Return to the Rabbit Hole

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, L. Carroll (1865)

I am still feeling quite invigourated from last Tuesday’s classroom session in Second Life. Yes, a real time classroom session inside a “real” virtual world. Wowsers! (as Inspector Gadget would say). I did have some questions in mind that I posted in last week’s blog entry; despite touching upon a couple of them, I don’t think myself nor the group had any firm ideas about them. I personally feel that myself and Wray would need to immerse ourselves more into Second Life to get a sense of it; and would need to have experienced a few more teaching and learning sessions before we can get a handle on it. Mine and Wray’s experiences so far have been a little superficial (see Inside the Rabbit Hole) and sketchy.

Do we take our tutors more seriously if they are depicted as a human avatars? or can they ‘command’ the same kind of respect if they adopt a non human one?

One of my questions (see above) piqued Rory’s¬†interest. I guess myself and the others on the MSc programme latched onto the comments made in the Taylor (2001) article that referenced users choice to become animal avatars; and that it’s role was one of superficiality and playfulness. Infact, one of the group actually turned up to the session sporting an animal’s head upon a human body (very Egyptian methinks). The work and research by John Suler, a cyberpsychologist, conducted within the The Palace virtual world identifies a number of psychological and visual profile types.

According to Suler (2007b), people who choose to become animal avatars do so because “animals symbolize certain traits or attributes in myth as well as popular culture” which may represent “some real aspect of his or her identity, or some characteristic admired by the person“. Suler goes as far as to liken the use of animal avatars to that of the Native American “totem“, which are seen as a “symbol of one’s essential nature or potential“. In January 2007, Suler visited Second Life and felt that his initial research in The Palace stood up reasonably well with respect to SL with a few notable exceptions – namely making money (Suler, 2007a).

What kinds of unacceptable and inappropriate behaviours will emerge in the virtual world which would not normally manifest themselves in the real world (being bound by social mores, etc.)?

Henry Keil, who had chosen to portray his avatar as a balding Afro-Caribbean man, found a fascinating article on ageism and prejudice that occured inside Second Life (Koreen, 2007). This suggested to me that Second Life is not as liberated, non-judgemental and all-inclusive as it would like to think itself to be. The three personality types (real / virtual / projected) put forward by Gee (2003) and Taylor (2001) would seem to imply that the “real” personality type is probably the more dominant one; or else people are projecting personalities that they wouldn’t normally exhibit in Real Life.

Reynolds (2007) suggests that far from liberating us, virtual worlds like Second Life seems to “reinforce and indeed spread the dominant ideologies of the time“, but acknowledges that they have the “potential to liberate“.

It would be interesting to hear from Henry how his avatar got on under his current guise. Though it is a little hard to tell, Wray is actually an albino goth – and that comes loaded with all sorts of literary, cultural and mythological symbolism. Indeed, Wray is the metaphorical white rabbit.

References

DiGiuseppe, N. & Nardi, B., (2007). Real Genders Choose Fantasy Characters: Class Choice in World of Warcraft. First Monday. 12(5), 7 May 2007. [online]. Available at: http://www.uic.edu/htbin/cgiwrap/bin/ojs/index.php/fm/article/view/1831/1715 [Accessed 08 November 2007].

Gee, J.P., (2003). What Video Games have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan.

Koreen, (2007). Agism in Second Life. EdGames Blog. [online]. Available at: http://edweb.sdsu.edu/courses/edtec670/edgames/2007/11/agism-is-second-life.htm [Accessed 15 November 2007].

Reynolds, R., (2007). Do virtual worlds liberate us? Terra Nova Blog. [online]. Available at: http://terranova.blogs.com/terra_nova/2007/11/do-virtual-worl.html [Accessed 15 November 2007].

Rymaszewski, M. et al, (2006). Second Life: The Official Guide. London: John Wiley & Sons.

Suler, J., (2007a). Second Life, Second Chance. The Psychology of Cyberspace Blog. [online]. Available at: http://psycyber.blogspot.com/2007/01/second-life-second-chance.html [Accessed 15 November 2007].

Suler, J., (2007b). The Psychology of Avatars and Graphical Space in Multimedia Chat Communities. The Psychology of Cyberspace. [online]. Available at: http://www-usr.rider.edu/~suler/psycyber/psyav.html [Accessed 15 November 2007].

Taylor, T.L., (2001). Living Digitally: Embodiment in Virtual Worlds. In: Schroeder, R. (ed.). The Social Life of Avatars. London: Springer-Verlag Ltd. pp. 40-61.