Coming Out in San Francisco: Time to Reveal Our Inner Avatars?

Coming Out Day for Avatars?

So, I was on a business panel at the Second Life Community Convention (Amanda captured some of the discussion on the Second Life blog, although it has a sort of diluted crowd-sourced feel to it) and the question came up: “what’s the biggest hurdle to adoption of virtual worlds by business”.

My immediate gut response was – “oh, you’re a cartoon character” which is that reaction you get when you set up the idea of 3D immersive environments and the person is nodding and you seem to have them where you want them and then maybe you show a screen shot or log-in or whatever and they just don’t get it – your avatar isn’t “real”, it’s cartoony, so how can we take it that seriously?

During the panel I attempted to make a larger point, but I’m never very articulate when I don’t have a keyboard glued to my fingers, and the larger points was really a Sales 101 thing: if you’re talking about the application or the technology or what it can do, you’re off on the wrong foot to start. You need to be talking about what it can do for THEM, and you should probably be talking about how it can help them achieve some specific business goal: save the company money, train the sales force better, get them a promotion, manage change, look cooler than the competition, that kind of thing.

But the conversation had me thinking about a broader idea I tossed around a few months ago, and this being San Francisco it seemed like a good place to bring it up again, as the idea was inspired by Harvey Milk. And the idea was a sort of international coming out day for avatars. Or maybe we should call it the First International Meet My Avatar Day or something. And the idea is this: that if we would all ‘come out’ and reveal our avatars, even to one other person, then maybe the broader world will understand how wide-spread this has become, and how it’s not just game geeks sitting in their basements or kids playing with their Wiis but that there are far more people with avatars than you might imagine.

We’re here. We have avatars. Get used to it.

I sort of imagine a Web site where we could post slides and statistics and case studies and machinima – different tools and resources to help explain what an avatar is, how we use them, what they mean to us, which organizations have adopted them.

Then, on one day when maybe the press is there, or at least covers it more broadly, we bring our avatars to work, to school, to our families. I figure in the typical office there’s a few people with avatars but they don’t talk about them. Maybe the person at the desk next to you has a level 60 Palladin in Warcraft; your students have avatars in Club Penguin or wherever; your volunteers hang out in Second Life and go dancing.

Imagine if even 20% of the people with avatars, well, came out. On one day. A sort of network effect conversation. “There was someone in my office who revealed their avatar today and I never would have guessed it”…”Wow, there was someone in my school, same thing”.

See, the articles in the Wall Street Journal and places like that are all well and good. Big company names saving money on travel. (Ugh, I am really hating hating hating the “save money because we’re a glorified WebEx” thing). But it’s someone ELSE’S example. And it’s still removed from our own, um, reality.

So maybe it’s time to reveal our avatars. Come out of the closet with the avatars that mean so much to us. And then share and post about the experience – a sort of single day massive reveal and maybe if we can show the person who sits next to us at work, or in the faculty lounge or wherever that we are your friends, your brothers, your uncles, your colleagues, your staff then we can collectively put a dent in that response: you’re a cartoon character.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.


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