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The body of the avatar: rethinking the mind-body relationship in virtual worlds

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A pivotal concern surrounding the recent growth in Massively Multiplayer Online Games and virtual worlds, and an issue that this article sets out to explore, is our understanding of the mind-body relationship when moving between real and virtual space. How do we understand our avatar as our represented presence in virtual space? What are we identifying with when we identify with an avatar? Do we have bodily experiences of our avatar?

Can Spinoza's theory of the imagination as a form of bodily awareness help us understand the phenomenon of embodied experience in virtual worlds? Drawing from Spinoza, and the Dalai Lama's discussions of the mind-body relationship in Investigating the Mind at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2003, along with Bachelard's theory of the material imagination, this article will test concepts of the relationships between the body and the imaginary against the backdrop of the virtual world of Second Life created by Linden Lab in 2003.

The new imaginary present in virtual worlds is a continual interplay between, and stimulation from, both our sense of presence and the image of our presence. The third space, between real space and the virtual space of the screen, is the charged space of tele-presence; where presence and absence are acted out. This article will define these new dimensions of experience that are based on a simultaneity or plurality of presence and absence, and will argue that the relationship between the imaginary and the body of the avatar plays a significant role when interacting with virtual worlds.
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Keywords: Second Life; Spinoza; avatar; body; imaginary; virtual worlds

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Wolverhampton.

Publication date: 2009-12-01

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  • The Journal of Gaming and Virtual Worlds focuses on theoretical and applied, empirical, critical, rhetorical, creative, economic and professional approaches to the study of electronic games across platforms and genres as well as ludic and serious online environments.
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