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My friend Kit wrote about a video by machinima artist Robbie Dingo the other day, and her writing got me thinking about what our physical bodies are and what they mean to us. Here’s Robbie’s piece: it’s called “Mask.”

I really liked this, as I like all of Robbie’s work that I’ve seen. He brings so much humanity to this sometimes too-technical world we live in. This one I particularly liked, though, because it made me think of the relationship of Second Life identities to First Life identities, of how First Life identities are like Second Life identities.

We all know the differences: we have less control over how we look in First Life, but the experience of actually being our First Life selves has a lot more for the senses than our virtual selves get to have. In First Life we have necessities, while in Second Life we have desires, and so on.

But there’s a surprising similarity between our First Life and Second Life selves: neither of those bodies is our *self* in the complete meaning of the world. Have you ever lost a lot of weight, or gained a lot of weight, or grown a lot taller, or shaved all your hair off, or gone from gawky to graceful in one school year, or anything like that? Your outer self changes, sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly, and often really profoundly. We think of our First Life selves as being just one outer identity, but really if we compare ourselves as children to ourselves as adults to ourselves as elders, if we compare the days when we look our worst to the days when we are most powerfully attractive, we start seeing a kind of fluidity to our physical selves. And that’s not to mention people who go through sort of optional transformations: sex changes, plastic surgery, becoming a bodybuilder, losing a lot of weight … young/old, pretty/ugly, strong/weak, all of these things change. And of course our sense of ourselves and our personalities change as our body changes, but it doesn’t necessarily change in the same ways our bodies are changing! Old people can feel young, people can become sexier even while their bodies might be becoming less sexy, a disabled person can become more powerful, or a person who’s growing taller might become more meek or invisible.

But even though our bodies aren’t in charge of who we are inside, they affect our personalities. And our avatars do the same thing, though maybe not as powerfully: what we choose to look like in our Second Lives changes who we are inside, through how we see ourselves, how other people see us and treat us, through our expectations, and through the ways we might act differently to fit our bodies.

So here’s the crazy thing: in the same way that our avatars are fluid and more an expression of ourselves than the whole of ourselves, our First Life bodies also change and are also an expression of ourselves, but not the whole of us. I don’t mean some kind of distinction between body and soul: I mean that who you are is not dependent on what you look and feel like on the outside. People see you as being a certain person, but in a way they’re only seeing one of your masks, not a mask you use to hide yourself necessarily, but a costume your essential and true self wears to come out of the world of spirit and thought and be visible to all the world.

^^^\ Kate /^^^

Coming soon, if I get my act together: a conversation with Sophrosyne Stenvaag about the new positive future sim, Extropia…a review of Serafina Pinion’s unique wing designs…and a follow-up on the first sex survey.

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