THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE?
But, what about the so-called ‘digital people’, those immersionists who do keep a strict seperation between their RL and their SL? Well, firstly let us get our definitions right. These are people who have created a character and chose to bring it to life in a virtual world, rather than a book or screenplay or something like that. You should not expect to meet a digital person and have it answer A/S/L questions. That would be like ‘Indiana Jones’ turning to the camera and saying ‘look, call me Harrison, it is my RL name’.
It is all too easy to assume there is one and only one person behind every avatar, probably because everybody believes so strongly that there is only one true self per body. Of course, there is no such rule. I can never really know whether or not two or more people I meet in SL are alts of a single person in RL. Nor, for that matter, can I be certain that an individual I meet in SL is not many people in RL. Take Gwyneth Llewelyn, for example. How does she do it? How does she manage to perform all of her jobs and roles? She must be superwoman! Or, just maybe, the reason why she can do the work of ten, is because there really are that many people in RL, all working towards a common goal of bringing Gwyn to life.
Supposing that were true, would it mean Gwyn should not be considered an individual? Earlier, I said Mat Groenig created Homer Simpson, but he was only partly responsible for bringing the character to life. It takes teams of animators, the vocal talent of Dan Castellenata, the best writers money can buy and many other people performing a variety of tasks in order for Homer to exist. Nevertheless, because the team work to make Homer an individual, that is exactly how it is perceived by you and I. Similarly, if many people worked together to create a character that was then rezzed into SL, that character would be just as much an individual as Homer is.
In this example, we are imagining many people working together, but now let us imagine one person creating a character, and that character being passed on to somebody else. If another person were to log into Gwyn’s account and role-play as her, would I or anybody else be able to tell the difference? I seriously doubt if any old person could pull this off, but out of all the billions of people that exist, are there at least some who have what it takes to convincingly portray Gwyneth Llewelyn?
This raises questions about the ‘right stuff’. One of the most frequently-asked questions that an author or other creator of a popular character gets asked is, ‘where do you get your ideas from?’. I have no idea what motivated Gwyn’s primary to rez her into SL, but my own creation seems to have been a result of my primary reading certain books, articles and essays. It involved watching certain films. Within these kinds of media there were phrases, concepts, imagery, ideas expressed and recorded for prosperity, and some of these made an impression on my primary’s mind. Connections and correlations wove these concepts together to form the basic sketch of my character.
On one level, it would seem quite likely that there are other people who could role play the Extropia DaSilva character. Surely, there must be other people who have read the same books, seen the same films, encountered the same kinds of concepts and ideas that inspired the creation of that character? In fact, I know there are others whose mind contains ideas that resonate with my own, because I have encountered other people who share my views. So, imagine that somebody who happened to have done the same kinds of research that went into my creation, somebody who shares views that are like mine, logs in as ‘Extropia’. Would other residents be convinced?
Before going on, we must first recognise that there would be at least one person who could never be taken in. That person is my current primary. What makes a person a ‘primary’ is simple, really. It is a person who, at any one time, has the most fine-tuned mental model of a digital person’s mind and personality. In the future we may be able to create two or more minds, each with an equally fine-tuned model, but that is a distant possibility. For the foreseeable future, if a digital person already exists in SL, it has a primary and no other person could roleplay that digital person convincingly in the presence of a primary. This is a very important point to bear in mind: It is not my intention to argue that any resident (whether they see themselves as digital people or not) could be role-played by other people and seem like the same person to the primary. A primary has a far too finely-developed mental model of that digital person, to be convinced.
But the primary is just one person, and whoever it is, he or she is not going to live for many more decades. Question, how many of my hopes and fears, likes and dislikes, beliefs and skepticism etc etc would have to be incorporated into another mind in order to render it suitable as something that could run the set of patterns that other minds perceive as ‘being’ Extropia DaSilva?