Thursday, July 30, 2009

Avatar Design Research - Call for Participation...

Here I am posing with a screenshot of my sample research participation consent form. This form has been modified on a template created by Tom Boellstorff (Tom Bukowski in SL). In fact, this picture was taken on location at Boellstorff's "Ethnographia" property.

My official thesis research is about to begin, please read the text below and if you are interested in participating, please let me know...


Do you like to make unique avatars? Are you interested in Modern Art? Have you ever wanted to perfect your design skills through the critical input of your peers?

A Graduate Student at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, Canada is studying avatar design in Second Life and is looking for participants who would be willing and interested in contributing a small portion of their time to developing this academic research.

Interested participants would be involved in a small 2-4 hour workshop session one day and a follow-up focus group for 1-2 hours involving an avatar design critique session with peers.

Both sessions will take place on Odyssey Island which is the home to many esteemed contemporary avatar artists, critics and designers.

The researcher plans to watch participants create avatars based on established Modern Art design guidelines borrowed from Art-History to see if they still translate into interesting and useful avatar design.

The research will be taking snapshots and video of the avatar creators during the building process so they can be critiqued during the peer review session.

At the end of this research, the researcher will write about the strengths and limitations of using Modernist guidelines to inform avatar design in Second Life and other next generation virtual worlds.

All participants will own the rights to their own avatar creations being generated during this workshop.

The researcher will only document these designs in order to visually illustrate their relationship to the theoretical frame-work.

Any potential participants must meet this criteria:

1 – Genuine interest in designing avatars – especially designing for themselves as well as for clients/friends/other people.
2 – Some arts background (including arts produced exclusively in SL)
3 – Relative fluency in navigating the building controls in Second Life.
4 – Reasonable fluency in English (written) and/or ability to use an in-world translator effectively.
5 - The willingness to allow their avatar designs made in this case-study session to be publicized, documented and researched by the author.
6 – The willingness to participate for the duration of the research project.
7 – Professes not to be a member of a captive population (inmate), psychiatric in-patient nor a youth under the age of 19.
8 – The willingness to sign a consent form (over the age of 19).

If you are interested, please reply with your name (SL name only is fine), background, contact information availability (including your local time zone) and specific design interests.

Please submit a notecard with your proposal to uuuuuuu Heliosense, or via email

Replies of interest must be received by August 10, 2009. Potential participants will be notified of the status of their participation by August 13, 2009 for sessions happening on the following week.

For more information, please contact uuuuuuu Heliosense in-world or Jeremy Owen Turner at

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Archaeological Tour of Active Worlds...

Here I am as a default Tourist Avatar somewhere in the Activeworlds Gateway in order to commemorate The Extreme Builder Talent Show at ON 4E facing W. This monument is of Cy, the very first avatar designed in Alphaworld (which later became Active Worlds). In Second Life's indigenous jargon, Cy can be seen as a basic "prim" avatar

This post was originally drafted on November 14th, 2008. Since my thesis has started in earnest, I have not had the time to prepare this posting for online publication since it was low on my list of priorities.

This post was about my brief archeological tour in Active Worlds which was one of the Ancestors of Second Life and still exists as an active avatar community. Active Worlds and Digitalspace Traveler were my main hangouts in 2001 so it was very nice to return to AW to see what the place looks like now that Second Life is the dominant chat-based virtual worlds platform.

Since I am analyzing avatar community platform predecessors to Second Life, I will likely produce a new blog posting that reflects upon my experiences returning to reflect on the design affordances of avatars in Active Worlds

So, here are some more photos from this tour back into Active Worlds...

Here is a close up of the sculpture's base at the Activeworlds Gateway at ON 5E facing W.

...and another angle...these are tourist photos, after all ;-)

- Activeworlds Gateway The Extreme Builder Talent Show at 2S OW facing S. Here I am now as a female tourist avatar. I am posing with a surveillance mirror and a local male tourist is also visible in this picture.

Activeworlds Gateway and The Extreme Builder Talent Show at ON 6S facing W. I really love the design of these teleportation portal windows as they provide a landscape preview of the next world one might potentially enter. I wonder if Unreal Tournament looked at Active Worlds for the development of their own portal design?

Activeworlds Gateway and The Extreme Builder Talent Show at 4S 1E facing W.

Activeworlds Gateway and The Extreme Builder Talent Show at12S 14W facing SE. Here I am killing virtual time with my free purple glider hoverboard. I think also used to have hoverboards similar to this glider except that they were somewhat expensive to purchase.

