Exploring Digital Identity Through Avatars: A Look at Drax’s Our Digital Selves Documentary

Alice Bonasio has written an article for The Next Web about Draxtor Despres (a.k.a. Bernhard Drax in real life) and his recently-completed documentary called Our Digital Selves: My Avatar Is Me.

Titled Exploring Digital Identity Through Avatars, the article looks at how a variety of differently abled people choose to represent themselves in virtual worlds such as Second Life.

For those that speculate about the potential of social VR, it is interesting to note how inhabiting a virtual world allows these people to form and maintain meaningful relationships and connections with others, as SL user iSkye Silverweb recounts:

I don’t think my partner and I ever would have met in the physical world, even if we were in the same city, and it is because I am deaf.  Communication IS an issue for me; I would always be concerned about it, with meeting anyone.

It’s a raw and intensely emotional investigation into the power of living vicariously through an avatar, and how this – as one user puts it – “provides her with sustenance” and helps people to cope with all manner of both mental and physical disabilities.

It’s a great article and I urge you to go over to The Next Web and read it in full.

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Cody Lascala wearing a VR headset in Sansar
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The Drax Files #182: Our Digital Selves Documentary

On Friday I did something I had never done before—I participated in the taping of Draxtor Despres (a.k. Bernhard Drax in real life)’s regular podcast/broadcast The Drax Files.

I saw Drax posting a link to the private Sansar experience where he records his show on his Slack channel, and I decided to come and crash the party! Drax has asked me several times in the past to take part in his broadcast, but I never could do it before today, because I am at work when he records. On Friday, I was on holidays from my job so I could take part.

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Among the many people present at Drax’s taping of the episode was the anthropologist Dr. Tom Boellstorff, who conducted the research project that Drax was documenting, as well as the following people who were profiled in the documentary:

  • Cody Lascala
  • Shyla the Super Gecko
  • Jadyn Firehawk
  • iSkye Silverweb
  • Solas  NaGealai
  • Alumnia

Coming Soon: Drax’s Our Digital Selves Documentary (Plus Another Plea to Release the Outfits!)

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Did you know that Draxtor Despres (Bernhard Drax in real life) has been hard at work on a documentary about how people with a disability use virtual worlds like Second Life, High Fidelity, and Sansar? The title of the documentary, which will be released free to YouTube on May 18th, is Our Digital Selves: My Avatar Is Me. Drax describes the film as follows:

Our Digital Selves: My Avatar Is Me tells the story of 13 global citizens and their avatars as they transcend their various disabilities by making a home in the VR metaverse.

Filmmaker Bernhard Drax travels all over the world, from California to rural South England, to explore why a diverse group of people ranging from 24 to 92 years of age find solace, inspiration and deep friendship that in a user-created digital wonderland that only exists inside their computers.

Drax sends his intrepid documentarian avatar Draxtor Despres into the virtual universe of Second Life as well as next generation VR platforms like High Fidelity and Sansar and – among many other adventures – he finds out why a 40-something Chicago native feels best represented by a colorful gecko complete with superhero cape or why Cody LaScala – confined to a wheelchair his entire life – feels his avatar should look exactly like him. The film follows researchers Tom Boellstorff and Donna Davis as they lead discussion groups and facilitate deep connection between real human beings in virtuality through artistic expression.

We follow along as they travel to Silicon Valley to find out how leading technologists design the future of online communication with disability in mind.

As Boellstorff and Davis finish up their 3-year study, made possible by a grant from the National Science Foundation entitled Virtual Worlds, Disability and New Cultures of the Embodied Self, the film presents a compressed compendium and visual guide to a seemingly unlimited array of possibilities for borderless human interaction.

Unique in its narrative approach, Our Digital Selves weaves together physical and virtual cinematography as the protagonists backstories are re-enacted via Machinima technique – real time animation – in the virtual world and next generation VR platforms.

The film will be available for free on YouTube come May 18th and has been submitted to film festivals around the world for the 2019 season.

Here’s a preview of the documentary Drax put out on YouTube about six months ago:

And here’s a great screen capture from the video (of which I saw an advance screener) of Linden Lab CEO Ebbe Altberg sitting in front of some Sansar Studios concept art for avatar outfits.

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And once again, I make my regular plea, ever since I first saw glimpses of this concept art from Sansar Studios: Release the Outfits! 😉 Don’t hold back on us, Ebbe… even with a healthy fashion market full of user-created content, a few more outfit choices from Linden Lab would be much appreciated by this Sansar fashion blogger!