4. Assignment 5. Living as an Avatar in Second Life

Living as an Avatar in Second Life: Simulacra and Simulation in action

This project began as one of two projects I undertook for Assignment 4 both of which concerned the notion of reality and replication in relation to digital technology. I do have a digital footprint on the internet through activities such as internet banking, shopping and also social networks although I would say that my presence is quite faint in the latter. I use Facebook sparingly and haven’t uploaded an image to Flickr for a couple of years at least. I joined Instagram in the middle of last year, though, because I thought this would encourage me to make photographs and experiment with other forms of photography such as cyanotypes and polaroids.  This concentration on image-making has worked well for me as I’ve gained inspiration from seeing the work of others in a wider artistic field and often having interesting ‘conversations’.

The idea of ‘digital identity’ troubles me in relation to the negative criticisms that are so often put forward so, being contrary as I am, I wanted to explore this in the hope of finding something more positive. I didn’t relish the idea of fooling others by pretending to be a different person on Facebook and so I decided to explore an environment where one quite openly takes on another identity and interacts in a virtual world. In this sense I have become a virtual ethnographer, adopting the role of a digital settler.

Process

My earlier work, including reading and research, has already been laid out in my post on Planning . In this second half of the project I have mainly concentrated on portraying my explorations of Second Life, although I have read the work of Plato through his Allegory of the Cave and reflected on this and its relationship to Jean Baudrillard – here . I have also thought about the importance of naming my Avatar here .

Having become slightly more proficient in being an Avatar and inhabiting Second Life, I have had a look at the work of others there. For example, Irina Pey , is a virtual blogger and also, I think a developer working on Second Life and Linden’s newer project Sansar which I haven’t dared to venture into. Her writing is eclectic as she describes visits to various sites there, using ‘snapshots’ that she has processed to look slightly different and also videos. In this sense it reads more like a virtual travel blog. Pey also summarises discussions on the running of Second Life (staff meet in their Avatar mode in a virtual conference, which is certainly different) and includes videos created for YouTube by other residents who include the developers and artists who have a presence in Second Life. It is through this that I have been able to appreciate the richness of creativity that people bring to bear in keeping this virtual world running – even though Second Life has its own signature look.

A PDF of the Bibliography is attached

Assignment 5 Bibliography

although I intend to create a more informative outline of the ways in which the different types of research assisted me in creating this project.

Presentation

At this stage this is a digital presentation as befits a digital life, using ‘screen’ snapshots and videos plus a new separate blog to act as my own travel diary.

Second Life Videos

 I have utilised two different ‘viewers’ for interacting with the world of Second Life (the official SL viewer and Firestorm) both of which have tools for ‘snapshots’ and videoing (which SL terms ‘machinimia’) what’s on screen.  However, I have found that the Snagit software I have mentioned before provides better quality given that these are, after all, only screenshots.  I have continued to use Wondershare Filmora for video processing which I find more intuitive than iMovies.  When time has allowed I’ve also been slowly working through tutorials on using Adobe Premiere Pro, which has a much more sophisticated interface, but I must say that using Filmora has proved very useful in increasing my understanding of how video processing works.

 Two short videos were included in my earlier post here  and these videos also appear in my separate digital journey diary which I discuss in more detail below. Videoing in Second Life has the double challenges of setting up the video framework in such a way (including zooming and panning) as to include a moving Avatar, plus actually moving/manipulating the Avatar. Avatars do not move smoothly and it’s not easy to manoeuvre them along a curved path for instance. Having checked out a variety of videos on You Tube I can say that I’m certainly not the worst video creator there although I know I have much room for improvement. The more sophisticated videos can tend towards a more or less static background with a voiceover reading poetry and flowing text, say.

Along the lines of my discussion with my tutor in planning for Assignment 5 I have created two more videos. One was uploaded to my video diary but I include it below also

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/256937179″>SL Greenland</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/cblearninglog”>Catherine Banks</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

The most recent one has been created in response to my tutor’s suggestion that I create a video with voiceover. I used mainly new material, apart from a section of an earlier video. The video was created by stitching together clips from 6 short videos and 3 ‘snapshots’. My aim was to give a flavour of the Second Life experience in the early stages –  manipulation of the Avatar; struggles with Second Life technology; my need for a ‘home-base’ and reluctance/lack of confidence in looking to interact with other Avatars.  For the voiceover. I brainstormed thoughts as they occurred, cut the pages into strips and moved them around on my whiteboard to see what made sense so I could create a transcript.

 

I then went through a lengthy process of reading the transcript to myself as I processed the video; moving clips around to fit it; discovering the recorder I used was to fiddly for me; generally stressing and then deciding to use the voiceover function in Filmora. The video below is my final edit.

<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/259138493″>Exploring Second Life</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/cblearninglog”>Catherine Banks</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

I have certainly learned more about creating a video but don’t feel too satisfied with it. Apart from the voiceover itself not being as good as I would have wanted, I’m not sure that just one video can encapsulate my experience in Second Life. I feel happier with the other videos I created which capture different aspects of Second Life.  There’s certainly much more to be explored there and experimented with – if I choose to continue visiting there after formal Assessment.

Digital ‘travel’ diary

Having already started a journal, I decided that a separate blog would provide both an appropriate container for recording my ongoing journeys in Second Life and a continuation of the digital theme. My usual preference for a blog theme is one which allows scrolling, so providing a continual flow of content.  This time I decided on something different. It seemed to me that a blog theme which utilises image thumbnails on its Home page would mirror the experience of dipping in and out of Second Life and choosing where to visit. The home page also looks like a photographic contact sheet.

Once I had chosen the theme and made a few test entries I asked six photographer colleagues for feedback.  The response was positive with lots of encouragement to go ahead with it. The major feedback was that, to make it even more interesting, I should put more of ‘me’ in it – thoughts, feelings, reflections. Thanks to all of them. The link is below

JOURNEY INTO SECOND LIFE

I think it achieves my aims so feel quite satisfied with it. I do want to give credit to the Second Life residents who have created such excellent sites to visit but, at the moment, I’m not sure whether I should put the links within the blog posts themselves or create a separate ‘page’ to list all of them.  Also, is it a good idea to continue posting on this separate blog right up until formal Assessment. These are aspects to discuss with my tutor.

 Interim Reflection

I intend to do a more comprehensive reflection (using Assignment criteria) in a separate blog post but, in the meantime…

It was fun, absorbing and challenging as I had to take a big learning curve to get to grips with exploring Second Life. I was concerned I might become too immersed but I was grounded in having a fairly strong sense of self and knowing when to take a break because the mental challenge was quite tiring.  There was another kind of grounded too (apart from the name I chose) which was that I was always aware of my physicality through having my finger on my computer mouse.  It might sound strange but, through this, I retained my  sense of touch with a physical object and knew that I was the one in control of my Avatar.  I needed that physical contact because, as I realise now, a computer screen is quite an alien object with its hard surface, backlit screen and bright colours.  It isn’t like reading a book and becoming fully immersed in the story because my imagination is the dominating factor. Undertaking the different kinds of reading and research also aided me in detaching from the experiental and moving into objective analysis and reflection.

However, having written that I didn’t get too immersed, I was surprised that there were times when my ‘real self’ acted-into my Avatar, reflecting the way I sometimes approach life in my physical world.  I could never have imagined myself feeling anxious about approaching an avatar to make conversation, or feeling suspicious about the behaviour of another avatar that seemed to be behaving in a strange manner by continually shape-shifting and asking quite direct questions.

 

 

 

 

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