Playing 20 Questions with Meandr@vatar

EVERYWHERE AND NOWHERE, 5 May — Meandra has asked VR residents to answer 20 questions, about life in virtual worlds, so here goes mine…

1. Since when and how did you become a SL member?

I was invited by Esparanza Freese to create a performance work for a VR art exhibition her graduate students at Kansas State University were curating at the Vista Hermosa Art Center. So my “rez date” was 2009-4-11, our first performance, VB01 – Girl Next Door, was a week later, 2009-4-18, and then this blog was born 4 days after that, on 2009-4-22. The blog was originally born over on Blogger where it lived for 15 months, and then in 2010-June, after some cajoling and offers of assistance, Ze Moo finally convinced me to move it here to WordPress where it’s been for about 24 months now.
β€’ VB01 – Girl Next Door

2. Are you above or below 35 years?

I turned 43 last month.
β€’ My Biography

3. Do you consider this avatar very much the same as you are in real life (looks, character, gender etc) ?

hahaha, SO many people care about this question! If your avatar and your fleshvatar ARE the same, then we call you boring. If they ARE NOT the same, then we call you a liar! πŸ˜›

Perhaps “boring” and “liar” are overly dramatic words, but the point is that a lot of people use virtual spaces today, whether that’s Facebook, or WordPress, or EVE Online, or Blue Mars, and we have many different intentions. In a space like Facebook there’s an implication that the stuff you post is “true” whereas when you’re raiding an Alliance stronghold in WoW, presumably nobody expects your avatar to be providing data from your day at the office. In “Social Virtual Spaces” like Blue Mars or Second Life, these two different sets of expectations collide.

Of course the idea that the stuff you post on Facebook is “true” is, to use a popular term, “Bullshit!” People joke about Facebook status updates being finely crafted sentences designed to give the appearance of spontaneous remarks. Conversely, no matter how “alien” your avatar in WoW or Star Wars might be, some “truth” of your persona, your identity, your ideology, will most likely find its way into your existence there.

So I guess the “boring” people might actually be changing it up more than we realize… and the “liars” might actually be sharing more truth than we think.

As for your specific question about ME, what I’ve said in the past is that my avatar and my typist share a similar ideology, but different aesthetics. That our core values, perspectives, humanity, are pretty much the same, but that the media and forms explored tend to be different.
β€’ VB Previz #53 – Isomorphic
β€’ Ideology & Aesthetics

4. Do you have more than one avatar in SL? Can you tell something about that if you have.

hahaha, yes Meandra, I do, and I hate to talk about it! πŸ˜› But just for YOU, I will.

I guess the reason I hate to talk about it has a lot to do with our previous question, or at least where I went with that, about being your avatar or wearing a mask. We all have many masks or hats or roles in our day: you might be someone’s parent… and someone else’s child… you might be someone’s boss… and someone else’s employee… doctor / patient… the list goes on and on… we “play” different parts in each of these scenarios. How weird would it be if your young daughter scraped her knee and you started yelling at her like Steve Jobs famously did to his employees? What if you went in for an exam and your OB/GYN started treating you like you’d treated your young daughter with the scraped knee, how weird would that be? Obviously, let’s not even talk about bedroom and boardroom.

If I’m the graphic designer for your website… if I’m the dominatrix for your dungeon… you expect different things from me… how weird would it be if I was supposed to be whipping you, and instead I started talking about your logo?

So I do have alts, and for anyone who wants to dig thru and read about them, they’re openly discussed in my blog, even so… if we’re in the bedroom… I really want to be present in that moment and no body and no thing else should take focus away from our experience of that time and that place… and the same for the boardroom…

In the fullness of a life does it make sense to say “she was amazing in both the bedroom and the boardroom”? Sure. We don’t exist in only one place or only one way. If there is a gestalt of a person it is the accretion of many personas and many experiences. So would talking about alts give some fuller, deeper, richer sense of a person?

Sort of.

