 3 minute film that it probably takes several viewings to see everything – the hallmark of a great film! People laughed throughout, and appreciated the clever “mirror” effects Kronos had created in post-production. Of course, Kronos and I had invited all of our friends over to the festival to see it, so they very kindly applauded loudly for us. The narrative was clever – using various features of Second Life to comic effect. I would love to see more narrative style machinimas being made!
So, that was it, the July festival. It also included a griefer who had to be banned for foul language, a painfully rude and thoughtless person who ranted on and on IN THE MIDDLE OF OUR VIEWING about his Linux issues, and somebody who was building things. Come on people, let’s have some festival etiquette here!
On a lighter note, do you like my Hollywood style Nonna Hedges gown?
All films can be viewed here tomorrow. Congratulations to Buhbuhcuh Fairchild and Moo Money for organising such a fabulous event! And… fingers crossed that Kronos wins an award for Lip Flap!!!!!
Alan from CogDogBlog has had his Second Life photoset on flickr branded as NIPSA: Not in public site areas. So his photographs cannot be seen by the public. Why? Because they are deemed to be non-photos.
Now having done several photoshoots in Second Life, I can assure you all that the camera work required to capture the right shots is very much the same as a is required when I use my digital camera. I have to angle the camera about, zoom, find my focal point, wait for the right moment and then capture. (It took me about 15 minutes to capture this perfect sunset on my beachfront the other day). The camera in world might be a different sort of digital camera, but nevertheless I am not just doing a screen capture unless I want to delierately capture the interface for a particular purpose (like my shot of Nonna Hedges where I wanted to have her name included in the shot!).
But this controversy has raised the issue of: What really is a photograph? The shots I have been including in my blog over the past few weeks have reflected a visual record of my experiences on Second Life and are an important part of my ethnographic study of the world. I am sure that anybody reading this blog will have learnt more about it from seeing the photographs than reading my actual posts!!
I think that because I use my flickr site for “real” photos as well as these “non-photos” then I am not contravening their guidelines, but I will be extremely upset if they suddenly go invisible like Alans did!
Thanks Sabrina, Christopher and others for some great comments about avatars and identity here. I’ve spent years of my life talking to kids about their choices of avatars but have never actually personally researched what adults are doing. And until Second Life I’ve never really been immersed in the practice of avatar construction before - not so intently or immersively or seriously anyway. Now with the modifiability of every little part of your virtual body, the art of body construction is highly significant - in terms of your own identity construction (whether real or fantasised aspects of identity), in terms of your own pleasure (how we wish to imagine ourselves), in terms of the pleasure of others (how we want others to perceive the image we are projecting) and in terms of the business practices in Second Life.
Personally I have tested out:
- 32 different skins until i found the perfect skin shade and texture I liked
- hundreds of different elements of my body shape - in the end I bought a default shape because somebody else did it so much better than I could manage
- over 60 different hairstyles - now my default hairstyle is the one here called “panache” and I have 30 different shades of this same style - my favourite being the blonde with pink tips. In 2004 I had blonde hair with tips and loved it - but the pink tips are too hard to maintain in real life.
- the skin I am wearing here comes with 8 different make-up shades, from natural to glamorous. I started wearing the glamorous one (heavy red lipstick and lots of smoky eyeshadow) as default but now I prefer the natural look - soft pink natural lips and just a touch of eyeliner.
- having said that, I was not happy with the “natural look” eyelashes, so in this image you can see my new “long and lush” eyelashes. Learning how to position the individual lashes in this set was more complicated than building my virtual house and flattening the land the put it on.
- and I have at least 40 or 50 different outfits, 5 different sets of jewellery, and 12 pairs of shoes for different occasions. Some of my shoes are scripted to include special animated walks, or to change colour with a voice activated command.
- next comes my animations. I have a special set of animations so that my avatar will randomly vary her sitting position / standing position / flying technique / landing technique / response to other avatars.
- following on from the response to other avatars, I have a set of commands to animate myself and others with their permission - to hug them, jump on them, greet them in certain ways etc… These animations are really helpful with respect to interpersonal connections in world, though I don’t use them with many people because I don’t know many people well enough to be hugging them or tickling them or making physical contact with them!
I am spelling this out in (possibly painful) detail because the issue of the avatar and identity is very very complex. There’s part of my avatar that reflects my real life features (I have blonde hair, blue eyes and long black eyelashes), there’s part that reflects my aesthetic preferences for a body that is way beyond achievable given my genetic genepool *laugh* (impossibly long legs, gorgeous figure etc), the clothes reflect my ever changing moods - some are similar in style and colour to the ones I own in my closet, others are not. The personal animations are just to make myself look more natural and ‘real’ in the virtual context (besides, the default standing position was legs wide apart with hands on hips, which looked a bit aggressive!), and the interpersonal animations reflect what I hope is my real life friendliness.
Second Life supports all different forms of avatars - dragons (see the interview with a dragon post below), goths, tiny creatures, furry animals and so on. I didn’t choose a purely fantasy image because I am not engaging in any sort of serious fantasy roleplaying and when I am there I am being my real self - talking about education, asking hundreds of questions, exploring the place and finding out what is what - probably being rather boring actually given the colourful and fascinating characters I keep meeting I am trying as much as time permits to be an insider within the world to be able to really appreciate it, but often times I switch back to outside observer mode. Even when I’ve explored some of the role-playing sims I wear a sign saying OBSERVER on top of my head so that I am not caught up in some terrible plot that could result in damage to my avatar (which can happen if it is an agreed part of the role-playing context, to answer a previous question from Chris).
So how can you define virtual identity? I continue to write about it because it continues to elude me. At one stage I was defining virtual identity in systemic terms - as a text. A text that changes according to context and is influenced by register: field, tenor, mode (the context, relationships, forms of text). But its a text that is intimately connected to something indefinable: the soul: our wishes, fasntasies, dreams, hopes. These are more than interpersonal meanings, they are an inner sensibility. At another stage I talked about virtual identity with respect to critical discursive psychology because that seemed to capture those elements of soul. But I still think its incredibly complex and needs much more thought. So, any thoughts, or explanations from people about their own avatar choices, would be most welcomed.
Meanwhile, don’t you just love my new eyelashes? *giggle*