Now, if I were Aimee Weber, my God there would be so many reasons why others would want the chance to roleplay me. Talk about ‘hit the ground running!’. The successor to Aimee’s current primary would have it all: Popularity, fame, successful inworld businesses… But, Aimee has all that because the list of talents her current primary possesses goes on and on and on. It stands to reason that the longer a list like that is, the shorter the list of candidates that tick all relevant boxes will be.

Another problem for Aimee is that a lot of people are aware of who her current primary is. If that person were to die, you can be sure the sad news would spread through the Slogosphere like wildfire. There would no doubt be an inworld memorial service held in her honour. What if Aimee Weber was one of the residents who attended that event? Do you think the avatar baring that name would be treated as THE Aimee Weber? Hell, no. After all, everybody would know ‘the’ Aimee Weber is dead, even if all that was really lost was something central — but not essential — to that digital self. On the other hand, if Gwyneth Llewelyn or I attend, well…Gwyneth Llewelyn or I attend. There can be three possible reasons for our individuality:

  1. There is one RL person behind that digital self.
  2. The digital self is shared by a group of 2 or more RL people, who work to ensure ‘Gwyn’ or ‘Extie’ are perceived as individuals by the rest of the SL community.
  3. There is one person behind that digital self, but it is not the same person it was before. Again, the roleplaying is convincing enough to allow the digital self to be accepted as the same individual by the community.

If 1 HAS to be true, then Gwyn and I are as doomed to die as Aimee is. We would, after all, be ‘PrimaryBound’. But, if 2 and 3 CAN be true, so too can ‘PrimaryCentred’. Once upon a time, there was some speculation that perhaps reason 2 was applicable to Aimee. As Wagner James Au explained, ‘[one] hypothesis suggested that Aimee Weber was not an individual, but a group. How could one person engage in such extensive 3-D building and fashion design, while also keeping up with the prodigious amount of writing she contributed to 3 different SL blogs’?

I suppose that it is still possible that there really is a team of people behind Aimee, and one of them just acts as the RL, public figurehead of that digital self. Unfortunately, from Aimee’s perspective, the fact that this person stepped into the public eye and said, ‘me, me, me, I am Aimee’ was tantamount to a death sentence. When s/he dies, so does Aimee, regardless of whether s/he alone, or s/he plus a gazillion others toiling away in obscurity, breathed life into that digital self. There can be no replacement, not because Aimee’s current primary is such a prodigious talent that s/he is unique and irreplaceable (which could be the case) but because the community would not accept Aimee Weber’s existence after s/he has died, regardless of how close to that digital self the roleplaying may be.

They say everything comes at a cost. I believe reason 1 applies to Aimee Weber, since all available evidence points to that fact. This person worked damn hard to get Aimee where she is today. Why not stand up and take the credit, since s/he was the one that really earned it? Well, s/he did take the credit and s/he is being rewarded. Quite right, too. But at what cost? The death of her creation, that’s what. On the other hand, if only Aimee Weber’s primary had toiled away in obscurity, and quietly passed Aimee Weber’s account over to a suitable replacement when s/he was no longer able to run the patterns of that digital self, Aimee Weber herself would have carried on existing by all the evidence available to everybody else. But then (here comes the cost) from the perspective of anyone who knows or has heard of Aimee Weber only through the medium of digital interactions (online worlds, IM messages, blog posts and replies etc etc) that person (the RL individual behind that digital self) would be an unperson, a ‘someone’ as opposed to a person with a particular name, gender, and face. S/he would never have existed in the first place in the eyes of the online community. Only Aimee Weber would really exist, since it is only that digital self that anybody else would come to know. There would, after all, be no information that anyone could use to tag an identity to the RL person. Of course people would know ‘someone’ or maybe ‘some group’ is doing the real work (unless this is the year ???? and Aimee could be an artificial intelligence) but just being rumour and speculation is hardly the same as being a real person. One primary could retire from the role to be replaced by another, and so long as the current primary toils away in obscurity, Aimee Weber is her own digital self, effectively living indefinitely. But the price a primary pays for her indefinite lifespan is, well, total obscurity. And that does kind of suck.

Some inhabitants of online worlds might have primaries willing to pay the price of obscurity in exchange for the possibility of their digital self outliving them. Me, for one. And, maybe also Gwyn. After all, it was she who reasoned, “the physical self is merely defined as the background for the digital self to thrive” and “Extropia… considers (quite in tune with most researchers in the field) that our digital self is actually defined by how OTHERS perceive ourselves… it’s the mental image of what other people THINK you are that becomes your digital self”. Again, the primary is central but not essential. So long as someone… or something… is willing and able to run the patterns of information from which others perceive that particular digital self, there would continue to be that particular digital self.