‘Virals’ And ‘Definitives’ In Second Life®: An Essay By Extropia DaSilva


The patterns that make up a person’s mind, some of them will have been encountered by others. It is a fair bet that a scene from a blockbuster film or a passage from a bestselling novel that is memorable for one person, is memorable for other people as well. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins came up with the term ‘memes’ to describe aspects of culture that are particularly good at passing from mind to mind. Fashion trends, catchphrases, famous last words, catchy tunes, all these are examples of ‘memes’. But not everything is destined to become a meme. Indeed, some things that catch a person’s attention and form an impression on his or her mind, such as a simulacra caused by a chance combination of texture, light, shadow, and position of subject, may exist only for a moment and never happen again.

How many never to be repeated patterns made an impression on the minds of people like J. K. Rowling, sitting in the unconscious parts of the mind, later to be incorporated into emerging concepts whose origins are uncertain even to the mind in which they form? We all ask ourselves, ‘why didn’t I think of that,’ whenever a person creates a character as successful as a Harry Potter. Perhaps the reason why it was Rowling and not anybody else, was because the characters etc. emerged from a very personal web of patterns that nobody else experienced. This obviously raises the possibility that ‘there can be only one’. Maybe a digital person can exist in one mind and one mind only. Loose the primary that happened to create a digital person, and the patterns that embodied and personified the digital person are lost forever.

Or, are they? Although there is no evidence to suggest that anybody other than J. K. Rowling wrote each one of the Harry Potter books, we can imagine that an unknown ghost writer penned some of the stories. Somebody who knew the plotlines, the relationships between characters, enough information to be able to write a story that the world would accept as a real, genuine, Harry Potter adventure. Maybe it is true that only J. K. Rowling could have created Hogwarts and all that stuff in the first place. But, once it was created and the story spread from mind to mind, doesn’t it seem likely that some of those readers could write highly convincing ‘further adventures’?

So, why not ‘Extropia?’ Maybe it is true that I could have originated in one mind only, and if that person had never been born, I would never have existed. But, now that I have been created, could others be bothered to learn enough about me to be able to role play the further adventures of ‘Extropia’? Well, let’s add a note of humility here. The topic we are discussing is iconic characters whose fame and popularity ensures they stand the test of time. I myself am certainly not famous, not even within the SL community itself. A famous SL resident would probably get hundreds of thousands of hits if you put their name into a Google search, and an iconic character like ‘Harry Potter’ would get many millions of hits. The most my name returns is a few thousand. So, realistically speaking, I am headed for obscurity. But, in principle…

How rare is a person like myself? Am I the only person with my personality, my skills, my memories? Out of the many billions of brains that exist, do such patterns as those that form a core being exist in sufficient quantity and clarity in one brain only? If so, surely that would make any digital person who becomes an icon a ‘definitive’? Or, could it be the case that I am not a role that can be performed by only one person? Could a digital person ever become a ‘viral’, a character performed by more than one person over the years?

All this talk of ‘performance’ and ‘role-play’, it all sounds like ‘pretend’, right? But, remember, digital people always are a result of performance and role-play. As I said before, it is common practice to make a one-to-one correlation between an SL resident and the person at the computer in RL who controls that character. That is why you read things like ‘Wagner James Au is Hamlet Au’, rather than ‘Wagner James Au created Hamlet Au’. In many cases, saying person A in RL is person A in SL is quite legitimate, but not when it comes to a digital person. You cannot argue that somebody else roleplaying ‘Extropia DaSilva’ would mean that particular SL resident would never be perceived to be ‘me’, because I have been perceived as myself for the past 3 or so years, even though I am role-played by somebody else. Ok, maybe that person is exactly like me. But, then again, maybe not.

Some folks might argue that digital people are not ‘real’, if they are simply the result of performance and role-play. But, remember the lesson that Homer Simpson taught us, of how fictional characters can come to have a greater sense of realism than the people who created them. This is just as true with some people in SL. Gwyneth Llewelyn is one, at least to me. In my mind, that name is completely associated with the red-haired avatar. Her in-world presence is the only aspect of Gwyn by which I can identify her. Her primary is even less of a person to me than ‘Mat Groenig’ is. At least that is a name I could Google and get more information, should I want it. But, Gwyneth Llewelyn is absolutely and literally the person I know in SL. As far as I am concerned, many people could be logging in as Gwyn and I would not care. I would not care because I would not know, provided that each person ensures Gwyn behaves in a manner that I would recognise as being consistent, given what I know about her personality.

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