Becoming Someone Else – Part 1

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes —

This salon has professional authors with qualifications in education, psychology and other professions who explore identity and virtual identify. I read their posts with great interest.  There’s little question in my mind that most people who enter virtual worlds end up making choices that lead them into their identities. Ravanel started a series called, “Avatar & Identify – Introduction”.  I was inspired and examine my own virtual identity peering through my Second Life lens.

In Ravanel’s piece there are five questions the lead to the forming of an identity in a virtual world, in summary: 1) name, 2) appearance, 3) background, 4) the story, 5) interactions. Ravanel contents that “how far you go with your gaming identities is different from person to person” and she challenges iRez author Eva Marie who contents, “I don’t feel the need to be the character when gaming or reading. I’m not creating a separate identity for myself. The draw for me has always been the world itself.”

My own experience is that Ravanel and Eva Marie provide good descriptions of what is often a defining issue, but this piece is about how someone actually choses or evolves into a separate identity.

1) “Pick name” – In 2007 I hadn’t played computer games for a long time. I didn’t have a favorite screen name, but I had a vague sense that I’d need to protect my identity. I invented the name, Yordie Sands and for some reason I liked this name. It had a nice feel to me and I contend, even though I didn’t realize at the time, this was the start of me becoming Yordie Sands.

Enjoy your laugh. This was me.
Day 2 in SL at Help Island.

2) “Customize appearance” – Since I had no gaming experience with customized avatars, I didn’t have much of a sense of how to go about it. At the time SL had a couple of rather pathetic initial avatars available to start with, but I thought I looked pretty cute.

My early experiments with customizing my avatar were funny. I tried modifying my shape and this photo will give you an idea of the mess I made of it.

Nonetheless,  I worked on my hips first because I wanted to make a statement that I had a woman’s body, not a young girls. I had the sense that the default girl body did not have ‘child bearing hips.’ hehe Some people could begin this process with no idea they are making a choice like that though.

(I’d like to think that my need to make a symbolic statement about my hips was the seedling of a new identify, perhaps this is too subtle but keep in mind that I was not even cognizant that people even role play at this stage.)

3) “Personal background story” – In Second Life, this is quite different from Ravanel’s model. Not all people in Second Life choose a role, many choose to say, “I’m just me” as I did at first. This is an important distinction, because you can be anything you want. However, some SL residents do follow a more traditional gamer path, perhaps to the Star Wars or Zen or some other role play community. I won’t be able to speak to that yet (but later).

When you choose to be “just me” you open your real life up. And at first, I did very little to protect my personal identity or anything like that. I did exaggerate the degree of my involvement in a project dealing with Artificial Intelligence. It was true that the project brought me into Second Life, but the project was more of an exploratory initiative. It was an avocation.

Nonetheless, that formed the basis to the world for who I was, but more importantly why I was playing around in a game. Then things happened. I made the mistake of putting my “1st Life” photo in my avatar Profile and this drew more interest than I imagined. I quickly removed that too because I didn’t come to a virtual world to make romantic connections (at that time, that is).

Then there was a real life stalking incident where someone took information I had given in friendly chats and used it to Google me, then contact my home. This sent a chill through me. After that I began doctoring my real life with vague or even false information when someone probed too deeply. I tried things like answering the question, “Where do you live?” with, Northwestern USA.

(Do you see how the importance of your personal background is in these games? There are those who have no fear of being tracked down in real life, but for a woman living alone it can be chilling. Many like to say, I’m just me, but if someone shows up on your door saying, “I just wanna be your friend” then how would they feel?)

Coming next: Part 2 “In-game decisions influence gameplay (the story)” and “Interactions between players”

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6 Responses to “Becoming Someone Else – Part 1”

  1. Ironyca
    2012/09/14 at 23:49 #

    Interesting take off Yordie! Your story about someone trying to seek you out IRL was indeed quite creepy! I’m lucky that my real name is so common in my country that even if people did know, they would struggle to find me. Recently my mom thought she had found me on Facebook, and I knew she wouldn’t be able to just searching for my name, because I don’t use my portrait of myself as my profile picture, but this other girl with my name, reaaally did look exactly like me.

    I actually love character creation modes in games. Skyrim was a lot of fun ’cause you can make absolute monstrosities in there, hehe.
    I’ve found Second Life to be a lot of effort in this regard, but it’s probably also the place that emphasizes this aspect more than any game does.

  2. Yordie
    2012/09/14 at 23:53 #

    Yes, Second Life is a lot of effort, there’s no “there” there. I had no idea what I was doing when I arrived but I wanted to see the big city I saw on CNBC’s special on gaming. I kept asking, “where’s the big city I saw on television” and no one knew. I hung around help island nearly a month. haha

    I’m glad you like my take on this virtual identity thing. I know many friends who just don’t see it happening to them. I’ll explore it more in Part 2.

  3. Becky
    2012/09/17 at 10:31 #

    Great post Yordie – and I look forward to your progress on this series!

    It’s always interesting to consider the choices that led to the result (or the result in progress!) Your post helped me to reflect on the choices I have made as well. I think the choices that have made the most significant impact on the trajectory of my Second Life, and you’ll probably get into this in your next few posts, are my choices of where to spend my time and who to surround myself with. I already know a little about your choices in this regard, so I’ll be interested in how you re-examine them in this context.

    I also wanted to add the probably obvious notion that one’s avatar identity is not only reflective of the person you are in non-virtual life (NVL), but depending on how immersed you become and how open to change you might be, the person you are in NVL is influenced by the avatar.

    As was well illustrated in Kristine Schomaker’s post a while back on how she was making changes in her NVL to reflect the choices she made in her Second Life, one’s choices and experiences in Second Life can greatly influence how one sees oneself in NVL. I can cite several examples: how I dress, the music I listen to, how I’ve approached work colleagues, what activities I’ve tried in my leisure time, the people I am now more open to, and even my sex life.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that there is a semi-permeable membrane that separates our NVL and our VLs – (an identity membrane?). I think that for some that identity membrane may either be more or less permeable at first, but what is likely very common is that the membrane continuously changes in permeability over time – from more to less permeable, given situations and the people we choose to trust ourselves with.

    • Yordie
      2012/09/18 at 00:16 #

      I very much agree with your comment about how “one’s avatar identity is not only reflective of the person’s non-virtual life” and I think you are also right about it is dependent on how immersed the person is. I’ve seen people change in terms of their real life because of feedback they’ve gotten in their avatar life. I believe this is very much along the line of Kristine’s experience.

      As for music, I was a neophyte when I began listening to blues. Sure I had heard about the greats, but I was introduced to a much greater variety than I’d ever known before, even the “scratchy” stuff. This has been very fulfilling.

      Here’s something, I’ve known guys in SL who have felt they are “better men” because of our relationship in SL. i have no idea what happened but it happened twice. Unfortunately, I know at least one guy who feels quite the opposite. heh

      Oh yes, that’s a good way to put it, an “identity membrane.” Some people force themselves across the membrane often. Some never even try or are respectful.

      I’ve never been very good at keeping people who are aggressive from crossing, but I have tended to disengage from people who are too disrespectful of my point of view.

      Some people I’ve known have become angry (yes, downright angry) when I don’t allow them into my real life. This membrane is really a dividing line for some.

      In earlier days, I was more likely to be caught by surprise by the type of person who was hell bent on chopping down my virtual idenity. These days I can handle most situations. For one thing, I’ve found it very difficult to cut out all the “where are you from” stuff when meeting people who’ve been in SL less than a year. Profiles are often a clue too. People who are trying to have a virtual identity seem to go to more trouble to express what they are trying to do than those who are only interested in real life.

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