Most of the people on SL only see it as a game, but could some people identify with their avator to the point of not being able to tell the difference between the virtual and the real? Where do you draw the line?
Dr T: We all get tempted by images that have very little to do with reality. Creating avators on SL takes this one degree further. For example, if a young lady didn't know Second Life very well and another avatar tried it on with her sexually, if she didn't press the "get up" button to end the liaison, she could end up feeling violated. That's the sort of thing you do when you're starting out. She knows it's only a person on a screen, but still she can't help but almost feel as if she's been raped. The connection between you and your avator is a highly complex one, and it's the focus of a study. It's very difficult to grasp, especially when you get disconnected because of connection problems!
If someone uses Second Life a lot, could it cause identity problems, especially in young, easily-influenced or insecure people?
Dr T: The risk is that those who are afraid of physical contact will end up preferring virtual to real life. You hear so many stories of housewives who have made a fortune by selling clothes virtually on Second Life, but you hear far less about the kind of people who are unemployed and prefer to live off benefits and spend all day and night on Second Life rather than looking to live in the real world. You have both ends of the scale.
Some people choose an avatar that looks like they do, but others choose avators of the opposite sex and skin colour. How can you explain these choices?
Dr T: The most popular way is to choose a character that looks like you - not necessarily physcially, but a character that reflects your tastes and your aspirations. Everyone chooses the face that best matches their real feelings at the time. Actually, your appearance can constantly change: the user can change their appearance completely by getting a wig, different clothes or even adopt a different walk! The most incredible thing about Second Life is that users can know so much about you but can be so completely taken in or mistaken. Just because someone has a woman's face and body on Second Life doesn't make them a woman...