Although virtual reality technology is still in its infancy as a means of communication, people have already started to develop spontaneous and creative uses of their avatars: three dimensional representations of selves in cyberspace. A small, but increasing, number of people use avatars as tools and expressions of self-exploration and means of socialization. Based on extensive virtual ethnography of people immersed in virtual worlds, this essay will explore the variety and richness of virtually embodied experiences, by focusing on the agency and reflexivity of the individuals behind the avatars.I will focus on immersive types of avatars in Second Life in order to illuminate the ways in which people use avatars creatively, as well as the ways in which they try to make sense of their experiences in virtual worlds. Four aspects of avatar-self relations are highlighted in this essay: avatars as mirrors of the buried parts of the networked self, avatars as autonomous agents, avatars as self-expressions and explorations, and avatars as a means of boundary-crossing. We should watch this quiet and spontaneous rise of social experimentation in cyberspace characterized by the agency and self-reflections of people who use avatars: it serves as a microscopic device to reflect our own notions of identity, body and world.


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pp. 1155-1184
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