TELEPRESENCE IN POPULAR CULTURE

A study of portrayals of presence

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, "Avatar"

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ABOUT THE WORK

MEDIUM:

TV episode 

YEAR:

2007 

WRITER(S):

Paul Grellong 

OWN COPY?

Yes 
 

ABOUT THE STORY

SUMMARY:

Source: http://www.aceshowbiz.com/tv/episodeguide/law_order_special_victims_unit_s9_e02/ The detectives were investigating a rape involving a girl and her older sister's boyfriend. When they interviewed Dan, the suspect, they also wanted to know where his girlfriend was. All they found in her room was blood and an open window. Dan also claimed he raped Rachel's younger sister in his sleep. Rachel's father went to the news to offer a reward for the return of his daughter. The SVU were swamped with calls wanting the reward money. One of Rachel's closest friends, Ginger, called the detectives telling them Rachel might have slipped into another "universe". The detectives rushed to Ginger's loft to listen to her story. Ginger introduced Lake and Benson to the life of avatars. She said her and Rachel play in the world of virtual reality where their avatars own a sex club, just to live out their fantasies, but nothing more. Lake and Benson discovered that Rachel's avatar, "Vixy", was a 14-year-old who performed at sex shows and she had dozens of real fans disguised as avatars. Stabler found out that "Vixy" had an online blog, where she talked about her experiences. The last entry was titled 'Stalker' and she talked about a guy who had taken virtual reality to the next level. He had thought "Vixy" was real and the man began stalking Rachel in New York. The SVU brought the man "Vixy" accused of stalking in for questioning. Tobin's alibi checked out, but he was suspected of working with somebody else. The owner of the virtual reality company, "AY" tapped into Tobin's account and proved he had been in numerous contacts with "Vixy" and another male avatar, "Smarty Culottes". The detectives discovered, "Smarty Culottes" boss, Cooper, owner of a bookstore, was also involved in avatars. When Lake and Benson returned to his bookstore, Cooper and his computer were gone. But, they did find a storage unit key and wondered what it would lead them to. Lake and Benson found Cooper's den where he was hiding Rachel. They found Rachel tied to a bed, dressed as "Trixy". Lake tried to chase Cooper's car down, but wasn't fast enough. Rachel later told the detectives that Cooper raped her and planned on taking her to a secluded cabin. Fin and Lake found Cooper trying to board a bus and brought him into the SVU. Benson had news that Rachel died while in the hospital. The detectives also found out Cooper had been the prime-suspect in the kidnapping of another girl named Lauren in the 80's. She looked strangely like Rachel's avatar. Cooper was right, the DA had no reason to hold him at the precinct, so he walked. Cragen put all his detectives on assignment, hoping that Cooper would trip himself up and lead them to his last kidnapped victim, Lauren. Through "AY", Benson was able to see that Cooper built a replica of a cabin that she felt Lauren was being hidden in. She sent Fin, Lake and backup to the cabin to locate Lauren. Meanwhile, Stabler found Cooper at JFK Airport. Fin was welcomed at the cabin with Lauren at the door holding a gun and asking for Cooper. She said she had been waiting for him at the cabin for 25 years. Cooper was brought in by Stabler for jaywalking. When he was waiting in the interrogation room, they re-introduced him to Lauren, who insisted on seeing the "love of her life". Cooper was shocked when she entered the room, he couldn't believe she had aged since the last he saw her, 25 years ago. Cooper confessed to Lauren that Rachel's avatar reminded him of her and he got a second chance with a teenage Lauren when he kidnapped Rachel. He told Lauren it was too late for them. She accused him of murdering Rachel and she left the room. Stabler wanted to know his fascination with avatars and Cooper confessed that they never grow old.  

ERA/YEAR:

Present day when produced 

CHARACTERISTICS
OF WORLD:

The virtual world of Another Youniverse is incredibly realistic and was developed to geographically mirror that of the real world. While some aspects of the virtual world are futuristic and fantasy-driven (ie. flying cars, no laws that the avatars have to abide by), Another Youniverse is perceptually realistic. 
 
