V.I.T.O. A.

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Virtual In-game Tracking of Online Avatars (V.I.T.O. A.)

  V.I.T.O. A.is a virtual following piece inspired by Vito Acconci's "Following Piece" (1969).  In this work, Vito Acconci followed a different random person each day for a month, and recorded his subject's actions in a time log. He would only stop following his subject once he/she entered a private space.

Excerpt from Vito Acconci's "Following Piece"

 Oct 3
9:12AM, in front of door, 102 Christopher St, my home: Man in gray suit - he walks W on Christopher, S side of street.
9:17AM: he gets into car parked outside post office, Christopher & Greenwich, and drives away.
Oct 4
9:25AM, Christopher St & Bleecker, SW corner: Woman in black coat - she walks E on Christopher, N side of street.
9:28AM: she walks into A&P, Christopher St & 7th Ave.
9:59AM: she leaves A&P and walks W on Christopher.
10:03AM: she enters building, 95 Christopher St.
Oct 5
10:21AM, Christopher St & 7th Ave, SW corner: Man in brown jacket - he crosses 7th and enters IRT subway station, uptown side.
10:31AM: he boards Broadway local, uptown.
10:38AM: he gets off train, 28th St; he walks S on 7th Ave, turns E on 27th St.
10:42AM: he enters building, 105 W 27th St.
Oct 6
10:36AM, 14th St & 6th Ave, NE corner: Man in red jacket - he walks N on 6th, W side of street.
10:38AM: he stops at 15th St, SW corner, and hails cab.
10:44AM: he gets into cab.

 Artists' Statement

In recent years, virtual worlds such as Second Life and World of Warcraft have become social phenomena deeply ingrained in popular culture. As more of our time and effort is put into activities performed by our avatars in virtual worlds, we seem to translate certain notions of what constitutes proper social interaction into these spaces. Following a stranger's avatar still seems creepy and unusual, even in a game such as World of Warcraft where all locations are public and accessible to anyone. When one thinks of a virtual world, one might imagine the computer screen as a barrier that shields the user from the gaze of other players. Users may see your online alias and avatar, but they may never know the details of who you are in the real world (age, gender, race, appearance etc.). In contrast, our project, brings attention to the ubiquity of the gaze and the ways in which the acts of watching and following translate into the realm of the digital, breaking down the shield of the screen. Because each virtual space employs a unique grammar of action, the nature of following necessarily varies from world to world. The social and ideological implications of watching and being watched, however, remain fairly similar across the broad spectrum of worlds in cyberspace. 

Website: V.I.T.O. A.

The Process

In our project, we followed one avatar every day for 5 days in both "Second Life" and "World of Warcraft",  two popular massive multiplayer online worlds.  We recorded the avatar's actions in an Acconci-style time log, but also documented the avatar's activities with video. In order to capture in-game footage from "Second Life" we had to use a third-party program called FRAPS, but in order to capture video from "World of Warcraft" we were able to use its built-in video recorder. In the interest of preserving hard drive space, we had to impose an arbitrary limit of 10 minutes on each episode of following. However, if our subject teleported, left the game, or flew away before this time limit, we immediately stopped following.

Excerpt from one of our logs:

2:47 PM speaks with Gryan Stoutmantle on Sentinel Hill
2:48 PM runs across hills with pet bear, Black Adder
2:49 PM attacks and kills Young Fleshripper lvl 10
2:50 PM enters Saldean's Farm
2:50 PM speaks to Farmer Saldean
2:50 PM seems a little tipsy from the Thunder Ale

When we had completed our 5 days of following, we created a website to publicly display our videos and time logs. For our "Second Life" subjects, we wrote up a brief "physical" description, while for our "World of Warcraft" subjects we listed their race, level, and guild because these distinctions were more defined.  In "World of Warcraft" race is an important part of the creation of the avatar, while in "Second Life" there are no clearly defined races (instead you adjust sliders to influence your avatar's physical appearance). For both subjects, we displayed an image of the avatar and also recorded its initial location in the virtual world.

"Second Life" vs. "World of Warcraft"

During the production of our piece, the major differences between the massive multiplayer online worlds of "Second Life" and "World of Warcraft" became readily apparent. "Second Life" avatar activity is  very social and surprisingly sedentary. Most of the time, avatars remain in one place, chatting with others, editing their appearances, sitting or engaged in single activities (like dancing or gambling). The "Second Life" avatars that we followed generally did not seem to move very much around their virtual space. By contrast, avatars in "World of Warcraft" were more concerned about 'leveling up' and therefore spent most of their time gaining quests from non-player characters or roaming the vast landscapes looking for prey and items. There was very little chatting between "World of Warcraft" avatars.

 In addition, the process of following was different in "Second Life" and "World of Warcraft". In "World of Warcraft", the avatar we were following could not see behind him/her and was often oblivious to our presence. However, in "Second Life", every player is given a mini-map with the location of all the other avatars in the area. It was much easier for these avatars to realize when we were following them and therefore, they sometimes tried to interact with us (one avatar called us a "freak"). In one particularly bizarre example, we followed an avatar named Lorcan Hochbaum who was following other avatars. After his target teleported out of the area, he realized that we were following him so he began to follow us. This led into a face-off with Lorcan staring at us and us staring at Lorcan for several minutes, while each of us waited for the other to move.

(Lorcan Hochbaum)

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