Nobody denies that Meryl Streep or Sean Penn play many parts, and that’s why we consider them such remarkable actors. But if you went onto the set and witnessed Streep or Penn inhabit a persona, I don’t think you’d want to break that moment by asking them for an autograph… I don’t think you’d expect them to launch into some different character they had inhabited last year… I don’t even think that standing there and reflecting on all the different characters they had played and what a therefore awesome actor they were, is the best way to appreciate this actor or their work… I think if you were lucky enough to inhabit some space with someone like Streep or Penn, the most intense way you could experience it would be to experience the moment as it is, and let anything external to that person in that place in that moment… fall away…
β€’ Do You Wanna Date My Avatar?
β€’ “Frisky Flirt” on

5. Do you have specific goals in SL?

Vaneeesa Blaylock walking on a treadmill desk
It started as a place to make art, and while I’ve met so many wonderful people, seen so many amazing things, and yes, even gone dancing, it remains a place for me to do work. I guess in a sense, my goal for SL is for it to become invisible. I’m thinking of 2 specific ideas when I say that, the first is Maslow’s Hammer:

When you have a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

The second is an idea from Marshall McLuhan:

at the point where a new media-induced environment becomes all pervasive… it also becomes invisible.

McLuhan’s idea is a little bit counter-intuitive, and very powerful. When something is new, we’re excited about it, we think about it, we talk about it, but it’s not ubiquitous. McLuhan thought that when something really became ubiquitous, it became obsolete. He said “obsolete” confused people because they thought it meant the use of a thing was over, but he reframed obsolete not as the end, but the beginning of a thing’s popular use. And that when it isn’t a novelty or a fuss anymore, but becomes obsolete and ubiquitous, that then it becomes invisible. We still “see” Facebook, at least so far, but not many in the developed world “see” electricity. Nothing is more fundamental to our contemporary existence than electricity, but it is so ubiquitous, so obsolete, that we no longer “see” it or think or talk about it much, yet we use it constantly. MySpace didn’t make it to obsolete and invisible because it was killed before it got there. If Facebook keeps going as it is, it will one day become as ubiquitous and invisible as the phone books we no longer use once were.

My point with this, and also with Maslow’s Hammer, is that when you first discover a tool like Second Life, it is your hammer. Everything revolves around this virtual world. If you think of a kid with a hammer, he’s going to run around the yard hammering on everything, all his world is full of nails. But if you think of someone who grows up to become a carpenter and home builder, she’s going to keep her hammer pretty close, she’s going to use it probably every single day, but it’s also going to be invisible to her, and she isn’t going to perceive a world of nails, she’s going to perceive a world of structural beams and walls and surfaces and living spaces.

So the reality is that most of the work I create is in Second Life. The amount I’ve done on OS Grid or WoW or Blue Mars is pretty small. So SL is my hammer. But I’m not interested in a world of nails. I’m interested in a world of ideas. And if those ideas are best manipulated with my hammer, then I’ll use that invisible hammer a lot. But it’s not necessarily about the hammer, but the ideas. So maybe my drill bits are all dull and I can’t afford the fancy carbide tipped ones, so I might hammer more than drill. But I hope I can stay current on the latest in what drills and screwdrivers and glue and rapid prototyping can do, and as I work ideas, choose the most appropriate tool that’s accessible to me.
β€’ VB16 – Au Pair Next Door
β€’ Previz #64 – Worldwide 5k

6. How does SL relate to your RL? For instance: do you mix them or not, is it two worlds or seperated totally.

Yoga 'n Values, Fast Easy Fun, Banality as Saviour, Exploit the Masses, Jeff Koons
So far I’ve kept the physical and the virtual pretty separate. They do mix in that work I do in virtual space sometimes winds up being discussed in my classroom at Erasmus University, and ideas we talk about in class sometimes wind up finding expression in my virtual work.

