The Velveteen Avatar

September 21, 2009


Margery Williams wrote The Velveteen Rabbit back in 1922.  It is a moving story about a boy’s velveteen rabbit and love; you really should have a look if haven’t read this classic of children’s literature yet.  While reading it the other day, I couldn’t help but ask questions about Second Life after the following conversation between the Velveteen Rabbit and the Skin Horse:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

My avatar is a collection of pixels that I’ve customized and there is a person with a very full first life behind the keyboard.  But Lanna also lives a very rich, but parallel life that by Skin Horse standards makes her real.  So my question is this, dear readers, do you believe that the Skin Horse’s definition of Real exist in Second Life?  Has your avatar become Real?



  1. Great post Lanna. I have never read that book but I hope to now.
    I think the characters we create in Second Life become real once we care for and are cared for by others there.

  2. *smile*

    The wise Skin Horse was talking about being perceived by others as Real, but expanding that to include one’s perception of one’s own avatar is equally valid.

    Thus, my answer to your second question is “Yes, both to others and to myself.”

    He has some good advice, too, applicable to both worlds: Avoid being fragile, sharp-edged, or otherwise ‘high-maintenance’.

  3. I think absolutely yes! When you matter to others as a person your avatar is real.

    Great post Lanna! ^__^

  4. I think we become real in SL over time, … but maybe not everyone we interact with realizes it. My av has a persona that’s real to me. “…But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand….” (I think this line speaks to all the beautiful avatars people create.)

    A lot of times I pop on and off very quickly – my SL is real to me at this point regardless of how long I spend there. I hope I’m Real to a few people, (at least to the ones that are Real to me.)

    I never actually read the Velveteen Rabbit – also sounds like The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.

  5. According to my dear Soph.. yes, in kind of a literal way. 🙂 I too love the Velveteen metaphor. Thanks for such a warming thought, Lanna. ^_^

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