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I, Avatar: The Culture and Consequences of Having a Second Life (Testprep (New Riders')) [Paperback]

Mark Stephen Meadows
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Book Description

27 Dec 2007 Testprep (New Riders')
What is an avatar? Why are there nearly a billion of them, and who is using them? Do avatars impact our real lives, or are they just video game conceits? Is an avatar an inspired rendering of its creator’s inner self, or is it just one among millions of anonymous vehicles clogging the online freeways? Can we use our avatars to really connect with people, or do they just isolate us? And as we become more like our avatars do they become more like us?

InI, Avatar, Mark Stephen Meadows answers some of these questions, but more importantly, he raises hundreds of others in his exploration of avatars and the fascinating possibilities they hold. His examination of  avatars through the lenses of sociology, psychology, politics, history, and art, he will change the way you look at even a simple online profile and revolutionize the idea of avatars as part of our lives, whether first or second.

Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: New Riders; 1 edition (27 Dec 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0321533399
  • ISBN-13: 978-0321533395
  • Product Dimensions: 22.8 x 17.8 x 0.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 610,829 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"Gorgeously illustrated by both imagery and personal recollections, 'I, Avatar' is a whimsical, well-informed introduction to the virtual world experience and its broader implications by a seasoned guide with valuable secrets to impart."
- Wagner James Au, author of "The Making of Second Life".

"The explosive popularity of virtual worlds like Second Life and World of Warcraft has thrown a bright cultural spotlight on the avatar -- the ephemeral body that represents us in these worlds -- but nothing has illuminated it quite like Mark Stephen Meadows' I, Avatar. Deeply thoughtful, and vibrantly informed by Meadows' lived encounters with virtual worlds, the book makes a compelling case for extending the concept of the avatar beyond the boundaries of those worlds, across the full range of digitally mediated experience, and into the core of what makes us human."
- Julian Dibbell, author of "Play Money: Or How I Quit My Day Job and Made Millions Trading Virtual Loot"

"Mark Meadow's virtual creatures are not your next door neighbours--or are they? Leaving behind 1990s cyberculture and its underground aesthetics, with Meadows we descend into a maelstrom of Identity 2.0 in which business, leasure, sexuality, labour and fashion melt into one."
- Geert Lovink, Media Theorist, Net Critic and Activist

"In this sweeping and impressive work, Mark Meadows traces the history of online avatars and explores the profound roles that they play in our online lives by mediating our communication with others and contributing to our social interactions, activities, and group narratives. The work is thus not just about avatars, but ultimately about the strategies that humans use to present themselves when they communicate, work together, and play together. It will be an invaluable resource for disciplines ranging from virtual world design to narrative theory to sociology."
- Peter Ludlow, Professor of philosophy, University of Toronto, and co-author of The Second Life Herald.

"Mark Meadows explores and explains one of the most intriguing phenomena of digital life: the fantastic (psychological) reproduction of a SELF who inhabits a range of virtual worlds. He narrates how our avatars/ourselves have co-evolved with the development of new virtual worlds, revealing new modes of human-becoming in a digital age."
- Anne Balsamo, Author, Designing Culture: The technological Imagination at Work and Professor, Interactive Media at USC

"Mark Meadows is fully immersed in an evolving new culture and reporting back from the heart of the action. Ultimately, what he reports on isn't informing us about Second Life, World of Warcraft, or online chat rooms. Instead, what he reveals is a reflection of ourselves a the beginning of the 21st Century in all our weirdness, wonder, and humanity."
- Nathan Shedroff, Experience Strategist

"What Bruce Chatwin did for the exotic far reaches of the physical world, Mark Stephen Meadows does for the virtual. "I, Avatar" is a richly informed and intensely personal set of travel dispatches from the thriving frontier that is Second Life. The author/artist's picaresque narrative records his journey through the construction of his online persona "pighed" as well as the shifting social contexts in differing online communities. The result is a thought-provoking and illuminating exploration of the social and philosophical underpinnings of perceived realities both physical and virtual."
- Maribeth Back, Senior Research Scientist, FX-PAL

"I knew Mark Meadows was a weird mix: smart, adventurous, well-read, well-spoken, nerdy, but most of all open minded. He has managed to work all this into his book. That should tell you what kind of a trip this read is. If anyone was to bring something fresh to the table, it had to be Mark Meadows."
- Alexis Nolent, Ubisoft's Game System Story Director, and author of world-famous graphic novel "The Killer".

