In the opening chapter of her book Hello Avatar, Beth Coleman makes a very complex argument for the utilization of digital representative interaction, or using avatars, to improve communication and discussion of world issues. She remarks at how, as opposed to a common view that gamers who devote large amounts of time to virtual worlds are bastions of anti-sociality, it is “not so much an escape to another lifebut rather an experience networked across virtual and real engagement” (Coleman 12). Instead of acting anti-social, many exhibit hyper-sociality, but through different means. This immediately brought to mind the crowd of virtual spectators gathered to listen to Tom Boellstorff’s introductory speech using Second Life. Coleman uses a similar example of avatars representing people from various places across the world utilizing this new platform to engage in conversations about pertinent world topics.
Although a platform like Second Life may allow for the discussion of real world issues while breaking down the boundaries of time difference and geographical separation, I wonder, does this apply to other forms of avatar usage? For example, would people within World of Warcraft “sit down” and listen to a reading? I doubt it. I also find it difficult to believe that Coleman’s example of the reading really yielded quite the conversation Coleman suggests, that “they had gathered in a virtual space to better converse on worldly issues” (Coleman 21). Maybe they did, but I would have liked some real concrete examples of the types of conversations produced using this medium.
Coleman further asserts that for her ideals to be met we must achieve true participation, real listening, and full presence within these digital environments, it cannot just be actions. This urges me to think about the current application of this kind of technology, and whether this concept of mediated interaction really can be a tool to draw the world together. I fully agree that it has the potential to accomplish these ideals if utilized in the ways that Coleman promotes, but it seems that the most popular examples of this kind of communication and interaction thrive based on the action within the game itself. The average player will not want to standaround and listen to speeches for too long. That is not the draw, objectives are – gamification.
While Second Life may provide solid examples of this working, my experience, though very limited, suggests to me a decline in Second Life usage, and a difficulty in initiating meaningful conversation, if any at all. For me, the only way this kind of world communication and active participation and listening can really be achieved is through the broader definition of an avatar that Coleman proposes earlier in the chapter that includes “microblogging formats such as Twitter. Web based video (YouTube), social profile pages (Facebook) and web logs (blogs)” (Coleman 35-36). These types of digital representation demand more communication and are providing a paradigm for a more effective global conversation.