ABOUT THE PRESENCE-EVOKING TECHNOLOGY
NAME:
Another Youniverse 
DESCRIPTION:
Another Youniverse is a 3D virtual reality game that players access through the Internet. In this virtual world, users create their own alter ego (avatar) who possesses any physical characteristics that the player chooses. Players not only choose their avatars' physical image, they also develop all aspects of their avatars' life. For instance, this includes their occupations, homes, modes of transportation, and even pets. Each player maintains his or her avatar's personal homepage, and shares details of the avatar's life on his or her blog. Users control who their avatars interact with and when users decide to cultivate avatar-to-avatar relationships they are able to travel, play, and visit with one another (or others) in whatever type of environment they desire. Avatars communicate with one another either via typing or speaking, thereby enabling a high degree of sensory immersion. In summary, Another Youniverse is an incredibly vivid, perceptually realistic, socially rich, and highly interactive technologically generated virtual world. 
NATURE OF TASK OR ACTIVITY:
In Another Youniverse, users can participate in any activity that they can dream up. In this episode of Law & Order: SVU, players are portrayed as using Another Youniverse to live out their sexual fantasies, relive old memories and recreate past experiences, communicate with other users by blogging about their experiences in Another Youniverse, and build their dream lives and personas. The CEO of Another Youniverse, Eric Winton, helps the police solve crime and catch the criminal by using the technology as a tracking and geographical locating device. 
PERFORMANCE OF THE TECHNOLOGY:
Another Youniverse functions perfectly (as it is designed to) throughout the episode.  
 
ABOUT THE CREATORS OF THE TECHNOLOGY
DESCRIPTION:
The creator and CEO of Another Youniverse is an attractive, hip, well-dressed man in his late 20s/early 30s with a British accent named Eric Winton. 
MAJOR GOAL(S):
Winton states the goal: "Giving the freedom to follow their desires. 
 
ABOUT THE PEOPLE WHO EXPERIENCE PRESENCE
DESCRIPTION:
The 5 million users of Another Youniverse are completely diverse in respect to their origin, race, age, occupation, and gender. 
 
ABOUT THE PRESENCE EXPERIENCE
TYPE(S) OF PRESENCE:
Both spatial and social presence 
DESCRIPTION:
Throughout this episode of Law & Order: SVU, users seem to completely lose themselves in the virtual world of Another Youniverse. From the moment they log onto to the online game, they are transported into the virtual world and are transformed into their avatar alter-egos. As their avatars, players act out their deepest desires and fantasies, and engage in activities with other players (avatars). Users are so engaged in Another Youniverse that it is as if they are living a double life; their lives and relationships in Another Youniverse are just as significant and legitimate as the ones these players have in the real world. When psychologically immersed in the physical environment and social interactions, users feel as though they are finally the person they wish they could be and are living out their dream lives. 
USER AWARENESS:
While users are aware that Another Youniverse is an online, computer-generated world, they seem to become so involved in their online virtual environment that they become (at least for the time that they use Another Youniverse) their alter egos (avatars) and completely lose themselves in their relationships with other avatars and the lives that they've created for themselves in the virtual world. 
VALENCE:
The users of Another Youniverse are portrayed as not just enjoying the experience, but as almost obsessed with the virtual world. 
SPECIFIC RESPONSES:
While using Another Youniverse, players experience enjoyment, involvement, and more intense parasocial relationships than perhaps the relationships they have in real life. Also, as evident in the perpetrator's involvement in, and use of the virtual world in the commission of his criminal activities, users of Another Youniverse may also experience distorted memory and social judgments. 
 
ABOUT THE CONSEQUENCES OF PRESENCE
LONG-TERM CONSEQUENCES:
Another Youniverse is portrayed in both a negative and a positive light. While the technology helped the perpetrator commit the crime, it also helped the police apprehend the criminal and solve not one, but two cases. 
 
AND FINALLY...
OTHER INFORMATION:
Although fictional, Another Youniverse bears a striking resemblance to an existing 3D virtual world: Second Life. 
CODER NAME:
Lisa Weinstein 
CODER E-MAIL:
tub75247@temple.edu 
CODER AFFILIATION:
Temple University, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA 
DATE CODED:
5/25/2010 

 


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