A Second Life Within Second Life: Are Virtual World Users Creating New Selves and New Lives?

A Second Life Within Second Life: Are Virtual World Users Creating New Selves and New Lives?

Kevin Linares (California State University at Los Angeles, USA), Kaveri Subrahmanyam (California State University at Los Angeles, USA), Roy Cheng (California State University at Los Angeles, USA) and Shu-Sha Angie Guan (University of California at Los Angeles, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-1858-9.ch013
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Abstract

Virtual worlds such as Second Life (SL) are online computer-based world-like spaces, where users assume virtual selves or avatars to interact with others, create objects, and engage in a variety of transactions. This paper examines SL residents’ avatars, activities, and the relation between residents’ offline characteristics and online avatars and activities. The authors examined whether there was a relationship between residents’ identity style and online beliefs and activities, specifically those related to self-presentation and identity exploration via avatars and relationship formation as they are related to one’s sense of self. An online survey of 378 SL residents was conducted, who ranged in age from 18 to 69 years. Respondents were asked to complete an SL survey (containing questions about their avatars, use, and activities within SL) and the Identity style inventory sixth grade reading level (ISI-6G). Results suggested that SL avatars were mostly human, and were of the same gender as the residents’ offline self; SL activities were similar to every day offline ones. The study suggests SL residents may not be creating second lives within this virtual world, but are instead bringing elements of their first or offline lives into this online context.
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Introduction

The Internet has become an important tool for information seeking, education, interaction and communication as well as entertainment. Among adults, some popular interactive digital contexts include social networking sites (e.g., Facebook and MySpace), online games (e.g., World of Warcraft), and virtual worlds (e.g., Second Life, HiPiHi) which are the focus of this paper. Virtual worlds are online computer-based environments or world-like spaces, within which users assume new virtual selves or avatars to interact with others, create objects, and engage in a variety of financial transactions (Messinger, Stroulia, & Lyons, 2008).

In the early days of the Internet, scholars and writers speculated that because online contexts make it possible to leave bodies behind (Kendall, 2003; Stallabrass, 1995; Wakeford, 1999), users could create online selves that were very different from their offline ones (McKenna & Bargh, 2000; Turkle, 1997). Quiet, introverted people could become extroverts, the young could act older, and physically less attractive people could assume a physically attractive online persona. The New Yorker immortalized these possibilities in a 1993 cartoon that depicted two dogs in front of a computer with the caption “On the Internet, nobody knows you are a dog” (Steiner, 1993). In this paper, we explore the issue of alternative selves within the virtual world, Second Life (SL) - specifically, we document users’ activities within SL and then examine the relation between SL residents’ offline and online characteristics, beliefs, and behaviors. The results of the study will enhance our understanding of the relation between SL users’ offline and online personas and will help to understand the role of virtual worlds in identity formulation.

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