Who are you?

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.  Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

 – Oscar Wilde (1854 – 1900)

Although it has been around for a while, I am just starting to hear a bit about the use of Second Life as a training environment.  I certainly support anything that associates learning with fun, and this sounds like fairly serious fun!

It seems that Second Life provide a lot of support for education.  From a quick Google around, it seems that applications can include learning games, simulation-based learning, system training and suchlike.  One application that looks interesting is a Teamwork Tester.

Disclaimer – I have not yet entered the world of Second Life, and I will be the first to say that I will only be qualified to comment on it once I (make the time to) get inside and have a look.  I obviously need to do some more work on this, so this post will not dig very deep!

However, I would be interested to find out more about how well Second Life works in an organisational training environment.

In particular, I am interested in the impact of avatars in this environment.  From what I understand, most people tend to create flattering avatars.  How many of us would purposely create an ugly avatar? 

So, if learning is truly gained from peer-to-peer interaction, then how will this work if your peers are all avatars?  There has apparently been some work done on trust, gender and avatars

Are there – or should there be – any constraints on the personas that people adopt when they enter Second Life and create their avatars to participate in training in an organisation?  Do I have to be me, or can I be somebody else?  (Is that Philip K Dick knocking on the door?)

It is easy to play a role when in an on-line world.  You can take on a different persona – usually a less inhibited one, and most particularly if you are able to be anonymous.  But which persona is the “most real”? 

Wilde saw the masked persona as the most real.  (What mask is more effective than an avatar?)  There is probably a parallel to being drunk here.  (This one I have experienced, although not very often these days!)  Are we more really ourselves with the lowered inhibitions of alcohol? 

Wilde may well be right – but I am not completely convinced.  Do our natural inhibitions hold us back from being who we really are, or those inhibitions actually an integral part of our character?  When our inhibitions are removed, are we then less truly ourselves?  I do believe that we are each still individually accountable for our actions, whichever life we are in. 

Anybody have any stories to tell about training in Second Life?  (Oh, and I picked up the quote from “Criminal Minds” last night…)


  1. So in the real world we have to respond to people in real time – and our bodies give off all kinds of cues of which we are only partially in control of (blushing, sweating, twitching). In the virtual world we do not give out these signals. And if the environment is asynchronous then we have more time to consciously select our responses in line with our wished-for identity.

    In the virtual world we have more control over the presentation of our identity. But we still interact with others in a way that shapes who we are. And this is only partly down to conscious choice.

    N.B. Reminded of the Jeff Hancock reseach here on virtual lying here (which is something slightly different to identity creation): http://cucmc.comm.cornell.edu/jth34/publications.php

    Not sure how it would pan out is Second Life with his three variables of being co-present, synchronous & recordable…

  2. Matt –

    Thanks – great insight here. How many of the people can we fool for how much of the time? It seems that some have managed to fool a fair few for some extended periods! (Nigerian scammers come to mind.) Sometimes we make ourselves believe someone to be whoever we want them to be.
    And an excellent point about identity – yes, we can mould our identity based on who we are with. Is this effect the same in a world of avatars? Is the effect diminished or magnified?

  3. I realise this is an unpopular position but I think asking who we “really” are is something of a fool’s errand. Masks can allow people to speak what they believe to be the unvarnished truth – and they can also allow them to lie. I am reminded of the CIA’s efforts in trying to find a “truth drug” (they failed).

    As for different identities (and this isn’t specific to Second Life), you can try to be someone else on-line – but will other people believe you? Will you be convincing in your new identity? Because we don’t completely own our identities (altho we are responsible for our actions as them) – we create them with others.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.