>AW GATE > embodying the data traveler


The concept avatar originally stems from Hinduism, and indicates “the incarnation of a deity in human or animal form to counteract some particular evil in the world” (Encyclopaedia Britannica).

French philosopher Paul Virilio connects this idea of the avatar as 'deity' to virtual space.
He says that "research on a cyberspace is a quest for God. To be God. To be here and there"

(This quote was taken from an interview titled "Cyberwar, God and Television >Read interview )

In his 2008 book I AVATAR: The Culture and Consequences of Having a Second Life, American writer Mark Stephen Meadows offers various definitions of an avatar, based on his first-hand experiences in Second Life. He describes an avatar as

  • an interactive social representation of a user (p.13)
  • a social creature, dancing on the border between fiction and fact (p.16)
  • a narrative device for collaborative fictions (p.18)

In your walk through Active Worlds, consider the different functions of an avatar.
For example: 

  • The avatar allows you to move through and act in a virtual space
  • The avatar visualizes your presence in a virtual space to other users
  • The avatar functions as access point for interactions with other users
  • The avatar can operate as a kind of virtual self portrait
7S 0W

  • Open the AW plug-in (click the shortcut icon
    on your desktop - to start up the program)
  • Log in by entering a user name and your email address.
  • You will arrive at the Active Worlds Gateway
    at 7S 0W facing N.
Mr. & Mrs. Tourist, the default avatars for visitors to Activeworlds.
Large billboards advertize PAV vendors

On your walk through this virtual space, you will be assigned the system default avatar of tourist.

Select chase camera or face camera from the camera buttons located on the menu bar of the AW plug-in window to have a look at your new self.

Consider this avatar in terms of gender (male or female), race, body shape, clothing and socio-economic status (wealthy / middle class / poor)...

  • What do you see?
  • How is this virtual appearance different
    from your own ‘real-life’ body?

From the menu located at the top of the Active Worlds window – select: >Avatar >Female Tourist.

  • What changed?

A system default, or “an option that is selected automatically unless an alternative is specified," can tell you something about the person(s) who created this virtual space and/or its avatars.

  • What do the creators of AW Gateway ‘stage’as signs of a typical tourist?

default (n.d.). WordNet® 3.0.
WordNet® 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University
Retrieved June 18, 2008, from Dictionary.com
I AVATAR: The Culture and Consequences of Having a Second Life by Mark Stephen Meadows.


You will see many ‘default tourists’ like yourself moving around at the AW Gateway but you will also see various so-called PAVs, or personal avatars.

  • What kinds of PAVs do you see?
    (Human figures? Fantasy figures? Animals?)
  • What role does stereotype play in the appearance of avatars?

Mark Stephen Meadows argues that an avatar is "a social creature, dancing on the border between fiction and fact "

  • What do you think?


In her 1998 book Virtualities: Television, Media Art, and Cyberculture, author Margaret Morse muses on the future of virtual tourism:

“Surrogate travel may- as some people fantasize- replace tourism in physical space entirely. […] However, it is more likely that cultural symbols (be they of self or other) will continue to be expressed across a continuum of cyberized ‘reality’- theme parks, two-dimensional images, and virtual landscapes” (p. 202).

As you embark on your travels through Activeworlds, consider how the virtual objects you encounter in many ways only create a façade (similar to a movie set) designed for visual consumption.

Aerial view of AW gate
Magic carpets and spacecrafts at the Visitor Center.


From the icons in the top menu bar, select the Chase Camera setting. This will allow you to see your avatar as you control its moves. Use your left and right arrow buttons on your keyboard to have a look around.

  • What do you see in terms of the landscape
    and the objects in it?
  • What do these ‘signs’ mean to you?
  • Do you understand these objects differently in virtual space than if you were to see this in the 'real world'?

Look towards the Visitor Welcome Center on your right. You will see various movers like magic carpets and several small spacecrafts.

  • Where, in your experience, do flying carpets or spacecrafts ‘normally’ appear?
  • How do they function in this virtual space?
  • What would their connection be to tourism?

To read Wikipedia's entry on the history of the Magic Carpet, click here.

  • Do you think that the idea of the Magic Carpet connects to Paul Virilio's claim that a virtual space provides its users an opportunity "to be God"?

Hyperlinked map with links to various destinations in AWgate.
This shimmering image is a TELEPORT - a hyperlink or access point to another location.


Use the arrow keys on your keyboard to move your avatar into the Visitor Welcome Center. Have a look around. Choose your preferred viewing mode (first person / chase camera / front camera) to orient yourself to this space.

Go to the Map of AWGate, located directly opposite the main entrance. Take a moment to explore this map. Visit the locations that interest you by clicking on its various destinations.

Return to this interactive map by using the back arrow button from the icon menu located at the top of the AW plug-in window.

Inside the Visitor Welcome Center you will see several spinning circular frames which operate as teleports - links that transport your avatar to a virtual destination.

Find the TELEPORT for Alphaworld.
It is located in the ‘right wing’ of the Visitor Information Center.

Teleport to Alphaworld by either clicking on the image inside the turning frame, or by moving your avatar through the translucent image.

You will hear a female computerized voice say

  • What does this remind you of?
  • What does this reveal about the 'nature' of virtual environments?
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