We’re used to Draxtor Despres being the interviewer, engaging with guests from all backgrounds and interests through the Drax Files Radio Hour and coaxing those spotlighted in his World Makers series to talk about their virtual and physical lives.
However, while attending the SVVR Conference in April to moderate the Creating the VR Metaverse panel, Drax found the tables turned on him when interviewed by Kent Bye, who runs the Voices of VR Podcast series. These are short, punchy podcasts lasting around fifteen minutes on average, with Kent doing just enough questioning to steer the conversation and to provide interesting and often thought-provoking feedback from his guests.
His interview with Drax appeared on July 8th; Drax poked me and a number of others about it when it appeared, and it is a jolly good listen.
From covering his work in SL with his documentaries and podcast series, Drax goes on to talk about his own initial involvement in Second Life. This actually surprised me somewhat; not so much because of how he became involved in SL, but because in listening to the interview, I realised that despite our own long-distance chats about Second Life, the World Makers video series, and so on, he and I had never really talked about our personal experiences in getting involved in the platform.
With the introductions over and done with, the conversation moves on to matters of identity, with Drax expressing his fears about people’s freedom to identify themselves as they wish – as is the case with Second Life – should the likes of Facebook move into the virtual world space. It’s a view he’s expressed before through the likes of some of the Drax Files Radio Hour podcasts. I admit that I don’t entirely see things the way he does.
If nothing else, Facebook can quite easily datamine users, track their activities, etc., without necessarily forcing them to only use their wallet IDs within any virtual environment Facebook / Occlus VR might create. They can get whatever they need through the sign-up process, howsoever users go on to identify themselves within the environment.
To me, the bigger issue lies not in how operators of virtual environments might try to enforce issues of identity from the outset within their environments.
Rather it lies in reconciling what amounts to two opposing views held by the potential users of such virtual spaces: those who see freedom of self-identification as a strength and virtue within a platform, and those who see such freedom of self-identification as inherently “creepy” and suggestive that such spaces are “untrustworthy”, decreasing their willingness to become involved in them.
As I pointed-out in discussing the mainstream market and the Lab’s “next generation” platform, finding a middle ground where both of these viewpoints are comfortably addressed may not be easy. As such, when it comes to matters of identity, it may come down to the expectations of those using a virtual world / environment far more than those provisioning it.
The subject of identity also encompasses ruminations on our relationships with our avatars, and here I fully understand Drax’s comment on his relationship with his own alts: while they serve a purpose, they’re not “him”. I empathise entirely, as I feel much the same about my own alt; so much so, that I wrote she’s not me on that very subject. While it doesn’t enter into the interview, there is an interesting additional question about how we identify with our primary avatars.
We often point to the financial investment we make in our avatar as a reason for not settling in other virtual worlds; But, for those who do have a very close identification with their avatar in a particular world, might that focus be as much of a reason for not settling elsewhere as any financial expenditure on that avatar?
In the latter half of the interview, Drax turns slightly prophetic – remembering that the interview was recorded well before news of the Lab’s “next generation” platform entered the public domain. He points to the fact that in many respects the Lab have the track record to be perfectly placed to lead the train in any resurgence of virtual worlds because they have the technical experience, and they are used to dealing with a large and diverse population and providing the kind of environment and capabilities that people find attractive. So attractive I’ll go on to say, that we all prefer to stick with it even amidst all the grumbling directed at the company for perceived ills and mistakes. Raising these points leads Drax to wonder what the Lab might have up its sleeve – a question duly answered at the end of June.
Despite Drax commenting on his celebrity status, this is actually a great vox populi interview, in that he is very representative of all of us who use SL, his own standing as a “known” figure in-world notwithstanding. his answers to the questions Kent pitches are well-rounded, informative and well-considered. His enthusiasm for the medium, and for exploring it is infectious; even his rapid-fire departure to go grab another SVVR attendee for an interview of his own cannot fail to raise a smile on the listener’s lips.