Second Gender

"Kei Mars v2 x 2", Second Life self-portraits

I've updated my Second Life avatar, Kei Mars.

Having had the same basic shape for almost my whole (coming up to) 7 years in the virtual world and I felt it was time to change. I love the old Kei Mars to bits of course, but familiarity breeds contempt and I wanted to reinvigorate my Second Life.

Gaming Virtual Unisex...

Very important to me in this task was the desire to make an avatar which reflected my nature much more closely. So the first thing I did was try and make an androgynous shape that can be dressed either male or female and pass.

OK, the 'male' on the left in the top image and the right of image below isn't exactly macho, but have you met me in real life? The point is that both the avatars you see share the same body shape. It's make-up and clothes that make them look different, see?

"Kei Mars v2 x 2", Second Life self-portraits

It's a political thing for me. I feel a strong need to express a strong, positive image of my transgender identity and so it's important for me that this virtual manifestation of myself is true to that messaging as well. Put another way, I've talked in the past about personal branding becoming more and more crucial in the age of the social network. This move has really brought my virtual world identity far more 'on-brand'.

...Uncanny Valley Girl

"Kei Mars v2 x 2", Second Life self-portraits

My second objective was to try and make the avatar look more physically like me, whether as boy or girl. I do think I've succeeded in this to a strange and almost disturbing degree.

It's weird. When I'm inworld, I sometimes find myself astonished by how much like an (admittedley idealised) version of me the avatar looks now. I've smoothed out the wrinkles of course, and I couldn't get away with some of the outfits I'm wearing in Second Life in the real world, but somehow, I feel like the new avatar's definitely more animated with my spirit than the old one.

"Kei Mars v2 x 2", Second Life self-portraits

In a way it's a spooky old Hallowe'en foray for me into the uncanny valley, that strange, theoretical, robotic nether kingdom of human facsimiles that look and act almost, but not quite like the real thing and hence cause enough cognitive dissonance to disquet us deeply.

I think as virtual worlds continue to become more prevalent, each one of us who are immersed in them will encounter our uncanny shadow selves in the hidden valleys of our subconscious. It's inevitable.

I'm learning to live with and love mine, that's all.

It's immaterial

"Kei Mars v2 x 2", Second Life self-portraits

There's a school of thought within the virtual world community that belittles (or at least disapproves of) the realistic. It runs a little like this -

"if you can exist in an entirely immaterial universe which doesn't obey the normal physical laws, where you can fly, be a different species, create gleaming spired cities of the imagination, then why go counter to those possibilities by creating an identity and a world around that is rooted in mundane reality?"

I understand the impulse to embrace the fantastic in such environments, but ultimately I personally find that loosening the shackles from reality to such an extent that you float free is self defeating for me. The virtual world and the experience becomes too immaterial and I find I can't invest emotionally in it.

So like a tether to the real world, it's important for my avatar and my personal environment to remain reasonably realistic and grounded. That way I can truly marvel at how amazing the virtual world, its inhabitants and their creations are.

"Kei Mars v2 x 2", Second Life self-portraits


I've not been in Second Life for a while now. My perception was tarnished by experiences I had as a Second Life based professional, running a virtual world agency. But this reboot has encouraged me to spend more time in there and explore more. And I find that, once again a private individual, I've started to recapture the enthusiasm I had for it when I first set foot beyond the veil of virtual reality for the first time back in January 2004.

Second Life has changed since then. It was once a village - we all knew each other and we were all helping define what it was for and what it was going to be like.

Now it's a vast world - harder, shinier and more impersonal, but so big that there's always a surprise around the corner. Technically it's slicker and more robust (but still endearingly flaky and error prone like the old days). It's changed, but it's stll, deep down, an amazing place and an amazing collective achievement.

Personally (and virtually) I'm pleased to be back.

"Kei Mars v2", Second Life self-portrait

Part 10 (of 12)

This is part of a year long self-portrait project. I'm doing one shoot a month for the whole year. Click through to each month's set below.

Click to view each gallery on flickr
You have been reading...

comments powered by Disqus