The post-human imaginary and the body of the avatar

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  • The post-human imaginary and the body of the avatar

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  • Abstract

    Keywords: Second Life, avatar, virtual skin, imaginary, phenomenology, virtual body.

    With the recent growth in Massively Multiplayer Online Games and Virtual Worlds there are emerging opportunities to explore our understanding of the mind body relationship when moving between real and virtual space. How do we understand our avatar as our represented ‘presence’ in virtual space? What are we identifying with when we identify with an avatar? Do we have a phenomenological experience of the virtual body? In other words, do we experience the body of our avatar? Don Idhe (2002: 15) notes that virtual reality bodies ‘are thin and never attain the thickness of flesh’, although he does acknowledge that ‘one’s “skin” is at best polymorphically ambiguous, and, even without material extension, the sense of the here-body exceeds its physical bounds’ (2002: 6). Do we experience skin, virtually? Is virtual skin simply artifice, only a response to the visual and thus remains on the surface, only skin deep? Or does the imagination of virtual skin provide something else, an interstice between the sense of presence and our experience of absence? Can we have a sensory experience of virtual skin?

    Drawing from Benedict de Spinoza and Gaston Bachelard, this paper explores the relationship between the post-human imaginary and the body of the avatar when interacting with virtual worlds, and in particular the virtual world of Second Life (SL), created by Linden Labs in 2003 with barely 1,000 users (Rymaszewski 2007: 5). A particular feature of SL is the accessibility of the platform to build and customise spaces. Using SL building tools to create objects and manipulate terrain, along with the application of the SL programming language, it is possible to have a high level of control of the creation and manipulation of an environment. This research has previously used narrative as a method to explore the posthuman imaginary in virtual worlds and to de-code the complex layering of conflict between the real and the virtual. The focus of this paper is our relationship to the body of the avatar and to the represented self in virtual space.