Avatar Identity and Life Cycle

This page sums up my dissertation at Leeds Met. The dissertation itself will be available here as soon as the University has approved it.

The title of my work is: To Earn a Face. Identity and Mobility in Avatar Societies.

Main research questions:

  • What is the role of narratives in the creation of an avatar identity?
  • How is avatar identity formed?
  • How does the social network of an avatar contribute to the building of an avatar identity?
  • What role plays avatar identity in any social mobility theory in virtual worlds?

Abstract:

Despite the growing significance of virtual worlds, the mechanisms of their societies are not completely understood. In particular, it is unclear how avatars can interact in a trustworthy way without knowing the user behind the other avatar. The internet uses reputation management to connect users and their level of trustworthiness, but it is questionable how reputation is used in virtual worlds and tied to an avatar identity. It was therefore useful to understand the concept and all aspects of avatar life to determine the importance of reputation in avatar societies.

This thesis examines the life of avatars to identify the elements of avatar identity crafting. The main contribution of this thesis is a substantive ethnography of avatars in Second Life and Entropia Universe which shows how avatar identity develops, social networks influence and social mobility is created through the avatar life span.

During one year in the field, twenty informants provided an insight into social norms and values. As a social hierarchy exists in both worlds, these societies are lead by avatars of age, knowledge and reputation. This ethnography makes a special contribution to the virtual world research by providing an overview of important cultural themes which dominate social life in Second Life and Entropia Universe. It also argues for a model of an avatar life cycle, which is developed through the dissertation describing the different phases in detail.

Finally, it presents narratives as an important factor in an avatar social life. Narratives, broadly understood as digital artefacts of all kind, serve as the media to transport and archive achievements, personal ties and social capital. They are necessary to make reputation visible and transportable. This result can be further used in applications such as the suggested avatar e-Portfolio that support intra-metaverse travel and mobility of avatars.


Dissertation download:

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