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Small Group Discussions

2009 April 6
by Melanie

We strayed away from the Medieval prompt for our MUDs today, and ended up with three New Yorkers and a space lady. Our characters included: the perfect Upper East Side trophy wife who described the benefits of her life, a Manhattanite who focused more on the details of her life (apartment, job, etc.), a 20-something NYC artist and poet who described her interests and briefly touched on her appearance, and a future space resident a la 1960s Barbarella vision who only described her physical qualities (clothes, voice, etc.) and her weapon of choice. Laura commented when she visited our group that it sounded like all different versions of personal ads, which we agreed with.

Most of our conversation centered around the selection of avatars and the emotional connection to online personas. We discussed the impact of emotional online cheating vs. physical cheating and were divided over whether you could separate your physical and emotional self, as well as if that really even mattered. Hillary offered the following statement: “Cheating is cheating if it’s emotional, whether the body is involved or not.” We also discussed question 5, about how we would make our avatar different depending on the context, in depth. Different online situations/scenarios can imply the need for a different avatar, like the different worlds in Second Life. If you transition from a world which looks like our reality to one which is Renaissance-themed, you might be inclined to change your avatar’s outfit to match the environment. The environment provides the freedom to change your physical expression, but at the same time limits you while you’re in it (how many people in a Renaissance world would walk around in non-Renaissance clothing?).

Our question to the class was inspired by Facebook and whether profile pictures are avatars. We asked how self-censorship works on these different sites, and how you choose what parts of yourself to represent to the online world. I think we intended it to go more towards privacy and future employers searching your profile for no-nos, but it was cool that it spawned into more of an identity discussion about online vs. physical, public vs. private, and what is “real.”

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