John Suler's The Psychology of Cyberspace
This article dated May 96



That's Me All Over

An Analysis of a Personal Avatar Collection


We all have different sides to our identity. Social psychologists would call them our "social roles" that surface in the variety of situations and relationships that make up our lives. Psychoanalysts would describe them as the constellation of "introjects," "internalizations," and "identifications" that comprises our intrapsychic world. On a daily basis, we juggle and shift between several rather distinct selves, sometimes without being fully aware that we are doing it. How, when, and why these different facets of our identity manifest themselves is the story of our lives.

In the GMUKs of cyberspace, you can tell a lot about people by examining their collection of avatars and how they use them. Each avatar reflects a distinct aspect of the individual's personality and lifestyle - whether it is a mood, an interest pattern, a social role, one's attitudes and values, or a wished-for state of being. During my research on the Palace, I've often thought about how fascinating it would be to examine a member's whole collection, or at least his or her favorite avatars (since some members have hundreds!).

Doing such an analysis would be a very personal affair, so I have hesitated to ask anyone to volunteer. Instead, I will describe here a few of the avatars in my own collection. If there are any Palatians or members of other habitats reading this article that WOULD like to volunteer to present their own av collection in this article, please let me know. And if any reader would like to offer feedback about my avs and what they say about avatar psychology in general... or me specifically... let me know that too. I'd be glad to post your comments on this page.

Gray owl - "AsKi" is my primary or "home" avatar. I spend the large majority of my time wearing this icon. I specifically chose this picture for several reasons. It is non-threatening. I did not hide the fact that I was doing research on the Palace in addition to socializing there, so I wanted to appear as benign as possible. The fact that it is a small prop adds to its innocuous quality, as well as makes it very portable and easy to fit into even a crowded room. An owl also is observant, non-intrusive, and "wise" - characteristics that I hoped would positively flavor people's reactions to me (and that I'd like to claim as my qualities). Also, the gender of the figure is unclear. My intention here was to allow other members initially to perceive AsKi as male or female according to their own projections (although I always revealed my gender when asked). Curiously, as I moved about the rooms of the Palace, I noticed myself looking for comfortable perches for my owl. Often I found myself sitting above and on the outside of a circle of people socializing - perhaps on a chair near the door, or on a picture frame on the wall. Was I acting like a bit of an outsider - observant, quiet, benign... maybe a bit distant? I would be lying if I said these qualities did not apply to me in "real" life. Many times I would have to catch myself falling back into this detached "observer" (lurker) mode. I didn't JUST want to do research. I wanted to get down, socialize, and have fun too.
The Earth - This is next in line as my most frequently used avatar. It's a positional prop. Several of the rooms at the main Palace site (the Mansion) are actually outdoor scenes (a beach, the Moor, the front yard of the Palace, etc.). In these locales I place myself into the sky. I was inspired to create this avatar when I first visited Nrutas - an outer space scene where computer geeks (I use the term affectionately) like to hang out. The first time I sat silently in the Nrutas sky, a new member arrived and said to a fellow Palatian, "I don't remember that Earth being there in the background gif? Is that new?" Perhaps this says something about my personality. Perhaps I like to blend in. I *am* ecology minded, like to wear Earth tone clothes, am interested in spirituality, love outer space fiction (a Star Trek fan, of course), and, as a kid, very much wanted to become an astronaut. All of this, and probably more, is condensed into that image. This avatar reminds me of the final scene of 2001: A Space Odyssey, when the "Star Child" returns to Earth.
James Taylor - This picture of James Taylor dancing with his guitar is from his "New Moon Shine" album. When I'm in my party/"let's get down" mood I'll dance this figure across the carpet in Harry's Bar. Even quiet, reserved people like to let their exhibitionist side out once in a while. This also is a good example of a "Wannbe Prop." I play guitar and piano, but am average at it. If I magically could inherit anyone's musical abilities, it would be JT. I think everyone has a Wannabe Prop of some kind in their collection. A humanistic psychologist might say that it is an icon showing their path towards self-actualization. Using this prop also drove home for me the fact that avatars are powerful signposts for signaling to and attracting like-minded people. If not for this prop, I probably would not have connected to several other Palatians who also are JT fans.
Freud - As a psychologist, I've always been interested in psychoanalytic theory (though I warn my students not to take any one theory too seriously... hence the beanie). I sometimes jokingly put on this avatar when people ask me questions about psychology, or if someone in the room, not knowing I'm a psychologist, says something to the group like "Maybe we should ask a shrink about that!" I enjoy psychology, and sometimes I enjoy making fun of it. On a few occasions I switched to this prop when obnoxious guests were harassing people in the room. As "Freud," I tried to find out why they were being so insulting in the hopes of either talking them down, or, if necessary, encouraging them to leave. Sometimes it worked, sometimes not.
Dressed to the Nines - This silhouette figure of a man dressed in a formal suit is a "flirting avatar." I've used it (on rare occasions, I might add) to approach women who seemed in the mood to flirt. It's my attempt to assume the persona of a sophisticated, debonair man-about-town. Another wannabe avatar? It also came in handy for those nights when everyone in the room was in the mood to dress formally.
Hercules taming Cerberus - Let there be no mistake. This is a power prop. What could be more powerful than Hercules wrestling down the multi-headed dog who guards the gates of hell? Yet another wannabe prop? Power avatars, not surprisingly, tend to be big, and this is by far my largest. Some people are very impressed by it, others are put off by its size and aggressive quality. So I tend not to display it too often for fear of intruding on other people's personal space or offending their tastes. Technically, this was the most difficult prop I created. I had to dissect the original image into nine separate squares and then reassemble them in the Palace prop editor. As such, it was my competitive attempt to demonstrate that I knew how to make big props.



Other positional avs - I love to create avs that I can place into specific spots in specific rooms. These props to the left - the leopard's face, the wolf howling by the moon, and the lightning bolt - I selected because they have a black background and therefore blend perfectly into dark doorways. I enjoy interacting with the Palace environment. Perhaps this symbolically indicates how I like to "fit in." Sometimes, when I'm feeling left out of a conversation in the room, I'll play with this props in the background. It usually draws attention to me and brings me back into the conversation.

See also Legnek's and Nacey's avatar collections



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