avatar - the manifestation of a Hindu deity (especially Vishnu) in human or superhuman or animal form; "the Buddha is considered an avatar of the god Vishnu"
I attended an interesting talk last week by Luciano Floridi entitled “The image, virtual and the real”. Floridi’s focus was “Avatars”, digital beings that are often portrayed as virtual representations of ourselves living online in Metaverses (Stephenson, Snow Crash) such as Second Life and Warcraft. Floridi argues that rather than being ego-polietic (ego=I, Polietic=construction) avatars are a movement away from imaging ourselves towards imagining ourselves; that avatars are not narcissistic representations; they are not an image of ourselves. After all, why exist as yourself in the shitty world you exist in if you can create an alter-ego, build an environment you have always wanted to roam, where you can be who you want to be, carry out your fantasies, and step away from the self? Is the digital age signalling a time when we are no longer obsessed with representing ourselves online and actually make a conscious move to disassociate with ourselves in the virtual world?
At an extreme it is almost possible to eliminate your own manifestation (users who reduce their avatars to 1 pixel and name’s as one character, almost invisible). However, I see avatars as something like having a controllable multiple personality, although users are not always fully conscious of exactly what they are expressing about their personality via their avatars. It's the same for the dreamer. Every visual element in the dream may be a representation of some aspect of the dreamer's identity. Each character and object in the dream is a split off or dissociated component of the self - but the dreamer is not fully aware of this. In the Metaverse we can be shape-shifters, omnipotent, express and experiment with various aspects of identity that we could not do in the “real world”. The avatar question is not about who we are but who we can be.