August 4th, 2010 by Marianne McCann
“A comic aside – I will do a makeover for my avatar. I am not a good advertisement for content creators of skins and clothing. This is my alter ego. I am careful about changes.” – Philip Linden
The above was said at Philip Linden’s July 30th inworld meeting. It was what it says it is, an aside. If anything, it was an off the cuff witticism, based on those who’ve told him to update his look over the years. The “meat” of the discussion was elsewhere, embedded within the mantra of “fast, easy, and fun,” or in countless other items he chose to discuss. Many others have written about these far more important issues.
Still, this caught my ear, and has been rolling around with me for a couple days now.
Philip Rosedale is a fairly nice looking man. Blonde hair and blue eyed, with a charming smile. He’s not a whole lot like the long-faced, spiky haired, biker dude he appears as in Second Life.
In another recent speech, Philip told a somewhere-beyond-capacity crowd at SL7B where his avatar came from. It was the product of a “build off” between him and several other Lindens in 2002, all out to make their “coolest” avatars. Philip did not win with his quickly assembled look, nor did he think he would.
Yet eight years later, Philip Linden still carries that same look from way back when. It’s iconic at this point. The spiky hair, the lips shirt, the muttonchops, and of course the sparkly codpiece.
Now he’s talking about updating his look, but he seems somewhat reluctant, couching it by saying that he is “careful about changes.” He admits, you see, that Philip Linden in all his codpiece and system hair glory is his alter ego.
His successor and now predecessor, M Linden, was no such thing. Mark Kingdon’s avatar was a near pitch perfect recreation of himself. It has his boyish smile, his taste in clothing, and was likely about as close as you get to him being himself in Second Life. It was exactly what Mitch Kapor was touting two years ago, shortly after M became CEO. “A much more realistic looking avatar and particularly for business meetings and meetings between people who know each other, the ability to look more like yourself when you want to, would be a positively good thing.”
And this is the difference between Philip and M, and may point to what may well have gone wrong for Second Life in the last two years.
For M, he was himself exploring this strange new world of Second Life. His Flickr photo stream was an exploration of this. Pictures of his avatar standing about in strange vistas like the perpetual sightseer. Many of them, too,focused on the meetings and the back-rooms of LindenWorld, rather than the Second Life the majority of Residents see. This was how he approached the world. His avatar was simply him, interacting with the strange world of Second Life.
But Philip is a different animal. His avatar — as archaic as it is in comparison to M’s top-of-the-line virtual self — is nevertheless his alter ego. While M remained a Sam Lowry or Walter Mitty and explored the world as an outsider looking in, Philip Linden took the next step, and created a virtual self that is a part of the world, that has the ability to not just interact within the space, but is a part of the space.
That alone makes me feel a bit more conformable with one over the other. I too am an alter ego of the person who sits behind my keyboard. Many if not most of my friends are as well. Indeed, I suspect that most of the “Pioneers” — those who Mr. Kapor declared their era over back in 2008 — would be much the same. We’re not just our first life selves, but an alter ego, an avatar that enhances the first life person behind it, and allows them to interact in the Second Life world in ways separate from the limitations and drawbacks of their first life selves.
Both M and Phil’s way of approaching this world hold merit, and both come with their own drawbacks, but I think Philip’s alter ego has more of an ability to directly reach out to those of us here now, compared to the idea that there are hundreds of thousands of “settlers” out there, dying to just be their real-world selves on the Grid.
Indeed, I think this is where the idea of SL as a social medial product, let alone an adjunct of Facebook, fails. it’s what went wrong with a lot of the real-world companies who sought to market to all the people in Second Life back in 2007. The market is markedly different when you are trying to appeal to a real person versus one’s alter ego. I’m not in Second Life to do my First Life tasks, but to explore my own fantasies, my imagination, and just what my alter ego can do in a world of boundless possibility.
Finally, my own aside: Philip, should this cross your eyes, I think it’s fine if you update your avatar — but consider the obvious route. Be your tough-looking biker guy, in a tough-looking biker skin, with some tough-looking, spiky modern hair. Have someone do your tough guy muttonchops on a good Viewer 2 tattoo layer. Maybe one of the better SL designers can make a nice, sparkly sculpted prim codpiece to go with a well designed lips shirt and worn jeans ensemble. Be Philip Linden, unapologetically.