Activeworlds Gateway and The Extreme Builder Talent Show at 1N 8W facing E. This shows the special clock that only tells the exclusive VRT (Virtual Reality Time)...This time zone is indigenous to AW's local world. Using an in-world time zone makes sense because the lighting in this world does not seem to correspond to a regular 24-hour clock.

...and now, here is a photo of my extremely brief venture into the ultimate heritage destination, Alphaworld...

AlphaWorld at 1999N facing N. Here I am as an untitled hourglass icon avatar. These hourglasses represent rezzing avatars in AW. These icons show that an avatar is idle and the equivalent in Second Life is the infamous "afk SLump".

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Lag Limbo...

Here is my disembodied avatar form trying to manifest itself in a location that resembles some sort of waterfront cemetary.

I tried to log into Second Life today and the sluggish bandwidth available to me in IRL (In Real Life) limited the scope and scale of my usual telepresent agency. Being unformed and unable to move is actually a process that many avatars unfortunately have to cope with in Second Life.

However, being lagged down in liminal limbo is not really an obstacle to my academic research.

As a matter of fact, I am very curious to note what happens when an avatar cannot be properly embodied in a realtime virtual world such as Second Life. Does the obvious immobility and etheric nature of my avatar form more accurately reveal (and represent) the essense of fluctuating levels of telepresence ca. 2008?

This temporal state of being somewhere in-between the dimensions of "here" and "not-here" has been discussed recently with regards to the sporadic agency-state commonly known as AFK (away from keyboard).

In my specific case, I felt for a few minutes in-world as if I was actually AFA (away from agency) since I was trying desperately to interact with the virtual world but without much (perceivable) luck.

I guess it was not too much of a big deal to be denied a sense of immediate agency since this current situation also reflects my present state of mind - waiting...waiting...waiting...

I am waiting for interviews to happen...maybe I will finally score my first interview in a few days with Jeffrey Ventrella on the subject of avatar body communication/language.

I have asked many other interview subjects and hopefully, I can schedule some interviews with them very soon but for now, I wait....

Somehow, I managed to teleport my avatar to another location...

....and wait....

....and wait....

...and least I have found a formal interviewing area to wait in...

...even after waiting several minutes in Second Life, my cached memory was still unable to detect exactly where the interview room was....sigh!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Avoiding the Void - The Avatar as a Social Framework...

Here I am as a 4 seater chair-arrangement at Princeton University. To my left stands a gray rezzing avatar gazing in astonishment at my non-anthropomorphic (but certainly anthro-friendly) appearance. If I decide to engage in qualitative interviews with 4 subjects for a group discussion, my avatar body is now ideally equipped for the occasion.

Be my guest, take a seat...take a seat on my body!

One of my experiments is to assume an avatar form that appears to reflect my explicit and implicit strategies for role-playing within Second Life as an "objective" researcher for some of the more strictly Modernist case studies.

Many interviewing avatars assume generic humanoid template forms when they go out "into the field" to conduct interviews and I think their actual avatar appearance and newbie presence becomes an inhibiting factor when it comes to "removing the reseacher from the research".

As a result, I was hoping that my avatar form during interviews literally resembled more of a framework for interviewing than an "interviewer", per se. I feel that the subjects can be more comfortable answering my questions when my active presence and inquisitive agency is aesthetically neutralized. In this sense, my avatar form is the purification of the emergent notion of embodied context. I become the embodiment and personification of the interviewing context itself rather than simply that of an additional interviewing subject.

Assuming the form of a seating arrangement, I believe that I strike a healthy balance between pure empirical neutrality (being invisible) and sporadic qualitative agency. By avoiding the void and becoming the very social framework for academic interaction, my role as an interviewer can become privileged without over-emphasizing a hierarchical bias.

By appearing as a seating arrangement rather than an overt avatar form, my subjects can relax around me and take their time to formulate their responses to my deep and probing questions. If more than one avatar subject is being interviewed at the same time, they might even forget that I am in the room with them and therefore, I can listen in and record their responses without too much ontological interruption.

So, I decided to go into one of the designer furniture stores and select a couple of seating arrangements to act as my avatar form during some of my avatar interviews and research gathering.

For example, when I invite 2 people to act as interview subjects, I would hope that they merge with my body by sitting directly on top of me (part of my body is a seat, after all). I have 2 & 4 seat avatars ready to go and now I just need to find a one-seater for those extremely intimate one-on-one interviews.

For more intimate qualitative encounters, two avatars can sit on my body and they can comfortably engage in leisurely discourse or perhaps if they allow me to enter into the discussion, a trialogue.

