Second Life is a virtual world accessible through the Internet in which users (eloquently called residents) create objects and spaces, and interact socially through 3D avatars. SL is not a conventional computer game but a socio‑cultural environment in which anyone can create their own idea or perspective around what it means to have a second life.
My doctoral thesis was focused on this environment, particularly on certain artists who use the platform as a medium for art creation, using the aesthetic, spatial, temporal and technological features of SL as raw material. My avatar Lacan Galicia studied important resources, tools and artistic procedures such as object‑design, code and scripts applied to animate and manipulate SL features, as well as avatar design, performance art and installations in SL. SL artists, their avatars and artwork are at the centre of my academic interests in virtual world aesthetics, media and digital theory, as reflected in two fundamental research questions: what does virtual existence mean for virtual practicing artists and what is their purpose when social interaction and aesthetic exchange stems from artwork created in SL?
In my thesis I designed a mixed qualitative research method combining distribute aesthetics, digital art and media theories, the goal is to examine aesthetic exchange in the virtual: subjectivity and identity and their possible shifting patterns as reflected in avatar‑artists performance in situ. A theoretical and methodological emphasis from a media studies perspective is applied to digital media and networks, contributing to the reshaping of our epistemologies of these media. This particular perspective was innovative in virtual world research at the time of my thesis, and contrasts to the emphasis put on the communicational aspects in more traditonally‑oriented media research on virtuality. I developed four case studies ranging from discourse and text analysis to interviews in‑world and via email, as well as observation while immersed in SL. These ‘devices’ were used in the collection of data, experiences, objects and narratives, and from interacting with the avatars being analysed: Eva and Franco Mattes, Gazira Babeli, Bryn Oh and China Tracy. My findings confirm the role that aesthetic exchange in virtual worlds plays in the rearrangement of ideas and epistemologies on the virtual and networked self, subjectivity and socialisation patterns within the virtual. This is reflected in the fact that the artists examined—whether in SL or AL—create and embody avatars from a liminal (ambiguous) modality of identity, subjectivity and interaction. A complex process of mythopoeia (narrative creation) is developed, starting with the enigmatic experience of oneself as ‘another’ through multiplied identity and subjectivity. This is the outcome of code performance, virtual space and avatar identity ‘interventions’, and machinima (films created in‑world). They constitute a modus operandi (syntax) in which episteme, techne and embodiment work in symbiosis with those of the machine, affected by the synthetic nature of code and liminality in SL. The combined perspective from media studies and distribute aesthetics proves to be an effective method for studying and extending the discussion of contemporary virtual worlds theory.
- Francisco Gerardo Toledo Ramírez, The University of Western Ontario, CA, was born and raised in Mexico City and is now a Canadian citizen. His background is eclectic. He holds a BA in Visual Communication Design (Metropolitan Autonomous University) and an MFA in Visual Art (National Autonomous University of Mexico) both in Mexico City. He received his doctoral degree in Media Studies by The University of Western Ontario.
Full text (PDF) p. 138-144