So, is your Second Life avatar…you? I’m not asking if that person looks like the First Life you, or talks or acts like the First Life you, or even whether that person thinks like the real life you, but whether that person is you, or if we’re talking about an independent individual.

Let me get the problems of word meanings out of the way first, though, because if we’re talking about a “separate person” or “separate identity”, you could argue any position depending on what you mean by “separate” and “person” and “identity”. On the one hand, if you define a person as a unique collection of thoughts and behavior and appearance and history, then you could easily argue that an avi is Second Life is a separate person. On the other hand, if you take the view that in order for someone to be a person, they have to possess their own brain and not use someone else’s, then you come to the conclusion that there’s no such thing as an avi that’s a separate person.

So we can go either way with this, and as usual, I want to get to whatever answer is going to help us understand ourselves better, and to understand our Second Lives better.

For some people, there’s no meaningful question here: their Second Life avi is not only not them, it isn’t anybody. It’s a game piece, a puppet, a placeholder. I can understand where such a person is coming from, especially if they’re thinking of Second Life as a game rather than a gathering place, but we can comfortably put such people out of our discussion, because it’s just a game with them; their identity isn’t deeply involved.

Whereas mine is. When I’m in-world, Kate Amdahl exists, whether she’s a part of First Life Kate or a separate entity (which I’ll get to in a moment). So the question remains as to who she is, and what her relationship is to the person at the computer.

I have friends who describe a complete separation between their First Life and Second Life selves, completely separate individuals who simply time-share the brain. From one perspective, this is a useful way to view things, because one of the great gifts of Second Life is how freeing it can be to choose who you are and what you’re like. Maybe in your First Life you’re a bit shy. Is there any reason you can’t try to remake yourself in Second Life as outgoing, or even brazen? If you can use your new environment and (often) your new appearance to act in a new way, it seems to me that this gives you an extremely rare opportunity to explore parts of who you are that you don’t generally get to explore.

As an example, when I began my Second Life, I decided to always look on the bright side there. In my First Life I almost always look on the bright side, but then there are the times when I feel I need to step in and be cold-blooded about righting something that’s gone wrong. I have responsibilities with my family and work in my First Life that (I think) make it my job sometimes to occasionally be, ahem, a bit of a bitch. In Second Life, there’s hardly ever a reason for me to do that, so I do my best not to carry that particular part of my personality into Second Life. Fortunately, it’s not a very large part and I don’t like it very much anyway (while I realize it’s necessary), so that hasn’t been a burden.

But my friend Soph talks about things beyond this. She describes her Second Life self and her First Life self as different people, with different abilities, who even score differently on personality tests. She’s the one who got me interested in this subject, because I found this was something I felt strongly about: a different personality doesn’t, in my mind, mean a different person. I like to think as Soph (as her Second Life self) as being a part of her whole self who makes certain choices. After all, what is a personality test but a set of choices?

Which leads into the really, really interesting part of this for me, because in a big way, a personality, whether in First Life or Second, is also a set of choices. Bravery, annoyance, love, pleasure, even cleverness are, in part, choices. How you act in any life has as much to do with how you choose to act and what you choose to tell yourself about who you are as do your habits and history and genetics. Viewed this way, in a sense, Soph is right, in that not only is her Second Life self a separate personality that makes certain choices, but so is her First Life personality – and mine, and yours.

The rarely-seen-but-unmistakeable Kate the Ice Bitch in First Life is a choice I make because sometimes, sad to say, an ice bitch is what is most needed. And Kate-who-is-completely-preoccupied-with-a-project, Driven Kate, is a choice I sometimes make in both First Life and Second both because I love to get things done and, less impressively, sometimes I just want everything to be simple and to put difficulties out of my mind to concentrate on a single, clear, often unimportant problem.

On the other hand, there’s a danger, too, in saying that your Second Life self is a completely separate person from your First Life self, because ultimately they come out of the same human being, and they’re both answering needs and desires that that human being has (even if they’re different needs and desires), and they’re both using talents and abilities and knowledge that human being has (even if they tend to use different tools out of the same toolbox). And for that particular human being to get the real benefit of a separate life and a separate personality (or even a separate life with the same personality), there has to be some integration: things have to come together.

My friend Grizzy Griswold gives a good example of this. In First Life, Grizzy is a fairly introverted man. In Second Life, Grizzy is a spirited woman who runs a boisterous club. Can First Life Grizzy benefit from Second Life Grizzy’s experiences in being social and putting herself forward? I think he can, and I gather he thinks he can, too, just as I can benefit from seeing how I deal with situations in Second Life without ever (well, hardly ever) pulling out Kate the Ice Bitch. It turns out I don’t need her quite as often as I thought I did.

And these aren’t just lessons we learn (Be more outgoing! Consider your options before taking someone to task!), but experience that we can bring to our First Lives. In the end, the First Life person is more important than the Second Life person, so it doesn’t matter nearly as much whether the Second Life person can use the thoughts and attitudes and feelings of the First Life person as it does the other way around.

So if you think of your Second Life self as a completely separate person than your First Life self and never allow yourself to think and feel in your First Life what you think and feel in your Second Life, then most of the profound lessons are lost, and perhaps you find yourself wishing to be in your First Life what you are in your Second. Well, we don’t have nearly the ease of control over our appearance and situation in First Life that we do in Second Life, but we do always have the option of transforming ourselves, of turning ourselves over to our best inclinations, to the “better angels of our nature”, as Lincoln put it. Because in the end even First Life, “real life”, the Atomic World, is only another set of sights and sounds and other senses, much like Second Life, and the place we really live is inside ourselves, where anything becomes possible.

^^^\ Kate /^^^