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.
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
"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