I said “so far,” as I’ve been thinking a lot lately about doing more mixing. About Mixed Reality performance works, projects on Kickstarter, etc. So far I haven’t done any of this, but I’d be surprised if 2012 passed without some new developments.
β€’ Vaneeesa on Kickstarter

7. Do you in any way make money in SL?

I’ve heard people say that it’s important for a virtual world to have a real and vibrant economy and for people to be able to make money there. I think that’s probably right. It does seem important in many ways. Money, “real” or “perceived” is a huge motivator for so many people. And a lot of people who look down on virtual worlds do seem to think twice when you can quote in-world economic figures to them.

This however, is not my interest. I’m a card-carrying member of the Church of Free Culture, and I’m sorry to have to say I am a very, very tedious proselytizer for my church. hahaha, so don’t get me started! πŸ˜›

You asked about making money and already I’m taking about IP. But it’s so important. The thing that drives me crazy is platforms that default to Copyright All Rights Reserved. I’m happy to let people choose any license they like for their creative work. The 8 most common are the totally restrictive Copyright All Rights Reserved, the totally open Public Domain, and in-between those two extremes, the 6 flavors of Creative Commons licenses. So if someone CHOOSES explicitly that they want C-ARR, I’m fine with that. But I hate it when a site like Flickr or YouTube defaults the work of everyone who doesn’t choose to C-ARR. For sharing and creativity and remixing and culture to flow, we need more sites like CCMixter where you can freely rework the creative elements of others, and link back to them with an Attribution link.

No, it often isn’t hard to get permission on a site like Flickr or YouTube, but even if permission is forthcoming and no charge, that’s great if I’m a textbook publisher with a staff to clear rights and a year to do it, but if I’m a public member of a culture trying to play with ideas, I don’t want permission to remix your photo or video in a week, I want it in 5 minutes because I want to finish this piece and post it in an hour. So having IP closed and letting peeps request rights use really doesn’t work for the often non-commercial applications that so many peeps have today.

Anyway, since your question was whether I make money in virtual space or not, not about IP practices, I’ll leave it at that. And no, I choose not to sell anything in virtual space. Everything I create is always available Free as in Speech (remixable) and also Free as in Beer (no cost.) The exception to that would be anything I make that uses someone else’s work that has a different license. Then it’s limited by whatever those terms are. I really like Creative Commons Attribution for my own work, but for anyone not comfortable being that open, I’d strongly recommend a Creative Commons Non-Commercial license. That lets others share and remix your work. They can create new forms and have fun and post stuff and advance our shared culture… but nobody makes a single euro off it without coming back and talking to you first.
β€’ Vaneeesa on Free Culture
β€’ Creative Commons

8. Has SL changed you in some way?

You know that one boyfriend, from a long time ago? The guy you sort of grew up with. You were together so long you kind of thought he was the one. In the end, it was all pretty good, but you had to move on.

You know the guy I mean? Sometimes you’d cry that a guy could be so cruel. Other times you just couldn’t believe that someone could be so thoughtful. You kind of owe him everything. After him, you’ll never be the same person again. Maybe you hate him a little. But you also know that deep down, the day will never come that some part of you doesn’t still love him. Sometimes you wonder, if he’d been a little nicer to you, if maybe it could have worked. But you also realize that it really did have to end. Maybe he’s ultimately more important to your growth than whoever you do wind up with. Maybe it was about him. Maybe it was about you. And maybe it was just that time of your life and he’s the person who stumbled through it with you and tried to help you make the best of it all. You’ll never forget him, but you’re also glad you’re with somebody… hmm… maybe “better” isn’t even exactly the word… or maybe it is.

You know, that guy.


SL is that guy.

β€’ Culture is Virtual
β€’ VB33 – Sugar Mountain
β€’ Vaneeesa Blaylock / Company – Cast & Staff

9. Do you consider your SL as more, less or equal important than real life?

That’s kind of an interesting question. Given what I’ve said above about really trying to be present when you embody a “role” in the physical or virtual world, I guess I’d say that it depends on your point of view. When I “am” my avatar, I’m really not thinking of a “real life” that’s somewhere else and is more or less important. I Am. haha, that’s actually the name of my blog, “I Rez, Therefore I Am,” and I think it really is as fundamental as that. I really want to be as present as I’m able to be.

