Navarathna’s shot film. ‘A journey into the metaverse’ playfully and powerfully explores the concept of identity and the supposed boundaries between the ‘real’ self and the ‘virtual’ self, between the real world and the virtual world. It offers a response to Boellstorff’s question, ‘Can the avatar speak?’ (Boellstorff, 2008, p. 149). The narrative focuses on an avatar, abandoned by his creator in Second Life who sets out to find his ‘God’. The avatar initially becomes the master but the film explores how boundaries between virtual and real identities are mutable and shifting; the notion of separation is a false construct and, for the avatar/real ‘self’, ‘chance, reality and virtuality (lose) all sense of definition’. The film blends real world and virtual world footage, further blurring the sense of boundaries between the two domains.
Set in part in India, the film draws some interesting parallels between the fate of the central avatar/self and the Sannyasin, who renounce the material world. Further, meditation, and its power to ‘free the mind and lose ego’ is also referenced. Navarathna thereby alludes to the key concept of what our self, our identity is. Where does it lie? What is it? Is virtuality a way of accessing our true, more authentic self? Is the self without place, without fixity, a concept explored by Dennett. In drawing parallels with meditation which requires us to separate from thought, from ego and develop a different sense of what it is to ‘be’, Navarathna posits exploration and immersion within the virtual is also ‘freeing’ – our self can ‘slip through the crack.’
This week we have again been exploring notions and experiences of identity through immersion within Second Life. I have spent more time ‘there’ this week: engaging in the treasure hunt, exploring learning spaces, having a ‘voice’ tutorial and dancing. The strong sense of presence I experienced in Week 7 has been consolidated and extended this week through further virtual adventuring and through more interactions in Holyrood Park. Although I don’t identify with the physicality of my avatar (I haven’t yet got round to altering ‘her’) I do have a strong sense of being present through her: for example, I visited Echo Beach to test my sound and, when a large, muscular, scantily-clad avatar also arrived, I quickly left, feeling a sense of threat and inappropriateness. Marshall/Pancha’s refrain ‘it’s only pixels’ rang in my virtual/metaphorical ears as I teleported out. I did enjoy dancing later that day though and truly felt a sense of ‘presence enacting itself as an embodied activity’ (Taylor, 2002, p.44), an embodiment powerfully linked to vision (M. White, 2006)’ (quoted in Boellstorff, 2008 p.134) and, in this instance, sound (George Benson…)
We explored this sense of connectedness with our avatars further in Thursday night’s tutorial. Paul/Silverback appeared as a Gorilla: he had spent 600 lindens (£4) on this as he had such a strong reaction against the set of default avatars which Second Life offers. He mentioned that, when his avatar initially appeared, he felt like he was ‘lying’ and so was willing to invest real money to change his virtual self. He had invested in his ‘projective’ identity, projecting his own ‘values and desires onto the virtual character’ (Gee, 2003, p.55) and seeing ‘the virtual character as (his) own project in the making’ (ibid, p.55). As Boellstorff notes, avatars are ‘the modality through which residents experienced virtual selfhood’ (2008, p.129); if I end up spending more time in Second life beyond this week, I too will invest more in developing my avatar and, probably, changing its sex.
Like all of our learning on the course so far, because we are engaged with the spaces we are reading about and exploring, loop input methodologies were at play this week. This was strongly felt when our tutor Rory/Algernon Twang.asked us to explore Gee’s concept of virtual spaces offering a more risk-free environment: a ‘psychosocial moratorium’ (p.67). In the discussion which followed, I highlighted that I felt that our interactions within this virtual world and in our other tutorials felt more risky that real-life more sustained interactions as they were irregular and therefore more imbued with a sense of import. This was, I felt, especially true where voice was concerned as this felt more like the ‘real’ me spilling into the carefully curated, virtual ‘me’. Cultivating a community of inquiry through ordered and controlled discussion forums is different to ‘exposing’ a facet of one’s identity through voice. I certainly feel more comfortable, as I have touched on before, with an identity constructed from text. As the virtual opiniontator showed, I wasn’t the only one to feel like this. The gorilla disagreed.
This is of real interest to me at the moment as I am currently devising and delivering a sequence of webinars for teachers at the schools I work with. They will be asked to interact with me and with each other via voice through Skype for Business and I will now be attuned to how unsettling this can potentially be. To have a facet of yourself, of your identity disembodied can be disconcerting, even if it is re-embodied within an avatar.