Transmedia Represent


A few weeks back I caught a Vinyl Pulse blog entry (Link) showcasing a LeBron James limited-market edition vinyl toy; the first in what is to be a series of toys tied into the Nike ad campaign, “The LeBrons”. At the time I didn’t give it much thought. However, three things have happened since I read that entry:

1) the Brands In Games website has raised the issue of virtual doppelgangers (Link)
2) Vinyl Pulse has posted an entry for the second Lebron toy (Link)
3) Second Life resident Kim Anubis recently posted a question on the SL forum effectively asking about protective “marks” for virtual products/avatars

While these are all interesting subjects in their own right, when brought together they raise a bigger one.

Imagine what would happen if Nike commissioned Ms. Anubis to create a virtual representation of LeBron for Second Life. Unlikely? Perhaps. But the vinyl toys being fabricated are already intended for a specific audience; they’re not the typical mass market toy. And if Nike were – for whatever reason – interested in sending a virtual LeBron into Second Life to do a little public relations, imagine what would happen if he met another LeBron James in Second Life. In fact, what if another player had already co-opted the name, “LeBron James” and looked just like the genuine avatar?

Of course the Second Life Terms of Service appears to already prohibit that sort of reputation hijacking. But it is already occurring in at least four cases.

Imagine for a moment that someone assumes the online role of a virtual Paris Hilton (btw, I’m not limiting this now to the Second Life service). In that role – for the sake of roleplay – the character engages in outlandish behavior. Imagine (and this might be tough) that the virtual Paris goes beyond what even the real Paris would consider appropriate; yet, in the process, begins to garner sufficient reputation capital to spawn her own virtual fan club. The virtual Paris might be invited to online social activities… might even be compensated for attending. Someone could invite a real world brand into some virtual space, plan an activity, and pay the doppelganger to help raise awareness of the real brand.

It gets more interesting.

Imagine that the virtual Paris is outside the jurisdiction of laws protecting identity. Imagine that virtual Paris is not hosted on a server in San Francisco, but is embedded in a peer-to-peer virtual system like Croquet. There would be no persistant, central host for real world authorities to “take down”.

Imagine that at one of these virtual events one of the attendees grabs the 3D data from the videostream using a program like OGLE, and with it creates manufacturable data such that a doppelganger Paris Hilton vinyl toy could be fabricated; maybe even competing with a genuine, licensed vinyl toy. And that data could find it’s way into the hands of a toy manufacturer as I previously outlined (Link).

Fun times.

(p.s. For those Second Life residents who might stumble across this entry, the above is not why I’m asking questions on the SL forum about the “U2 in SL” group. However, engaging me in polite (sic) conversation has spurred my thinking in this matter. Thank you.)

{Original image source: Vinyl Pulse}