Who are we kidding?
The only avatar I have created and actively use is for an online poker site. I initially picked a middle of the road male avatar. When I played online I realized that there wasn't any read of the other players other than their occasional banter or the speed in which they played their hands. Live poker provides many "tells" if a player has a good hand or if they are bluffing. Most of the game isn't about the cards, it is about the image and the play. I decided to see if there was any difference in my opponents play if I Ipicked a female avatar in a bathing suit. It was amazing the difference just changing to a static avatar. The avatar was an image of a player that wasn't serious about playing the game. It seemed like I was able to distract the other players by only changing my appearance. But then, who am I kidding? How do we know that the tough looking macho man at the table wasn't a little old granny beating me at my own game.
The percieved freedom that MUDs provide are just that. Turkle quoted a number of people who said that they were able to blossom online when their real world job was a dead end. MUDs do provide freedom because they are created any way the user desires. I think for some users, this can be a very beneficial outlet for their creativity. But not all creativity is positive. It was interesting how the issues of rape and violence are becoming more and more common. Turkle's interview of a virtual rapist (p252-253) dicussed how the victim wasn't the first to complain but it was the bystanders. The victim thought it was humorous. I would think there will be some legislation in the future regulating what we can do in our virtual world. I am sure there are cases of attacks on children. Are there child avatars in SL controled by adults? I think you have to be over 18 years old to join.
Second Life is making additional land as fast as they can. They will create a new land mass in the near future. I am amazed at the level of interest in SL by individuals. I think it is great that corporations are using these platforms for virtual meetings. Think of the savings in transportation that can be realized by some of the larger companies. Teleconferencing is nice but I think the virtual office location adds a little more fun to the meetings. Each employee has their personalized avatar and the lines become blurred as to what is real and what is virtual. Employees become known as their avatar.
If I had time to explore SL, I think it would suck me in very fast.