Here I am as a two-seater chair set looking for some avatars to scoop up onto my lap. Very soon, I plan to blog about some of the intimate and interactive interviews that I hope to score sometime soon with some academic luminaries... I hope to conduct these interviews in the Second Life Interview Corner if I am allowed. Otherwise, I am free to roam around the metaverse and conduct realtime field research whenever the timing feels right.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On Being Nothing... An Avoidable Ontology...

Here I am represented only by my elusive nametag...

Can an avatar represent "nothing" while still leaving a basic (core) presence and personality intact? If an avatar becomes "invisible", is this invisibility merely an impure and illusory representation of the "pure" avatar form?

I purchased a cheap invisibility cloak for my avatar to see what such an experiment would look like...I guess wearing an invisibility cloak constitutes "cheating" but for now, I can at least examine what kind of virtual personality rezz-i-due remains...

There was a strange glitch in this cloak because sometimes the nametag above my head would also disappear and at other times, it would be partially visible.

I guess this is what a visualization of an avatar's "data-trail" would look like(?)

I am starting to think that maybe I had just purchased a cheap cloak...sigh!

If you know of an easy way that I can purchase a more robust cloaking device or, even better, convert my template body parts into invisiprims, please let me know!

Here I am trying (perhaps in vain) to discretely camoflage myself amongst a gray and rezzing space. For some reason - and I know this sounds rather ridiculous - but an "invisible" or "transparent" colour looks gray to me in my mind's eye. So part of my hypersubjective self is saying that my illusory invisibility and virtual "voidness" will be enhanced when lurking in gray spaces. This space after about 5 minutes of realtime data-caching, actually reveals a blue ornamented research lab complete with textured surveillance cameras... go figure!

About 20 minutes after this screenshot was taken, I bought a spherical cam-drone for myself in order to eventually become it - I wish to transform myself into an empirical measuring tool.

More hUUUUUUUman than hUUUUUUUman...

Here is what a default humanoid avatar looks like after it's original template form de-sculpts via a mysterious rezzing glitch in Second Life's system.

In this sense, I have become more of a "template" humanoid than before. I am now gender, colour and texture neutral. In addition, I should remind myself that I do not have much of a "sculpted" body anymore. I would say that I now look like someone with a body waiting to be sculpted rather than having a pre-defined/calculated muscular structure.

Since I was quickly becoming less generically human and more specifically Posthuman in appearance, I hastily and perhaps impulsively decided that I had best get to the task of abstracting (and extracting) the "human" essense out of my chosen avatar form as soon as "humanly" possible...

I began by purchasing and then "wearing" a set of four pre-designed elemental humanoid avatars...


I really like the way my male fire avatar form came into being via a flurry of flaming pixels. The reason why I am enchanted by this particular mode of elemental manistation has something to do with the fact that my humanoid form has not yet materialized. In the most classic sense, my humanoid body is truly in a "virtual" state of being - at least for a short time.

I still have a few seconds to enjoy the process of the flames violently consuming and engulfing my representational humanoid form...FLAME ON!

This picture shows a clearer profile of my obscured humanoid form.

Here I am as a gender-neutral Earth elemental. I like how my joints and limbs are not very clearly defined. In fact, I do not think my body parts are even virtually connected. Yes, the sunset was very aesthetically pleasing that day but I should focus on the task at hand and save these romantic indulgences until after my research has been completed!

Here is a full profile of my Earthly form. My rubblesome torso-bits did cause a fair bit of billowing dust but I should point out that the mountaintop itself produced its own share of sOOt. Are we already witnessing the possibility of an instance where the Figure and Ground relationship starts to blur before our very eyes?

Here I am as a female water avatar for a change. I think the relationship between the figure and the "ground" is quite clear in this portrait...I will explain in a later post why I was hanging out in a furniture store.

Here I am gradually dematerializing into air at the official corporate headquarters of Artificial Avatars Corp....Because of my near-invisibility, this was the elemental form I preferred the most as it reinforced the anonymous nature of my role as an "objective" academic researcher.

Now you see me and now you don't! My avatar form has virtually vanished into thin air...pOOf!

From this point onwards, I will experiment with non-humanoid avatar alternatives...

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Birth of UUUUUUU...

On October 12, 2008 - I finally took the plunge and descended into Second Life as an academically-inclined avatar.

This puff of pixelated smoke qualifies as my very first avatar form. A few seconds later, my default humanoid avatar would emerge out of the void and take shape as...

...a nUUUUUUUbian hUUUUUUUman...

I must confess that I did not select the most generic of all possible nOOb forms.

Rest assured though, I plan to manifest as the archetypal nOOb sometime in the near future... For now, I am just happy to be virtually alive!