Observer or Participant?

This post was prompted by a long piece that Pussycat Catnap wrote on her blog, Observer Fantasy vs Particapatory Fantasy; The role of perspective in how we shape our avatars and characters in SL and other online games.

Have you ever looked at your avatar and thought “well (s)he looks nice” or some other third person observation? Or have you ever looked at thought “well, I look nice”?

Presuming for a second that your avatar actually did look nice to you… which of those two would be the most likely way for that thought to pop into your head?

In other words… are you observing your avatar or becoming your avatar?

I would say that I am Spiffy and Spiffy is me. Spiffy’s voice is my voice, often literally so when I’m in voice chat or talking on my radio shows or DJ sets. 🙂 Spiffy’s avatar comes from my creative side, as does the fashion aesthetic.

Those of you who’ve followed my blog for a while will be aware that I’ve not always looked like this, or gone by the name Spiffy. (If you’re catching up, see Being An Alien In Second Life and Avatar Evolution, Continued.) Spiffy has evolved as I’ve grown more confident in expressing myself in SL, and is still evolving. One of the projects I’ve got on my to-do list is to write Spiffy’s back-story — more on that another time.

Unlike Pussycat, I don’t have any alt (alternate) accounts in Second Life, and only a few other avatars in my inventory that get brought out on special occasions. (I should definitely blog those sometime, if only to see what reaction I get from some of my readers… *grin*)

Pussycat goes into a lot of depth in her blog post about the relationship between the avatar and the real-life person behind it. As a biological male in real-life who’s androgynous / gender-fluid, I’m only too familiar with the examples she cites, and it took me a long time to overcome the fear of being found out and ostracised. 🙁

I want to highlight two paragraphs in particular where Pussycat summarises the two different relationships between avatar and person:

Observer Fantasy: your avatar is someone else, that you ‘roleplay as’ or otherwise observe externally. She is not you. You are basically perving her existence. Your avatar is ‘her’, ‘him’, ‘them’ – that person. Not ‘I’ or ‘me’.

Participatory Fantasy: your avatar is you. She is a recreation of you in the online medium. It is your voice that speaks through her, and what she does is directly you. You are ‘living a part of your life’ online, using her as the means through which to connect to the medium. She is ‘I’ or ‘me’ and not her.

But, as she herself notes, it’s not an either/or choice, more of a spectrum between Observer and Participant. Most of the time, I’m the latter, but I’ll slip towards the former whenever I’m doing any kind of role-play or performing as a DJ or host. That isn’t by choice — it stems from my constant overthinking and second-guessing of my actions and how others will respond. Part of the reason why I want to write Spiffy’s back-story is so that I can build a set of guiding principles that allow me to stay in the zone as Spiffy when role-playing.

In many ways, Spiffy is a drag-queen, and unashamedly so. 🙂 It’s enormously freeing to be loud and proud in Second Life! No more fretting about how others perceive me. I’m in your faces, deal with it!

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