Virtual research flawed assumption #4: age/level= experience

14 May

My guess is that this is a small issue, but since I’m writing this for the benefit of those who don’t have much experience in gaming or virtual worlds, I think it’s worth a quick post. Simply, we can’t gauge a person’s experience or skills based only on the level or age of an avatar.


I’m talking about how long the avatar has existed, not how old she appears or acts.

I’m not blameless in making assumptions based on the age of an avatar in Second Life. My knee jerk reaction is to think that young avatars are new to SL and low on the learning curve and that avatars more than a few years old are controlled by humans with a lot of understanding of virtual life, who have good skills in navigation and search, understand most of the features of the viewer software they use, and have some basic building or scripting skills. However, that simply isn’t true.

A relatively new avatar could be an alt of someone who has been inworld for years; for example, my male alt is only a year old, but I created my first SL avatar in 2005.  A new avatar could be controlled by someone with friends in SL, which can be a big help in getting set up and learning how to get around. Someone who has never been in a multiplayer online environment might be more disoriented than someone who comes to SL from other MMO experiences, so skills will vary even among newbies.

On the other end of the spectrum, having an avatar several years old doesn’t mean that the human behind the keyboard has well-rounded skills online. The avatar might have been unused or lightly used for a long time; age isn’t the same as the amount of time spent inworld.  Even people who have been avid residents for years may have expertise in one or two areas and be utterly clueless about others. There are people who simply enjoy socializing and have no interest in holding SL jobs, making things, or understanding more of the technical aspects than they need to.  I admire talented creators in SL just as I admire artists, architects, designers, and coders in the offline world, but that doesn’t mean that I will ever join their ranks.

In an MMORPG, the skills of high level characters can vary greatly, depending on how leveling is accomplished in the game. Exploits and hacks can get players to levels that were intended to take months of gameplay, though of course those are against the rules. Sometimes certain quests, events, or even purchased items can be used to earn experience points and levels quickly, without any corresponding increase in skills. And of course, low level characters can be alts of very experienced players.

Avatar birth date is a variable I’m collecting in my current research project and it can be tough to heed my own advice, but I’m trying.

Other posts in this series:


Posted by on May 14, 2014 in Research


Tags: , , , ,

5 responses to “Virtual research flawed assumption #4: age/level= experience

  1. Becky

    May 15, 2014 at 4:21 am

    This assumption, and the other three you have written about are great reminders that what we observe is not always what is. I hope you don’t mind if I scan them, and your other posts, for topics I can explore further in our salon sessions 😉 There is so much good fodder here and I’d love to hear what others think about it. Thanks for your participation last night too!

    • Kay

      May 15, 2014 at 7:07 am

      Please do! There is always room for thoughtful discussion and I’m endlessly curious about the experiences and ideas of others. Thank you so much for providing a forum for that, and I’ll join you again when I can.


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