Avatars, memorials and family "plots" in Second Life
seminar presented by Dr Margaret Gibson, Griffith University
10am Thursday 30th April 2015
Paul Barratt Lecture Theatre, Psychology Building S06, UNE
Second Life is an open virtual social world (Boone 2012; Boellestorff 2009) where anyone can join for free, create an avatar, form social relationships, promote commercial interests, explore and authorise alternative versions of self, lifestyles and ways of being. Death has a representational and discursive presence in Second Life informing the spatial geography of memorials, cemeteries and churches (church graveyards), and social rituals of funerals and celebrations of life. Based on fieldwork within this virtual social world, this paper focuses on the Second Afterlife Cemetery which promotes itself as the first ‘bury your avatar site’. Avatars are symbolically buried and memorialised on this site but so too are the ‘real life’ biological deaths of people who may or may not have corresponding Second Life avatar lives and histories.
This paper examines the status of the avatar as a person-formation who has a mournable life partly independent of the “real life” or “first life” behind the screen. The mournability of an avatar as a life lost and grieved also opens up questions of the identity of that second life (and real life) and gender is a specific identity characteristic of both the who that is mourned and the who that does the work of memorialising others. However, the kinds of relationships that mediate and mark this particular memorial landscape in Second Life cannot be taken at face value. As this paper will show, behind memorials are often stories of complex relationships and family “plots”.
Margaret Gibson is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology in the School of Humanities, Griffith University, Australia and member of the Griffith Centre for Cultural Research. She is author of numerous publications on death, mourning and material culture, including Objects of the Dead: Mourning and Memory in Everyday Life (MUP, 2008). Margaret has an international profile in research on death, mourning (including celebrity mourning), and memorialisation practices. Her recent research focuses on digital materiality and mourning, and the transnational, social interface of online mourning and memorialisation practices.