This evening, I spent some time watching a mixed-reality concert featuring Joan Osborne in the Rockefeller Center Peacock Room in the NBC sim. It’s a lovely space, there was a lively and fun crowd, and Joan sounded great. But I think there was at least one too many Joans.
I’ve decided that I don’t really get much out of having an avatar of a performer (or politician, or scholar) present in Second Life if the producers are also going to show a live video of that same person. It’s usually interesting for like a minute while I snap pictures, but quickly becomes boring when it’s clear that the person is not controlling their avatar.
I understand the point of having an avatar representing the celebrity during these events. It’s really what sells it as a mixed-reality event. I’m sure the celebrity gets a kick out of seeing their avatar, especially since they don’t have to go to the trouble of controlling it.
But I find the juxtaposition of the real video image of the person projected behind their avatar disconcerting and weird. What this does is basically throw in your face that the person is not controlling their avatar, some other SL puppeteer is. Often the avatar just stands their dumbly, doesn’t interact with people, or mimic the actions of the real person.
Another example was the Barack Obama "appearance" in Second Life in March. As you can see, his avatar just sort of bobbed around somewhat creepily while he gave his speech. Was I more engaged with Obama because a digital simulcra of him was sitting in front of me? Not really. It was his words that grabbed me — the avatar was little more than a curiousity and even a distraction from the message.
If the celebrity isn’t going to control their own avatar, just voice is enough. Video is fine. I can imagine scenarios where having someone else control the celebrity’s avatar might be acceptable. But don’t do both video and an avatar. Once the coolness factor wears off, it’s just fake and silly.