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.

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