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Recap of small-group discussion

2009 April 6
by Michelle Bennett

In our group, containing Natasha, Julia, Maddie, and Michelle, we mostly focused on the question about Turkle’s text concerning the (virtual) reality of relationships. After Julia told us her anecdote about the woman in Japan who was convicted of 1st degree murder because she killed her husband’s avatar, we got to talking about the nature of avatars. Julia’s story suggests that the avatar is a 1:1 representation of yourself, but the point of creating an avatar, it would seem, is to be able to foster an identity connected to you, but not exactly representing your “true self.” We realize this term is problematic. We also discussed whether or not the conviction for the “crime” should be murder or merely a death threat by way of killing an online representation of the ex-husband. 

We talked a bit about the desired level of exposure online. For example, do we want to know more about the person controlling the character within a virtual world, or would we prefer to keep this world in a vacuum? The line between intellectual or cerebral activity and physical activity is blurred often in the context of online romances.

We got to talking about avatars that exist outside of the online world, such as J.K. Rowling’s alternate manifestation as Harry Potter. Is this the same kind of representation that an online avatar offers? Is J.K. Rowling being more or less honest to herself and to others than someone who has a fictive facebook profile or avatar? Is honesty even something to be valued in the schema of avatars and representation? Our final question to the class, which we mentioned in class, was “What is the danger of having an avatar that is a close representation of yourself, versus the danger of having an avatar that is an alter ego or distant representation of yourself?” As Anne noted in class, this question presumes that there exists a “true self” as a point of reference, which is a concept that has been acknowledged as problematic.

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