Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Virtual Self, Part I

For several days now, I’ve been concentrating on practical tutorials. Those are fun, and necessary, but this time I want to discuss something a lot harder to grasp: how Second Life feels, and how different people react to the virtual world.

It’s been said that there are three basic approaches to Second Life (and similar shared virtual environments): Immersion, Augmentation, and Roleplaying.

The Immersionist. The Immersionist feels that their avatar and their mind are, while they are in SL at least, truly “them”, in the same sense that their physical body and their mind are “them” when they are in the physical world. They feel that things that their avatar experiences are, in some sense, “real” experiences, dealing with real people and situations. Their imaginations and their emotions are fully engaged. They are aware that they and the others they meet have an existence outside of SL, but that’s less important to them than the immediate experience within the virtual world. Most often, Immersionists refer to their avatar as “I”.

The Augmentationist. Also called “Facebookers”, the Augmentationists treat their avatars and those of others as mere placeholders. To them, the “real people” are the bodies back behind the monitors in real life. These are the people whose first questions are “Where are you from? How old are you?” Augmentationists look at SL as a way to meet people, but the world and the avatars are simply a sort of 3D communications medium. These folks often refer to their avatar as “my guy”, or “my toon”.

The Roleplayer. Roleplayers partake somewhat of both the other approaches. They see their avatar as a character separate from themselves, like an actor on a stage. Roleplayers may invent elaborate back-stories for their characters, and may have many different accounts and characters. They may express strong emotions at times, but it’s not “them” speaking, but their character. It can be very hard to determine what a Roleplayer is “really” thinking or feeling. These people may refer to their avatar in the third person. “I logged into SL and had Lindal go to a vampire club.”

All three viewpoints have validity. All three types of personalities can enjoy Second Life. However, because of these fundamentally different views of SL and our relationship to it, friction and conflict often arise between people in the different groups. How many times have you heard things like:

“It’s only a game, get over it!”
“I gave you my phone number, why won’t you give me yours?”
“I won’t date you, my partner would object. But I will IM you with my alt.”

Immersionists wind up believing that a Roleplayer really cares for them…and the Roleplayer is surprised when what she thought was fun playacting on both sides gets taken far too seriously by her friend. Augmentationists ask questions they consider basic, and Immersionists snarl back, “Back off! I don’t discuss RL in SL.” In turn, the Augmentationist tends to be suspicious of the Immersionist. “Why won’t she voice with me? Is she hiding something?”

While most of us fall primarily into one of the three categories, we also tend to slide about a good deal. An Immersionist (like myself, for instance) may exchange a lot of very detailed information about her Real Life with people she trusts. An Augmentationist may get into the spirit of some formal roleplay scenario, either with their primary avatar or with an alt created for the purpose.

I think that these different views of SL are at the heart of the seeming inability of Linden Lab to respond to their customers. The fact is, LL doesn’t know who their customers are! Or, more accurately, they know who they are, but want to attract a greater number.

Facebookers are the most numerous group. Just look at the number of people using FaceBook and the number using Second Life! Only one problem…Most augmentatonists won’t put up with all the extraneous BS of a 3D virtual world. It just gets in the way of talking to the “real people”. A lot of dyed-in-the-wool Augmentationists would prefer it if we all used our real names in SL, and had avatars that looked just like our RL selves.

Attempts to simplify the interface and make SL easier to use for these huge numbers of potential users wind up alienating the Immersionists and Roleplayers who like to become someone else when they enter virtual reality. “This is Second Life,” they say. “I can live my First Life without even having to log in. Give me fantasy, and the more absorbing and realistic the better.”


  1. I prefer "Facebooker" for those folks myself. It's a lot more accurate than "augmentationist".

  2. I got this via email, but for some reason it's not showing up in my view of these comments...

    "Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "The Virtual Self, Part I":

    All users of SL are (a good dictionary comes in handy here) both immersionists and augmentationists. The group described as 'immersionists' above is more properly called 'immediacists' and the group mistakenly described as augmentationist are more properly called 'mediacists'.

    Alas, this all traces back to a mistake when the immersionist/augmentationist debate got started when one person - English not being his first language - accidentally picked the wrong words."

    Perhaps, Mr./Ms. Anonymous. However, these terms have become common usage in the SL community, whereas I have never encountered the terms "immediacist" or "mediacist" prior to your use of them.

    My dictionary isn't much doesn't list your terms at all, and defines "immersionist" as one who holds that a baptism featuring full body immersion is an essential requirement of salvation.

    In any event, the terminology is not as important as the fact that these different viewpoints of virtual life do exist.

  3. Hello Lindal...well, this entry is rather old, but it’s indeed the most accurate description about Immersionists, augmentationists and role-players I've come to find in ay other blog or web site dealing with this subject. Kudos for an excellently written blog. Last night I'd read it complete, from beginning to end. Lots of useful info, many excellent opinions…All in all, Great work!