Transworld Syndrome

“I’ve grown accustomed to the face…”

soror Nishi wrote another thought-provoking post in her blog the other day, in which she named and described a relatively new psychosocial phenomenon: “Third Life Syndrome”, or TLS.

TLS is that strange condition where we seek to replicate our SL looks in other worlds. In fact, for many, and for myself in a small degree, our enjoyment of a Third Life is dependent on this replication of name and looks. A virtual Virtual Me.

Now, moving to a new world, new grid, could be the opportunity to take one of those poor neglected alts, dust them off and develop that forgotten side of our psyche to a degree that we don’t do in SL… but that isn’t what we do. It is our Principle Avi that gets to move and have work done on his/her looks first and foremost.

So … something that springs to mind is that our Virtual Body Image is like our RL body image, a deeply imprinted inner picture of how we look or should look, only in virtual worlds rather than RL. If we have this Virtual Body Image then we are psychologically different to people who don’t have avatars. This would not surprise me. This makes us part of a group of people with cultural links, it’s part of our culture.

One of her commenters, Clovis Luik, backed up her premise:

My partner and I were both severely stressed by not being able to exactly duplicate our AVS in Inworldz. Experiencing the stress of it was an unexpected surprise to both of us. I had no idea I was so deeply connected to that particular pile of pixels.

Given what I wrote about at the end of my last post, it would figure that I’ve been thinking about this rather seriously of late. But then, I’ve been thinking seriously about avatar identity pretty much since first arriving in SL. Back in December, for my second rezday (but before I created the human av), I threw together a collage of all the ways I’d looked up until then. I’d become a bit of a shapeshifter, but even so, it took considerable effort to initially embark on that course, and a period of adjustment with each new avatar before I felt fully embodied. We do connect to “that pile of pixels”… and lemme tell ya, nametags help.

Now, here’s a topic I never thought I’d address: branding. No, not heating up a piece of iron worked into a design, then burning that pattern into the skin… Not really about products either, not in the commercial sort of way we generally think of. But it is about commerce — the sort of thing Tateru Nino was talking about the other day in her post “The Attention Economy”, and what subQuark blogged about on the iliveisl blog, and his own, back in May. It’s the commerce of ideas and reputation. If you wish — as I do — to avoid the word branding because it makes you feel like a box of corn flakes or a toaster, try this phrase that means the same thing without those icky consumerist connotations: continuity of image.

soror’s sales installation in InWorldz

soror Nishi’s trees are iconic. In fact, the designs she creates to use as textures are as iconic as the 3-dimensional wonders she decorates with them. Now, imagine the consternation that might have ensued if an avatar of another name had appeared in InWorldz and begun importing soror’s trees for sale. She would have spent as much time explaining “Yes, I really am soror – this is my alt, and these are not stolen goods!” as she would have importing and setting up… which goes a long way to explaining why, when certain Transworlders branch out into other grids, we do so with the name of our “Principle Avi” (nice term, that), instead of an alt.

My own contribution to the commerce of ideas is this blog, and the photos I’m obsessed with taking, and it wouldn’t matter a lick if my avatar in each world had a different name, as long as the words and pictures were posted under the name Lalo Telling… but that’s my point. In the give-and-take of the “attention economy”, name recognition is as important as it is on the grocery shelf.

Beyond the practicalities of genuine commerce (including the fact that to use InWorldz’s ATMs in SL to transfer and convert L$ to I’zs in InWorldz, the avatar at each end of the transaction must have the same name), there is a Virtual Name Image to go with the Virtual Body Image soror talks about. Of course I’m in OSG and IW as Lalo Telling — that’s who I am.

In other words, continuity of image works both outwardly — one’s “image” (reputation and trust, as well as appearance) in the minds of others — and inwardly: one’s self-image. It is strongly reinforced, I feel, by one of the as-yet-unnumbered Pillars of The Avatarian Way: We see ourselves in the 3rd person. As avatars, we do not look out to the world from inside as we do in organic life, needing a reflective surface to see ourselves as other see us — instead, we’re constantly looking at ourselves in the world, from outside. That’s got to be the strongest reinforcement of Virtual Body Image possible.

That’s what drives the urge to make ourselves look the same in every world we enter, I think. soror called it “Third Life Syndrome”, and I don’t want to take away from her coinage… but if you’re in more than one besides SL — a “third” life, a “fourth”, etc. — it might need something more generic. Since Botgirl has already given us “Transworlder” as a collective handle, I titled this post “Transworld Syndrome”, and I suppose you could abbreviate it TWS if you wanted.

soror also has some suggestions for dealing with TLS/TWS:

a) if you are moving grid for a particular reason (i.e. to build) then the way you look may be secondary to what you can achieve.

b) think of your new avi as the younger brother/sister of your SL avi

c) make a skin from a template and use in both worlds….

d) dust off an alt (see above) and go in as your alt..

e) live with the difference until the shopping gets better.

