Self, setting, and situation in Second Life

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter in bookpeer-review


Linden Lab, the company behind the online world Second Life (SL), invites multiplic- ity with slogans like “Your World. Your Imagination.”1 Yet many SL residents’2 profiles give evidence of adjustment to group narratives or norms in various social spaces inside the world. They seem to favor already established social and cultural conventions when creating an online identity; hence they also adjust to already existing hierarchies. I argue that residents in SL recreate social orders and power structures similar to ones already existing outside SL, even though they are of course under no obligation to do so. In that sense social and cultural patterns are reproduced and in some cases even amplified. My aim here is to trace social dynamics evident in three groups within this digital space and my hypothesis is that the rules of these social spaces then function as a foundation and guideline for identity formation, and in fact almost seem to prescribe a certain way of acting or behaving. Two of the groups have a clear role-playing profile, based on books and movies, whereas role-playing is not required, although possible, in the third group. All of them are thus removed from the lifeworld by constituting either purely fictive or, conversely, historical constructs, but they can nevertheless provide clues to how the residents think in an environment that is not primarily “real life” based, and in which anything, even a utopia, can be possible. By reading group charters and profile descriptions found in the SL search engine, and studying articles and blogs functioning either as group information channels or journals for individuals in each community, I examine the motivations and power structures driving avatar and online identity construction in role-playing communities, with a focus on the interac- tion between the overarching “state” power, the Linden Lab, the three communities, their respective role-models, and the rules that govern them, as well as the individuals that are a part of them. 

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationLiterary art in digital performance
Subtitle of host publicationcase studies in new media art and criticism
EditorsFrancisco J.
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages33
ISBN (Print)978-0-8264-3600-9
Publication statusPublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

Swedish Standard Keywords

  • Human Aspects of ICT (50803)
  • Languages and Literature (602)


  • digital space
  • governing
  • hierarchy
  • identity
  • linden lab
  • power
  • role-play
  • second life


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