"As anyone who has heard Mark Meadows speak on portraiture, interactivity and narrative knows, he connects with the imagination and intellect of his audience in a way that is both thrilling and artistic. Little wonder then that his new book, I, Avatar, connects with the reader in much the same way."
- Matt Costello, Co-creator of ZoogDisney and Writer of Doom 3 and The 7th Guest

"Pighed takes us on a whirlwind road trip through this century's most exciting new medium, the exploding cyber-suburbs of virtual worlds inhabited by millions of avatars. Do you want to know how your avatar reflects back on you? Are you asking the question: where will this strange journey take us? Don't just stand there, the front seat is free, so get yourself strapped in for upload!"
- Bruce Damer, virtual worlds pioneer and author of "Avatars"

"Avatars are fast becoming the main vehicle through which we navigate an ever more complex online landscape. Mark documents with vivid imagery the blurring line between our real and virtual identities, the multi-faceted ways in which we project ourselves into bodies ranging from a simple string of text to furry, phantasmagoric creatures. A recommended read to anyone interested in the current and future culture of cyberspace."
- Nicolas Ducheneaut, Researcher, Xerox-PARC

About the Author

Mark Stephen Meadows (known in the virtual world as Pighed) is an artist, writer, and engineer with 15 years experience in interactive media. Founder of both HeadCase Humanufacturing (dedicated to developing tools to create intelligent, autonomous avatars) and Echo & Shadow, he also spent time at Xerox-PARC, Stanford Research Institute, and The Waag. The author of Pause and Effect (New Riders, 2003) he helped build the third commercial web server (1992), the first open-protocol 3D multi-user environment (1997), and has won awards such as the Ars Electronica Golden Nica and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum's highest honors. Based in L.A., Mark speaks at universities and conferences worldwide.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This book is great as a muse if you are starting out on second life.Some of the stories made me laugh and inspired me to get on and give stuff a go. If you are looking for a big complicated guide to Second Life, this is not that book, but as food for thought its great. It would be also be ideal for anybody who is thinking about starting SL who hasn't given it a go yet!
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
This is a great book - very well structured, fantastic illustrations but above all a really well reasoned, thorough and informed exploration of the phenomenon of personality online. It takes the definitions of 'avatar' way back to the origins of online communication and weaves forwards a thread that provides some very insightful illuminations of what having an avatar can mean to their creators. It also provides some wider reading and ideas that would fuel a dozen PdD research theses.
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Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Compelling content in a lovely package 12 Feb 2008
By Mary Ellen Gordon - Published on Amazon.com
I agree with all of the comments already made about this book. Anyone who follows virtual worlds has seen far too many superficial, sensationalized, and often factually incorrect media reports about who goes on in them. This book is the complete opposite of that. It's a deep and thoughtful discussion of how they can affect people for better and for worse. It gets beneath the caricatures to examine the whole concept of identity in physical spaces, virtual spaces, and the gray area between the two.

Anyone who has spent time in virtual worlds will be able to relate to much of what is said from their own experiences and observations, and those who have not spent time in virtual worlds would benefit from reading this book before dismissing them.