In life we do sometimes, perhaps even often, wear hats that don’t inspire us all that much. Hopefully we can keep from drowning in these roles, but we can’t ignore them. So IDK if I’d say I want to be “fully present” when doing my taxes, but there’s no benefit in being somewhere else when you’re working on even a boring task. Imagining how Jack Sparrow would do his taxes really won’t help you finish the work at hand.

Yes, of course, you can zoom out to the “meta-scheduler” of your life that says you should spend 10 hours a week on this and 20 on that but only 5 on something else. But I guess my point is, whether I’m doing the 5-hour a week thing or the 15-hour a week thing or the 50-hour a week thing, I hope that during the time I’m inhabiting any of those roles, that it’s the most important thing there is. That it’s the only thing there is. Whether the time “there” is small or large, when I’m really there, it isn’t more or less than anything else, it’s simply the totality of my being for the present time. However long present may be.
β€’ Research & Application

10. Do you have your own space in SL? Why yes or why no?

I am not currently a land renter. I have been in the past. I may be in the future. I’d just as soon have a stable place and not move, but a virtual home is both ridiculously easier to move than a physical one, and it’s also a lot less essential. So while I’d prefer a stable “studio,” coming and going also seems to work ok.
β€’ Garage Band & Public Storage

11. If SL would close down tomorrow, how would that affect you?

I think my answers above should kind of give you a good sense on this. Since I do the majority of my projects there it would be a loss. But I also don’t think of that one specific platform as a totality. It’s a part of the new media landscape. If the pillow you threw on your feet goes away and you get cold, then you’d drag some of your blanket over and try to cover your toes. So the blanket or tapestry of new media would for sure feel a loss, but you’d use the tools available.

Or to go back to my hammer… there are a lot of nails to be pounded if you’re framing a house. If all the hammers disappeared, that would be a real loss. But you wouldn’t stop building houses. You’d probably just get a nice screw gun and start putting things together with screws… or paradigm shift to glue… or…
β€’ The Mauritshuis is Closing
β€’ The Frank Lloyd Wright Virtual Museum is Closing
β€’ Odyssey Performance Simulator May Have to Close

12. Can you mention do’s and don’ts for yourself and/or others?

Don’t have any don’ts!
β€’ VB17 – Dark Side of the Moon

13. What are your experiences with the so called drama in SL?

Honestly Meandra, I have no idea what you could possibly be talking about. I have never committed an act of drama, nor been the recipient of one, in my life! πŸ˜›
β€’ The Minority Report on SaveMe Oh

14. Are you involved in communities with very specific interests? Vampire, furies, tiny avatars, fantasy etc?

I’m not involved in any of the communities you listed. I guess I am involved in the virtual art community. I do have a few really good friends there, although I wish I was more engaged in it generally. With regard specifically to the virtual world of Second Life, I am both in awe of the remarkable work so many fine artists do, yet simultaneously I feel that it is, unfortunately a cultural ghetto. Perhaps “island” is a better word. But ghetto or island, you can’t really prosper without interaction with all the richness, depth, and diversity of the mainland.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful to anyone, but I do have the sense that a lot of peeps RP artist. As in not an artist in the physical world but “play” one in virtual space. I do not say this in any elitist sense. And for sure having a background in traditional media is in no way a prerequisite to doing compelling work in virtual space. Still, I do find that some people have a sense of “ok, I’m gonna do my thing, here’s my stuff, here’s my stuff, here’s my stuff” while others make a much more significant effort to be informed on a wide range of contemporary art practice, and the contextualization of their own work in that corpus.

To be fair, “here’s my stuff, here’s my stuff, here’s my stuff” is almost necessarily the mantra of any artist. Still, I feel that some do so in a relatively narrow context, while others make work that is so much more richly enmeshed in our cultural river.

