Leading a Symbembodied Life: A Phenomenological Investigation of Second Life

By Maeva Veerapen.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The phenomenon of virtual worlds has attracted millions of users across the globe, who dedicate hours to leading a new life. What exactly is taking place and how might it differ from the traditional physical lived experience? This paper aims to answer such questions by analyzing the form of embodiment which is created when one experiences the virtual world Second Life. Ninoo Nansen, my avatar, is the catalyst of this investigation throughout which I refer to fieldwork notes collected during my ethnographic research in Second Life. Drawing on Merleau-Ponty’s and Husserl’s theories, I use phenomenological analysis to interpret the data and reveal the intentional structure of the experience of Second Life. I posit that a distinct form of being-in-the-world is here created. For instance, how does the computer recede from the consciousness of the user, who feels that s/he can walk in Second Life when in fact the intention of walking which originates in the user’s body is performed through the movement of fingers on a keyboard that controls the avatar’s movements? I hypothesize that such an experience is still anchored within the user’s physical body and that its relation with the avatar’s body creates the link between the two spaces, physical and virtual. I describe this state as a symbiotic embodied one and term it symbembodiment.

Keywords: Virtual World, Embodiment, Second Life, Phenomenology, Being-in-the-world

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 8, Issue 5, pp.105-114. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 727.926KB).

Maeva Veerapen

Research Assistant, Centre of Theatre and Performance, Centre of Communications and Media, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Maeva Veerapen is currently undertaking her PhD research at Monash University, Australia. She has been teaching within the Centre of Theatre and Performance and the Centre of Communications and Media for two years. Her research interests centre around the process of redefining the body and forms of embodiment as a result of new technological progress. Her current research is a phenomenological inquiry into the intentional structure of the virtual world, Second Life, and what how the body is situated within it. She has presented her work on several platforms: seminars, symposia and at other international conferences. In 2009, she was the convenor of the Second Life stream of the International Conference “Time Transcendence Performance”. In 2010, she is the co-convenor of a symposium series titled “Performance Studies Melbourne.” She, with a colleague, has also launched a new symposium series titled “Transdisciplinary Performance Forum,” which she is also co-convening.

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