Virtual worlds and identity

Peachey, Anna and Childs, Mark (2011). Virtual worlds and identity. In: Peachey, Anna and Childs, Mark eds. Reinventing Ourselves: Contemporary Concepts of Identity in Virtual Worlds. Springer Series in Immersive Environments. London: Springer, pp. 1–12.



Virtual worlds in their graphical forms have been used since the mid-1980s (Yakal 1986, p.32), primarily for social networking. They are computer-generated environments in which participants adopt an avatar to interact with each other and with the virtual environment around them. The word "avatar" in this sense means "a graphical representation of a user within the environment which is under his or her direct control" (Allbeck and Badler 2002, p.313). It is derived from the Sanskrit avatârah, a compound of ava, ("down"), and tarati, ("he crosses"). It means therefore "the crossing down" and traditionally refers to the incarnation of a deity within the physical world (Isdale et al. 2002, p.530). Taking on the form of an avatar within a virtual world is thus a literacy of crossing down from the real into the digital. The word has been used in this context since it was employed by Farmer and Morningstar in an immersive virtual world called Habitat in 1985 (Britt 2003), the first platform that enabled tens of thousands of users to participate in creating aspects of the environment around them, chat with other users, play games and engage in governance of their emerging community.

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