WHO WOULD WANT TO?
One more question remains, and it has to do with motivation. Why would any person want to pretend to be a pre-existing avatar? Surely everybody would want their own avatar or to invent their own digital person? You would think so, but recently some bloggers have reported that their screen names have been adopted by other people. I talked about Hamlet Au already, but there is also Prokofy Neva, who said in his blog entry ‘Fake Avatars’:
‘The Prokofy Neva on Facebook isn’t me, but Tizzers Foxchase of the Woodbury goon squad’.
If Prok had not told me that the Facebook Prokofy is a fake and I tried to communicate with Prokofy Neva on Facebook, would I know it was not really Prok? Imagine that this Tizzers Foxchase says something like ‘Extropia you are a lunatic, fuck off and die, asshat!’ after I say something like ‘Hello, are you really Prokofy?’. In that case, I would assume it really was Prokofy. If I think an avatar is Prokofy, then from my subjective point of view it IS Prokofy, and it remains Prokofy unless I am reliably informed that this is a fake. That would happen either because this Prokofy consistently fails to act like I expect, or if somebody whose word I can trust tells me ‘that is not Prok’. Someone like the person who writes under the name ‘Prokofy Neva’ on the ‘Second Thoughts’ blog, for instance.
Whether a person would expose somebody else pretending to be their online personae or not is probably down to the level of seperation between the 1st and 2nd life self. In his book ‘The Making Of Second Life’, Wagner James Au occasionally talked about Hamlet in the third person as if he were a person in his own right. But I think it is fair to say that there is very little distinction between Wagner/Hamlet. As for Prokofy, there is one obvious difference between ‘him’ and the person who owns ‘his’ account. I will not spell it out here, but instead leave it up to the individual to do a brief bit of investigation via a Google search along the lines of ‘who is Prokofy’ if they do not know what I am talking about already, and care. Does this difference mean Prokofy is not just another means of getting in touch with a specific RL person, but is instead a character whose beliefs and behaviour may not be shared by the person roleplaying him? Personally, I do not know what the case may be but since Prokofy has never declared himself to be a digital person or roleplayed character, perhaps we should take that as proof that the RL person sees little to no distinction between the 1st and 2nd life selves.
But what about a person like my primary, who insists (not that everyone believes it) that ‘Extropia DaSilva and I are not one and the same person. She has her identity, I have mine, and the two are kept largely separate’. What would my primary do if somebody else was pretending to be ‘me’? Probably, she would not say anything, and instead let others decide for themselves if this really is Extropia DaSilva or not. After all, since that is a roleplayed character she cannot claim ‘Extropia DaSilva is a fake if somebody is only pretending to be that person’, because there is ALWAYS somebody pretending to be Extropia. Does that mean I am always fake? No. It all comes down to authenticity of performance. I am real so long as other people believe they are interacting with ‘the’ Extropia DaSilva. It does not matter who is doing the roleplaying. It only matters that they do a convincing job.