So while I do desire more connections and community interactions everywhere, I’m probably more interested them in a wide context rather than in an insular platform or world specific context.
β€’ Vaneeesa reports from CAA 2012

15. What do you think of the often very stereotype appearance of many man (macho/playmate) and women (sex kitten, bimbette) in SL?

I actually think that stereotype is false. If you go to a dance club, you probably will see that, but if you go to an education seminar you probably won’t. And really, at a hot club in the physical world, you’d probably see a lot of macho dudes and hot babes there too.

I do know what you’re talking about though, and I think in the places where you do find this, that Vilayanur Ramachandran’s theory of “Peak Shift” seems to fit this experience well. He goes through a lot of data to show that when animals from many different species “learn” the property of something, when they train their brain to “pattern recognize” it, that they don’t learn the property in an absolute sense, but in a relational sense. For example, if you see a caricature of a person, it’s highly exaggerated on their unique features. It doesn’t really look like them, and yet our experience is that it looks more like your friend than your actual friend does! So with respect to gender, males tend to have larger arm muscles and females tend to have larger breasts. So if you make an avatar with ridiculously large biceps and delts… or with ridiculously large breasts, yes, in one sense like a caricature drawing, these avatars are ridiculous, but by being “more male than male” or “more female than female” there does seem to be a part of our brain that sees these very distinct gender markers and responds, “so hot!”
β€’ Timmie Jean Lindsay

16. Do you have the impression man and women tend to upgrade themselves in SL (looks, character etc) ?

So kind of like your previous question? More macho dudes, hotter babes? Or taller, thinner, younger? For sure many of us do. Others don’t. Some make a great effort to look similar to their physical world self. Others do, as you suggest, “optimize” or try alt bodies and alt identities. For some the idea is to “match” not your physical self, but the self in your brain, so a sort of “real you,” even if that doesn’t happen to match your physical presence.

Jeremy Bailenson at the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab has done a lot of really interesting research on how avatar bodies, height, eye contact, and many other factors, influence our experiences of and negotiations with others. I think this is all “interesting” today… in the future it could be a really wild ride. Ironyca and I have speculated how we might “augment” either a virtual world or the physical world through augmented reality displays. You might change the height of yourself or an opponent to give yourself a psychological advantage in a boardroom negotiation… and in fact… everyone in that boardroom might experience it differently: you may be doing the whole meeting “skinned” as WoW… and I might be in the same physical room, but with our experienced skinned for my view as Farmville! πŸ˜›
β€’ Vaneeesa on Augmented Reality
β€’ VB26 – Average

17. Is SL an opportunity to be a person you never can, will or want to be in real life?

haha, yes and no. For sure it is. I’ve seen tall people with short avatars and short people with tall avatars. Male typists with female avatars and female typists with male avatars. People with “normal” bodies behind avatars with giant, pregnant “pot” bellies on top of toothpick spindly legs. And of course tinys and furrys and avatars that look like a robot or a ship or a planet.

So we can be really different in avatar bodies. In persona? Well, there are “good actors” and “bad actors” right? And there are even actors who are “good” but only at playing a very narrow range of character types. So I think to really be different from your core persona is an interesting and worthwhile, but difficult and challenging exercise.

We’ve all had the experience of being on the debate team or in speech class, and you know you have to do your best to persuasively argue whatever side you’re assigned, but if you’re personally pro-choice, you’re just standing there begging under your breath that you don’t draw pro-life, or visa versa. It’s hard to really be what you aren’t. But it’s also powerful.

Wikipedia, interestingly isn’t a place that likes ultimate authorities, it likes negotiators and compromisers. Nobody gets to come in and say “I am the world’s authority on topic X, and you’re just wrong, it’s THIS, period.” If you say that, you won’t have a very good time at Wikipedia, and ultimately your position probably won’t prevail. Those who are willing to discuss, understand, articulate, compromise will probably do better.

