I, Avatar: Reading Review in Progress

I am reading the book I, Avatar: The Culture and Consequencese of Having a Second Life – yet another book that has been sitting on my shelf waiting to be read, and I was struck by a few things. First of all, I am really enjoying it so far. To be honest, when I first received the book in the mail (thank you internet!) and browsed through the pages, I was a little sad that it reminded me of an avant garde comic book than an academic text. I mean, it looks cool, and innovative indeed, but I think I had misunderstood what the book itself was – or what its intent was. I had flipped through the book a few times, but mostly to look at the pictures and layout then the actual text.

Now that I am over its aesthetic feel (which is quite cool if I allow myself to admit it), my second issue was that I am not necessarily interested (directly) in Second Life both personally and in regards to research. It is not that there isn’t a vast amount to experience and learn about human nature in social digital environments, but I have always been more interested in goal-oriented digital spaces (yes .. games – straightforward, no mistaken it, games… I have been told that there are games IN Second Life, but for me, they are not the focus or purpose of the space/place, but again, my focus has always been on how we construct identity in structured worlds – and what kinds of identity are developed in these worlds in particular – to paint a VERY loose picture of my research interest). All that being said, I am really enjoying the fast pace feeling of the writing. It is punchy, straightforward and to the point – sentences are clear and concise.  What I do find odd (and perhaps admire) is that there are no references! Of course, the book is an auto/ethnography of avatar, but the in the beginning, when Meadows gives definitions of community, of avatars and genres of virtual worlds, my instinct was to flip to the back and see who he ‘used’ (especially hoping to do some lateral reading on the matter – hoping to see things I haven’t read yet). But nope! Nothing! Between the acknowledgements and the index … nothing! No references.

In some ways, it is every writer’s dream to be able to simply write a book out of their head. I mean, I am positive Meadows has done his homework – read a book or ten – the definitions he uses are familiar, I have read variations of them 100 times before in many texts, but his are so clear and well written – but as an academic – I am uneasy … no, perhaps uneasy isn’t the right word here – but I have a hard time reading without seeing a reference to an idea (let alone the fact that there isn’t a quote to be seen – other than discussions between avatars). I remember feeling the same way when I read Dungeons and Desktops: The History of Computer Role-Playing Games… how can someone write a history with scarcely a reference!

All that being said, I am still intrigued by this book. He has a fabulous drawing of player perspectives showing the point of view of the player depending on what view they use – first person, third person etc – the drawing is so simple, I sat there for a moment staring at it wondering why I had spent pages of text in most of my papers trying to describe exactly what each perspective gave to the player.

I am still only halfway through the book – and it is a small book, but for an entertaining, yet thought provoking (at least for me and my work) relatively quick read, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in ethnography, digital culture, avatars and players.

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