Becoming Someone Else – Part 1

T his 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 avies 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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Yordie Sands is an avatar in Second Life, where she stars as the heroine of a virtual fantasy life.