Avatars as Editors

As if living one life isn’t work enough, people are doubling up in virtual worlds. But don’t call Second Life and other online worlds make-believe. Users take them more seriously than that. Some develop novel approaches to teaching there; some make art, or dance. (Others, it is rumored, philander in ways that defy gravity.)

Those are all activities that interest Elif Ayiter (left) and Yacov Sharir, the co-editors of Metaverse Creativity, a new journal that Intellect Books plans to launch online and in print in early October.

The great pleasure of virtual worlds, of which Second Life is the only extensive example, so far, is their open-endedness, says Ayiter from her real-world home in Turkey. Online-game worlds, like the hugely popular World of WarCraft, come with programmed, hard-wired rules, tools, and formats. By contrast, in Second Life users make everything up. They program environments, activities—realistic and fanciful—and create their own virtual selves, or “avatars.”

As a result, interactions there are “a lot like children playing with toys,” says Ayiter, an artist, designer, and educator at Sabanci University in Istanbul—users often assign unpredictable meanings and significations to the places, objects, and activities they design and enact.

Both editors of Metaverse Creativity exemplify that kind of innovation. And, they often spend time together in Second Life seeing whether their avatars can come up with better ideas for the journal than their “real” selves.

In Second Life, Ayiter, who specializes in the educational possibilities of virtual worlds, is Alpha Aurer, whom she describes as “a totally irreverent, mischievous, politically incorrect, frivolous, fashion-victim avatar.” Sharir, an Israeli who teaches theater and dance at the University of Texas at Austin, dances with projected, virtual dancers on real-life stages, using ideas he refines in the virtual world.

The editors hope to attract a wide range of writing to Metaverse Creativity, including ideas about artificial-intelligence systems, landscaping, zoological and biological creations, and even virtual-world fashion design. Second Life’s relations to psychology, law, and technology are another focus. Plans for MC‘s first issue include a piece on how technological prostheses—beginning with the telescope—have altered human perceptions. Another article explains what neuroscience reveals about the benefits of the kinds of brain plasticity that simulation in virtual worlds can enhance, while a third edges up demurely on love in Second Life with a take on virtual-world adaptations of Korean romantic puppetry.

 Second Life has existed only since 2003. As a result, many activities in it remain rudimentary. “I’m a little dubious about how much real fine art there is in a builders’ world like Second Life,” says Ayiter, a graphic designer in worlds real and virtual. “In any case, we’re not yet seeing publications in that area.”

Still, she believes plenty of good writing is out there. Among her suggestions to contributors is to avoid virtual-world insiderism. She urges them to explain such terms as “alts,” “twindividuals,” and “pairsons” (all multiple-personality counterparts of avatars). “The whole idea is to disseminate what is going on among people who are not using virtual worlds—among academics, especially.”

Another priority, she says, is to find more colleagues to swell the ranks of the journal’s board members. Those currently include Trish Adams and Stefan Glasauer, Australian and German neuroscientists who work in Second Life, and Beth Harris, a curator at New York’s Museum of Modern Art. The fledgling journal particularly seeks more referees. Due to the novelty of Second Life, Ayiter says, “it has been difficult to find reviewers, but I have done it. We have had a couple of submissions that were very good, but we had a hard time finding reviewers for them, and had to let them go.”—Peter Monaghan


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