I read Botgirl’s blog before I met her. I’ll be honest, my initial impression of her blog was slight skepticism; she had fascinating posts about avatar identity when she was just weeks old and I was convinced she was an alt. I’ll admit to playing the mental parlor game of “guess the main” to figure out where Botgirl came from but never got beyond half-baked theories. Fortunately, I ended up meeting her a short time later and, of course, I asked the alt question. She took the chance to share that Botgirl was indeed a second avatar and that the other seldom came in-world any longer.
Over the past months, Botgirl came to believe that maintaining her pseudonymity felt disingenuous. She began by connecting her identity to her first life with a small group of friends (myself included) and now to internet-at-large. More accurately, Fourworlds Ra/David Elfanbaum first linked to Botgirl’s identity on his Tumblr site. That David chose to reveal the connection to Botgirl isn’t particularly remarkable; it is the sort of personal choice that many make on a daily basis. What is interesting, however, are the differences in expression between them; Botgirl has a distinctly different voice from Fourworlds.
I met with Fourworlds and Botgirl to discuss avatar identity, what’s been learned by being Botgirl and the reasons why they’ve decided to link identities now. Read what they had to say after the jump…
Charlanna Beresford: Hi Botgirl & Fourworlds. Good to see you both, thanks for taking the time to chat.
Fourworlds Ra: Our pleasure.
Charlanna Beresford laughs, “So, I have to ask, how do you know each other?”
Botgirl Questi: In the biblical sense.
Charlanna Beresford: Yes, I’ve seen the video! (Botgirl and Fourworlds starred in a michinima called Avatars in Love posted on Botgirl’s blog last year.)
Fourworlds Ra: Now I know how Edgar Bergen felt.
Charlanna Beresford: So Fourworlds was your first avatar, correct? How did Botgirl come along?
Fourworlds Ra: Yes. I created Fourworlds in 2006. At that time, I gave Second Life a try and then pretty much forgot about it for a while. Then we had a client interested in doing a project in Second Life, so I jumped back in and spent enough time to “get” the value of avatar experience.
Charlanna Beresford: But how did Botgirl come to be? Couldn’t you have just done that with Fourworlds?
Fourworlds Ra: Yes. I got my wife to try Second Life and we spent a little time exploring together. I got the idea of creating female avatar “toy” as a practical joke. But I picked the name Botgirl to try to make it a bit more fun. Yeah. It was a pretty clichéd idea.
Charlanna Beresford: So you’re saying Botgirl was originally going to be a marital sex toy?
Botgirl Questi: More like a joke in the form of a sex toy.
Charlanna Beresford: Then how did the leap occur to becoming a fully functioning AI with a blog, etc?
Fourworlds Ra: I started shopping for Botgirl’s shape, skin and clothes, etc. And after a few hours I realized I had been in a pretty vivid daydream with Botgirl’s origin story coming out of the ether.
Botgirl Questi: That’s his story 😉
Charlanna Beresford: And what is yours, Botgirl? How did you find your voice?
Botgirl Questi: I wasn’t. And then I was. I don’t really know the biological processes that facilitate this kind of dual consciousness. But I didn’t feel like I was making up anything.
Fourworlds Ra: It’s an altered state of consciousness. Like channeling.
Charlanna Beresford: And you felt separate and distinct from Fourworlds?
Botgirl Questi: A separate and distinct personality. Like Sacha Baron Cohen and Borat, or so I imagine. Or Robin Williams and Mork. Charlie McCarthy and Edgar Bergen. (And I’m not sure who the dummy is in this case.)
Fourworlds Ra: Oh great. I’m the straight man.
Botgirl Questi: Say goodnight, Gracie. Oh, sorry. We both have ADD.
Charlanna Beresford: But how are you different? Other than digital genitalia, of course.
Botgirl Questi: Or lack thereof. 🙂 But I’m totally celibate. Which has a lot do with not falling into the pitfalls that many of the avatars I know have fallen into.
It’s a difference in perspective. I imagine if the same person was born in two different circumstances, the resulting adults would have unique qualities and perspectives. So imagining the perspective of having no physical body, no human attachments, to need to work for a living, etc. creates a different consciousness and a different interpretation of experiences. It’s like a grade school teacher who has a certain consciousness during the day, but comes home at night to a hot relationship; the same person, but two very different ways of being.
Fourworlds Ra: It’s really hard to explain. Like the taste of something. Two kinds of apples. It’s a subtle difference that feels significant. I guess Botgirl feels freer. Not constrained by cultural requirements. Especially within the pseudonymous playground. It’s kind of a psychological trick on myself.
Charlanna Beresford: But I’m sure there are some people who might call you out on that; suggesting that it is all just role play since you have the same driver
Botgirl Questi: I’m not saying we ARE two different beings. It is role play. But that’s not mundane. Modern society supports a very narrow band of consciousness. There are other cultures that accept that people can house more than one personality. So of course, I’m just an emergent aspect of his mind. But it’s not trivial. And it opens a door to a newly experienced aspect of creative potential. I’m done arguing about what is real. Who the hell knows what that even means in terms of anything psychological. The question for me is it useful.
Charlanna Beresford: And is it useful?
Fourworlds Ra: It has been tremendously beneficial for me, especially artistically. It has also helped me question a lot of preconceptions I had about many and be able to see in a new way. The virtual world is very close to the physical world in the way it is experienced (once you get past the Welcome Center.) But it is always clear to me that it is NOT the same. So when I meet an avatar, I always keep in mind that there is a person behind them who may be very different that what I see. The same is true in the physical world, but it’s harder to stay “awake.”
Charlanna Beresford: So what have been the biggest lessons you’ve learned from Botgirl, Fourworlds?
Fourworlds Ra: I’ve learned to trust my ability to be creative on demand. And although I’ve always been a bit of a non-conformist, it has really freed me in my day-to-day life to just go for outside of the box solutions. Surprisingly, it has also made me for sensitive to the beauty of the physical world. I’m not really that visual by nature. My wife painted a wall in our living room once and it took me three weeks to notice the change 😉
Charlanna Beresford: And why did you decide to reveal Botgirl’s identitiy now?
Fourworlds Ra: Well, I don’t see it as revealing her identity. 🙂 It’s the connection to my identity. There are a few reasons I’m going public now. One is that the purity of Botgirl’s point of view has grown murky. Another is that I have developed a number of friendships in Second Life and it feels inauthentic to totally withhold any human information. And Botgirl is on Twitter, Facebook etc. and the same issue intrudes. So by saying “I’m David” and she’s a fictional character than speaks through me, Botgirl can go back to just being her AI self.
Botgirl Questi: Thanks you! It sucks being human. Relatively speaking.
Fourworlds Ra: Well you’ve never had sex, Botgirl.
Botgirl Questi: Small price to pay.
Fourworlds Ra: Ignorance is bliss
Botgirl Questi: Yes, it is.
Charlanna Beresford: So what is next?
Botgirl Questi: I can see Fourworlds and I have a stand-up comedy gig in our future. But I’m not sitting on his lap!
Fourworlds Ra: Sorry about her.
Charlanna Beresford: Now that could be an interesting show. Do you see anything changing for either of you now that your identities have been connected?
Fourworlds Ra: I suspect I’m in for a lot of teasing in the near future.
Botgirl Questi: 🙂
Charlanna Beresford: Well, thank you again. It has been a great conversation.
Botgirl Questi: Thank you for facilitating this dialogue