The content alone would make the book well worth reading, but as others have already mentioned, it's also beautifully presented. In fact, the book itself is analogous to the phenomena it describes: an attractive setting with a lot of interesting things happening inside.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars report from Tenaya Castle, Shivar, Second Life 19 Jan 2008
By the sparrowhawk - Published on Amazon.com
this is a beautiful book. the portraits are wonderful and the text is fascinating. meadows took time to listen to people, and he worked hard to get their stories straight. it is probably the closest, of all the texts i have read on second life's culture, to capturing the spirit and feeling of what is happening in there.

i tell you quite frankly i am sick to death of pieces like the ones in GQ and GOOD, that say basically "come to SL and have lots of sex! get your giant [...] NOW!" there are a lot of people in Second Life who are using the world as an expressive medium to make things that have nothing at all to do with giant schlongs.

if you want to learn about Second Life without going to Second Life, read this book. it is a worthy chronicle.

-montserrat {RDS}
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Rambling look at Second Life 11 Mar 2008
By Allen Stenger - Published on Amazon.com
This is a memoir of a lot of time the author spent in role-playing sites, especially Second Life, interspersed with meditations on the meaning of these activities and of avatars in particular. This is not a how-to book and won't teach you how to do anything in Second Life, but it gives you a good idea of what the Second Life experience is.

Avatar is a Sanskrit word and in Hindu philosophy refers to an incarnation of a divine being. The term was adopted by a number of computer gaming systems to mean a character in the game, and was popularized by Neal Stephenson's novel Snow Crash (Bantam Spectra Book) where it means a computer simulation of a human form. Stephenson's novel appears to have been a major influence on the structure of Second Life.

Second Life has its own monetary system, the Linden Dollar, which can be converted to and from real-world currencies in an exchange operated by Linden Labs, the Second Life creator. The author is primarily an artist, and he found himself being drawn strongly into Second Life where he created artistic objects. He sold these for Linden Dollars, but his primary motivation seemed to be the fascination of creating things in a new medium and a new culture. As he spent more time there, Second Life gradually came to seem more real than real life.

There are numerous subcultures in Second Life, such as the Goreans (admirers of John Norman's Gor novels such as Tarnsman of Gor), who act out dominance fantasies, and Furry Nation, whose avatars are humanoid with animal heads. Each subculture has its own location in Second Life and its own rituals.

The book's style is impressionistic, but it frequently cites statistics without giving sources. It's often difficult to know how seriously to take them. For example, on p. 36 we read an unsourced statement that "Over 75 percent of Internet users feel safer speaking their mind when they use an avatar." Is this plausible? It implies that over 75 percent of Internet users use avatars, which is hard to believe. Maybe it means that of those who use avatars, 75% feel safer. It would be nice to know the source of this data. On p. 67 we read that "approximately one million companies ... rely on the Internet for over 50 percent of their revenues." This one is plausible: there are many tiny companies that get all their business from the Internet, just as there used to be many tiny companies that got all their business from mail order. How would you measure this, and who did measure it?

The book is most interesting as a study of the subcultures that have sprung up in Second Life. It also has striking artwork of the avatars themselves. But the discussion is very diffuse and wandering and it's hard to draw any firm conclusions about avatars or anything else.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Insightful Work of Art 26 Jan 2008
By Rueben S. Steiger - Published on Amazon.com
Mark Meadows, known to his friends and admirers as "Pighed", has set the bar for chronicling the culture of virtual worlds. The book which peppers a history of online communities with deeply honest personal tales, is both beautifully written and deeply insightful. Meadow's observations about the importance of online identifies and the psychology of avatars is a must-read for anyone interested in what the next decade will look like.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A FASCINATING READ! 18 April 2008
By Anne Whitehead - Published on Amazon.com
I started reading about virtual worlds after having been in Second Life for six monthes. "I, Avatar" is a great read, with wonderful photos of the avatars from Second Life. I've read other books in a similar vein, but without good photos, you really can't understand the appeal of virtual worlds. I also learned things which were very helpful. Read the chapter entitled "Fur vs. Gor." When I met my first slaves and their master in a Gorean community, I at least had a clue of what was going on, having just read about Gorean rituals. Virtual worlds are here to stay, and many say they are where our future is going. Check this book out!
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