When an argument on Wikipedia has political implications, it can become very heated. In the end, the compromises reached on these impossible debates are often awkward, strained compromises. BUT THAT’S ACTUALLY PRETTY GREAT! If Wikipedia can get totally opposing sides to agree on any language at all, no matter how strained, that’s really quite an achievement.

My point about Wikipedia vis-a-vis embodying a truly different persona or ideology or aesthetic sensibility from your core self is that it may be difficult or even frustrating and not fun, but if you can pull that off, you’ll have powerful insights gained. So IDK how much you can be someone truly different, but even a crappy job of it should carry remarkable benefits.
β€’ Rudolf Nureyev
β€’ Nureyev & Fonteyn

18. How real is SL to you, considering emotions, feelings and experiences?

Some people make a distinction between “real” life and, I guess “virtual” or perhaps “fake” life. I don’t. A relationship in the physical world can be shallow or deep, and all virtual media: a telephone, Facebook, Virtual Reality, can also be shallow or deep. If you talk to someone you love on the telephone, that’s an entirely “virtual” experience, but it can be powerfully “real.”

Having said that, I do think that physical and virtual experiences are often of different qualities. Online, whether it’s a chat room or blog comments or wandering through a virtual space, I think it’s much easier to forge weak ties, but harder to create strong ties.

In the physical world if you overhear a part of someone’s conversation and you just jump in and say “Oh, well here’s what I think about that!” and then maybe you disappear, you’d be kind of off the wall. But in all these virtual spaces we do that all the time and it works well.

Conversely though, I think truly deep connections are hard to form in virtual space. Well, “truly” deep connections are hard to form in physical space too! But whatever it is, the nature of the medium, or that it’s a part time or side thing for us, IDK, but it seems more shallow. And I’d say that not just for virtual worlds, but really for all online media. It’s super easy to invite your friends to a party on Facebook, but more will probably turn up if you call them in person.
β€’ Rineke Dijkstra

19. Do you consider SL a good place to improve your social skills, self-image and self-esteem?

Vaneeesa Blaylock and Sojourner Starship having dinner at Bella Bistro Restaurant in Vest-Agder, Norway
People do talk about this. I’ve had very shy students. The most extreme was barely able to speak F2F at all, yet he was a font of knowledge, sharing, and interaction in virtual spaces. So for sure having multiple ways to interact can help people. Of course lots of things are beneficial at one dosage, and lethal at another. So if it’s a tool to engage, a way to interact and grow, then it’s really positive. But if it’s a hideaway… or even a prison… that you never enter the F2F world from… that’s probably not in most peeps best interest.

I suppose it’s worth remembering that when we experience stories like The Matrix, where Neo & posse are fighting so desparately to get out… that this is not the world WE live in… most of us are actually working hard to get IN! I do think some care with a “drug” like this makes sense, but perhaps this is already old media thinking. Our lives are so virtual today, so mediated today, that to think of different realms may be an obsolete form of thought itself.

Although many of us are big fans of Virtual Reality… I do think that it may always be a niche tool… and that Augmented Reality may be the media that really comes to explode in the near future. I’ve mentioned a bit about AR above, and so perhaps as our lives become increasingly mediated, that we always have a “layer” mediating our experience of the world, as so many with earbuds already do with that sensory modality, perhaps thinking of different modalities at all will become ever less relevant.

But for now, yes, I’ve seen it be a helpful tool for people. And yes, trying to also spend some F2F interaction time is certainly a good idea.
β€’ Passing

20. What is the best and worst thing you experienced in SL?

Image of Meandra with her dog, who has a speech bubble superimposed "no comment"
My best experience ever is being in this conversation with you right now. I don’t remember whatever the worst was.
β€’ Meandra interviews herself

As a virtual public artist my work invites avatar communities to express their identity, explore their culture, and demand their civil rights.

20 thoughts on “Playing 20 Questions with Meandr@vatar

          1. I don’t care about that bad smelling ugly cyclop, you have now to climb on that fleshtar. It’s you who did the damage and is to blame!

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