John Suler's The Psychology of Cyberspace

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Real Face Avatars

Most users do not use pictures of themselves as their primary avatars. People prefer the partial anonymity of expressing only limited aspects of their personality through imaginative props. Or they simply enjoy the creative fun of experimenting with new identities through their avs. In more rare cases, members find the use of real face avs to be an uncomfortable, dissociative experience. "I have a picture of myself in the prop file but I really don't like to use it any longer than it takes for me to show it to a new friend," said River, a wizard. "It is a little disturbing to sit here at home and see myself speaking in cartoon balloons in a non-reality. Whew!!!!"

When users do present pictures of their real faces, it may be a gesture of honesty and/or intimacy - a sign of friendship, or even romance. Showing one's real face av can be a very poignant experience. Several members have described to me encounters when an intimate conversation culminated in their companion showing a picture of themselves. "That moment will stay with me for a long time to come," one member stated, "The value I placed on that particular moment was, friendship, trust, a sense of oneness." This same member described how there seems to be a pattern when an entire group feels compelled to use their real faces - what he called "face nite." For that period of time, the intimacy and friendship level reaches a point where people wish to step out of their masks and out of their anonymity. They want be as "real" as possible.

Some members develop an entire set of real face avatars. Cleo, for example, designed each different one to convey a specific interpersonal message, such as "Hi!", "I'm sleeping" (a.k.a. BRB), and "Gimme Kiss."

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