Saturday, January 21, 2012

Questions of personal identity; or, Miss Bulmer wonders about her face

So, this is what I looked like when I logged in this morning:

Now, some people who know me will realise this isn't what I usually look like.  (In fact, it's an outfit selected from the goodies available on the Jaegerdraught Hunt, which is still running at the time of writing, and starts at this location: ).

I've been musing on this topic, lately, because a friend of mine has been urging me to try out a new shape, even going so far as to make shapes for me to try - she's rather gifted in that regard.  Now, my first attempt at wearing one led to something of a disaster, SL being SL... the textures on my face obstinately refused to rez, leaving me with that ghastly blank-eyed death-mask one sees when such a failure occurs.  And when I tried to switch back to my normal appearance, a further entertaining glitch presented itself, whereby only I could see my clothing layers, thereby giving everybody else a right eyeful, let me tell you.  I wound up skulking in a suit of battle armour in a private location on the Mainland while my image sorted itself out.

Now, the whole sorry episode made me think for a bit about faces, and not unimportantly, why I was so darned unhappy about trying on a new shape in the first place.  And I suspect that some fellow SLers will nod wisely and say they understand, here, while others will blink in a bemused manner and whisper to themselves, "What on Earth is the silly woman wittering on about?"

It comes down to a question of self-image, I think; and different people think about their avatars in different ways, in this area.

When I first joined Second Life, I resolved to make myself a completely novel persona in this new world - indeed, I went so far as to make myself a male avatar at first.  I think that lasted about two weeks before I grew seriously uncomfortable with it, though, and switched, after some experimentation, to the tall skinny blonde familiar to people who hang out around Caledon Oxbridge.  And, apart from some minor tweaks to fix bugs in my face, that is pretty much the avatar I've stuck with ever since.

And the question which may spring to some minds at this point is why?  After all, this is a virtual world where one is absolutely  not constrained to play the hand that genetics dealt, when it comes to one's physical appearance.  Many SLers view their physique and their face as utterly plastic, variable from situation to situation; their self-image inworld is bound up, not with the way they look, but with the way they present their personalities in local chat or group chat, or by means of attachments and gestures.  To those people, my attachment to the mug you see on my profile picture must surely seem bizarre and irrational.

Now, you could advance the counter-argument that Second Life is a pretty bizarre and irrational thing to be doing anyway, but never mind that.  My feeling, though, is that my avatar shape is me, in a very definite and fundamental way; it's not just part of the way I project my personality inworld, it is a cornerstone of Who That Bulmer Woman Is.  Perhaps I am old-fashioned in my outlook (hang on, I hang out in crypto-Victorian steampunk-themed sims, of course I am old-fashioned in my outlook), but I like to think my friends could recognize me at a glance by my looks and my build, not by the nametag over my head or the tenor of my discourse.  Plasticity is not for me.  I may adopt the Jaegermonster form you see above, or appear as a crab, a Selenite, or a small and angry-looking pink dragon from time to time, but I return, with a degree of inevitability, to my usual shape, the tall skinny blonde with a slightly peculiar mouth.

Does it make a difference, I wonder, that I made this shape myself?  Certainly, I know other people inworld who have hand-crafted and fine-tuned their personal appearance, often to interesting aesthetic effect.  (And they're not all good-looking, or even unconventionally good-looking; one guy I often quote as a fine example of avatar-crafting appears as an elderly man of markedly sinister aspect.)  If I'd just bought myself an off-the-peg avatar shape (leaving aside the plethora of female shapes in SL that appear to have been made by someone who's never seen a real woman at a distance of less than five hundred yards), would I still feel the same way about plasticity?  If I had any hope that anyone was reading this blog at this early stage, I would ask the readership at large how they felt about this issue.  Does the readership-at-very-small have an opinion to offer?

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