My own experience tells me that a) might only work in mild cases of TLS. e) only works where there is shopping, which leaves out OSGrid. I think I’ve disposed of the reasons why d) isn’t useful…

As for c): soror has an advantage in that she’s capable of making a skin from a template that she can upload to as many worlds as she wants, as its sole Creator (not all of us are that talented, let alone have the software).

L: soror Nishi in SL; R: in InWorldz

And b) … well, a case could be made for my InWorldz avatar being a younger me, caught in a temporal loop:

L: OSGrid; C: Second Life; R; InWorldz

[by the way… the glasses in OSG and IW are hand-made by me; it’s as necessary a part of “the look” as the shape of the head and the facial features.  Want a pair?  IM me in IW :) ]

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9 responses to “Transworld Syndrome

  1. Outside of the continuity of memory, the physical body is the most consistent aspect of human identity. Moods and thoughts are ephemeral, but except in cases of injury (or a drastic haircut), changes to the body are so slow as to be transparent to its inhabitant. I think it's very common for a person's self-image to be way behind physical aging, and I suspect the discrepancy is highest in youth and old age.

    So when it comes to those who experience a unique avatar identity (as distinct from people who see the avatar as mostly an extension of a human identity/personality) it is not surprising that there is a great pull to maintain a consistent form. The form is the digital embodiment of the unique psychological magic that allowed the digital person to emerge. I'm also thinking of the fairly exacting physical depictions of the Tibetan Deities.

    Anyway, great food for thought. Thanks for the great post.

  2. Very interesting, and I've thought much the same in the past. However, this doesn't explain why I am human in SL, and have been the same avatar since my beginning there, but I'm a tiny in IW, today I'm a floating head XD, but usually I am a badger, and sometimes a monkey. I also find I have far more fun in IW than in SL and spend far more time there than in SL these days. SL is the little brother I believe. I have the same name, but it is not the same life. I log in to SL to talk to friends and conduct my business, then hop right back over to IW. I think I've found home. Not sure where I stand on TLS though.

  3. As usual, Lalo, an excellent post.
    I wonder if a form of TWS is experienced by those I have previously called Real Weirdos, (namely the people who want their Virtual Body to be identical to their RL Body) when they complain (e.g.) that other avatars are too tall.
    Is the whole 'height issue' a form of TWS too?

  4. Hmmm… I've run into “height/scale nazis” before (there's a particular person in SLUniverse who never misses a chance to bitch about it). I've even seen some claim that the SL meter isn't the same as a “real” meter… but that's silly. All measuring systems are comparisons to an arbitrarily chosen standard (the King's thumb, for instance). Internal consistency is all that matters. What SL calls a meter is a meter, for inworld purposes… and it's the same in OpenSim worlds, of course.

    The built-in camera angle and follow distance is actually more of a problem for architectural builders than average avi height is. When I built my observatory in IW (which you've visited), I tried to maintain realistic dimensions, with the result that my camera drifts outside the wall at least half the time while climbing the spiral ramp up to the 'scope dome. I'm still working out compromises to apply to my own designs, but I would not be so arrogant to insist that everyone use them.

    As for my own appearance: The only RL aspects I try to simulate are facial features (and in SL, where it's available, age and hairstyle). My avis are more than a foot taller than my real self, and in much better shape… and I don't mind a bit. ;)

  5. Yes, I think these are the people that LL has been trying to target in their recent advertising campaign, too.

    I have had to blog this subject again, Lalo… :)))

  6. It's an interesting concept to look at.

    However, I have an issue with the use of the word “syndrome”. Syndrome implies that choosing to have a consistent image is somehow wrong, bad, diseased, unnatural. And frankly, I don't see why that should be.

  7. @Ruina: Interesting point, and difficult to argue against. Wikipedia's entry on syndrome can be read in a neutral way, but you're correct that it has been used almost exclusively to describe a cluster of characteristics of abnormality or disease — not just in medicine and psychology, but in popular culture.

    Look at it this way: We are not merely on, but integral parts of, the forefront of a new aspect of human experience. We have to grasp at whatever linguistic straws float by to put a name to what we are discovering about ourselves and each other. I'd not be too bothered by using syndrome as “a combination of phenomena seen in association”, or hesitant to make a wry comment upon ourselves that yes, we are at least a little weird compared to the majority population. ;)

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