Are lived spaces the same thing as virtual spaces? As a matter of fact, what is a virtual space? does this sensation make it real? so then what is real? These are the questions I aim to explore in the following weeks to come, today I will be focusing on virtual bodies- the avatar.
…this core is located within the modern understanding that one is ‘present to one self’- imaginatively and physically. The embodied and imaginative Hobbesian “author”- a naming of that which ontologically may precede naming- still watches over the ‘actor’ on the myriad stages of life. (Hillis, 1999, introduction xxxi)
The ‘author’ in this quote from Hillis Digital sensations is the mind. This is the part of the self that informs our morality and ethics, the part of the self that drives and guides the ‘actor’- the body. The self is born out of a recognition of our physicality , in thought and practice- ‘imaginatively and physically’. Descartes famous quote- ‘I think, therefore I am’ proposes this sense of self, its transcribes to mean- if I think i exist then i must exist, also if I can think of myself for myself then I must exist- this ontological approach to identity is how we come to make sense of ourselves, consciously or subconsciously. It highlights the importance of the juxtaposition of both the mind and body not as separate, but as one entity being put into play by the self in the process of identity formation and performance. I mean can the mind really exist outside the body? Thats like a car without engine, its like a company without a brand, religiously speaking- a vessel without a soul. I believe this connotes one important thing, the soul is important for the vessel to move, in a sense this means if our ‘soul’ so to speak represents our mind, then we embody our physical bodies, our bodies is basically like a spaceship and our mind the captain or even pilot. Tomkins Affect theory however suggest our body reacts to situations before our mind does, our body smiles before we acknowledge our reaction of happiness. Tomkins uses a SAR format to explain how our body comes to terms with understanding and reacting to information. The SAR format is basically- Stimulus-Affect-Reaction. For instance- when we hear a random pop sound (stimulus) this surprises us (affect) which in turn makes us flinch or search for the incoming danger (reaction). In this sense, our bodies react before our mind does, as we grow older we start to understand these innate emotions through reflexivity and even performance. This goes to show the mind and body cannot be separated, they work together to make sense of the self. If the ‘self’ as in our ontological being comprises of both our body and mind then what does our Avatar comprise of? Do textual representations of our ‘self’ bring our physicality into consideration? whatever the answer may be- how does this digital embodiment affect our identity?
Historically, identities have been structured by labels, class or status- as in the case of race and gender and also in terms of wealth and education. Identity was and is still a given- when we are born we are automatically ascribed a race, gender, social status and even religious belief. but something changed along the way, something somewhere put the consciousness of the power of our own identity into our hands to form and perform as we choose.This acknowledgement of the sense of our self is born out of a post modern ideology of identity.
Postmodernity collapses the idea of binary oppositions such as illusion and truth, appearance and reality, culture and nature. (Hillis, 1999, introduction xxix Lorenzo Simpson describes postmodernity as ‘an allegiance to the idea that all reality is a social and linguistic construction’ hence the ‘demiurgic desire to be the origin of the real’- to be the originators, the authors of our own reality. This idea proposes that we wish to perform and own our identity(ies) as efficient as possible. It proposes that the world starts from our own one ontological ground, reality begins with us and is then extended.
This postmodernity sensibility is highly apparent and can be seen in the extensions of ourselves- our phones, tablets and even our avatar- which is my primary focus. Digital technology is a cultural technology in that in this extensions we can and do create and perform a range of identities. This extensions are for us to do as we please, the avatar is a good place to start deconstructing this performance.
On World of Warcraft, I was given a female Worgen in a warrior costume but then i chose a dwarf character. While customising i paid more attention to the skin tone and facial hair style because i was trying to make it look as close to me as possible, like a dwarf version of ade. i chose a dwarf because of the movie- The Hobbit, it sold the character of the dwarves to me in terms of why they fight and what they fight for.
This is a field note I took whilst playing the World of Warcraft game. This is the moment i first started playing the game and had to think about my avatar customisation. His name remains my twitter handle- AdeofEsie, but if i was to name him aything i think i would have gone for something like ‘black death’ or even ‘black dwarf king’. Reflecting now why i would have gone for something like this was to represent myself in that moment as realistic as possible. My avatar becomes an extension because it is informed by my sense of identity (black bearded male) and even my interest (The Hobbit), in a way my avatar has become a digital version of ‘ME’ in that moment. I believe we are always subject to change, maybe not even change but evolution, as we go through experiences in the world i believe the canvas of our mind and our sensibilities continually adapt and evolve- so maybe not change but evolution, with that being said, if my sense of self is different in the next 5 years will i make a completely different avatar character for World of Warcraft? i say absolutely yes. The avatar thus becomes a textual representation of both our minds and body, we choose our display pictures on the internet based on how we want the world perceive us and so to our game profile names and avatar. So do textual representations take the real away from the material? If so then how are emotions to be understood in digital space- in my next post i would be focusing on these questions.
Hillis, K. (1999) Digital Sensations. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press