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.
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).