Grievable lives: avatars, memorials, and family 'plots' in Second Life
Based on fieldwork within the virtual social world Second Life, this paper focuses on its Second Afterlife Cemetery, promoting itself as the first ‘bury your avatar site’. Avatars are symbolically buried and memorialised on this site and so too are the real-life biological deaths of people who may or may not have corresponding Second Life avatar lives and histories. Second Life is a place in which diverse forms of family relationships are created through role-play within games or through other processes such as Second Life adoption agencies and classified advertisements where residents seek out others to enter into family role-play relationships. Second Life role-play families are sometimes inclusive of real-life biological family members so that a type of blended family emerges also inclusive of non-biological Second Life role-play family members. Second Life is thus a place in which complex digital kinship systems operate, informing its bereavement and memorial culture. In examining the complexity of gender structure, relationships and family ‘plots’ of memorials, this paper argues that a biological death in real life while deceasing a second life does not amount to the loss of one life. Second lives are partially independent of the life behind the screen and may indeed challenge the assumption that the corporeal, ontological gravitas of physical real-world existence is the only way of life that really matters for grieving and remembrance. The activity of memorialising a second life based on avatar sociality and embodiment, acknowledges and gives value to a computer-mediated, screen-based way of life with its particular formations of identity and practices of relationship. It can be independent socially of real-life relationships and mourned on its own terms for what it meant to others in this avatar-embodied world.
This publication has been entered into Griffith Research Online as an Advanced Online Version.
Communication Technology and Digital Media Studies