Skipping through the huge amount of articles, manuals and essays I have been recently reading on virtual worlds and SL community, I have found out that the term ‘avatar’ is actually the Sanskrit word for ‘godly incarnation’ or ‘descent’. This is just a curiosity but still the definition strikes me as quite important.
First of all, I am wondering why, amongst all the languages of the world, Sanskrit has been chosen as the depositary of the meaning? And secondly, I am trying to think how this original definition connects to the actual concept of your-secondlife-self…
Sanskrit is an archetypal language, it has a very long history (apparently even longer than Chinese) and it is the best-preserved indo-European idiom thanks to the Veda and still nowadays one of the eighteen languages recognized by the Indian constitution. It is also of course the original language of Hinduism, religion predicating as one of its most important pillars of faith the theory of reincarnation and karma.
Both ‘samsara’ (reincarnation in Sanskrit) and ‘avatar’ are therefore specific Hindu words referring to a change or re-birth to a new (in the second case even lower) realm of existence. Is therefore your SL avatar a mere inferior replica of you real self? And most of all, do we really ‘replicate’ ourselves only through virtual worlds and role-playing games or do we maybe do it every day also in RL? Am I the exact same person in a formal business meeting at work and going karaoke night with my intimate friends?
Everybody in his everyday, ordinary life wears masks and creates social ‘avatars’ of himself in order to interact with different social situations.
With regard to this concept, I would like to suggest some readings of a famous 20th Century Nobel Prize Italian novelist and theatre writer called Luigi Pirandello and his interesting theory of the mask (http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1934/pirandello-bio.html)