The Girlfriend Experience

Multi-player game with avatars of flesh and blood

26 Jan 2007
9 Mar 2007

Martin Butler presented four human avatars to play with. You could log in at home with your character of choice. You could direct the avatar, explore the space and challenge him or her.
The avatars could also be observed live in their Analog Villa on Wed, Thu & Fri from 18.00 - 23.00. You could also DINE with the avatars. Their favorite food: DIY SUSHI, a concept of Debra Solomon/culiblog.org. Every evening we offered workshops: make your own sock puppet and discover you non-verbal flirtings skills.

Visit the avatars by clicking here: http://girlfriend.mediamatic.net.


07-01-2007 The Girlfriend Experience - Jan 07 - Mar 07: Online social behavior is paradoxical. It's at the same time completely anonymous and unbelievable intimate. This fact led Martin Butler to conceive The Girlfriend Experience, an interactive installation consisting of four real-life avatars. Viewers could connect with them through Skype, get to know them, give them tasks and see how far they could and would go. This event took place at Mediamatic, Amsterdam.   Photography and image manipulation Willem Velthoven Willem Velthoven, Martin Butler

Real or First Life?

The rampant growth of online avatar communities such as Second Life and World of Warcraft has enabled the creation of a personal online social and economic existence. Simultaneously this triggers inherent questions about this existence, as it questions what the consequences will be for first life, or reality.

When you use virtual avatars you can do as you please. In The Girlfriend Experience you had to get to know each other first. Player and avatar explored what they can do for each other and how far the avatar wanted to go to execute specific desires. It was ambiguous who was really controlling the situation. You had ten minutes to figure out what you can do with your avatar. After that, your time was up and another player could take your place.

The title of the project, The Girlfriend Experience, denoted the paradoxical character that online social interaction has. On one hand, the safe anonymity by using the avatar, on the other the intimate releases and projections that can spread easily. For Martin Butler it was this merging of two apparent extremes, anonymity and intimacy, which characterized an important part of contemporary social traffic. The best paid prostitutes are the ones with whom the client feels as though he is with his girlfriend, or with whom he has a Girlfriend Experience.

An Impression

During the opening of The Girlfriend Experience players enjoy having contact with on of the avatars. After logging into an avatars the players use Skype to communicate with their avatar of choice. The avatars wear a headset with microphone, headphones and a video camera.

Clip of The Girlfriend Experience during the opening. Background noise of about 300 visitors who watch the avatars and who give their comments.

The avatars followed the instructions of the players. On the first evening each player got three minutes to get to know an avatars. From all over the world people tried to log in at the same moment. On the other evenings a player got ten minutes to play with an avatar. Photo: Michel Langendijk

Image from the computer screen of a player. Photo: Kristin Maurer

The avatars talked with each other, with the players and, at times, with the audience through text panels. Photo: Kristin Maurer

A player tried to give instructions to one of the avatars of his choice. Photo: Guido van Nispen

Using the soundchannels of the avatars and their ‘players’, Nathalie Bruys and Sasker Scheerder performed a live remix of The Girlfriend Experience at Mediamatic’s Radio Salon on Feb 15, 2007. The Girlfriend Experience.mp3 (46:26 minutes).

This exhibition was made possible with the support of the Amsterdam Fonds voor de Kunst, the Thuiskopie Fonds, and the Liminal Institute.